Post-Mortem: Two Years After the Fall of FCP

What A Difference Two Years Hasn’t Made

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since the stalwart Final Cut Pro shat the bed and drove countless editors into the hinterlands. At NAB 2010 2011 (thanks to Dave Camp for pointing out my error) when Apple took over a Final Cut Pro Users Supermeet to debut their revolutionary new software, the editing world (except those who never left the safety of Avid‘s walled garden) took a deep breath. Was it a gasp of surprise? Shock? Disgust? Apple was after some big game – They went from FCP 7 straight to FCP X – a jump in 3 versions as well as a jump from arabic to roman numerals, perhaps redesigning the way people edit. New interface, new workflow, even new terminology (really? “events?”).

Oh FCPX - How I love to hate you...

Oh FCPX – How I love hating you…

Then two months passed. Then, one day, it was available on the app store and… Pretty much everyone hated Apple’s new cyclopean idiot man-child.

The new version sported a COMPLETELY re-imagined interface, snazzy 64-bit rendering, and an “X.” And as a member of “Generation X,” I know that an “X” immediately makes something cool even if it’s not. The late Steve Jobs, when talking about his position on innovation, was known to quote the even-later Henry Ford when he (supposedly) said “If I’d asked my customers what they’d wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”  Well, after 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 back.

We’re now just over two months away from the big NAB show when everyone rolls out their new stuff but all seems relatively quiet in the rumor mill. So before the hubub starts, I think it’s useful to look back on the what’s happened in the last two years to post.

The Biggest Change is No Change

Why can't we quit you FCP7?

Oh FCP7 – I wish we could quit you.

I still talk to a lot of filmmakers and editors who have stuck it out with the tried-and-true beast that was. Final Cut Pro 7 despite how behind-the-curve it is, technology-wise and despite the fact that each passing day brings it closer to not even being supported by Apple. On the few occasions when I’ve been forced to open an old FCP project, it brings back a strange flood of emotions that can only be compared to hooking up with an ex. I know how everything works, I feel completely familiar, but I know it’s not going to last. And although there’s something in here that I have missed, messing around is only going to make the next separation ickier.

Less fortunate are the post businesses who based their entire workflow, therefore most of their business model around the continued use and expansion of the Final Cut Studio suite of applications. Sure, Cinematools had lost most of its use since video cameras started shooting 24 actual frames per second, and sure LiveType had somehow relegated itself to titling for late-night commercials – but Color allowed FCP users to color correct professionally, Soundtrack Pro hadn’t necessarily replaced ProTools, but it sure got a lot of sound work done, and if Motion wasn’t exactly kicking AfterEffects‘ ass, at least it was a functional way to do lower thirds without having to watch a bunch of tutorials. But now those facilities have been forced by Apple to change platforms even if that means sticking with the not-pro-ready world of FCPX, meaning that many are hunkering down (rather than spending tens of thousands revamping a tech infrastructure), but one day will have no choice but to move – and I’m not betting that FCPX is where they’ll go.

The Fairest of Them All

Long live the king.

Long live the king. And longer live their cool logo.

Last year at NAB, I took note of the effort to fill the void left by Final Cut. The obvious contenders were Premiere, Avid, and Sony’s Vegas Video. I still think Avid’s probably been the biggest winner thusfar – the clients who want dependability and usability, those who tend not to be early adopters have good reason to flood back to Avid – the company that started it all. And Avid seems to have responded by dropping their premium price, adding features, and in general reaching out to indies. As a non-Avid user, I’ve probably felt the biggest attraction to the editing stalwart over the last two years as they’ve really gone out of their way to attract everyone from indies to reality shows to blockbuster movies.

My weapon of choice.

My weapon of choice.

The first runner-up is probably Adobe Premiere (what I currently use), who have turned their attentions to the core of the FCP user base. They even got Conan Obrien’s editors to make a video extolling the release of Adobe Premiere CS6, calling it “Final Cut Pro 8.” This year, Adobe sponsored the Sundance Film Festival and it seems that Adobe has chosen to steal a page out of Apple’s book, targeting indies and small shops who need to turn a fine product around for a price and giving them everything they could want. The Adobe Creative Cloud is just that – an inexpensive way to get the entire Adobe suite – Premiere, AfterEffects, Photoshop, Encore – you name it – for less than Avid’s “discounted” price for just the editing software. Honestly, Premiere bundled with AfterEffects was enough to sell me.

