FCPX rantings – I’ve had it with this nonsense

I generally try to be measured and reasonable in my posts here – however, I can contain myself no longer. I apologize in advance for the tirade I’m about to embark upon, but I’ve had it with this FCPX nonsense. This will be a full-on rant mostly as a rebuttal to this one post on Gizmodo.

Read on if you can bear me unloading a fair bit of rage towards these arguments against an unreleased, preview of a pre-beta version of Final Cut Pro…oh, and I’m going to use some bad words…

First let’s get the biggest issue off my chest: The app hasn’t been released and people are already making declarations of “Well, that’s it! I’m done with FCP, Goodbye!” Are you fucking kidding me?!? I was seeing tweets about that very line of thinking during the FCPX Preview at the Supermeet. So, basically, these professional editors who are abandoning FCP, are doing so based on a pre-beta, preview of an application that, by Apple’s own admission isn’t done, is a complete rewrite from the ground up, and while watching a presentation that left so many questions unanswered that I’m not even sure Apple knows some of the answers yet. This is fucking ridiculous.

If you are making that kind of ground-shaking, game-changing decision based on this 1 hour presentation, then please tell me, dear professional editor, how the fuck do you make your edit decisions for every single edit you have to make? The Art of Editing is all about making decisions – carefully crafted decisions. Decisions that weigh many variables. Decisions that often take time, research, and deliberation to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Any editor who makes decisions without all the facts and consideration is just a hack. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Someone who would make a quick decision to change the editing application they would use based on a 1 hour presentation of an admitted pre-beta application preview isn’t someone you should want editing for you. I’m sorry to be so harsh but there it is. Enough already with the fucking proclamations that FCP is dead. The fucking thing hasn’t even shipped yet or gone to beta. There are many questions left to be anwsered before you can make that kind of call.

OK, so that should be it right? Sadly, no. Gizmodo posted an opinion piece about FCPX the other day

Really, I know I shouldn’t be getting my Professional Video Post Production news from a Gadget site, but this recent post tipped me over the edge on this shit and I can’t keep quiet about it any longer. My apologies to the author – I’m sure you are a super nice guy and a really great editor. I mean nothing personal about what I have to say about your post, but I have several issues with what you’ve put forth. The kinds of points you raise in your article are the same kinds of things I’ve been hearing from many an editor who has something to complain about the new FCP. Please understand that I’m going to use the Gizmodo article as a guide. As I go through it, the “you” I keep referring later in this article isn’t meant as a slam against one person. I’m addressing all the naysayers, en masse.

I know that editors, in general are an opinionated bunch. If you are coming to this from outside the industry, think Mac vs. PC arguments dialed up to 11. I think part of this has to do with the fact that editors are often very passionate about this stuff. Also it’s a fairly personalized craft – I do things a certain way because that’s what I have figured out. I think many editors get behind the facade of a strong opinion because they don’t like or want change to come and shake things up. I say bring on the change. Adapting to changing circumstance is the sign of a true professional.

Let’s take a look at this post and what I find wrong with it:

Why Final Cut Pro X Is Sending Me Back to Avid

I landed my first job in post-production in 2003 at a small house which used Avid exclusively. It had plenty of problems; we struggled with the Dragon error for a few months, converted to Xpress Pro when it came out, and then wrestled with that. There just weren’t any other options.

Weren’t options? In 2003?  I opened my first Final Cut Pro edit suite in 2003 & I had been working with it, professionally since 2001. I had been editing on Avid Media Composer prior to that and I can tell you, categorically, that while they both had their problems it was really a factor of cost that drove FCP into prominence. In 2003, I got a quote for an Avid system to do a specific and technically demanding project – it was $50,000 for the CPU, software and storage. I priced out the equivalent FCP system and came in a $15,000. So, it was a no-brainer – FCP won, hands down. The stuff that I couldn’t do with FCP at the time was of small concern for that price. And frankly, there wasn’t much I couldn’t deal with in FCP just as well, if not better than Avid. It was a business decision.

And then Apple’s Final Cut Pro was released, although it too had some problems. But when Avid stopped listening to their customers and became more and more inflexible, Final Cut Pro became an increasingly attractive option. By 2009, significant portions of the editing community were using it.

