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FCPX - by Steve Miller

(Steve Miller, not the “Fly like an eagle” guy, is a good friend of mine, he is also one of the fasted editors I’ve ever seen. Actually I think Steve actually works better when he has less time. I’ve always respected Steve’s opinions and he is also very entertaining to listen to and always has poignant insight. He actually posted this on my Facebook “wall” and I asked if it was ok to blog it, I die a thousand deaths every time I hear myself say that word. Ladies and gentlemen of the inter-tubes… Meet Steve Miller.)

Last Saturday afternoon, I and several other professional editors spent the day clustered around an iMac. We weren’t there to create the next great American film, or even for a juicy, double-golden-time-weekend gig of any sort. We were there to try and figure out if Final Cut Pro X was truly as bad as we, and seemingly everybody else, seemed to think it was.  

We spent 30-45 minutes attempting to create a bin and put selected clips into it. 

We never succeeded.

If 6 of the most in-demand professional editors in the Bay Area can’t figure out something as simple as creating a folder, you really have to question the validity of the app you’ve created.   

Every single one of us in attendance, (and many of the good citizens of the internet that have commented on FCP X on the many, MANY venues available) are unapologetic Apple fanboys. We all had iPhones, iPads, and a multitude of other Apple products on our person, and in our purchase histories. If there was ever a sympathetic audience for a new Apple product, we were it. And yet, after several hours of frustration, we were all filled with a mix of anger, disappointment and resignation that it was once again time to learn a new edit system. And, it would NOT the Apple branded one.   

You see, all the Kool-Aid chugging in the world can’t change the fact that we make our living with this software. It’s a tool, just like a carpenter relies on his hammer and a doctor relies on her scalpel. The brand name printed on the side means nothing if your tool of choice fails to do what you need it to do. And Final Cut Pro X is kind of like using the cutesy, Fisher-Price equivalent of a real tool.   

I won’t go into chapter and verse about all the things that Apple left out of FCP X. There are plenty of other places to research the specific features omitted. Beside which, all editors/post houses have different requirements. What may be a must-have for me may be completely useless to you, and vice versa. I figured there’d be not a few bells and whistles missing from the first version, all to be gradually restored with .1 or .2 revisions down the road. I still believe that these updates are on the way and were always in the grand plan. 

What I was struck by, however,  was the utter disregard, or I might even say contempt, Apple has shown towards customization of any kind.   FCP X has its specific way of working and it brooks no argument from the user. 

As the folder example above illustrates, Apple has decided that it knows better than you, and all the other edit systems and editors who have gone before FCP X are “old fashioned” and “close minded”. The problem is, they offer absolutely no proof that their way of doing things is actually better than the current way that thousands of pros have been doing things for years.

I’ll try not to get too intensely specific here, as I know many of the folks who are reading this are not the gear-crazy tech heads that I and my editor friends tend to be, but I think I do need to illustrate this point a bit in furtherance of my position. 

Case in point: When you import things into FCP X they are automatically organized by creation date. Think of importing things into your iPhoto library. Now, this makes complete and utter sense when you’re talking about a consumer application like iPhoto, by the way. Of course you’ll WANT all the pictures taken on November 4th to be grouped together. It was granny’s birthday after all! For professional editors, however, it makes less sense. 

The footage we work with comes from many different sources.  Sometimes things are shot in chronological order. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes you need to retrieve archival footage that may or may not have the correct creation date attached to the file. Maybe footage shot a while back will need to be converted to ProRes from something else. Now the creation date is the day it’s converted, NOT the day it was shot.  Maybe you need to buy stock footage or download audio tracks from a music library. When were they created? They could have been sitting on a server for years. As you can see, simply breaking things up into chronological order is NOT the best way to organize things. At least not for a professional who deals with the plethora of footage sources listed above. And believe me, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the places our materials come from.  

Fine. Let’s say that you do import everything you’ll want to work with into the system, however it may be organized from the get go. Logically, there must be a way for you to go in, select the clips you want, and place them in a separate folder, (or “bin” as we call them) called something like “Exterior Shots” or “B-Roll” or whatever. Even iPhoto allows you to create an album and pick an choose photos to drag and drop into it.

Well, the brain trust I described above tried to do that very thing for a long while. We didn’t succeed. What we DID discover is that Apple has decided that you should select the clips you want and then through a cryptic keyboard shortcut/pulldown menu command, assign a “keyword” to them. Then, you create a “Smart Collection” (that you have to manually program yourself so that it has the exact search criteria that matches the clips you want to gather together) that will have all your clips in it.  


So, we went from this:

1. Create folder called “B-Roll”

2. Click-Select B-Roll clips you want

3. Drag and drop into folder.

4. Repeat as necessary. 


To this:

1. Select clips you want

2. Assign keyword “B-Roll” to them, (and BTW, the keyword “B-Roll” is not the same as the keyword “BRoll”, or “broll” or “B-ROLL”. Those would all be different keywords. Watch your typos…)

3. Create a “Smart Collection” that specifies, through very Finder-like command and search criteria “All Clips with the Keyword “B-Roll”


Gee. That IS better. Thanks Apple!   

