FCP-X: Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

Well, it’s taken a few days to sink in, but I’m beginning to get my brain around the reality of what’s going on in our little corner of the world. I am referring to the release of FCP-X. Something which has caused an uproar in the community of editors. The biggest concern comes from the core group of editors working in environments where they need to recall old projects, hand off elements to other specialists, or need to deliver finished products to clients, whether they be Broadcast Networks or Corporate Clients. Professional. Prosumer. Amateur. Working Editors. Whatever you want to call it. Working in creative field such as we do, there are certain expectations put upon the tools we use. Expectations that, if not met, can exclude a piece of hardware or software from being viable for serving us in our craft.

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to get my hands on FCP-X at the moment. Too many on-going projects and no time to look into the software, so this isn’t a critique of much of anything within the application. From what we’ve read and heard, it sounds like Apple is really attempting to re-define the way we work with our projects from the ground up. It remains to be seen how it will integrate into an overall workflow and environment. The lack of being able to drop into existing workflows will hurt the adoption of the application.

As the craft of visual media has moved from the analog to the digital, the tools that rise to prominence are the tools that act as extensions of the artist’s ability. Tools that make tasks easier often fall into that set: Photoshop is a perfect example of a piece of software that, when combined with sufficient hardware, has made the tasks of image manipulation easier. Photo retouching, airbrushing, and graphic design used to involve mucking about with real world materials – paint, chemicals, ink, lead. The invention of Photoshop brought these tasks to a much larger number of people. People who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to the skills, equipment or know-how to manipulate images have been exposed to the possibility afforded by this program. Photoshop has remained a tool with infinite and complete manipulation of the graphical image. Certainly there are plugins that can make images look like an Ansel Adams photo or a Lomo photo in an almost magical or automatic way, but the ability to manipulate each and every pixel in a given image has never been removed. I’ve stated before that auto-magical processes are not something we need or want in a professional application. We need complete control and flexibility to craft our projects.

Throughout it’s existence Final Cut Pro has grown into an application that does for video most of what we editors have needed. It is very well suited to the task of editing. Sure you still need Photoshop, After Effects and some other specialized apps to get the job completely done. It has enabled thousands, or millions, according to Apple’s own research, access to an editing platform that, prior to its arrival, cost tens-of-thousands of dollars. At around $1,000, FCP gave those editors an ability, not unlike Photoshop – access to very high-quality tools that were very flexible and fit nicely into widely-accepted practices of the post-production industry at a very low cost. During its decade in the market, the program has been revised to fit neatly into the place carved out for non-linear editing systems. FCP has even revolutionized some aspects of the process of creating visual media projects. It has been slightly bumpy, but an all-together smooth flow from the days of linear editing’s dominance into a world of (nearly) exclusive non-linear digital editing systems.

A few days ago, however, that all got tossed out. FCP-X was released and, without a doubt, it is going to be a game-changer in the post-production industry once again. The question is, though, will it change the landscape of the industry or will the industry simply change around it? Will we be abandoning it for products that dovetail better into existing workflows? Do we need auto-magical, “time-saving” geegaws that take control away from us as artists and hand it off to the computer? Or will FCP-X create a new segment of the market that we didn’t even know was there waiting to be tapped? Like many things Apple has done in the past, I think it will be a little of each. There isn’t going to be one simple answer.

And that’s really what this post is about – there are no simple answers. Sure you can be in the Apple-fanboy camp and kneel-and-bow before everything they create without hesitation or you can be an old grump and deride and knock it down before you give it a chance to prove itself. But, I feel, the answer lies in a much grayer area than either of those extremes. As I’ve thought this over. As I’ve watched my Twitter and FB streams explode with people arguing over this like their very lives depended on it (I do know that many businesses actually do depend on it. So it’s not something to be taken lightly). As I’ve seen what’s happening, I keep hearing a small voice in my head repeating this phrase, “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

That’s really whats going on here – fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Allow me to explain my thinking…

FEAR

It is human nature to fear change. FCP-X means big change. Things are going to be different. Bad or good, the post-production environment is going to look and feel different over the next 6- to 18-months. That has everyone on edge. While no one likes to be forced to make changes, I can say from direct experience, Editors are some of the most change-fearing people I’ve ever met. God love them all & I know a bunch, getting Editors to change work habits or methods or even monitor configurations is an uphill battle. When someone like Apple comes along and says, “the way you’ve been doing stuff is out! Look what we’ve invented for you now,” its going to be met with a bit of defiance. Editors don’t take kindly to giving up control. Editors don’t take kindly to anyone presuming they know better. Editors don’t handle change well.

