Preliminary Cut Pro X
So it takes a controversy like this to get me – as busy as things have been lately – to write another blog post.
The uproar around the release of Final Cut Pro X – peaking now with “mainstream media” parodies by the likes of Conan O’Brien (how often does this happen with a software release?) – has gone from predictable to ridiculous.
Back before the Internet arrived on the scene I spent a fair amount of time working in the non-linear film/video editing community of San Francisco – a rarified community of pre-hipster gear-head editors who were wrangling the early Avid almost-digital tape-based monstrosities before the advent of basically desktop digital editing. The learning curve (not only for the software, but the hardware – very finicky – and transport media) meant large investments of time and energy by individuals and groups just to get to competency. There was a pretty high barrier to entry into the boutique film editing world (mainly for advertising / commercials) due to this investment – both in talent, time, hard cash, and cables – lots of cables.
Even as software-based tools, on not-so-specialized hardware (Final Cut vs. Avid, PC’s vs. proprietary hardware) gained prominence, there was still – compared to the consumer / prosumer classes of software / hardware – a pretty steep barrier to entry: Final Cut Studio was expensive, then there were all the plug-ins you needed, and the software didn’t really sing until you ran it on a loaded out Mac Pro tower or powerful (but brittle) Windows box. Often a shop had to have multiple specialists, manning various components of the application / workflow (e.g. Final Cut / Premiere, Motion / After Effects, color grading, audio editing / sweetening, transcoding and transfer, etc.).
Any ripple in this not-so-calm pool – a new software release, compression format (e.g. H.264), plug-in – would trigger predictable waves of various magnitude, precisely because of how “touchy” and interdependent the whole work flow was: pick a flower, move a star. And the personalities involved: pre-hipster, often over-paid, “edit suite divas” surrounded by fawning ad agency or hollywood denizen lounging on the leather couches with their soy machiato lattes …. oh, but I start to show my cards.
Since I am no longer even a peripheral part of the rarified community of Northern California film editors – I started an interactive agency literally in between two Avid suites at a hot San Francisco editorial shop in 1993, but we outgrew them rapidly – I can, with minimal penalty, comment on the type of people who are seemingly most vocal right now re: the FCP X launch.
I watched the Conan O’Brian editorial staff video send up with a particular sense of deja vu – here were the middle aged digital clip slingers, settled in the dark womb-like comfort of their finely tuned software / hardware man-dens, surrounded by their multi-screen FCP setups (“don’t touch!”) with their ubiquitous (hugely impressive to the cute young agency denizen) color space tools, like radar scopes, studio monitors, Herman Miller Aeron chairs, and on and on – not so far advanced (on the same evolutionary branch) from their World of Warcraft brethren still stuck in Mom’s basement – with eerily similar setups. Bespectacled and hairy. Trendy t-shirts and – probably – Birkenstocks. The unheralded “yet enormously talented” clip jockeys behind the “Post Production & Graphics” door. Complaining, with GREAT VOLUME and INDIGNATION about the amazing extent to which Apple has – once again – completely misunderstood their deepest professional needs, and indeed, how (much like everyone else on the planet outside their very small circle) Apple clearly doesn’t understand “their industry”.
Photographic and video topics bring out a strange demographic of pseudo- and “real” professionals who seem to spend an astounding amount of energy criticizing each other. I have scanned (not read, it’s mind-numbing but fascinating, from an anthropological perspective) 40 page threads arguing about transcoding work-flows replete with hair-raising put-downs of each other based on insane technicalities: think steel cage wrestling matches, but with overweight hairy middle aged spectacled guys with latte stains on their trendy t-shirts. 80% of them in suburban basements – the other 20% killing time in between mind-numbing editorial sessions in NY/LA/SF, with those perky agency/hollywood people and their lattes.
This group has taken the much-anticipated launch of Final Cut Pro X and turned it into a technical pinata of mythic proportions. Hair is falling out in clumps in edit suites across the country. It’s as if one of those sweet young advertising things tripped and flung their latte across their “precious” – as if their finely tuned world was just up-ended, as if they had just been “demoted” to a new dungeon outfitted only with iMovie on a Mac Mini. OMG, any change is worthy of a 40 page back-biting incestuous spec-quoting whargharbl. But take the center-piece of this world and change it so dramatically and these “auteurs” go sideways.
Ok, so (just as the “professionals” have stated is Apple’s true ulterior motive) I – as what would be called a pro-sumer – immediately bought and downloaded Final Cut Pro X when it launched, at that ridiculous price point for a piece of software like this (need I quote what a simple edit suite would run you back in the nineties, or even last month?). I put it on one of the 8-core iMac i7′s in the studio (not a tricked out Pro tower) and gave it a whirl for an afternoon and was enormously impressed. Yeah, it’s way different than FCP 7. Yeah, things like transcoding, bins, output, etc. seem like they have been made (much) simpler and understandable (just for “novices” like me, as the “professionals” are ranting). Yeah, the magnetic timeline seems like a simplification of the obtuse genuflections you had to do in FCP 7 – that the “pros” had down cold. Because they’re pros.
But damn it’s fast.
