Thursday, April 14, 2011

Final Cut Pro X killed iMovie Pro

Back in the day the VCR was going to kill movie theaters, music videos were going to kill radio stars, 3rd party phones were going to kill Ma Bell and audio cassettes were going to kill the record industry all together. And home cooking is killing the restaurant business.

I've been keeping up with the development of FCPX for a while now and everything clicked when I recently watched someone using it and thought, "That's iMovie Pro."

I've given this a lot of thought since then and have come to a conclusion: it isn't.

The hue and cry over the new GUI, greater ease of use and lower price point I think really brings one thing into focus: editors, like all creative people like their tools to be complex. Complex means that you've put in the effort to learn it, even master it and since it's complex -speaking strictly software here- THEY need YOU. You can command a price for unleashing your knowledge. It props you up; makes you worth that rate because you know what Shift + Control + O does.

But, honestly, a large part of what editors do, in my experience, is routine, repetitive and frankly, boring. Clicking buttons, dragging stuff around isn't rocket science. The naysayers, referring to FCPX as iMovie Pro feel threatened, it's as simple as that. But why?

Now anyone can grab an affordable copy of FCPX from the App Store and with all it's fancy new automated this and that be editing before everything's even ingested; hence editors are obsolete, right?

I don't believe this to be true. You have to look at this from a wider context. FCPX is a natural progression of editing, it's Apple not only heading in the direction all digital media is going but they're leading the charge. Remember the lamentations of the end of floppy disc? The death of ADB? The lack of an optical drive on a MacBook Air? What do you mean my Performa doesn't come with a 56k Modem?

By placing powerful tools like FCPX into more hands, more hands are empowered. It levels the playing field in many ways but not all. Cheap, simple to use software is no replacement for raw talent and interest. This is why I think so many people on so many message boards are decrying FCPX: their creative talent, or lack thereof, will meld with coming tide of new FCPX users and they know they have little to help them stand out. I really believe it comes down to talent.

I've recently had some very interesting conversations over this over too many cups of coffee and FCPX at $300 does away with two things: the person who (likely pirated FCP) does adequate work for a quick paycheck and could have used FC Express or iMovie instead, and the person who invested in Final Cut Suite hoping that the high price would re-coop itself over time since few others could afford it.

Have you noticed how many people are unloading their original AVID systems in the past handful of years? One friend of mine offered to sell me his SCSI-based Avid system, computers, monitors, speakers and all for $2500 just to get it out of the office. Tack an extra zero onto that and that's what he paid for it originally.

Back in the day (and still true today somewhat actually) one or two people in a town would buy a Stedicam rig at a HUGE cost. They'd rent it and themselves out as an operator and make pretty decent livings just being an operator. They invested the big dollars and reaped rewards later because few people could afford the large initial purchase. Today Stedicams are cheaper and more and more places have them. Several editors I know have at least one, sometimes two; but they're great operators. The point is, even though the hardware is affordable (or at least more so) just owning something doesn't make you skilled at using it. Some of my friends are great Stedicam operators and are hired out for their talent even though the company hiring them could easily buy their own Stedicam.

You see, having the expensive hardware automatically sets up a demand. You have it, they need it, they rent you and the equipment. It's a simple formula. It worked.

In my younger days I owned an Arri SRII and would rent it out with me as the operator. I made a killing. Digital cameras make that less lucrative now days, but the skill at being an operator, DP, director, etc…endures. Anything rare, hard to obtain or unique is valuable. Intangibles are valuable as well.

So when the price point of the hardware or software drops to a level that everyone can afford it what's left? Skill. Creativity. Interest. Talent.

There are only 26 letters in the english alphabet but not everyone is a pulitzer prize winner.

FCPX doesn't hand-hold creatively as iMovie does now. There's no automated trailer building and the like. What it does do is act more like a 3rd assistant editor than anything else; that saves time (I bill by the hour sometimes as well, I know what you're thinking) which makes time for more creativity, exploration and problem solving. If FCPX chops my new project organization time down by even 20mins that's HUGE.

I believe that those who are crying foul about the simplicity and perceived hand-holding of FCPX don't feel a threat against their livelihood, they're actually fearful that their lack of talent, creative problem solving and interest in editing as a profession will be uncovered. It's easy to go through the motions in any project, it's faster and less stressful to turn in something good enough. However, now anyone can. If anything, iMovie was more of a threat to FCP editors than anything else.

I see FCPX as making talent and quick turn around of a project command a higher price because when the restriction of high-priced software is eliminated what's left is the final project, how long it took and how good it is.