{As an aside, I’m not being completely fair. Most Editors I know handle things like Client Notes or Changes in stride – better than most would in similar circumstances. Its change to environment or work habits to which they are often staunchly opposed. And they are not afraid to speak their mind about it either. Just search for #FCPX on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean}

Fear is something we’d all like to live without it being a dominant force in our lives. Fear breeds paranoia. Fear makes us all go a little off the rails. Talk with any editor about their opinions about FCP-X and I’d be surprised to find anyone who doesn’t give you a mini-rant about it. That’s fear talking.

I really do feel sorry for everyone this is effecting. Its making me a little nuts because I’m full of the (upcoming) uncertainty and doubt. I have to imagine the hardest hit by this fear though must be those Editors out there who have only known a world with FCP. The younger or less-experienced group. Over the last 10 years, they came into the industry at what must have seemed a Golden Age. “You can do all this with a computer & a $1,000 application?!” They grew up learning FCP in school. Then they went out into the real world and got jobs based on this well-earned FCP knowledge. They’re good at it too. But, they’ve never worked in a Linear Suite. They might know a little about Avid or Premiere; certainly not as much as FCP though. With the events of this week, they’ve just had the rug yanked out from under their chairs. They have to be quietly panicking inside. They may not show it. Or they may surprise us old farts by knuckling down and learning what they need to move forward, but I’m sure fear is real and palpable for them right now.

Also, I have nothing but for contempt for Apple at this point. They’ve done almost everything they could have to create an atmosphere of fear (with some uncertainty and doubt thrown in for good measure). I can imagine that in the future college courses on marketing and product rollout, this launch is going to be used an an example of how many mistakes a wildly successful company can make. Time will tell if those millions of FCP users Apple touts will stick around. The number may stay the same or even grow – $300 for the app is so much more affordable. Apple has done a great deal to contribute to our collective fear about this.

Why couldn’t they have done it differently? Arrogance is the likely answer. Apple’s development teams (the ones the public interacts with anyways) conduct themselves in a very look-how-amazing-this-product-is fashion at every event. I know that’s mostly just the gimmick. The policy of not discussing unreleased products is all fine and good if you are developing cut-throat consumer products like iPods, iPhones, or iPads. That kind of secret-keeping is not something that will create a product the post-production industry wants or needs. It will create a product that is what Apple thinks we want & if you don’t want it, then you are left out and too bad for you. And, as someone who has had to make plans for a few large production companies’s future infrastructure decisions, the secret-keeping game strikes me as petty. Businesses need to make long-range plans and have the information out in the open to make effective decisions. I suspect that this kind of thing is going to drive those clients away from Apple’s products. Maybe that’s what Apple wants – professional video editing is a very different category than iPods, iPhones, & iPads. All those folks who want a product that lives somewhere between iMovie and FCP7 may be just what they are after. Based on what we’re seeing with price points and what the product can do as shipped, I’d say Apple have figured out the ROI and are simply going after it. If that means losing a few hundred large client then so be it. Think of the cost savings by not having to support 20,000 seats of FCP at the BBC and you’re talking real money.

That being said, in order to drop FCPX into the workflows I currently use for most of my work, I would need to come up with so many work-arounds and jump through so many hoops to make it work efficiently. It looks as though it *will* eventually work in a much more robust manner…someday, but that day is not today.

Yes, it is a reboot for the application, but that reboot appears to be shaving users off the top-end. Perhaps Apple has extensive market-research that shows that high-end post-production users are a far smaller group than people looking to beef up iMovie’s capabilities. Maybe they see it as a Return-on-investment proposition. There are likely many, many more users who don’t need to view things in broadcast quality or deal with broadcast video tape formats than those who do. Why waste the time and effort on developing for a few hundred when you can better serve a few thousand or millions. But the application as shipped today, is essentially a Beta version. If you and your clients are OK with doing your projects on Beta software, then dive right in.

Here’s my take on how they could have launched it differently: Start with the NAB Sneak Peek. Open with all the slides showing FCP’s dominance in the market, etc. Then say, “We know we are in the lead. We know professionals rely on our FCP app for their livelihoods. We also know that FCP7 is a ten year old app. It hasn’t seen an update for 2 years. Well, the reason is that we think it can all be done better. We’re going to show you what we’re doing.” Then do the demo. Then follow that up with a marketing approach that says, “we’re going to release Final Cut X (note no “Pro”). This product is the foundation for where we are going to take Final Cut Pro. Final Cut X is not for professionals. It lies between FCP7 and iMovie. Based on the feedback and input we get, in a very short time, we will release Final Cut PRO X with all the features professionals need or clear pathways to get where they need to go.” Leave very few people in the dark about what’s going on. Reduce the level of fear your secretive actions inject into the situation.

