Managed and External Media

The concepts of managed media and external media are critical to working with FCP. Many new users of FCP are not even aware of these important, I’d say critical, distinctions to working with FCP libraries. Before we get to understanding these two concepts and how to work with them, let’s look at some of the basic concepts and terminology used in the application. 

To the chagrin of many, when Apple created FCPX it created a whole new set of terminology, often using common words, but with new meanings, and different words for common functions. The basic rules of thumb for those coming from legacy FCP were these: projects are now libraries, bins are now events, and sequences are now projects. This is of course an oversimplification as not only had the terminology changed but so had the objects themselves. A library is more than a project and can do a lot more, and event is more than a bin simply because you can’t not have one. A project is a sequence. So what are libraries, events, and projects? 


The library is the container for all the information related to the  job or production you’re working on. There are a couple of different types of libraries that have specific uses, which we’ll look at later, but for now think of the library as everything related to what you’re going to work with on your production. This might be a feature length film; it might be a wedding, or a commercial, or a documentary, or any of the thousands of types of video productions there are. Some people like to use a separate library for each client, and all the client’s jobs will be inside that library. Different productions, interview with the CEO, VNR, commercial for new product, each will be in a separate event in the client library. The only concern you should have is now large the library gets. You don’t want it to get too big or working with it can become difficult. How big is too big? I would say that when your library gets to around 10 GB you should seriously think about splitting it up into component parts. This is for external media libraries; managed libraries can be much larger, 20 times larger before you should split them. More about external and managed in a bit. 

The library itself is a bundle or package. It contains folders for events.


Events are super bins, and every library has to have at least one of them. They’re super bins because they contain other types of bins, Keyword Collections, Smart Collections, projects, and folders that you can use to organize your Keyword Collections, Smart Collections, and projects. 

Every library now comes with a folder at its root level in the Browser that holds library wide Smart Collections. 

Events hold your clips and appear as folders inside the library bundle. Projects are inside events in FCP Browser and are folders inside the event folder in the library bundle. 

In this screen shot of the contents of a library bundle the CurrentVersion.flexolibrary file at the root level of the bundle is the library database for what’s in the library. In this library there are two folders Color and Effects, which are the names of two events in the library. In Effects folder is a CurrentVersion.fcpevent file, which is the event database. This can be quite a bit bigger than the flexolibrary file as it carries a lot of collections information. Inside the event folders are two folders called Audio and Effects, which are projects. Each project has its own CurrentVersion.fcpevent file, which is the database for project contents. In this image you see three other folders, Original Media, Render Files, and Transcoded Media. Original Media contains your media files when you import them into them into a managed media library.

Managed Media

In a managed media library all the media, camera originals, render files, transcoded files, optimized and proxy, are inside those folders in the library bundle. This is a great way to work for someone working on a project alone, working entirely within FCP, without needing to access outside software like Motion. Many, many productions are made this way. It’s also very easy to archive because everything is in one place. To archive you start by selecting the library in the FCP browser and using File>Delete Generated Library Files

In the dialog that appears check to delete all render files as well as all optimized and proxy files. These can all be rebuilt if you ever need to revisit the production. Close the library. Don’t forget any fonts, effects, or other components that might have been used in the production that aren’t in the FCP browser or aren’t part of the standard FCP application or part of the standard system fonts. Gather all these up into a folder with the library. Right-click on folder and use the Compress file to make a zip file. Park the zip file together together with a copy of the version of FCP that was used to make it on multiple storage devices. You’ve archived your library.

You might not want to archive all the media shot or created for a production, only the media used in the final projects that you want to preserve. To do this, make a new library and copy the projects you want to keep into it. The media and databases, like Keyword Collections, associated with those projects will then be copied into the library, nothing else. This can save a great deal of space and time. 

So why doesn’t everybody use managed media? It seems very straight forward and simple, and indeed it works very well for many productions. It does have some significant drawbacks: one, it’s very difficult to use the media with another editor, and the share the production content; two, it’s very difficult to use the media in other applications like Motion; and three, it creates redundant files if you need to use media in multiple libraries. 

External Media

With an external media library the media is not contained in the library, but stored in a folder outside the library. The inside of the external media library looks very similar to the managed media library, except for one significant difference. In the media folders, Original Media, Transcoded Media, and so on, there are no actual media files, only symlinks.

The media itself is in any folder you designate. Inside that designated folder can be all the media used in this or any other production, and in the library you’re working on or any other library. If you import from a camera into the external media folder you’ll probably see three folders for Final Cut Optimized Media, Final Cut Original Media, and Final Cut Proxy Media. Because the contents of these folders are not linked in any way to any specific library or event, you don’t see any event folders or CurrentVersion.fcpevent files. The media is organized based on date created. 

These are the media files the symlinks in the event folders in the library are pointing to.

