Yet Another FCP X Opinion From a Pro Editor – It’s not you, it’s me.

Nothing like a little crisis to get people talking. In the last two weeks I’ve had more editing discussions with my fellow pro editors from all over the country than I have in the last two years. Sharing information and viewpoints is always a good idea. Any regular readers of my blog will know that I am a huge fan of sharing the knowledge.

For that reason alone, specifically the reconnecting of the professional editing community throughout the world, the unveiling of the new Final Cut Pro X has been a somewhat of a positive thing. There are certainly plenty of negative things to say about how Apple rolled out FCP X as well. But editors having discussions together about their craft and the tools they use is always good for the community. We all become smarter about what we do and that will serve us all well as we move forward in these challenging times.

Everyone in my circle has been asking me about my thoughts on FCP X. On the day of its release, my standard response was, “Ask me again in a week.” I felt that was the absolute minimum amount of time necessary to be able to comment on something most of us had never experienced or worked with before. The minimum.

It’s now been about a week and a half and only now do I feel like I can make a reasonable comment on the whole situation.

First a little background. I’ve been editing professionally for over 25 years on a huge variety of systems and workflows. From the Sony RM-440 before I was getting paid for editing, to CMX and Ampex Ace 1″ videotape systems with Grass Valley switchers in television stations and large post houses, to Lightworks, Avid since version 1 and Final Cut Pro since version 1 as well.

I’ve never cut film professionally, but pretty much any other electronic industry standard editing system that has been out there, I’ve edited on it. I’ve cut footage originating on 35mm film, 16mm film, 3/4″ Umatic, Betacam – both analog and digital, D1, D2, D5, all of the flavors of DV, P2, RED and 5D.

Through the years I’ve backed up my edits on everything from paper tape drives to 8″ floppy disks to 5″ and 3.5″ floppies, Zip disks, to Unity, to the internal hard drive on my editing laptop. I review all of this only to explain that I am not adverse to change. Change has been my life since I became an editor. I’m an early adopter, even when it’s meant swimming upstream against the traditional. I love exploring new technology.

I am one of the co-founders of the Chicago Final Cut Pro Users Group, which was established in 2002.

I currently cut on both FCP and Avid almost every day.

So it is because of all of that background that many fellow professional editors want to know what I think about FCP X.

Deep breath.

I think Apple has put forth some interesting new ideas about editing with FCP X. I was cutting on Avid today and wished I had access to the variable range of thumbnails that allow me to see more of a clip than the one thumbnail frame, as I can in FCP X with the new Events Viewer. The traditional method of click a clip to the source window and scrub, one clip at a time to try to find something in Avid and Final Cut Pro Classic (yeah I know- my engineer came up with that moniker), is one of those things we all just accepted because we hadn’t seen any other way to do it. Variable multiple thumbnails is a very compelling way to help an editor quickly find that one scene where the woman walks past that tree.

There are many more interesting innovations that I will probably like as I get more familiar with FCP X.

However, I don’t plan to use FCP X for any professional editing projects for the foreseeable future. They key word there being foreseeable.

The truth is no one outside of Apple can see the foreseeable future as far as FCP X is concerned. And that’s a bit troubling.

One of my biggest beefs with Avid, and I have many beefs with Avid, is that over the years they remove little things every once in a while with their updates that really helped me do my job. Anyone remember the MUI, the little one handed mini keyboard, shuttle slider? I was fast on that. And then one day it was gone. Back to my QWERTY keyboard.

On one Media Composer update, the ability to watch your renders update frames as they rendered was gone. I loved being able to see renders in progress to see if I had a rouge errant keyframe in there before I waited three minutes for the render to complete. I have many example of things like this that Avid took away without warning.

But for the most part, when Avid releases an update, it’s usually a step forward. More features without losing functionality I’m familiar with. Most of the time. The new Smart Tool palette? Meh. I also don’t like their new keyframing tools. They’re trying to be more like AfterEffects, but it’s really clunky.

Of course, while Avid is innovating the big picture things like AMA, sometimes I’d rather have them take a look at the dozens of little things that frustrate me like crazy a hundred times a day while I’m editing. Really? I have to select the empty gap between two clips in my timeline when moving them? Really? And can any reasonable person tell me why I still can’t match cut to a precompute in 2011? It’s always the little things, you know? When I was at Avid at their former Tewskbury headquarters a few years ago, I was told by an Avid rep that they couldn’t improve Title Tool because the guys that wrote the original code don’t work there any more. Really?

This update topic brings me to another point with FCP X. What Apple is insisting is true. FCP X is not an update to FCP Classic. It is a completely different editing application. So the argument that things have been taken away in FCP X is technically, technically, not a true statement. Were we led to believe it was going to be an update to FCP Classic? Absolutely. For two years and counting.

