Putting the “F” into FCP

Confessions of a Final Cut Pro Apologist

Meet the happy, colorful new look of FCPX.

At 5:30 am this past Tuesday, Apple blew the minds of editors around the world. And not in a good way.

Final Cut Pro, the professional nonlinear editing (NLE) suite released by Apple over a decade ago, never had it easy. When it first appeared on the scene, it had to compete with industry leader Avid (still its main competition), the also-ran editing system Media 100 – of which I counted myself a happy user at the time, and fringe-ey weird programs like Adobe Premiere or the Video Cube. When I hopped onboard the FCP-train, it was already on version 2, and like Media 100 (and unlike Avid, for me anyway) I found it to be an amazing, intuitive system that opened up creative possibilities I’d never had before.

And I was one step closer to that wish for all indie filmmakers – autonomy.

In the days before ubiquitous nonlinear desktop editing, it wasn’t unusual to pay upwards of $500/day for an editing system plus the cost of the operator. In 2000, I’d produced a project where we’d spent $2,000/week on an editing system (and again, the operator was not included in that price) and felt like we’d gotten away with art theft in The Louvre. If I wanted to cut something simple like my own directing reel, I could expect to pay handsomely or beg a friend for a HUGE favor. At the time this made sense; the cheapest Avid systems at the time ran about $30,000 and required a great deal of hardware acceleration just to do things like rotate an image or apply simple color correction. And when we were done editing, we had to take the project to a DIFFERENT Avid, the Symphony, to online at $500/hour plus the cost of the operator.

If it sounds like madness, it’s because it was. And mind you, we were finishing in DigiBeta. Standard Definition.

When “Good Enough” is Really Good Enough

In 2000 when George Rizkallah and I were considering going in on a FCP system so we could cut our own projects, a friend of mine who was an old hat at Avid mocked the potential decision, comparing it to Premiere, Adobe’s then-easily-mocked software-based NLE (more on Premiere later). I really thought FCP was onto something though – for $1,000.00 George and I were able to have access to our own editing suite which, although flawed, emboldened us to shoot on inexpensive DV camcorders, edit, and even record back to VHS tape with the help of a hardware breakout box. A year or so later, DVD Studio Pro v.1 came out and, although flawed, allowed us to burn then-$10-apiece DVD media that could be played in most DVD players at the time.

And it grew from there.

Version 3 of FCP gave us color correction and version 4.5 allowed us to work in HD. Apple released apps like Motion to compete (unsuccessfully) with Adobe AfterEffects, updated DVD Studio Pro to actually be able to author amazing DVD’s, and Compressor allowed us to output to a variety of formats. Even programs which Apple bought and repackaged – like Color (which began life as Final Touch HD) or CinemaTools (which began life as Film Logic) showed us loyal users that Apple meant business and even when their tools didn’t connect properly with our needs (I’m looking at you, Soundtrack Pro), we could see that Apple was trying to give us tools that were good enough to create professional results.

If it sounds exciting, it’s because it was. By version 5, FCP had significantly penetrated the market and those who knew how to use it were in demand. After keyboard customization, shared workstations, and data-based workflows were added, Avid users were left to sneer at FCP’s less-than-robust media management. But who cared? The Coen Brothers were using FCP. Walter Murch was using FCP. The shame of using “Wedding Cut Pro” was gone.

Vive La Video Toaster

But there was always a specter hanging over us. The Sword of Damacles of cheese as it were – the idea of pre-built templates which might look cool the first time we see them, but after a while we begin to notice them in late-night commercials and infomercials, high school sporting events compilations, and softcore pornography.

In the early 1990’s, another hardware/software combo gave filmmakers an in-home solution filled with prebuilt templates and relatively-useless flashiness. The Video Toaster – a software package that ran on the Commodore Amiga computer, which blasted out fancy “Star Wipe” style edits with blazing slowness. Watch this video and you’ll get the idea:

So at the time it was revolutionary to have these tools in one’s house. But most of the tools consisted of goofy titling and cheesy transitions, all pre-built for the wedding video industry.