Notice that the cache file, here called BB8, is also inside the designated media folder. I think this is the simplest place to keep it. The cache file holds the thumbnail strips and peak data files and other caching used by the application. If there’s ever a problem with any of this, it’s simplest to just throw the cache file in the trash, and the application will build a new one. 

Important Note

None of the libraries or folders or anything discussed so far should be stored on your system drive. They should always be kept on a fast, large, dedicated media drive. These bundles and folders can get very big, very quickly, especially if you have to optimize your media. (See the article here about working with optimized and proxy media.) If you overfill any drive, it can be disastrous. If you overfill the system drive, you’ve brought the whole thing to its knees. You should always try to keep a minimum of 10% of the drive free at all times. 

Setting Up Your Libraries

Whenever you make a new library, its properties, whether external or managed, will be the same as the last library you created. The default behavior when you first launch the application is to create a library called Untitled in the home Movies folder and to set it up as a managed media library. It’s good practice whenever you create a new library to check its library properties. You can do this by selecting the library in Browser and looking in the Inspector or by pressing the keyboard shortcut Control-Command-J. This is what the default set up looks like.

Notice the buttons for Modify Settings and Consolidate. This is the managed media layout; everything it inside the library bundle except for the backups. To change this managed media library to be an external media library, click the Modify Settings button. A dialog sheet drops. Here you can choose where the media will be stored, either select an existing folder, or in the location selection dialog, create a new folder.

I usually place the cache in the same location. 

The Backups by default go into a folder in the Home Movies folder, which is a perfectly good place for them. These backups are only the databases for your library and contain no media. If your media and libraries are on the eternal media drive, keeping the backups in Movies keeps them on a separate a drive.

That’s it. You’re set up. 


To import you need to set your Import preferences. These are the default settings and reproduce the options available in the Import window. 

These are the settings I think you should use. Copy to library location means that anything you import will either go into the library if you’re using managed media or into the designated folder if you’re using external media. 

If you are using external media and have files on a drive that you want to have in the media folder, you can simply let the import function copy them there. You can also move the media to import into the media folder first. Then when you import into FCP, in the Import window, you change the default setting and check on Leave in place, because the files are already in the right place. 


So you started with managed media and now you want to change to external media. It’s pretty simple to do. In the library properties change the location for the media as we did above. This will change the location for any additional media that’s added to the project. To change the location of the existing media use the Consolidate button in the library properties. Consolidating will move the media out of the library bundle into the designated media folder. 

You can also consolidate in the opposite direction, consolidate into the library. When you do this the symlinks that were in the library will be replaced with media that’s copied into the library. FCP will not move media into the library, it will only copy it. Of course once it’s copied you can discard the original files if you wish. If the library and the media folder are on the same drive FCP uses hard links so the size of the used drive space does not actually change. 


The beauty of using external media is that if your media is on a SAN or other server configuration a number of editors can access the same media simultaneously. The libraries can also be stored on the server and any editor can access any library, though only one editor can access a library at any one time. Connected this way libraries, events, and projects can be pushed around between editors freely. I can work on a project in one library and copy it into another library and some else can access it. Or the assistant can bring in the dailies, create a separate event for each day with the media imported into the central folder, and that event can be pushed to all the editors who need it.

Often however multiple editors will work on the same project who are not connected to central server; they might be quite remote from each other. As long as all the editors have the same media in the same named folder in the same structure, the databases for the libraries, which are quite small can easily be shared. For instance, I start out by importing media, putting it into a media folder and into an event or any number of events as I want to organize it. I then send each of the other editors working on the project a drive with the library and  the media folder. If this is all too large for something like WeTransfer for Dropbox, which it often is, the most reliable way is UPS or FedEx overnight. That’s actually faster than trying to upload and then download really large files. 

Each editor can work on his own piece of the puzzle on their own system. To share what everyone’s doing the simplest method is to use what are called transfer libraries. To send someone a project,  you make a new event and copy, Option-drag, the project into the event. That brings all the links to that project, including all the keyword collections used in that project into that event. With the event select you then use the File>Copy Event to Library>New Library. In the dialog that pops up deselect optimized and proxy. The other editor can build his or her own if needed. Because the new library on my system is pointing to a same media folder as the other library, no media is transferred. Transfer libraries are relatively small databases and can often be emailed or messaged. When the editor opens the transfer library the material gets linked to the corresponding media folder on his system, which has the same name and the same media. The receiving editor then copies the event from the transfer library into his own library, discarding the transfer library and event. He can then either keep the event separate as it was transferred, or he can use the Merge function to combine it with an existing event in his library. Of course whenever additional media is added, that may have to be transferred to the other editors as well through a transfer service or by shipping.  

Archiving External Media Libraries

Archiving external media libraries is similar to archiving a managed media library. The only real difference is that once you have the components of the library you want to archive organized, you then use the Consolidate function to bring all the media into the library bundle for archiving. 

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