On Final Cut Pro X: What Pro Video Editors Won’t Tell You

And the Pro Editors are hopping mad about it. You’ve probably seen the brouhaha all over the tech corner of the web, with Pro Video Editors fuming at Apple’s slick new upgrade for Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X which EOL’d Final Cut Express and the Final Cut Studio Package, unifying Pro and Express and splitting the Studio Suite into three core Apps all available on the new Mac App Store. What’s got the Pro Editors hot and bothered? They’ll tell anyone who asks (And anyone who doesn’t) that it’s simply the fact that Apple has abandoned them, Apple doesn’t care about Pro any more because this App is “unsuitable” for professional video editing – it’s not Final Cut Pro, it’s iMovie Pro! (Note the irony here: the iMovie Pro name is supposed to demonstrate that Final Cut Pro X is not a tool for Pros. One would wonder then why it has Pro in its name even in this derisive nickname?)

Here’s the truth. That’s all a load of FUD. And I’ll tell you why: the reality is, the world of video has grown and changed. Pro Video Editors? They have not. They’re dinosaurs, stuck in a world of TV (TV Networks in general can be considered at least partially responsible for the dinosauric attitudes of the Editors owing to their cheapness and general unwillingness to upgrade technology – many still require masters on tape) and film in an era where video has shifted.

Simple question for you: where would you say you saw the most video content in the past 24 hours? For most of you I’d wager the answer is not “Traditional TV broadcast” and certainly not “in a movie theatre”. Nor is it likely to have been film or TV on DVD/Blu-Ray. For most of you, the answer is probably “the web”, or some variation of it – such as on-demand on a TV.

Apple’s aim with Final Cut Pro X was to produce a Pro Editing App for the modern era. Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and even Sony Vegas are all built from he perspective of the past. And it’s one the Pro Editors love. It’s conservative, it’s heavily keyboard-driven, it’s bathed in dependence on timecode and syncing and preposterously complicated formats and drivers and encoders and decoders and tapes and format wars and piles of jargon-heavy windows with unusual and complicated interfaces. It’s built on a foundation of “you’re going to do x by doing y or else z is going to break unless you a b and reverse the c of n”. In short, it’s complex, hard to learn – harder to master – and inaccessible.

Existing Pro Video Editing Apps are built with the wrongheaded belief that you should be made to learn the App to edit the video. It’s My Way or the Highway with Avid and Adobe. Even FCP 7 was guilty of this to a certain extent.

And that was weird, because it’s not Apple’s way. Nor is it a credible way to design a video editing app. A lot of Avid Editors will scoff at the idea of someone using the new Smart Tools Avid added in the latest version of Media Composer. Know why? They use the mouse. Editors don’t like the mouse, they like the keyboard. Know why? Cos anyone can use a mouse, and video editors are special. But that’s their own hang up. If they want to prove you need to be a Pro to be great at editing, then the tools shouldn’t matter. A Pro should always be able to edit better than a consumer, regardless of the App, otherwise their training in editing theory was an expensive nothing.

The real reason the Pro Editors all hate FCP X so much is simple and twofold: it makes editing too easy and it’s not optimised from a conservative worldview.

Final Cut Pro X is optimised for an all file-based workflow. Do you know who uses all file-based workflows?

People like me. People like the folks over at Channel Awesome.

Oh sure, some independent web producers use tape or DVD in their workflow right now (I believe Cinemassacre do, or at least did until recently) but it’s more about that kind of work than any specific producer. I myself do use a tapeless workflow. And FCP X cures literally all the bottlenecks and hangups in my workflow. Better yet, it operates in such a way that editing is easy, the App gets out the way and lets you arrange the video and audio and export for the web with ease.

Independents like me and the other examples do need Pro grade tools – I couldn’t use iMovie for what I do – but that doesn’t mean we need Avid Media Composer. I’ve been professionally instructed in Avid and I still hate using it because it constantly gets in my way. Likewise Premiere Pro which I found to be mess of complications and incompatibilities – as well as being hideously ugly and suffering the worst UX of the big three (FCP, Avid and Adobe Premiere). The App being simple o use is very important in the era of democratised video:

Sometimes the editor is the talent. And the producer. And the cameraman. And the writer. And the director. Certainly that’s the case with me. In this era, we need pro tools which do not require speciality training in order to use.

Pro Editors hate all this because it means change which offends their conservative nature and it also means they might not be able to command such high salaries or face tougher competition. Unfortunately for them, that’s just the way it is.

About ten years ago, Apple heralded the birth of a new era when they claimed that home video production was about to be the next Desktop Publishing. Like the way desktop publishing took longer to evolve than assumed and wound up a very different beast (The World Wide Web supplanted the original vision of people printing their own newsletters, but had an all the more devastating impact on the traditional print industry because of its inherent advantages, including cost) Apple is being proved sort of right, much later than they probably planned.

The big growth in video is small operations – less than ten people on the whole production, often as few as one person or two people doing to the majority of the work – producing for the web. Final Cut Pro X was designed with that in mind. The response thus far has suggested it’s the answer to a question no one asked at best and at worst, the wrong answer to the question the pro editors asked.

The truth is, the Pro Editors were asking the wrong question. FCP X is the Right Answer to the Question the Modern World Asked.

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