People often ask me about my post-production setup, which has changed dramatically over the past few years. What once started out as an elaborate layout with 4 monitors, control panels and daisy-chained peripherals, has evolved into an extremely minimalist setup with only the bare essentials. But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
Coming from a background in finishing work, I have always placed a premium on the technical aspects of post-production. For years, I offered (and continue to offer) post-house services through my business, ranging from color correction and online editing to motion design and DCP creation.
So originally, when I set up my space I wanted to emulate a finishing environment as much as possible.
Initially, my desk was loaded with three monitors (dual computer screens and a broadcast/reference monitor), a color surface, tablet & pen, audio interface, and many other peripherals. In front of my desk was a client couch, which faced a fourth monitor (non-reference) that was patched into my computer.
My storage situation was always in a state of flux, but at it’s most complex involved a NAS system that was being accessed by multiple editors, in addition to myself.
There was nothing inherently wrong with my original setup, and for a certain stage in my career it’s exactly what I needed. But as my focus shifted as a filmmaker and in business, it was no longer optimal for my needs.
I got to a point where I wanted my equipment to get out of the way. I realized for me to be most effective in every aspect of my work – from writing to directing to running the business – I would need as little friction between me and my work as possible.
While having the right tools can be a huge asset when you need them, they can be a hinderance to your creativity when you don’t. It doesn’t matter how technically savvy you may be – The more technology you run, the more time you will spend maintaining it. Even when you aren’t actively using it.
Realizing this, I would often ask –
How can I execute whatever is in my head (whether it’s a movie idea or a business venture) with as few moving parts as possible? What are the tools – software and hardware – that are absolutely essential to my needs? And how can I cut out absolutely everything else that is non-essential?
When I boiled it down, the most crucial items I needed every day were:
- Mac Pro (Trashcan)
- LG 5K Display
- OWC Thunderbolt RAID
- PreSonus Eris 4.5” Audio Monitors
- Audio Technica ATR2100 Mic
Using this extremely basic setup I run my production company, handle full post pipelines on countless projects (including my feature film), produce a podcast, and develop & maintain multiple websites, just for starters.
Occasionally, of course I still need to bust out my color panel or a calibrated monitor, or add other peripherals as needed for specific projects. Even in the image at the top of this post, you’ll spot a couple external drives running and my Zoom H6 on standby. But on most days I keep it as clean as possible – Less clutter means everything can get out of my way and let me get to work.
I don’t have the fastest Mac Pro out there (it’s pretty zippy, but was never maxed out), and I haven’t felt a need to upgrade…
My 4 year old machine is plenty powerful enough for my needs, and I typically make decisions in production that will ensure I have the smoothest post-process possible. Like my choice to shoot my feature in 2K ProRes on an Alexa Classic.
The Mac Pro is linked to my Apple LG 5K display, which is the best monitor I’ve ever owned. It’s so color-accurate and can fit so much information on the screen (even when it’s limited to 4K resolution, as it is when you use it with the current generation Mac Pros.)
The monitor also has 4 Thunderbolt/USB ports on the back, which is super useful… Especially when working with my 4TB Mini RAID from Lacie (which I am a huge fan of as well).
Virtually all my peripherals plug into the monitor, with the exception of the OWC RAID which is patched straight into the trashcan with a classic thunderbolt cable. This gives me incredible read/write speeds that almost always exceed my actual needs.
Because it’s set up as a RAID 0 (optimized for speed, not redundancy), I don’t ever rely on it as a backup. Whenever I begin any project, I always back up all the source material on at least two external hard drives.
I make a third copy on my master RAID, which I work off. However, I still keep copies of my project files on Dropbox or on backup drives just to be safe.
Once a project is complete, I will offload it to an archive HDD, such as this one from Seagate. This way, the only drive I’m ever really working off of is my master RAID, and it’s always got plenty of space since completed projects are archived so often.
In terms of audio, I’ve recently begun moving away from headphones, which were my go-to for a long time.
Although I love how much extra desk space headphones buy me, they tend to give me headaches when wearing them for too long. So as much as I enjoy my AKG 240s (and still use them on occasion), my pair of PreSonus Eris Monitors now do the daily heavy lifting.
These speakers are certainly “modest” in that you can spend far money on higher end alternatives… But for my needs they really do the trick. They feel very neutral and accurate to my ear, and are extremely powerful given their size.
I’ve used tons of other monitors, including some far more expensive than these, and to my ear these really hold their weight against the competition. Not to say they are perfect for everyone, but bang for your buck they are hard to beat.
In terms of software, I own or license all the usual suspects – DaVinci Resolve, FCP X, Premiere, After Effects, etc. – But lately, 85% of my work has been done in FCP X.
Ultimately, I just find that FCP X is the absolute fastest tool for me to work on. And I love speed.
I’m no slug on Premiere or DaVinci either, and have spent thousands of hours in both. But in my opinion, the fundamental construct of FCP X is just unmatched in terms of creative flexibility. I can try more ideas, way faster in FCP X than anywhere else. It comes down to two factors:
1. FCP X runs so reliably and quickly out of the box on Mac hardware
2. The software offers a more flexible environment
It’s really #2 that matters for me. Getting the most out of myself creatively means being able to experiment with ideas. I need to go into an edit session feeling confident that I can completely tear apart a scene, re-arrange it, reverse it, and do whatever else I see fit without feeling bogged down by the software. For me, FCP X almost always accomplishes this best.
When I’m creating LUTs or color grading for broadcast I will of course move into DaVinci Resolve, or jump into After Effects for motion design work. But I really only ever leave FCP X when I have no other choice. I won’t work in more complex environments until I absolutely need to.
My point with this post isn’t to impose my setup on anyone, but just to share my philosophy. At the end of the day, there is really no best choice in software, and no one way to set up your work space…
My recommendation is always to assess your needs as a filmmaker, and build a studio that serves them. That’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me.
And in many cases, the best course of action is to start small. Figure out the most basic, simple setup you could get away with doing all your work on, and start there. You can always add more later, but you might just not want to.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!