In 2007, I was Director of Post for a production company that was producing programs for HGTV, The DIY Network and a bunch of internal stuff. We were based on FCP exclusively. The two AVIDs were older machines that just weren’t worth upgrading. After careful consideration and (again) budgetary considerations, the choice was made to move to FCP. It should be noted that we did not give up on AVID based on a single, pre-beta presentation. It was a carefully considered and researched direction based on what existed in the marketplace – shipping products – not some guess work based on a slapdash presentation. That’s really what’s at issue here: Apple fucked up what could have been a really informative presentation. They probably let their egos get in the way and they are really excited about this new direction. Could the presentation have been better? Absolutely. Should you be making a decision of what platform you will be working on in July based on that demo? I would hope not.

And now we’ve been given a glimpse of FCPX, a massive, from-the-ground-up revision of Final Cut Pro which proves one thing definitively: that Apple understood many of the problems that were inherent to Final Cut Pro. But, instead of fixing them, they just decided to change everything.

You state this as if no one has ever done this before. FCP 7 is based on ten year old code in some places. It hasn’t been updated. I heard from a former Apple QA guy on FCP, that the reason the Log and Capture tool hasn’t changed since the beginning is because the person who created it is no longer with Apple and there isn’t time or budget to redesign that portion of the code.

AVID has done this very thing to us. Way back in the original iteration of Media Composer (talking NuBus to Meridian switchover here) there was a complete re-write of the Media Composer software from one version to the next along with a hardware platform change over. Talk about shaking things up. It wasn’t quite the disaster that is predicted for FCPX, but it was met with a lot of the same consternation. We editors were along for the ride and when the shit didn’t work we had to figure out how to make it work – of course under tight time and budget constraints.

Changing everything when you’ve got a ten year old application sometimes is the only option. Digital technologies have changed so much in the span of this product’s life. It stands to reason that Apple would have to start over at some point. I welcome a reset for the app.

At the preview event, Peter Steinauer, FCP Architect, assured the audience that FCPX was just as much for professional editors as FCP7 was. It really doesn’t seem that way, though. After getting through some of technical aspects of what makes FCPX better than its predecessor in terms of processing power and such—which does seem awesome—Steinauer moved on immediately to color sync. He boasted that FCPX would make sure that pixels looked exactly the same throughout the editing process, noting “you can trust that the pixels coming off a pro file device track all the way through your workflow to display on the screen and ultimately out to output.” This all seems well and good, except it’s completely unimportant for professional editors who aren’t finishing in Final Cut. Some of us color correct in a da Vinci with a professional colorist and then conform in a Flame. Steinauer’s point proves the underlying key of FCPX: that it really isn’t for professional editors

And this, right here, is one of the biggest developments I’ve seen with the influx of lesser experienced people to this world of computer based editing: “I don’t wanna care about whether this shit is good enough or not, let someone else figure that out. I’m only concerned with telling the story.”

Let me tell you, as someone who has to deal with this “we’ll fix it in post” mentality on a regular basis: Start to fucking care about this shit as early as you possibly can! If you care so much about crafting a story with the footage, then you better damn well make sure that the footage you have so carefully chosen can actually make it to the final edit. Don’t just cruise along tossing in whatever you want with no reagard to whether it can be used or not because all you are doing is making the online editor or colorist or audio mixer do more work. When it is discovered that whole chunks of footage are not acceptable for the final product, it often goes directly back to someone in the offline process not opening their fucking mouths and raising the red flag.

You must care about what goes into the machine before you even start editing. You must care while you are picking your selects. You must care as you spend hours crafting the show the way you want. And you must care that you are handing the finishing team the best quality product you can. Post Production is very much a Garbage In, Garbage Out business. Color Sync will help you up your game by making sure you aren’t the cause of an online editor missing his kid’s Black Belt Graduation as they fix bad choices made at the start of an edit.