That would have given us all a chance to see and maybe even use the product with the understanding that Apple was committed to creating a new professional level product. A product that while not for everyone, would eventually get there and the end users could actively participate in the creation of this new tool. Sigh. But they didn’t, did they?

{Another aside, back in ’08 or ’09 I applied for a job at Apple. It was a Video Editor/Application Designer position. I can’t imagine it would have been for FCP-X, but maybe it was. For those who know me – wouldn’t I have been perfect for that position? Although if “my” FCP-X was pushed to be released in the current state, I probably would have had a few choice words for the powers that be. At least I would have given them my marketing plan before walking out the door. Apple, you never responded to my application, btw…could have saved you lots of trouble, I’m just saying.}

UNCERTAINTY

Like fear, uncertainty about where things are going is making everyone a little crazy…ok, a lot crazy. This goes back to that not-speaking-about-unreleased-products business of Apple’s. Hardly anyone outside of Apple has any clue what’s going on. Or if they do, some stupid NDA has them stifled. They have proceeded to stay quiet about things in the face of all the uproar. Maybe they are using modern-ninja-business-fu to deal with the issue – waiting for the noise to die down before responding. Or maybe they don’t see the problems with what they’ve created. It works for them and they’ve designed it and you’ll use it or die. What could working editors possibly know about this stuff? My previously stated idea that Randy Ubillios and team would not “turn away from the power and capability in the current version of FCP and create something that won’t work for a similar audience,” are a little less certain now. I’m not sure they actually talked with working editors across the spectrum of post-production. Or if they did, they didn’t listen. Or is there a “just one more thing” we haven’t heard yet?

I will say, that I, as a working editor, I will not be using the FCP-X product in its current form for many projects. I’m definitely in the camp of not-an-average-user, I know that. I’m also a very early adopter of most new technologies. While I will be downloading a copy of FCP-X to test and figure out, I will not be suggesting that any of my clients rely on it to deliver a project until after I’m certain that the product will live up to my own and their standards. Until I can integrate it fully into my desired post workflows, I will consider this application in Beta status – it is not to be relied upon or expected to serve my needs or those of my clients.

DOUBT

It looks like Apple is really trying to push hard on re-defining how we work on our projects. From what I’ve seen and read, this product is the opening of that evolution, but it has a long way to go. As of today it does not replace and extend functionality we currently have available to us in FCP7, Media Composer or Premiere Pro. Yes, it adds a bunch of new cool features and concepts. But, it also is severely limited in functionality that many consider to be required to serve in the post-production toolkit. There are some really cool features and I have hope that they will evolve into the next generation of a decade-long success.

But simple interconnects between systems like OMF or EDLs. Being able to open older projects. Being able to view my video on a true broadcast monitor. Being able to segregate and manage media among many varied (and sometimes competing) clients. All of those things are required for FCP-X to remain in my tool kit.

Doubt about Apple’s devotion to this product has been creeping in over the last several years. Doubt about whether Apple wants to remain in this space. Doubt about whether they can remain on top (whatever that means). Doubt is raised when they release the new version and cancel the old version completely on the same day. The move Apple made by discontinuing FCP7 is an alarming development in the adoption of this new version. It appears as though they are going to force the switch over a little faster than the market may be ready for.

 

Fear. Uncertainty. And doubt. 3 things that any product manager does not want associated with their product. I can only hope that Apple does not want them associated with this product and that we’ll be pleasantly surprised in the coming months. Either that or Avid and Adobe are going to have a bunch of new friends.

3 Replies to “FCP-X: Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.”

  1. thanks Ben. Nicely written and you have hit all the points that are concerns for those of us who make our living as professional editors. I am choosing to stick with FCP7 for now and am going to wait and see what develops over the next several months from Apple as well as the competition.

  2. Nice post. Apple has done this “forced conversion” model for as long as I can recall. They’ve always pushed new technology town their users’ throats. (Remember the floppy drive? Remember the CD-ROM drive? Remember FW400? *cough*) Something else that dawned on me, you probably could have written a post like this when FCP originally came out. It was pretty rough back then, full of glitches, as I remember it. Premiere was pretty widely accepted but FCP was new and shiny and full of promise. It seems FCP-X is sort of the same thing but your points on fear, uncertainty & doubt are all very well founded. Those broadcast-quality fears are very real and tangible and affect many thousands of people’s livelihood and workflows in a big way. I think your notions on ROI are spot-on, too. That has to be one of the core drivers in this whole release. It’s all just to strange. The NDA factor too – it’s such BS – but so necessary from their point of view. It’s definitely an exciting time, good or bad, I’m interested to see how this “beta” turns out.

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