A couple of weeks ago I came across a YouTube Final Cut Pro tutorial about how to edit a music video. It popped up in my RSS feed, as the “tutorial” was embedded on a website. As one who often edits music videos and is always looking to pick up tips or a better way to do things, I clicked over to watch. What I saw was one of the biggest train wrecks of a FCP tutorial I’ve ever seen. Not just because it was badly produced but because a lot of what they were recommending really wasn’t the right way to edit a music video at all. This got me clicking around on YouTube to see what other FCP tutorials were posted and the results weren’t pretty.

In the time I spent looking over these videos (I hesitate to call them tutorials), I saw clip after clip after clip that were not only poorly produced but also taught incorrect Final Cut Pro techniques and/or skipped over some of the most basic editing and assistant-editing skills.

The most common thing that these creators did not do was to convert audio into a FCP-friendly audio format. Besides the videos that were using other than 48k audio clips, noted by the green line that appears on the clip in the timeline, I saw video after video in which the creator used MP3s, iTunes clips and God-knows-what-else as their audio sources. Each time they used such a clip they had to render the audio for playback. Some of these folks noticed that something wasn’t right and confessed how much of a pain it was to always render audio.

Another tell-tale sign of an amateur tutorial? Dumb mistakes. I watched one video in which was the creator made a mistake, in real time, and proceeded to recognize it and catch it. If you’re creating a video tutorial about VIDEO EDITING, don’t you think you should go back and edit out the part where you make a mistake? Now while I think we can all learn from watching others make and correct mistakes these flubs were not a teaching moment. Most were typically just a slip of the mouse or grabs of the wrong clip and were never used to show the viewer about what had gone wrong.

The video quality of most of these tutorials were extremely poor. Some creators used a handheld video camera to shoot the computer screen. If you want someone to take your FCP tutorial seriously, you have to use proper screen capture software to create it. There are many affordable options available for Mac OS X out there, including the free built-in option in the QuickTime X player. And while you’re at it, use a good microphone and record quality audio.

It gets worse. I watched one video in which the trainer attempted to perform the entire edit with Windows Media .wmv files. Everything that he did required rendering. And he wondered, out loud, why FCP was being sluggish. Even if you don’t use, or can’t afford, workflow tools like Loader or Transfer anyone creating tutorial videos and attempting to teach others should know about them and be able to tell the viewer why they might be useful. And then there’s the free utility MPEG Streamclip that will often convert what seems like the unconvertible. My bet is that if you don’t know to convert a .wmv file to another format for editing in FCP, you don’t know much about proper workflow tools.

This blog post isn’t meant to be just a rant against bad YouTube FCP tutorials. It’s more of a warning to those trying to learn the software and work toward being a good editor or assistant editor. We’ve debated this before: bad YouTube tutorials could be a big part of What’s Wrong With the Young Final Cut Pro Editor. Some of the clips I watched had hundreds and thousands of views, too. That’s a lot of bad information being disseminated out into the editing world. Not all of those watching these things will be walking into my or your edit suite looking for a job, of course, but I’ve seen enough FCP editors who lack the most basic post-production skills walk in over the years that it’s obvious they either don’t care to learn proper workflow or they are being taught bad information. Part of that blame may lie at the feet of the schools where they were educated (that’s a different discussion for a different day). Or maybe they just walked into an Apple store and bought the software without bothering to learn the basics first. My recent experience wading through these YouTube clips tells me much of that blame may lie right there.

Free, high-quality tutorials aren’t that hard to find and there are a lot of great FCP educators out there. For free, embeddable videos, go to the FCP tutorials found on Vimeo, which seem to be more accurate and of higher quality overall than those found on YouTube. Lynda.com has long been the go-to place for those really wanting to learn software operation, but their longer, quality tutorials aren’t free. Similarly, there are also many excellent Total Training and Class on Demand tutorials for sale in the StudioDaily store. You’ll also find great (and correct) workflow stories, tutorials and resources here on StudioDaily and on the sites of people like Larry Jordan, Richard Harrington and Ken Stone. Blogs are another great place to look. Sites like Little Frog in Hi-Def, Digital Films, or my own Editblog are written and maintained by real working editors. We don’t do this for money but rather as a way to engage and share with the post-production community, while hopefully improving our own post skills as we move along. We all strive to provide quality, accurate content. There’s also Creative Cow where tutorials and advice can be found through the forums and posts from the larger community.

If you really want to learn how to use Final Cut Pro well, avoid the siren song of free and plentiful YouTube tutorials. If you’re so new to this that you won’t recognize a bad tutorial when you see it, here are a few signs to look for when watching a YouTube tutorial. When you come across any of these things, stop watching and find another:

• Bad video quality. If there’s a shaky camcorder shooting the FCP interface as opposed to screen-capture software, turn it off.

• Bad or low audio quality. If you can’t easily hear what the creator is saying (audio is a large part of video post-production), turn it off.

• Mistakes that the creator catches. If there’s an obvious mistake while the creator is working, so obvious that they catch it and correct it without explaining WHAT went wrong and WHY, turn it off. This is video editing so it shouldn’t be too hard to correct that mistake.

• If the software crashes during the tutorial and the creator doesn’t edit that out, turn it off.

• If the creator has to render everything they toss into the FCP timeline, turn if off. You should not have to render EVERYTHING you toss into the FCP timeline if you know what you’re doing.

• If you have to sit and watch anything that takes more than a second or two on a render bar, turn it off. It’s not that you don’t have to often render more than a few seconds worth in FCP but rather the creator shouldn’t subject the viewer to watching a render bar tick away. Why not edit most of that render bar out with the very editing software that’s being explained?

After some Twitter discussion went down the day that I found the bad music video how-to clip on YouTube Rob Imbs took some time to create a rather amusing FCP tutorial of his own. Of course this will only be funny to the edit-geek who’s experienced enough to realize all that Rob is doing wrong. But since it can also be taken at face value if you don’t recognize what is wrong, then consider this challenge: until you can identify what the FCP/workflow problems in this video are, you probably aren’t ready to call yourself, or sell yourself, as an editor.

FCP Quick Tips – episode #183 from Rob Imbs on Vimeo.