If it were a device for professional editors, FCPX wouldn’t require a complete rethinking of non-linear editing. It would have instead addressed some of the problems that Final Cut Pro presents for professionals, problems that have existed since day one and that have solutions in the Avid. Like the ability to save your export settings. Or the ability to have an upackable project that allows editors to share bins and not force them into creating multiple projects to share. Or a reliable shared media solution, like Unity or LanShare, so we don’t have to work off of local drives all the time. Or a reliable find bin command that doesn’t constantly tell you your clips aren’t in the browser when you know for a fact that they are. Or a title tool that not only allows you to kern your text but allows you to see what you’re doing in the sequence without having to click back and forth constantly. Or, as the most recent updates to Media Composer have, a way to read RED files directly and then export DPX files. Because, again, not everyone is finishing in Final Cut.

Who says these items aren’t going to be fixed? This was a preview of a non-shipping application still in development! Of course these things need to be addressed and maybe some of them will be implemented in useful ways. Others, I’m sure won’t be done to anyone’s satisfaction. But not having the answer to these questions is hardly a reason to give up on FCPX in April.

And this bit is just plain wrong: “Or a reliable shared media solution, like Unity or LanShare.” Have you never heard of Terrablock or Apple’s own XSAN? Stable, reliable, shared storage. They both work. I’ve installed both of them in multiple FCP system environments. Just as good as anything on the Avid side. However, no shared media solution is going to be cheap, so I’m not sure how an app update (for any system) solves that.

And besides, who the fuck says that non-linear editing applications don’t need a massive overhaul? AVID, FCP and Premiere are all just clones of each other now. They are using the same model – Source & Record Monitors, Timelines, Bins. Why? Because nobody has taken the time to say, “wait, why do we do things this way? Is there a better way? Are there methods of manipulating footage and material in new ways that will allow us to handle the footage in new ways that may open up new creative possibilities?”

For creative people, Editors sure have become a cranky bunch of whiners. I was around when we switched from Linear Editing to Non Linear Editing. I listened to what the arguments were from both sides. In my gut, I felt that Computer-based editing was going to be a big fucking deal. But there were a lot of people who didn’t think that way. Why? Because they were afraid of change. Or they just like things the way they were.

One day in the mid 1980’s, I discovered the disconnected pieces of a first generation EMC system in the corner of an A-B Roll 3/4″ suite in the Post Facility where I worked. I asked an Engineer what that computer was. “Oh that, it’s this crazy idea some guy named Bill has that you’re going to be able to edit video on a computer. It ain’t gonna work,” was the response I got.

Another conversation a few years later contained this nugget: “The real problem with the EMC or AVID or whatever is that they cause more trouble,” said a staunch film guy I knew working for an institutional video department. “How,” I asked, “what kind trouble?” He responded, “well, in the amount of time it took us to cut one show last year, we just cut 3 versions on the computer based system.” I stared at him. This didn’t seem to be a problem to me at all. He continued, “now the EPs are fighting over which cut they want.” That wasn’t a problem with the NLE, it was a human relationship problem.

So, the idea that Apple is just inventing something new because they can is ridiculous. Knock it off.

If this were truly a device for professional editors, those improvements would have been in FCPX, and Steinauer would have made a point of mentioning them considering the room he was playing to. But he didn’t. He also didn’t mention EDL’s, OMF’s, XML’s or any changes to the Media Manager that might make generating a cut list for telecine a little easier. He also would have mentioned how the new Compound Clip feature would react when EDL’s are being generated from a sequence full of them.

You’re correct. He didn’t mention those things. Bad presentation skillz I guess. Hardly a reason to give up on the product though.

The idea of Compound Clips speaks to another issue with FCPX. One of the hardest adjustments an Avid editor had to make when switching to Final Cut Pro was no longer being able to load a sequence into the source monitor and cut it into the sequence while maintaining master clip information; FCP turned it into a new clip, which really was just a work around for not being able to generate video mixdowns. This meant that you couldn’t build a select string and then edit from it while still being able to match to your master clip. One would have hoped that FCPX would be able to do something like this, have a more nuanced understanding of the timeline, the way that Avid does, and improve upon a situation where every little move throws everything out of whack unless you’ve gone through and manually locked tracks.

Yeah that would suck, if only it were true. You have been able to do this for several versions of FCP now. Take a sequence of clips, put them in the Viewer, find the bit you want, Hold down Command as you edit them into your timeline. There you have the original Master Clip and not some nested version. I do this on almost every project I need to pull selects from and it works.