Third place goes to – Final Cut Pro X. I know, I’m spending a lot of time railing against the mess that was made out of one of my favorite software packages of all time – but FCPX has started to turn itself around. This is not to say that it’s ready for the professional use that FCP7 enjoyed – I believe FCPX is years away from pro, and their attitude is often hilarious – like when they added multicam and called it a “new feature” (you see, I still remember when it was a “new feature” in 2005). Or when it gave us a viewer window (as seen in every NLE since the dawn of time including FCP’s 1-7) and again touted it as a “new feature.” But interestingly, FCPX has spent the last 48 22 months limping back to usability.

Oh Smoke, your logo confuses me even more than nodal compositing.

Oh Smoke, your logo confuses me even more than nodal compositing.

Honorable mention goes to Smoke 2013. Smoke is an amazing high-end compositing product that has little day-to-day use for most editors in its current form. So to steal the FCP crowd, Autodesk added a mediocre NLE to the platform in hopes that FCP7 users would jump ship, pay $3,000 (three times the price of FCP Studio), and start using this not-ready-for-prime-time NLE and find use for its highest-in-class compositing and finishing tools, many of them nodal and therefore confusing and inscrutable to those of us accustomed to working on a timeline.

…And the Rest

C'mon Vegas. Try harder!

C’mon Vegas. Try harder!

I will never understand why Vegas Video isn’t a bigger deal, but it just isn’t. There is about zero professional market penetration from this product that’s been around almost as long as FCP. And I honestly don’t get it – it’s always done the exact same thing as all the other packages – often ahead of the pack. It has a dedicated and loyal user base, but it’s permanently relegated to “also-ran” status. Even Media 100 had a few years to bask in the sun. Get on it, Vegas! You should have the best slogan at NAB.

Dunno what it will be, but I like the cut of their jib.

Dunno what it will be, but I like the cut of their jib.

For years I’ve been following the exploits of “open source” video editing platform Novacut. It all seems cool and utopian, but I’m still waiting for an actual tool to be delivered that could be used on the Mac and I have to say that developing an editing tool that’s not available for the Mac might undercut most of one’s projected market. Still, I love the optimism of whomever’s behind this – even if all of their Facebook posts sound like a bunch of hacker digerati utopianism. All I want is a thing I can use – but still, I’m keeping an eye on them because maybe we all need a little more utopianism.

The dark horse of all the editing apps out there, which might-one-day promise to revolutionize how we do all this stuff, is the rise of tablet computing. Be it iPad, Android, or even Surface – there are a lot of people trying to crack the nut of allowing us to cut video on these brilliant little devices. Apple originally had iMovie for the iPad, then Avid released an app – which quickly transitioned to being a “Pinnacle” app (read: Avid’s consumer-minded little cousin), and this week we saw the release of an app called TouchEdit (created by Dan Lebental, ACE – editor of the “Iron Man” movies) which I’ve already played around with only to discover that it’s cool but it’s clearly a .1 release. I will track this as it goes (and thanks to Michael Monello for letting me know it was out there!).

Impressive start. Let's see where this goes!

Impressive start. Let’s see where this goes!

None of these apps (I have all 3 myself) are ready for day-in, day-out use as a main tool, but all work fine for crushing crude cuts together in a hurry on location to give filmmakers and clients and idea of what’s going to be. All have problems getting media into their systems, and are restricted by the relatively constrictive storage capabilities of their host tablets. And I have to say the idea of of spending hours transcoding proxy files today sounds unnecessarily retro and wastes all the time you save by having these things being so portable.

My One Prediction…

Currently available - an iPad-driven control surface for FCPX. The downside - FCPX

Currently available – an iPad-driven control surface for FCPX. The downside – FCPX

So where is this all going? What will we all be jawflapping about in months to come? We know a few things – Adobe will release a .5 release of their Creative Suite, bringing us up to CS 6.5 (although I can currently find no rumors about ANYTHING in this suite). Avid will definitely continue its push for a greater market penetration, reclaiming swaths of the editing countryside it lost to Final Cut Pro over the last decade. But my real prediction is that we’re going to see more tablets than ever. Tablets will be used to drive mechanical things, control surfaces for editing systems, you-name-it.

If I could dream big, I would love to see Adobe crush the competition by using things it already (mostly) has and delivering real onset editing on tablet via Adobe’s “Anywhere” technology – allowing filmmakers to park all of their footage on a main server and access it via the internet. Adobe currently has no tablet-based version of Premiere, and has only shown demos of “Adobe Anywhere,” but if we were looking for a game-changing bombshell that would be the one. The rest (and most of what we’ll be seeing) will be awesome, incremental improvements as to be expected.

