Final Cut Pro X: Our two editors spill the beans

| Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

We have some great talent writing on the website these days. We like to find writers with niche interests  so they can  help round out our perspective on news and the happenings around the tech world. It’s long been a goal to find someone who edits video on a professional level, so we can provide our readers with legitimate insights into the Final Cut and iMovie world. As it turns out, we have two. Both Eugene and Paul have quite an intimate knowledge of Final Cut, so we thought it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on the new video editing offering, in parallel.

Here are two articles, wrapped into one. First you’ll hear from Eugene, followed by Paul. It’s pretty interesting to see that they both have very similar concerns and thoughts, but that they both decided to deal with it in very different ways.

Joshua Schnell

Enter the FCPX

Eugene Huo

When Apple demonstrated the next Final Cut Pro at NAB this spring, I was excited, to say the least. Awesome new features, speed, and what I thought was an editing program for the future. But between NAB and June, a funny thing happened. The chorus of “It’s going to be great, it’s going to be great!” wasn’t silenced, but a nagging doubt was planted. “Is it too much like iMovie? What happened to the other apps in the Final Cut Studio, like Color?” The truth was, we didn’t know.

And then FCP X was released. Much ink has been spilled, many posts have been posted. “It’s still great!” some cry, while others rail at the features, or lack thereof. I did end up buying it. I went through the rippletraining.com tutorial, and worked with the program enough to put together some edits, organize the bins — I mean keyword collections — and figure out how I could use it for what I need. I gave it a fair shake. Functionally, I could use it.

I asked for a refund.

Is it that bad?
It is missing some features, yes, but nothing that I really use on a day to day basis. That’s not the point. Those things will be added back eventually, I’m sure. In fact, some of the new features are actually pretty great, and would significantly improve my workflow. So it was with great difficulty that I made this decision.

I’m not going to be using FCP X in the foreseeable future, because I can’t rely on Apple any more.

Some background here. I am not in the broadcast or film industry. I shoot videos for local businesses and organizations, and the occasional wedding or music video. Final Cut Pro 7 has been my editing program. For the past two years I have been editing video podcasts on a weekly basis and producing short commercials for a regional church. It would seem that FCP X would be perfect for me, the independent one-man production. However, before I was a video editor I was (and still am) a professional recording engineer.

I’ve been in the audio industry since the mid-nineties, and I’ve seen digital recorders replace analog ones, computers replace tape, and the resurgence of analog gear. I’ve used countless different multitrack recording and sequencing programs, and the main criteria for whether something gets used in the studio is that it has to work. It cannot be buggy or lose data. It cannot fail halfway through a take. It has to perform flawlessly. You can’t imagine the horrible feeling when you have to tell a room full of musicians (or worse, the producer) that they have to record it again because the computer stopped recording or had a glitch.

Beyond that, pros don’t like to be limited by their software applications. If something has to be worked around, it’s annoying. Creativity is killed when your application gets in the way. I think that’s why creative people like the Mac so much, because the Mac ideal is that it should just work, and that it shouldn’t get in your way.

And that’s precisely why creative professionals are so upset over FCP X.

Two steps forward, one step back…

By releasing a program that ought to have been a step forward from the existing app, but instead was missing many features that used to be there, Apple made it so that FCP X doesn’t “just work” for many professionals. By changing the video editing paradigm, FCP X now “gets in the way” of many pros, who will now have to spend the time to learn the “new way” of video editing.

Many pros are doing that, and are discovering that much of what they initially thought was missing is now just done in a different way. But make no mistake, it’s not by coincidence that FCP X resembles iMovie and shares a similar editing paradigm. Apple’s intention is clear: FCP X is aimed at the mid to high end consumer market, not professionals. Despite having the word “Pro” in its name, FCP X is no longer for pros.

If it was truly for pros, it would have shipped with feature parity to Final Cut Pro 7. If it was truly for pros, it would not have replaced the conventions of editing without giving some option to work in the traditional way. If it was truly for pros, it would have been able to maintain the ability open legacy projects and export to other applications for audio or color grading.

But it doesn’t, and the only reasons I can think of are that Apple a) didn’t have enough time to implement them for release, and had to rush FCP X out for some internal unknown reason, or b) didn’t think they were important, or c) doesn’t really care to.

Any one of those reasons is galling to a current Final Cut Pro 7 user. And it’s for those reasons that I’m not going to use FCP X going forward.