Also the same issues with sync exist on Avid and FCP. You can knock things out of sync, sure. That’s why no editor worth half their day rate should ever be editing without the Sync break indicators turned on in the timeline.

Learn how your tools work and complain when they don’t actually do what you want them to or find a way around it. Don’t give up on an entire platform because you can’t figure out how to make it do something.

Apple seems to know that keeping things in sync in Final Cut Pro was extremely problematic and have attempted to solve this with Clip Connections and the Magnetic Timeline. Clip Connections can lock a piece of video and its corresponding dialogue to, say, a specific sound effect so that they all travel together all the time. The Magnetic Timeline feature ensures that when this group is moved, you don’t get a clip collision or have to eliminate something from the next piece of media in the timeline. Instead, the next piece of media slides down one track in the timeline. Of course, the demo contains one track of video and two tracks of audio so it’s easy to see that everything works out. I wonder what will occur when you’ve got two pieces of video composited together with a title on top and your audio has dialogue, music, and a couple of sound effects. Will it move everything in the higher audio tracks down as well, thereby destroying the scheme of your timeline?

I (and many others) are wondering the same thing. What will happen on the Magnetic Timeline with many clips? What will happen? Since we don’t know yet, I’m not making an arbitary decision based on a preview of a non-shipping app. I’m going to wait and see what comes of it. If it is like the Clip Linking or Snapping to Transitions that currently exist, it will likely be something that you can turn on and off. I suspect that a bunch of the interface will be configurable and if it isn’t then, and only then, do we consider what the options are moving forward – in June or July, not April….before the product ships….(Do you detect a theme here? Knock it off!)

The biggest, most apparent change is the absence of the source monitor: it’s the iMovie-ing of non-linear editing. Of all the people watching the preview, applauding wildly and yelling out “I want it!” and “thank you,” I can’t believe that one person didn’t scream, “where’s the freaking source monitor?” This represents a gigantic change in the way non-linear editing occurs, a nearly unfathomable one. Since non-linear editing was invented, the mainstays have been the source monitor, the record monitor, the browser and the timeline. To take one of these away means that non-linear editing has to be rethought entirely. I’m not quite sure how you can set an exact in point without it, especially when you’re forced into using the iMovie yellow selection brackets.

Shortly after the demo, a couple of Tweets confirmed that, in fact, there is a dual monitor config (stupid Twitter’s search won’t reach back that far, but I saw them & trust the sources), so here we are just riding the bitch-fest train for no reason.

…but what if “non-linear editing has to be rethought entirely?” What if we’ve been doing it wrong all these years? What if some hotshot new application designer working with a the Human Interface Team at Apple has discovered a new paradigm for editing visual media? What if it revolutionizes the way we edit? You’ll miss out because you have given up before the revolution even hits.

All this being said, there certainly are some incredible things about FCPX, most obviously that it will render in the background and that no one will have to stare at the “writing video” dialogue box anymore. That really does sound great.

Sure it does…except this means no more time spent watching the render bar. To some this may seem like a blessing, but I will tell you that when you eliminate render times, you are going to create a situation where the producers are going to demand that you be in front of the box and working far more time than you currently are. You should probably quit smoking because you now have lost a major reason to get up out of the chair and step away from the machine. Sure, no render time is going to mean your edits go faster, but at an ergonomic cost. Oh, and get used to having that catheter inserted everytime you sit, because no renders = no more potty breaks.

And that it will analyze clips upon import so it will stabilize more quickly (although it already does the analyzing in the background). The FCPX function of analyzing clips for shot length and content (wide two shot, close single, etc) also seems great, though it would have been nice for Steinauer to mention whether this increases import time or not. And since it’s doing all this during-import work, can it also provide a transcript of some sort? That would have been truly useful because it takes a lot of work find an interview subject saying the exact right phrase, much more work than scanning through dailies for the close up series.