With the 64-bit kicked in, plenty of RAM, the background processes running (like transcoding, but without – it seemed to me – slowing foreground processes), real-time scrubbing of video / audio, etc., my very first impression of this thing was that we’ve taken a giant step forward. FCP 7 feels like Microsoft Word now. The guys in the O’Brian video – my new stereotype – are wailing as one on countless blogs over EDL’s, legacy file structures, favorite plug-ins, tape output (for Christ sake), War of Warcraft integration, blah, blah. I’m actually surprised that I’ve seen so few – frankly almost no – real editors looking at this thing as a glass half full. And a fantastic new glass of story-telling ambrosia it is. Why don’t they see it?
Here is what Apple is doing. Ignore the trolls.
As to the laughable idea that Apple “doesn’t understand this industry,” let me offer my slight alteration. Apple doesn’t understand the prior industry. The one that they’re about to update. To think that Steve Jobs, control freak, perfectionist, the guy sitting at the helm of probably the best software development company in the world, founder (basically) of the “new” Pixar, board member of Disney, blah – doesn’t “understand” the film editing business is – cough – ridiculous. I would bet that if you up-rooted one of the dimly-lit guitar-in-the-corner (yes, it’s there, it’s a stereotype) Conan O’Brian edit suites and dropped it in between two Final Cut X edit suites (you know they have them, and have had them for months) at Pixar it would look like an ancient dusty be-cabled Avid mess, parked between two modern FCP 7 suites. The problem – for these guys – is change. You’ve moved their cheese. They’re apoplectic and – paralyzed.
What Apple doesn’t understand is how professionals have gone so long with a tool that did not make things simpler, faster and more enjoyable to use. Not to mention that places the emphasis even more firmly on story – not tools. So they’re fixing that for you. And you should be thankful.
Here is the solution, and what any sane professional should do, and why Apple has done you a favor. Unless you are – like the vast majority of these editors seem to be – threatened.
Final Cut Pro X is – like the Canon 7D or 5D shooting video – a game-changer that has professionals used to other rarified (i.e. more expensive, obtuse, “don’t touch that”) gear having to re-evaluate themselves and their craft. The progress of hardware and software is putting fabulous capabilities into the hands of more people which is scaring the crap out of the current elite tribe. I guarantee a smart editor could cut a brilliant $500,000 commercial for Nike RIGHT NOW TODAY with Final Cut Pro X – no problem. Even at this nascent stage. As David Pogue has pointed out in his write up (just before his head was piked and carried through 40 pages of shrill protestations by “professional editors who are misunderstood and hurt” on his blog because he, Apple and all the other “non-professionals” so clearly don’t understand “their world”), there are either relatively simple work-arounds or new releases coming from Apple (undoubtedly) to address most of the “concerns” of the community. Chill guys.
But that’s not the point. The real point is that Final Cut Pro 7 is still here. It STILL WORKS. I think everyone out there has missed that fact. Your precious edit suites are intact – they’ll still impress that cute junior account chick from Saatchi. If Final Cut Pro 7 is so superior to Final Cut Pro X – use it. For now. Apple did not take it away. But, instead of spending time between boring edit sessions ranting about the difference between color grading and color correction on Creative Cow or DVProBasement.com guess what? You can install (its easy) and start to experiment with a kick-ass V1 of the next generation of FCP. You can test edit stuff. You can start the process of cutting over to new techniques, on faster 64-bit software, with a slick simple new interface. You can provide helpful feedback to Apple (really?). You can be a part of something big and new, instead of whining about it.
Railing at Apple about software this unbelievably good V1 (remember, it’s a ground up re-write) is childish and short-sighted. How soon we forget how far we’ve come in so short a time. The tools we have at our disposal today are – in my opinion – miraculous. After an afternoon of playing with Final Cut Pro X I was delighted frankly. I’ve used FCP 7 plenty. I’m a long time owner of Studio and have been through much of the transcoding, integration, plug-in, round-tripping hell that current day editors go through, and master. I’m not a “professional” and would be easily skewered by that crowd, but I know enough to recognize innovation, quality and – most importantly – potential. In my naive pro-sumer way, in an afternoon I shot some raw footage (with a Canon 7D, at 720 / 60p so I could play with re-timing), loaded it (directly from the camera) to FCP X, edited a short test piece with the camera audio, voice over, music, SFX, other footage, transitions, effects, color adjustments, slow motion. I round-tripped out to the new Motion (even though I prefer After Effects) to create titles. Then output in multiple formats (including a test one-click upload to Vimeo Pro). I did all this without reading a line of instruction, in fluid real-time (except for compression), and with – as I said – delight. The new single storyline layout I think will change the focus of the industry to the story – just as Apple says – instead of focus on interface and editor. Which is why the O’Brian crew’s funny video reeks more of fear and obsolescence than humor.
To close this rant, the point is simple. I will bet that most professional editors (not some) will be using FCP X for most if not all of their editing within the year, if Apple does what I now expect them to, which is listen and release. I hope that all of the folks that are so vocally skewering Apple right now realize that the web is an archive of opinion, and that their initial dismissal of Apple’s incredible innovation on behalf of this community will come back to haunt them as discerning professionals. Just as this entry may come back to haunt me as a follower of technology if the professional community ends up ultimately dismissing Final Cut Pro X and/or – as they have (almost laughably) threatened in many cases – turn to Premiere or even Avid as a new industry standard.
As John Gruber says, filed for future Claim Chowder.
To my esteemed friends in the industry:
And quit whining in the meantime. It’s not professional.