Someone's Flip video assembled in iMovie and shown at their corporate retreat is only a threat to those editors and videographers who distilled down their work to that level using better cameras and FCP instead.

I see FCPX and it's greater usability and very affordable price point as separating the wheat from the chaff. Clients will always pay for talent, creativity and quality because they can slap together mediocrity quite easily on their own.

It's the difference between in-house good enough and outsourced "I didn't think it would turn out this good."

FCPX doesn't eliminate the need for experience-based knowledge. All those crazy formats, connectors, output formats, compatibility and long list of fixes from past catastrophes are still valuable.

So what if an edit takes one click now when it used to need three and a key command? The result is the same. You know what they know now in terms of the basic machinations and the rules and like the old adage goes, once you know the rules you also know how to break them. That's also not to say that knowing all the intricacies of FCPX won't be valuable either.

Knowing a piece of software intimately actually escalates your thinking to a new level; you think in results rather than individual progressive changes. Ask any super Photoshop user; it's not that adding a bit of noise here will look like noise, it's that it'll combine with what they did before and after and look like photo-realistic rust or cloth or skin.

An example was a long, long time ago a friend built a project in Motion, saved it, packed up his equipment and headed to an extremely large convention to present it; ready for any final tweaks. He lands, the client asks for some very minor changes to the sample video they saw and my friend discovers that the laptop his company packed for him (I say company when I mean assistant) didn't have Motion installed, just FCP which was only used to load footage on-sets and not only that, it would barely run Motion if it were (even could be) installed. He did have the drive with the original media the client sent him weeks ago, however.

He called me in an absolute panic, literally tearing up as we talked. This was a HUGE HUGE client, international stuff, the presentation was listed on the event list and the CEO was there to present it. There was simply no time to ship out his HD and original laptop, or just buy anything (Apple store? Not built yet.) so together he and I worked in shifts, on separate portions of the project, re-building it entirely in FCP with about a forty two bajillion keyframes between us. We both knew the more dimly lit corners of FCP and keyframes and compositing and filters and etc… to re-create what he had originally done in Motion to really a surprising extent.

We render out our respective portions at a "slightly less than" full resolution to save time, merge them into one file and play it directly from the laptop in front of "a lot of people" and the client is pleased never knowing the sweaty sleep-deprived panicked 14 hours spent in a small hotel room upstairs huddled over a tiny underpowered laptop while the other person sketched out on paper what they'd do next.

Having FCPX ingest stuff for you, sort and catalog footage and help you out in all those little ways for $300 isn't never going to replace Raw Editor Know-how. It's going to accentuate skill, not hide the lack of  it.


Nicolas said...

... "when the price point of the hardware or software drops to a level that everyone can afford it what's left? Skill. Creativity. Interest. Talent."

GOOD FOR YOU ! Nobody dares to say it but you're right ! All this "pro" discussion is just bullshit. It's talent and creativity that make the "pros", not the price or the complexity of the software. This post of yours is such a relief ! said...

I just want to say I really appreciate your blog and look forward to new posts. There may not be tons of comments, but that doesn't matter. You are not blogging into a vacuum :)

I'm an oft-reader of your site and i just like to say "Keep it up!"

Eric Wise said...

You're absolutely correct! I wrote a post on my blog (Splice Vine) about this. Now that the barrier to entry is lower than ever we editors need to focus even more on craft and storytelling.

Unknown said...

This is the most insightful article on this debate I've read anywhere. Thank you

Unknown said...

Thank you for this article. I am looking forward to Final Cut Pro X, it will be my move to mac after 12 years in pc's.. I just cannot pass up the workflow benefits as a solo video producer.

Philip Bateman said...

Thank you for this article. I am looking forward to Final Cut Pro X, it will be my move to mac after 12 years in pc's.. I just cannot pass up the workflow benefits as a solo video producer.

Christian Simpson said...

Couldn't disagree more. FCP X sucks. No support for RED. No XML. No OMF. No multicam. But hey it can detect a medium shot and a wide shot. Great. The ipod killed the mac. There is no reason for me to be with Apple anymore. This is part of a much larger issue. Why go with Apple to begin with? I can no longer justify their ridiculous prices for hardware when their software is so inferior. The Adobe line of products has completely filled the void that abysmal FCP has left behind and we are switching over in droves.

Walker Ferox said...

I agree in part. For a dot zero release FCPX is useless for many professional users.

I cannot switch until Multicam is included. While I still stand by my rant, I do agree that removing functionality that's used and relied upon by many professional editors is crazy.

I'm going to wait until basic functions are included before I even consider switching. FCP7 works very well for me and I'm sticking with it until FCPX gets enough updates to replicate all FCP7 can do.