I’m confused. This article and many other are complaining about how this update might not be for the pros, but they are excited for this? Allowing the app to analyze your footage and make automatic decisions based on content is about one of the most consumer/prosumer tasks you could add to any program. Toss 3000 stills at an app like iPhoto or Picasa and then turn on Face Recognition. Take note of how many faces it gets right. Then take note of how, every so often, it gets things wrong. How are you going to know for certain that it is making the correct classifications? Taking tasks that are mundane but still require a subjective input by a human being and then automating them is just being lazy and bound to fail. Have you used the auto transcription tool in Premiere? It gets you a kinda useful transcription but still requires a human to review and compare the text to the audio and make corrections. Oh, and if you have a subject with a heavy accent, then forget it.

Again, we can’t know how this task will work until we have a beta or shipping product to test. I’m not holding my breath that this will be useful at all. I can just imagine the work involved to correct the computer’s mis-interpretation of 400 or more clips – that’s not going to be fast or helpful.

(The audio also gets analyzed during import, to remove hum and balance levels. Do these adjustments hold when you export an OMF and do they carry over to ProTools? Who knows, Steinauer didn’t mention anything about the way FCPX talks to other applications.)

Correct. These things weren’t addressed so no one should be making a judgement about whether they should be moving away from FCP yet…until the app is released.

If this is the future of Final Cut Pro, and indeed non-linear editing, then that’s fine and I can’t change it. Just don’t tell me that it’s for pros, but you have to change the way you’ve been thinking about everything. And don’t make me change for the wrong reasons, for reasons applied because the improvements speak most to people who aren’t professionals. I love that editing is something that a lot of people can do now, that there’s a greater level of understanding about what it really takes to make a compellingpiece out of a collection of images and sounds and your imagination. Editing, for me, is still where the magic is. It’s one thing to make changes for the sake of the people you claim are your clients and quite another to make changes for the sake of people who aren’t. That’s what these changes are, they are changes for the sake of making editing more accessible, not more functional.

So, this line of thinking is getting old. Apple is not just changing things because they want to. FCP7 is ancient tech. The code is old and outdated. There really isn’t another option to upgrade the program than to rewrite it from scratch. But they are not starting from scratch with no input from what came before. Randy Ubillios and his team aren’t some new kids on the scene. Randy has been involved with Premiere and FCP for years. He has been at Apple since 1999, so FCP has been executed under his watch. I can’t imagine that Apple is going to turn away from the power and capability in the current version of FCP and create something that won’t work for a similar audience.

Another thing to look at for perspective are the App Store comments. Not just for iMovie but for plenty of other Apps. Look at how many comments there are from people who can’t make these simple apps work. The size of the population for whom iMovie is too complicated is huge. For example, this snippet: “I really wish iMovie could be a basic and easy solution to making a quick movie.” iMovie couldn’t be more basic and easier. So to think that Apple is going to create an app that lives between iMovie and FCP for a small chunk of people who need that is ridiculous. Of course it will have the items that work for pros & it will likely make it easier to use. Please don’t equate ease-of-use with an application’s task complexity. If there’s stuff we as editors can stop worrying about or struggling with, I’m all for it. Let’s see what’s in the program in June before we make decisions to jump ship and use something else.

FCPX shouldn’t be about helping people who don’t know what they’re doing, it should be about helping people who do know what they’re doing work better and faster and, most often, that means giving them the flexibility to work however they please, using the techniques they’ve developed over years of working in tough conditions. Because when you don’t have a Senior Creative Director sitting behind you, you don’t really have to worry about finding clips fast enough or making precise edits immediately. But when you are in that situation, you won’t have time re-think the thing you’ve been doing for years and years.

So, the counter argument here would be: Sounds like someone likes things the way they are and is fearful of change.

It doesn’t matter whether I am supervised by 10 clients or working unsupervised for weeks, I don’t want the application I use to slow me down. Throughout my career I have found that often I get in the groove and start going at a fair clip only to be slowed down by the computer and poor application design. To me, the sign of a great application is one that doesn’t bog me down or get in my way. I want to move at the pace I set. This comes down to mere seconds – why mouse over to that button when it can be assigned to a key?

There is nothing wrong with making complex tasks easier – both to execute and for the capability of the operator. The kinds of things that are being demoed are going to increase the speed of our interaction. That will be good. But we won’t know for sure until June.