It’s a little like quibbling about what the definition of “is” is. Not really a good faith argument on Apple’s part in my opinion.

One of the conspiracy theories melting Twitter this week is that Apple’s version numbering of FCP X (10.0) is not because it’s so radically different and futuristic, that calling it FCP 8 or 9 is just not hyperbolic enough to express what a future time traveling thing FCP X is, but instead, that the latest version of iMovie is version 9.0.3 and what comes after 9, but 10. The theory is that Apple just put the FCP name on the next version of iMovie. It’s a worthy argument simply because you can import previous iMovie projects into FCP X, but not FCP Classic projects.

But I’ll let you all make up your own minds on that one. Perhaps a hint will be the next version number of iMovie. Perhaps this one will go to eleven.

FCP X also seems to have a bit of a personality disorder. You can edit in 4K resolutions. That’s a crazy amazing pro thing.

You can’t export your edit to collaborate with other graphics, audio and finishing artists. That’s a crazy consumer level thing. (Yes, I know Apple has created “hooks” so third party vendors can create plug-ins for EDLs and XML functionality in the future. However, implying by omission that collaboration is not something compelling enough to put it in the native software is again, a bit troubling.)

But I’m not writing this to debate whether FCP X is pro or not pro and if and when it will have the pro features many of us miss from FCP Classic. There has already been quite enough debate about that on the Internet Machine.

What has concerned me most about Apple and FCP X has little to do with software functionality details. FCP X will work for some and it won’t be up to the task for others. Fine. I refer you back to how many different editing systems I’ve worked on in my professional life. If, after more experimenting, I find FCP X is just a toy, it’s not going to stop me personally from being able to edit. I have many other options.

Apple doesn’t really owe me anything. Maybe we had a symbiotic relationship or maybe it was imagined. All I know is that my feelings about Apple having my back have evaporated in the past few weeks.

From the beginning, I was certainly an FCP evangelist or a fanboy, if you insist on putting it more crudely, in terms of how much I preferred to cut on it. The interface and efficiencies just made more sense than some of the frustration I was experiencing at the time with Avid. I really believed FCP was a better editor than Avid. I still do when it comes to FCP Classic. When no one else I knew was cutting national television commercials on FCP, some very nice people at Apple took me out to lunch around FCP version 2 to ask me what I needed FCP to do to be able to work with it in a professional commercial television workflow, cutting spots for the giants of the advertising industry. I believe I said something like, “It has to do what I can do with Avid.”

That meant being able to collaborate with other departments with frame accurate EDLs and later, XML. I told Apple that I loved FCP and thought it had great potential, but there was no way I could truthfully recommend it in it’s current state to my fellow Avid editors who rolled their eyes at me when I tried to explain to them what they were missing.

Apple listened. I seem to remember nearly everything I asked for ended up in FCP version 3 and the rest in version 4. Those were the salad days when it seemed like a well balanced relationship with give and take on both sides.

However, and this next bit is just my personal editorial, I really think there has been a change in Apple’s thinking in the past few years. Again, they can do whatever they want. It’s their company. I am not under any kind of obligation to continue to do business with them. I also can strongly disagree with any direction they decide to point their future interests. But really, that’s about it. Anything beyond that is cursing at the darkness.

The bottom line is, and I say this with no anger or malice, but perhaps a bit of sadness, I believe Apple has torpedoed their pro apps division. And they have every right to. It’s the old, “It’s not you, it’s me,” you being me and me being Apple. I’m pretty sure I’ve been dumped.

We high end pros are a pain in the ass. We want precision accuracy and we want it now. Why bother with such a small segment of demanding editors when you can deal with legions more consumers/prosumers who aren’t going to bust your chops as much because they don’t need as many complicated features? Apple no longer depends on the pro market to sell hardware. Especially hardware that fits in your pocket.

Apple has always been a very secretive company. Even during the earlier versions, when they elicited feedback from me personally on FCP through private meetings or beta testing, I was never privy to what was coming next beyond what was in the beta release I was testing. I learned to not ask questions that began with, “When is FCP going to be able to…,” because I knew they weren’t going to tell me. But based on past experience, I knew they were listening. I mean they bothered to ask for my thoughts, so why wouldn’t they? And FCP did just keep getting better.

FCP was the hungry scrappy underdog, running past the food bowl of the sleepy Avid dog and stealing Avid’s food. And we all benefited from that. FCP got better and Avid finally had some real competition and got better too. Mostly.

Let me digress a bit and talk about another Apple pro app and my personal story with it. I speak of Aperture, the professional photography application that is now version 3.

When Apple released version 1 of Aperture, it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. For the first time, I could organize, edit and export all of my photographs in one application. I really cannot stress enough how it changed my photography business. It was a miracle… mostly.

