How do I set up a Final Cut project?

by Brendan Albano

A final cut project is not just a single file like a photoshop .psd project. A final cut project contains the final cut project file, your “scratch disk”, and any number of additional assets (video files, graphics, audio, etc.). Final cut doesn’t automatically bundle these all together for you, so to be able to move your project from one computer to another, as you often have to do working the the Binning and Lam labs, you need to keep track of all of these files. First, it is important to understand what these files are.

This is the core of your project. It is a set of instructions for final cut that tell the program where all your assets (source files) are located, and how you have edited them together.

When you go file>save as, this is what you are creating. If you lose track of this file, you will not be able to open or edit your project, and will have to start over.

The scratch disk is perhaps better thought of as a “scratch folder.” It is the folder that final cut stores video files captured off of a camera through final cuts “log and capture” window, video render files, audio render files, and various thumbnail and preview files.

You can set your scratch disk by going final cut pro>system settings

IMPORTANT: You should check that your scratch disk settings are correct every time you open your project.

If you lose track of your scratch disk (or scratch folder), you will have to rerender your entire movie, which can take a long time. You will also lose any video footage that you have captured using final cut’s “log and capture” window, causing a big red “media offline” error to display instead of your video.

These are media files that you have acquired in some other way than through the final cut log and capture process, such as downloaded videos, videos from hard drives or CF or SD cards, etc., as well as audio files and still images. Final cut does not automatically store these in any specific place, it just references the place they were when you imported them into your project, meaning that if you move them or change their names, final cut won’t be able to find them. If you lose these files you will get a big red “media offline” error instead of your video.

If you are solely working on your home computer, or you have a large, fast portable hardrive (NOT a usb stick), you can just organize all your files on that disk however you like, as they will always remain on that hard drive, and you won’t lose them. However, you still might want to organize your files the way I describe below just in case.

If however, you have a usb stick, or a slow USB hard drive, editing your project on the drive will be extremely slow. You will have much better performance if you copy your files to the hard drive of the computer you are working on. This is where it gets really easy to lose track of your files if you are not careful. Here’s how I set up my project files for this way of working.

Before I even open final cut, I create several folders. If you’re working on a lab computer, you should do this on the “Student Temp Storage” disk. I create a folder for my project, say “Brendan Albano Example Project” (when using shared computers, it can be good to put your name on your folder so you don’t lose it in the sea of “my project,” “project 1,” “myProject1,” etc.) Inside that folder I make three folders: “Final Cut Documents,” “Assets,” and “Exports.”

I then open final cut, create a new project and save it to “Brendan Albano Sample Project” with a descriptive name such as “Example Final Cut Project.fcp” You may find it useful to include the course, the title of the project, and/or the date in your file name.

I then set my scratch disk by going Final Cut Pro>System Settings. I set my scratch disk, waveform cache, thumbnail cache, and autosave vault to the folder “Final Cut Documents” inside my “Brendan Albano Sample Project” folder. This is tedious, but important. Your project should then look something like this:

“Brendan Albano Example Project” - I make sure everything I need for my project goes in this folder so that I don’t lose it.

“Example Final Cut Project.fcp” - this is your project file

“Final Cut Documents” - this is the folder I set as my scratch disk.

“Audio Render Files” - automatically created by final cut

“Capture Scratch” - automatically created by final cut

“Render Files”  - automatically created by final cut

Final cut may also create other folders automatically.

"Assets" - if I have other media files I want to include in my project, I put them in this folder.

“Exports” - when I am finished, and export my project, I put the exported files here. I may make many different exports, one for DVD, one for YouTube, one super high quality HD export to keep on a hard drive, etc. It’s nice to have them all together so as not to lose track of them.

Now that your project is all set up, your ready to set your sequence settings (check back later for another article on video file formats and sequence settings), import your footage, download sound effects, edit your movie, etc. Remember: SAVE ALL THE FREAKING TIME. It will make your life better.

Here’s where all the work you’ve done pays off. When you are done working for the day, save, quit, and drag your “Brendan Albano Example Project” folder to your USB stick or other portable storage. Because you were careful setting up your project, you won’t leave any essential files behind.

Even if you don’t have final cut, it is a good idea to back up your project on your home computer, or another portable hard drive. Your work should always exist in at least two places, otherwise you risk losing it if your computer crashes or you drop your USB stick in your coffee, or something.

When you come back the next day to do more work, you don’t have to go back to the same computer (although you should make sure that your new computer has the same version of final cut as your old one did).

Simply copy your entire “Brendan Albano Example Project” folder to the Student Temp Storage folder, eject your USB stick (this is to avoid accidently using files from your USB stick instead of the new copy on the hard drive).

IMPORTANT: Before you get to work, you will need to make sure your scratch disk is set to the correct place. Just like when you created your project, you need to go to Final Cut Pro>System Settings. You then set your scratch disk, waveform cache, thumbnail cache, and autosave vault to the folder “Final Cut Documents” inside the “Brendan Albano Sample Project” folder.

Now you can get to work.

When you take your project home the second (and subsequent) time, there is one more thing to pay attention to. When you copy your “Brendan Albano Example Project” folder to your USB stick or other portable storage, you want to replace the old version of your project. When you get home, you should again back up your project on your home computer, or another hard drive.

If you have any questions, technicians work in the Binning computer lab every semester (check with your TAs or professors for exact schedules). Come visit!