Final farewell

Even though I don’t work in TV or film, it doesn’t mean I don’t aspire to. And with my background, I can’t shake the ‘pro’ mentality. Please don’t mistake it for elitism. Editors, creative pros, they work long and hard, and if a program isn’t going to work for them, they’re not going to use it. If a program is kludgy or needs workarounds, they’re not going to use it. It’s not that I’m looking down on FCP X, but if a client is paying me to get the job done, I can’t afford to waste time or energy on workarounds.

I also can’t afford any more uncertainty. When you look at Apple’s history in the ‘pro’ applications department, you’ll see numerous examples of programs bought and then discontinued (Shake); programs released with great promise for pros, and then dumbed down (Aperture). I can’t keep all my eggs in one basket anymore. If Apple one day decides it doesn’t need FCP X, that it’s not making them enough money, they will drop it. And that will be it.

So I will continue to use Final Cut Pro 7 (as many are fond of pointing out, it didn’t magically disappear from my system, but on the other hand, it still has the same problems that it always had), but going forward I’m switching to Avid Media Composer. For one thing, it’s a great chance to get into it with the crossgrade promotion they’re offering Final Cut Users (until September). For another, it’s a marketable skill, whereas I don’t think I could get a serious editing job with “knowledge of Final Cut Pro X” on my resume. If I’m going to invest my time in learning a whole new program, it might as well be Avid.

Apple, I’m not going to say you haven’t been good to me. But it’s time to move on. I hope you have fun with all your new friends.

X marks the sore spot: New thoughts on Final Cut Pro X

Paul Skidmore

When I was little, my aunt had a sitting parlor. In this room was the best furniture, the nicest paintings in the house, her fine china tea set, a baby grand piano, gorgeous shag carpet (it was the 80s; she was an old lady). Everything in this room was immaculately arranged and the best of whatever it was.

Being a rowdy, destructive child, I was naturally not allowed in this room. Standing in the giant doorway, as if peering into a life-sized Better Homes and Gardens advertisement, I imagined that perhaps one day I’d be considered worthy enough to have the fine tea set served to me, to sit on the lime green suede settee, and perhaps dare to prop my Chuck Taylors up on the walnut coffee table. Maybe I could delight my aunt with a few bars of the MacGuyver theme on the baby grand before returning to the limo and heading back to my giant treehouse castle (it was the 80s; I was 8).

But I was never allowed in there. In fact, I don’t think anyone was. I never saw a human being in that room until the day we went to pack it all up after her funeral. My cousins drew numbers from a hat to see who would end up with what. The best of the best, covered in dust and having never been used, went into bubble wrap and boxes to be mostly forgotten (read: sold on eBay).

Final Cut Pro X

People keep asking me what I think of the new Final Cut Pro. My answer has been consistent: “It’s hands down the best editing program I’ve ever used, and when it comes time to edit my short film this fall, I won’t be using it.”

What’s great about Final Cut Pro X? No one can describe that in better detail than Apple itself. Just head over to the Final Cut Pro page on the Apple site, and you’ll see all the wonderful features of the program.

What’s not great about Final Cut Pro X? Everything that’s missing. Just do a quick online search to get a list of “missing” features (and accompanying rants).

Rather than rehash the same arguments (most of which are completely valid, on both sides of the aisle), this writer would rather focus on the future.

Because the future is the problem.

The pros and cons

There have been a lot of complaints, and quite a few answers about what will be coming in an update.

Some pros still require (what I consider to be) outdated hardware as part of their workflow. Broadcast television still uses tape heavily. Clients still want tapes or DVDs. Until just a couple of years ago, a guy I used to freelance for was still having to make VHS cassettes for people. (Finally, he just started buying cheap DVD players for any client that didn’t have one; we ended up saving money (read: time) by doing that.) Final Cut Pro X isn’t made for these pros.

Some pros, specifically those involved with the narrative film industry (such as myself), need the ability to collaborate with other pros that may or may not be as enthusiastic about Apple’s products as we are. Just as it takes many artists to create a film, it takes a myriad of software packages to post it. Every industry has its software that sets the standard. While Final Cut Pro has been taking over film editing even in Hollywood, a lot of Avid systems still dominate the west coast. Sound editors for film are using ProTools, not Logic, and certainly not Soundtrack “Pro”. I’ve opened Motion maybe three times; Adobe After Effects is the powerhouse program for visual effects. (And unless you can afford a more expensive turnkey system (like Autodesk Inferno), it’s priced for the prosumer crowd with features good enough for the cinema.) The inability to extract an XML or OMF from FCPX means that Apple didn’t make FCPX for these pros either.