Before I knew it, I had a photography catalog of over 60,000 images in Aperture. All locked away… um… safely… in something called the Aperture Vault. When I imported my photos, they basically went into a big black box of mystery that I could sort of see into if I control-clicked to show Package Contents. But finding my original photo files was a mind numbing exploration of folders and subfolders, all with names that Aperture made up that made it very difficult to find my precious irreplaceable originals.

(Imagine this next bit in a voice like the twins girls from The Shining.) “Don’t worry about it. Your photos are safe with us. They’re in the vault. Don’t worry about it. We’ll keep them forever… and ever… and ever…”

Well that was a leap of faith. We photographers are kinda funny about our photo files. We like to know exactly where they are and know we can get at our originals or versions of the them easily and any time we want to. Aperture version 1 didn’t really play that way. It was, “This is how we do it and you need to get used to it.”

Hmmm.

And then Adobe released Lightroom as a public beta. Intriguing.

“I can use whatever folder and file structure that makes sense to me in Lightroom?

Yup.

Hmmm. Very interesting.

Oh, and Lightroom integrates really well with Photoshop.

Okay… I like what you’ve done here…

The only problem was, if I was going to migrate to Lightroom, how to get my 60,000 original camera files out of 60,000 folders and 60,000 subfolders. There was no easy answer. Until I talked to a brilliant software designer friend of mine who offered to build me a little script to hunt down my originals like a jungle explorer with a machté. It took a few weeks. But it worked. And now I have over 100,000 images in my Lightroom catalog. And easy access to all of them. I lost all of my Aperture edits up to that point, but it just felt better to be working in a program that made more sense to me.

Apparently I was not alone. In a survey I read a year or so ago, pro photographers are using Lightroom over Aperture with a ratio of  about 3 to 1, if I remember correctly. It could be more by now.

Apple eventually fixed the Vault issue in Aperture version 2, by allowing users to choose where they kept their files. But my photo ship had sailed. I was very comfortable and fast in Lightoom by then and wasn’t about to perform another photo migration and lose all of my edits a second time. Some of my photographer colleagues I respect beseeched me to give Aperture another try. It was better now. Really! You should try it out again!

Nah. I’m good here with Adobe.

If that sounds a bit familiar, it probably should. And if I were a photographer with all of my eggs in the basket of a company that just End-Of-Life’d four of their pro apps in FCP, Color, Soundtrack Pro and Cinema Tools, not to mention Shake a while back, I’d be tossing and turning at night.

…forever… and ever… and ever….

Are Aperture and Logic far behind? Who can say? What will be Apple’s last pro app?

As one of our recent U.S. Presidents once said, “Fool me once… shame on… shame on… you… Fool me… but you can’t… you can’t get fooled again.”

Apple will most certainly continue to improve FCP X, in the weeks and years to come even though they’re apparently going to leave the heavy lifting of EDLs, XMLs and monitoring to third party vendors.

Don’t worry about bins. We’ll organize everything for you so you don’t have to think about it. Keywords. We know what’s best for you.

FCP X may turn out to be the most amazing thing since electronic NLEs (non-linear editors) were invented. (Film was the original NLE.)

But like Aperture version 1, FCP X is pretty much a beta with a few did-they-really-talk-to-professionals-before-they-released-this? issues.

After a week of nothing but cricket sounds coming from Cupertino in response to dozens of relevant questions from thousands of editors, Apple finally released a sort of FAQ about some of them. But even those answers leave some troubling questions.

Apple now says FCP X will be available with volume licensing, so you don’t have to have a separate Mac ID account on every computer you want FCP X on. But only if you want to buy 20 or more FCP X seats. Who came up with that number? The post house where I cut on Avid has 10 seats for Media Composer and 10 seats for FCP Classic. So it’s 10 Macs with their own mac IDs if we want to use FCP X. I don’t think that’s going to happen. My engineer is sighing and shaking his head, no.

Personally, FCP Classic being EOL-ed will not really affect me personally or financially. If I want to continue to use two year old (some would say four year old) software technology that works in a professional environment, no one is stopping me. But I can’t add more FCP Classic seats in my studio. It’s a bit like musical chairs: hope everyone who wanted a seat, got one before the music stopped.

There are many people out there who truly were blindsided by the combination of FCP X not being the update we hoped it would be and FCP Classic being pulled from the shelves. Seriously Apple, you are free to do whatever you want with your loyal customer base without any advanced warning, but this was just plain mean!

For a moment let’s set aside the pro businesses that invested thousands of dollars or more in an editing solution they assumed, based on past experiences, would just keep getting better, not get axed in favor of an untested “paradigm shift.” Instead, imagine you’re a student entering a film school this fall that has a lab full of FCP Classic systems and you are mandated to have your own copy of FCP Classic. Now what?