What’s the connection? Over the years, as Apple has given filmmakers a robust toolkit, but they’ve also given us things – which I’m sure took a great deal of R&D to create – that nobody needed. Like LiveType and Live Fonts. I’m sure there was somebody out there who proclaimed, “finally I can have my words made out of particle system smoke!” But for the rest of us and I do mean most of us, these prebuilt templates which infested DVD Studio Pro and Motion sat bloated and unused like Tom Sizemore because to do more than play with them was to admit that as a creative person you were out of ideas and willing to let your projects have a great deal in common with the cheapest work that was done. And that’s not meant as a slight against the people who make videos for summer camps, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, and Elementary School plays (and Tom Sizemore). There’s a place for them, and they don’t have the money to hire graphics departments.

It’s just that now, with Apple’s release of FCPX (the “X” is pronounced “ten” even though there were only seven versions of FCP before now), the editing monolith is using its decade-old industry capital to buy some Video-Toster-cheese, and a lot of it.

Introducing WTF Pro

Meet the new interface; completely different from the old interface.

It’s been much reported this week by disgruntled editors everywhere – FCPX is making filmmakers who depend on it walk the plank. The new FCP has some good (64-bit processing, background rendering), a lot of bad (no viewer, no support for external monitoring, no import or export, no support for tape ingest or export), and a pantsful of ugly (star wipe! Silly templates, CGI-water-dripping-on-the-lens effect, etc.). Support for plugins that I’ve purchased over the years – gone. Ability to bring a FCP 7 project into FCPX – nonexistent. Multicam editing – left out. David Pogue’s blog in the New York Times doesn’t exactly quiet my fears. To replace what was already in FCP until now, I only have to go spend $500 for Automatic Duck. The $300 price tag on FCPX is now $800, and I still can’t use multicam or output to tape like I did last week.

But you can bring in iMovie projects, there is that.

So what are filmmakers to do? We have three choices, really:

  • Upgrade to FCPX. It’s the future, right? Background rendering, 64-bit processing, and an interface that’s easier on the eyes.
  • Continue using FCP 7. It may be three years old and unable to do a lot of fancy things that Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid can do, and it may never change, but we all get it.
  • Jump ship! Adobe has developed Premiere Pro so that it seamlessly integrates into its flagship apps Photoshop and AfterEffects. Avid has been developing its software all this time to compete with FCP while lowering their prices. It’s still more expensive than FCP, but Avid is also still the industry standard-bearer.
Having been one of the fools who purchased FCPX on day one (which required upgrading my graphics card, of course), I can say with utmost certainty that unless Apple releases a comprehensive upgrade/overhaul of the new FCP, the first option is a non-starter. The changes to the software which Apple has made seem to have been done without the consultation of a single editor who would use that program in the wild, and even feel designed to scold that editor that the way he or she works is wrong and that Apple (a computer company) can redefine their craft for them better than they can for themselves. The second option may get me through the next few months, but eventually I will have to face the fact that as a serious filmmaker, my beloved FCP has finally moved on. As a filmmaker who prefers to work on the creative rather than technical, the idea of learning a new software makes me sad.
It sounds like work.
But at this point, it’s not a matter of sticking with what we know or learning a new thing, but rather which software we have to learn from scratch.
If that sounds like editors have fifty headaches coming their way, it’s because we do.

10 comments on “Putting the “F” into FCP

  1. I haven’t edited anything in Final Cut Pro in many many years, but it sounds like Apple is doing the same thing they did to iMovie, and making the same mistakes, too. I will say that iMovie now is a much more capable and intuitive editor than the version of iMovie it replaced, but there were a couple of painful years in between.

    Pogue’s article suggests this is like the transition from OS9 to OSX, do you think that is the case? And if so, have they at least released a base system that you can see Apple building into a better professional package once they bring the feature set up to parity of FCP7?

    It’s unlike Apple to do anything without a long term plan, but when the uproar over a professional piece of software is so loud it becomes fodder for a skit on Conan, it’s hard not to see this release as a colossal screw-up.