The Calm Before the Show

Las Vegas

Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the National Association of Broadcasters Convention (NAB) is coming up fast – April 6-11 in soul-killing, drunken, grab-you-by-the-ankles-and-shake-the-money-out-of-your-pockets hellhole Las Vegas. And as much as I “love” Las Vegas, I truly and unironically love the NAB show. It’s where all the camera manufacturers, widgetmeisters, software developers, and even people who refer to their products as “solutions” show up to pimp next years’ wares. The talk of the show last year was Blackmagic’s Digital Cinema Camera – which has barely begun shipping but is making waves nonetheless. And prior to the show, nobody knew squat about it last year, nor Smoke’s plan to become “affordable” after all these long years.

So if you’re driving distance to NAB, I highly recommend you make the journey. An “exhibits-only” pass is free after all!

So what will this year bring?


5 comments on “Post-Mortem: Two Years After the Fall of FCP

  1. I’ve re-dedicated myself to iOS development. I haven’t forgotten about the app idea you told me about.

  2. I understand your concerns but on the FCP side of things you might find a few thinsg missing

    48 months? Try 20 months .

    Do you mention the 7 FCP releases? No. Do you say anything about the new features that were added rather than just being snarky about whether they are new? No because you didn’t do the research deep enough

    It’s little things like that make these arguments so silly. Use what you like but the code base on FCPX is newer and is not as bad it is made out and looks stronger moving forward.

    • Dave – you’re right about my timeframe being off, and I caught another error in my blog (it was 2011, not 2010 that FCPX crashed the FCPUG Supermeet). I’ve corrected it and given you credit – we could all use an editor or fact-checker to catch these kinds of stupid mistakes. I start the “decline” clock at 22 months ago when FCPX was first announced, but my error in timeframe was obvious and I appreciate you pointing it out.

      As for the 7 releases (or as I like to call them, “updates”) to FCPX in 2 years – I never counted but that would have been a normal update pattern for FCP 1-7 – or if 7 updates had come out in 2 years (between FCP and “ProApps”), I probably wouldn’t have taken a special notice. What the FCPX releases offered were (frequently) things that previous versions of FCP had already done – XML import (so you could update your old FCP projects into the new system) OMF export (so you could sent your audio to ProTools or whatever), client monitors, expansion card support, multicam, viewer window, etc. These are ALL things that previous versions did flawlessly and to act like importing from a previous version is a “new feature” is to negate every kind of software that has ever been made in the past. If the new version of MS Word didn’t open your old documents, you’d curse Microsoft for rendering all of your previous writing obsolete – and so it was with FCPX. And if you had tens of thousands of dollars tied up in FCP machines at the time of the switch (as many MANY post houses did and still do), you still might not have recovered from the seismic shakeup which resulted from the bad decision to release this software as Apple did. That’s why giant reality TV company Bunim-Murray went so far as to issue a press release about switching back to Avid. As a decade-long FCP advocate (starting with version 2 in 2001) I saw things like this a a significant loss in ground that had been gained by FCP and the non-Avid world in general.

      As for your assertion that I haven’t researched this deeply, in fact I have an install of FCPX and download and test each new release. I’m OBSESSED with this. I stalk this. I’ve even cut two small projects on this mess within the last year and I stand by my point (if not my math) that FCPX is not an app used by professionals in a client-based workflow, and shows no current sign of addressing that even as it hemorrhages users to every other NLE in the market. I would remind you that Apple did the same thing with the Pro users of another software package – Shake – in 2009. And just like with FCP, Shake stalwarts stood by the discontinued Shake as long as they could until better solutions (notably Nuke) gained professional acceptance. In 2011 I saw that I could stand by FCP7, assume FCPX would one day be useful, or find something to use in the here and now (the “there and then?”), and I took the third route.

      And for the record, I’d LOVE to see this “base code” of FCPX implemented in a way that made it attractive for professional editing once more. I’m not on “team Adobe,” I’m a filmmaker who wants the best tools to accomplish my creative and professional goals. The only cogent pro-FCPX argument I’ve heard thusfar was from LightIron’s Michael Cioni who argued on a podcast (with an awesome graphic illustration online) how great the architecture of FCPX is. I think that’s great – but I don’t edit with the architecture, I edit with the end user experience. I expect the tool to conform to the way I want to use it, not for it to ask me to change my entire method of working around its narrow definition of how I should work. I often think of these things (cameras too) as either being designed from the starting point of the user and backing into the engineering (where the user experience is key) or from the engineer forward – and FCPX seems to have support from software engineers and people who care about software code rather than from the professionals who use the software itself. And if FCPX was designed with the user experience in mind, it clearly wasn’t the experience of the existing user base or any professional editor in mind where there is a well-developed lexicon and method of working that’s been in place for two decades.

  3. Bit of a shame that light work is not mentioned. It is a great product with a fantastic heritage.

    • It’s a fair point. Lightworks was an early contender which has made something of a recent resurgence – but has never been the professional standard. But I’d love to hear your professional experience with it. Please share!

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