Does the school keep teaching FCP Classic even though that skill set will be fairly obsolete in four years? Does the school pony up for new licenses of FCP X instead, assuring that graduating students looking to find work in a collaborative professional post environment will have no clue if they find themselves sitting in front of an editing system without a revolutionary magnetic timeline?

At least the graduating student who just spent four years mastering FCP Classic will recognize an Avid or Premiere Pro timeline, although there will still be some ramping up time.

The children, Steve. Think about the children!

But really, yes. Things change. There’s a great quote by a visionary artist/architect/inventor Buckminster Fuller that resonates deeply with me:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Is this what Apple is doing? Is the existing editing model obsolete? Or are they doing something much less cerebral? Perhaps they’ve noticed that they make a lot more money selling iPhones, iPods/Pads than building powerful Mac Pro towers that only 3% of the computer buying public will be interested in. Perhaps FCP X is the iPhone of NLEs. Beautiful interface, exquisite design, but you can only use it in ways Apple deems appropriate.

Apple: “You’re holding it wrong.”

And let’s not forget the round mouse that came with the first iMacs. And Ping. Apple isn’t right all of the time.

Five days after FCP X was released into the wild – and I do mean wild, I was taking a break from viewing a few tutorials on FCP X, when something in my dock caught my attention. It was a little purple square with the letters Pr on it that I had never clicked on before.

Hmmm.

Click.

Interesting.

I pointed Chrome at AdobeTV. I watched a few tutorials. I read a blog posting by Adobe’s Steve Forde on how he ended up there and how he views Adobe’s mission to the pro artist community. We Are Here to Compete. Classy and refreshing in the face of Apple’s information embargo.

Fascinating.

FCP X couldn’t open my old FCP Classic projects. But this Premiere Pro thing, it could.

Plus, since my AfterEffects skills are not what I wished they could be, was Premiere my backstage pass into a better understanding of AfterEffects? It seemed to be. If I’m going to have to learn a new piece of editing software, maybe it would be better to learn two for the price of one. And since I already owned CS 5.5 Master Collection, it appeared that two-for-one price was… free.

Ah, Premiere Pro. Patiently waiting for me in my dock. Waiting for the star quarterback to be carried off the field with his head taped to a board, never to play with the pros again.

“Get your helmet on kid, you’re going in!”

Okay then. So over the next few weeks, I’ll load up all of my old FCP Classic projects and export an XML of each of my final edits in case I need to edit them again down the road. It’s called future proofing my work in case Apple doesn’t come through on vague promises of what FCP X might become… some day.

And in a year, when FCP X may have restored some of the pro functionality of FCP Classic, I’ll recall a familiar conversation:

It’s better now. Really! You should try it out again!

Nah. I’m good here with Adobe. Thanks anyway.

“Fool me… you can’t… you can’t get fooled again!”

So long FCP. We’ll always have Paris.

________________

Fun Fact #1: Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid both offer free 30 day trials of their software. FCP X does not offer a free trial.

Fun Fact #2: Both Adobe and Avid are offering special switchover discounts for owners of FCP Classic. Premiere Pro is 50% off until September and Avid Media Composer is also slightly more than 50% off, also until September.

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6 thoughts

  1. This is perhaps the most well written post I have seen about FCPX. Most of the detractors do nothing but whine, you really put it elegantly.

    While I am not ready to abandon FCPX completely, I just might click on that little purple tab myself one of these days…

  2. Thanks Todd. I’ve already downloaded the overview documents. Great to have that resource. And yes, I’ll check in on the forums when I find myself scratching my head. Feels like a good community there.

    I appreciate all the reaching out that Adobe has been doing. I’ve been working daily with Lightroom and Photoshop for years, even InDesign on occasion. Always felt confident that they were extremely powerful tools. I feel a little silly now that I haven’t looked closer at Premiere. I enjoyed reading Steve Forde’s blog on how Adobe has been quietly focused on making it another seriously great tool, even when a lot of editors were not giving it much consideration. I’m happy to have the blinders off now.

    Chad! Thank you, sir. I really wanted to wait and have some time to wrap my head around all of this before I wrote anything in public. Like you, I’ll be keeping my eye on future developments on FCP X, but it seems like at the the present, there are some very compelling reasons to check out Premiere. It’s been under my radar all this time perhaps because I was waiting for FCP X to land and not paying enough attention.

    So far, I’m really impressed with what I’ve found. I was saving a few back burner projects to get acclimated on the new FCP, but I’m now going to try them on Premiere instead.

  3. Pingback: Billy Sheahan Photography Blog | Are Creative Pros Going to Have to Force-Quit Apple? - Billy Sheahan Photography Blog

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