  2. I saw that Conan thing this morning. Pretty funny, although it doesn’t really address what a one-way ticket to sucktown FCPX has become for editors.

    Here’s the problem no matter how you slice it:

    Apple hasn’t updated this software in years. So we’ve already had a couple painful years before this even launches. Users have been waiting for functions like 64-bit processing while Avid and Premiere Pro both became more attractive options anyway. What kept a lot of us on the hook with FCP was hardware integration but that’s moot now that the new FCP doesn’t seem to integrate with any of the hardware it did a week ago.

    So even if FCPX evolves into the best thing of all time for editors, professionals can’t wait for a solution that’s to come when we have deadlines looming right now on projects that we currently have. And Apple’s typically tight-lipped stance on this means we won’t know what’s coming until it’s here. Given that what we have right now is unacceptable and not usable in a professional sense, filmmakers will have to fill the void with something in the meantime.

    iMovie didn’t have that problem, and even if it did – it’s free.

    And after that void’s filled, we’re not going to want to re-learn FCPX, no matter how awesome it is because our preoccupation as directors, producers, and editors is not to constantly find a more complicated way to learn a new system to accomplish our production needs, it’s generally to find an ecosystem in which we’re comfortable and grow with it. I’ve been exclusively cutting with FCP since 2001, and no matter what Avid dangled in front of me I TRULY don’t want to learn a new way to do what I already do.

    If FCP was the only system out there, we would grit our teeth and keep working but it turns out we all know of an equal-or-better system or two that already exist. And I’m telling you, once the big post houses and individual production companies replace FCP, they’re not going back for a LONG time – or ever.

  3. When I heard the news and saw images of FCPX, which looks a lot like iMovie with muscles, my first thought was that Apple might be shifting its priorities to the amateur/prosumer crowd (a pretty big damn crowd). As it gains greater market share and strives to feed its shareholders (I’m one of them), I wonder if the company really cares as much about a (relatively) small niche like professional editors. This new incarnation seems more suited to savvy YouTubers than to the Coen Bros.

    Small correction — I believe that the “X” is actually pronounced “Eeech!”

  4. Sometimes I’m too proud of my own wordsmithing. Today someone asked me what I thought of FCPX, and this is what I said:

    “If I may say so, the new FCP is a complete abortion, and a rancid syphilitic sore-covered cockslap in the mouth of anyone (myself included) who’s used the editing software for the last decade. That being said, at $300, it’s currently the cheapest editing package and it has nowhere to go but up, quality-wise – kind of like saying that anything tastes great after your first spoonful of baboon shit or British food. Read my latest blog (www.neptunesalad.wordpress.com) to see why I fucking hate the new Final Cut. If you’ve NEVER edited then you might not miss all of the great things they strip-mined out of this software package to make way for their cunt-numbing clusterfuck of reductive retardation and thinking-for-yourself-prevention. And who knows, maybe I’m wrong and you’ll love it’s over-simplicity. For web-only video, it would probably work right now. Fuck them.”

  5. […] project to a DIFFERENT Avid, the Symphony, to online at $500/hour plus the cost of the operator. read more… Tags: Adobe, Apple FCP, Avid, FCP, FCPX, […]

  6. […] membership I’ve been considering allowing to lapse since the introduction of… Um… A certain piece of abortive editing software…), podcasts are still for you. Listen on your Droid, on your computer… Hell – […]

  7. […] As someone who’s personally paid for much of the film stock, processing, and transfers on my own creative projects over the years I think the Tarantino-esque romanticism of celluloid bled out of my bank account some time around 1996. When there was a viable replacement with a fraction of the cost of the sprocketed stuff, I jumped ship, if not as fast as I did on Final Cut Pro. […]

  8. […] checking out the horesless carriage of FCPX, most of us still went equestrian. And so, as I said here, I saw the writing on the wall and moved to the Adobe Creative Suite and haven’t looked […]

  9. I actually tend to agree with pretty much everything that was composed within “Putting
    the F into FCP | Neptune Salad”. I am grateful for pretty much all the advice.

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