From iMovie to FCPX

I wrote a book a few years ago, shortly after FCPX first came out, called Final Cut Pro X for iMovie and Final Cut Express Users: Making the Creative Leap. It’s still available from Focal Press, Amazon, and elsewhere. Click here to find out about it. When I wrote the book FCP was in version 10.0.1 and iMovie was called iMovie ’11 (version 9.0). FCP has changed hugely since then and iMovie has also had a lot of changes, paralleling those in FCP, moving the applications closer. Because of this the two applications now use a lot of common terminology for many items, libraries and events, all mean the same thing. So what’s different? This is by no means a complete list, but it’s some of the striking differences. 

One of the first things that puzzles those transitioning from iMovie is where is everything. Here’s where some of those things have got to when you’ve moved to FCP.

The different photo libraries that appear in iMovie Libraries are in the Photos and Audio Browser in the upper left above the Libraries Sidebar.

The iMovie Content Library is also in here under Sound Effects. There’s a popup for Effects on the right side of the Photos and Audio Browser.

All Events and All Projects that are in iMovie Libraries are not available in FCP. There is no single place that looks across all open FCP libraries. Inside each FCP library has its own events, and as in iMovie, projects are inside events. Each FCP library has a group of library-wide Smart Collections, which includes one that shows all the projects in the library across all the events. 

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You can also create your own library-wide Smart Collections. I like to have one for multicam clips and one for sync clips.

How do I see events based on date? You can’t, but you can see the content of each event based on date created, or you can switch it off in the Clip Appearance popup at the top of the Browser.

But where are my Maps? Sorry, no maps in FCP, but it’s really easy to get maps from iMovie to FCP, which we’ll look at in a minute.

Your effects, which are across the top of the Viewer in iMovie, are in the Effects Browser at the right end of the Toolbar. Here the effects are grouped in categories, video and audio. There are tons of them, and many, many more amazing third party plugins, many free, which you can find at

Where’s the info button? That’s in the upper right corner in the top bar, and it opens the Inspector (Command-4), which is divided into multiple tabs, video, audio, info, is contextually sensitive based on what you have select in FCP, and is one of the key components of working in the application.

By the way, it’s really useful to get comfortable working with keyboard shortcuts in FCP. It makes working with the application far more efficient than using only the mouse. Most items and operations in FCP have shortcuts, and the keyboard can be completely customized by selecting Commands in the Final Cut Pro menu.

Where’s the Theater? There isn’t one in FCP, but of course you can Share for Apple devices and load your movies into iTunes for syncing with TV. 

Another thing you’ll miss in FCP is the free floating audio track. 

In FCP you can have as many audio and video layers as you want, but they all have to be pinned to something on the primary storyline. 

How do I make trailers in FCP? You can’t, but you can still make them in iMovie and bring them over to FCP. So let’s look at getting your stuff from iMovie to FCP. It’s really simple. In iMovie you use File>Send to FCP. You can either send a movie or you can send a whole event or multiple selected events. If you send a movie it will create an event in FCP with the project, which is your edited movie, together with the clips used in it. If you send a whole event, it do just that, send all the clips and all the movies as projects to FCP. The event or movie sent from iMovie will appear in a new library with the same name as the iMovie in the same location. Because the two libraries will be on the same drive, they will share the same media using what FCP calls “hard links,” so the actual drive space used is not increased. If you’ve already sent one event from a library and want to send another you can and it will go into the same library if it’s in the same location. 

So what about those trailers? You can’t send a trailer or an event with a trailer; the Send function in iMovie will be grayed out. What you have to do first is select the trailer in iMovie and first use the Convert Trailer to Movie function in the File menu. You don’t have to add any video to the project, but you should edit your opening graphics and titles as they will not be editable in FCP. You can then send the movie or the event to FCP. It will appear as project in FCP, and the timeline will be filled with placeholders, music and titles like this.

What about those maps? In iMovie make a new movie without a theme. Select the maps you want to send to FCP, choose the one you want and enter the travle information. Send the movie to FCP. In the FCP project the map will appear with its animation ready to use.

Where’s the voice over recorder? In FCP that’s selected from the Window menu and looks like this, with a lot more controls and options.

What about editing? This is perhaps the simplest part. Most of the functions are the same, the same keyboard shortcuts, Q, W, and E, do the  same thing, except instead of having only one connected clip, in FCP you can have as many layers or connected clips as you want. You have the same drag to trim function, plus much more. 

Effects are quite different in FCP in many ways. While in iMovie you have the simplicity of automatic white balance and skin tone balance, and automatic green screen, and side-by-side, and picture-in-picture, in FCP you have to create all those manually but with much, much more precision and control. 

Speed changes are done from the Retiming menu, or directly in the Timeline by selecting a clip or a portion of a clip and using the retiming bar (Command-R). 

This gives you complete control including speed ramps to smoothly accelerate or decelerate speed changes.

Any clip in a project can be transformed using scale, rotation, and position controls, as well as be cropped or distorted.

You add transitions and titles the same way. The Share button is the same, and is at the end of the Toolbar. You have a lot more options of course and can add many more with Compressor settings.

There’s a great deal more of course, so I encourage you to take the time to, not only use the application as you used iMovie, but to learn all the other great things you can do in the professional application. 

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