When FCPX is released in June, the countdown will be on for FCP7. Whether it takes a year or possibly less, support will dry up and eventually it won’t be a viable editing platform anymore. I’m not gonna wait that long. Instead, I’ll reacquaint myself with my old friend Avid, catch up on what I’ve missed and fall back into the warm embrace of my fully customized appearance and keyboard settings. It’ll take a minute to get completely familiar with it, to remember everything, and even to be reminded of all the things that drove me crazy. But at least I’ll still have a source monitor.

Wait. Why do need to reacquaint yourself with an editing application? FCP and Avid are two of the most popular editing tools. You should be keeping up with both all the time. You should be able to dive into an edit with either one at any time. You should be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each tool in your arsenal. To hear people say that they are going to switch from using one system completely over to another means they haven’t been keeping up with the advancements of anything but one app. You should be able to switch from one day to the next.

No one can say whether FCPX will be remain a viable editing platform until they have an app to work with and try out. I’m officially done with listening to people make blanket proclamations without having all their questions answered. Wait until June.

As I’ve said before: Ask questions. Seek answers. Remember, they are just tools in your kit. It’s what you do with them that counts.

6 Replies to “FCPX rantings – I’ve had it with this nonsense”

  1. Hey, Ben.

    I’ve said it before — I don’t edit on your level of knowledge and expertise. I do edit, though, and I currently use FCP. I’ve only used FCP and Premiere, and I have found myself quite happy with Apple’s editing suite. Reading your blog, and chatting with other editors, I’m finding myself more in your camp. It’s change. Roll with it. I had to when Premiere went “Pro” and change is something that comes with the territory. The same arguments used with video I heard with photography when the jump form darkroom to digital was happening. The SAME arguments. I rolled my eyes when I heard someone lamenting the death of Kodachrome. Yes, I shot on Kodachrome as well. Got some lovely results. But it’s not the film that makes you a great photographer or captures the right mood. It’s the eye, the composition, the lenses, and the optics. All that comes into play as well, and still I’ve seen shots of amazing emotion and depth captured on a point-and-click that dwarfs Nikon’s latest SLR.

    I’ve been down this road before, and I find people’s reactions to FCPX less about the application and more about the C-word.

    But I found this quote form the article most telling…

    “FCPX shouldn’t be about helping people who don’t know what they’re doing, it should be about helping people who do know what they’re doing work better and faster and, most often, that means giving them the flexibility to work however they please, using the techniques they’ve developed over years of working in tough conditions.”

    This quote struck me as a “Let the little people have their iMovie. Final Cut Pro is just that. For PROS only. No amateurs allowed.

    Didn’t realize this was a case of “Us versus Them.” That was how it came across to me.

    FCPX should be about efficiency for pros as well as opportunity for amateurs to improve, shouldn’t it? This is what I am hoping for from the application, and I hope to find out…when the product releases.

    Ben, you rant like a professional, and I dig that. I also find a lot of solid arguments in this column. Thank you for the post.

  2. Thanks for the counter opinion. I’ve been thinking the same thing and creating a similar stream of thoughts on my blog. I’ll be teaching this program to high schoolers in a digital media class.

    I welcome the fact that there’s at least a perception that it’ll be less daunting to learn. I’ll be witnessing the fact that it won’t be, I’m sure.

    I appreciate your point-by-point response. I was scratching my head several times when reading the original.

    The true mark of a professional in this day and age is being able to quickly adapt to changing situations, rather than having one specific and unwavering skill set.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise will either have to adapt or be left behind. Fact. I try to convey that to students as well, while giving them some tools to understand this information, but even more encouragement to figure it out for themselves.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who is making these grand claims of ditching FCP forever is either trying to make controversy or has already made the decision before the demo.

  3. Stumbled across this on twitter. Excellent points and I agree with them all.

    I also saw the tweet by @comebackshane confirming you have the option in FCPX to turn the “viewer and canvas” configuration back on. And I’ll wager that you can turn off all that other FCPX automation stuff if you want. And God forbid Apple invent a timesaving feature that actually saves time!

  4. yeah, I got annoyed by the article and the whole stupid iMovie argument.

    What really made me laugh is the lack of preview monitor thing. Flame, Smoke, Quantel and other high end NLEs have been single monitor forever and no one compares them to iMovie lol!

    Bravo on the post >applause!<

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