If I’d had Final Cut Pro X back a few weeks ago when I was editing church camp videos, it would have been perfect. And I got paid to do those videos, so it was professional work. But even when it’s my bread and butter, it’s not what I think of when I hear the word “pro”.

If it ain’t broke

Clearly, FCPX in its current state is unusable for a great number of professionals. And while Final Cut Pro 7 (and the rest of the suite) work just as fine as they did before FCPX’s release, they’re a bit long in the tooth. But people have been using them for Hollywood movies. No reason to think that can’t continue for a while. I mean, people still use Moviolas and cut film, for pete’s sake.

But what if I need to expand my current set up? FCP7 is no longer for sale, and I’d rather not invest thousands of dollars in a system that’s going to run software that’s two years old.

Undesirable knowns may be better than the unknown

Maybe switching to another NLE is the answer? No one in Hollywood is using Adobe Premiere much yet, though a lot of independents are using it because of its native timeline support for RED. Avid has slipped in marketshare, but there’s still a ton of Avid editors out there. Lightworks is now available for PC for free, but that means changing over my whole shop to PC. (Plus they have that weird shark cursor??!) Any of these switches mean spending hundreds or maybe thousands on software and possibly more thousands on new/different hardware to run it.

The Apple pro-sumer Shake-down

Maybe I’m bold and want to jump onto FCPX in its infancy and ride it into pro-dom. This might be awesome. Everyone poo-pooed OSX and the iPad, for example, upon their debut, but so far they’re both doing pretty well.

Then again, it could be disastrous. Apple has acquired few programs as “pro” as Shake, which was used to composite visual effects for Lord of the Rings; if that’s not a true “pro” context, I don’t know what is. Apple’s first version was 2.5. Version 4 saw a slashed price of $499, and suddenly even prosumers were using this award-winning Hollywood software (developed by Sony Imageworks). The number of users skyrocketed. But then, after a few updates, Apple abandoned development of Shake at version 4.1.1 and stopped supporting it shortly thereafter.

Now, I don’t think Apple intends to kill Final Cut Pro. But, it appears Color — originally Final Touch, a $20k software package — has fallen the way of Shake, along with Soundtrack Pro and DVD Studio Pro. (AND WHAT ABOUT LIVETYPE?!?! Yeah, nobody cares.) Sure, Final Cut Pro X has some great color-correction and sound design features, but they’re no replacement for a standalone program that is great at one thing.

Adapt, adopt, or abandon?

FCPX certainly feels like the original Macintosh, the first iPhone, iPad 1— the start of something great. But will it hit big and grow?

Third-party hardware vendors will no doubt soon provide legacy (sorry, tape may not be dead, but it is legacy; deal with it) support at additional cost, but don’t look for Apple to add it to FCPX. Same goes for OMF and possibly XML support. Companies like Automatic Duck are already stepping up, but Apple won’t be developing bridges backwards.

Decisions

And that’s what all of us are trying to decide. Some people don’t want to gamble on FCPX or wait around for it, so they’re done and moving on. I hope they realize that moving on is just as risky as early adoption. The XFCPers are taking just as big a leap of faith as us FCPXers; we’re all gambling on what (who) will be the next standard.

And that’s where we are. All of our options kinda stink at this point.

Moving

I hate moving.

I’m about to move into a new house in Nashville. It’s a cozy little space, but it’s what I can afford. I have some nice stuff — some furniture from my grandparents, some paintings inherited from my aunt, and a ton of tech stuff.

The one good thing about moving is getting to start over from scratch. I’ve been able to just trash most of the junk and clutter from the old place. So far, I’m left with only stuff that I use every day. As for the expensive, nice things? Well… I have two dogs, so there’s nothing going in this house that won’t at some point be covered in dog hair or possibly stepped or slobbered on.

I don’t have room in my life for things I can’t use, but I can’t get rid of these expensive heirlooms either. For now, the baby grand will go into storage until I can afford a place where it really just works. I”ll miss having it available, but I’ll manage.

I love Final Cut Pro X, and I’m keeping it, but I won’t be using it for my next film. I really do believe Apple is onto something and will provide some updates that make FCPX a more viable option for true professionals. So right now, the gamble I can afford is to use FCPX for what I can, keep using Final Cut Studio 3 for the movies, and ride out the storm.

I don’t think any of us can accurately predict where the pro post world is going to be a year from now, but FCPX feels like a diamond in the rough to me. Here’s hoping Apple lives up to its promise of polish.

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