(SIDENOTE: In FCP 7 it was also possible to drag elements from the Finder into a bin directly, completely bypassing a dialogue box. We tried this with FCP X, too. I’ll give you 3 guesses how it turned out. You won’t need the last 2…)

Now I suspect that there are going to be 2 different kinds of reactions to that comparison above. Your average video hobbyist with a Dad-Cam and/or the newly minted YouTube producer might say something like “Gee. Makes sense to me.” or “So? Same thing, right?” or even “I don’t need to organize things into separate folders. Why would I? I know what I shot, and I know it was on a Tuesday”. 

Professional editors are going to say some decidedly different things, definitely NOT within the parameters of this PG-Rated rant.   And there, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. 

As my comparison to iPhoto and the example above illustrate, Apple has made a very powerful CONSUMER editing application. Perhaps the best and most powerful app of its kind. I’m not being snotty, or even reactionary here, when I say that it is truly “iMovie Pro”.   My feeling? I believe they did this on purpose. Unlike Apple, however, I will try and PROVE why the way I’m thinking is correct.   

I believe that Apple looked at the size of the professional market, (an admittedly very small, but vocal market) and then looked at the potential market for “people who want to edit video” and decided that they’d rather have a teensy little percentage of the latter market even if it meant abandoning, (and even disenfranchising) the former. In other words, .01% of the consumer market is still orders of magnitude above the 50-70% of the professional market they already have, in gross dollars and cents, anyway.

The cool thing to do would have been to release FCP X as “iMovie Pro” or even more appropriately “Final Cut Express X” and let FCP 7.0/Studio 3 die on the vine. The implication would have been clear: Serious editors should look elsewhere as there are plenty of great 3rd party solutions to do what you need to do with all your pesky customization and let iMovie Pro be for the in-between market. They’ve set this precedent themselves, by the way. They’re already singing this song for FCP X when it comes to missing features like XML and such, telling people “Well, Automatic Duck is a great solution for…” so they’re not above telling it like it is when they want to. They could have marketed FCP X as “The Edit System for the Rest of Us!”

But, instead, they keep playing the “FCP X IS A PRO APP!!!! FCP X IS A PRO APP!!!! FCP X IS A PRO APP!!!!” tune. Why? Well, to get us pros to shell out an extra $299, sight unseen for one. And, even more importantly, to cash in on the venerable Final Cut Pro name.   

Look, I have given many a lecture, formal and informal, to groups of novice editors. Most all of them think of Final Cut as a HUGE step up from iMovie, or whatever app they’re currently using. Many amateurs say that they have played with FCP and most say that they have been thoroughly baffled by it. They look at the people who use it as the true pros. Ummm, it’s in the NAME OF THE PRODUCT after all. They look at it as something to aspire to. To be able to say “I use Final Cut Pro!” is a badge of honor for the newly-minted editor. 

What Apple has done is basically used the name of a formerly excellent product to move a mediocre one. It’s something that consumer-oriented companies do all the time. Do you really think that the Pierre Cardin branded watch you buy at Target is the same quality you’d get if you bought one in Paris at his eponymous boutique? Cadillac released a rebadged Chevy Cavalier in the 1980’s and called it a “Cimmaron”, but just because it had a Cadillac hood ornament that doesn’t make it an Coupe deVille. 

This app that Apple has created is a good app. Indeed, as I said before, I believe it to be first-in-class good. It’s just not the kind of app we professionals wanted or needed.

Do I feel betrayed? Sure. Am I disappointed? You betcha. Am I surprised? Not at all. 

I truly believe that Apple isn’t in the business of selling professional products anymore. They’re a strictly consumer-based company, and one of the best consumer based companies in the world. I LOVE their consumer goods. I stand by my iPhone and iPad and defend it against the Android & Windows haters at every opportunity. I think they stand to make more money off of FCP X than they ever did with all the other versions of Final Cut Pro combined. As a purely business move, it makes sense and it is as crafty and smart as we’ve all come to expect from Apple.

I just wish they’d been honest with us, and themselves, as to what FCP X was really meant to be from the start.

BTW, apropos of nothing, I opened Premier Pro this morning for the first time. 

I was able to create a folder in about 15 seconds.

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Reader Comments (12)

Another hot air post wasting my time when I need real help learning FCPX. Well at least we aren't crying about the TSA this time!

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereditor

I got to this "We spent 30-45 minutes attempting to create a bin and put selected clips into it. " and gave up. File > New Keyword Collection. Name it. Drag Clips to it.

Done. Seriously, it didn't really take you that long. Given you were so wrong with something so, so very simple, I gave up.

Sorry Chris, I tried, but that's just egregiously wrong.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Hodgetts

I believe there are better and more efficent ways to deal with clip organisation in FCP X (Philip Hodgetts has a book about FCP X Metadata, which I bought but haven't read yet) - but that still doesn't mean that for many of the things we do that the way FCP X forces us to do things isn't more inefficent.

I like the keywords/tags idea - but I don't really understand why it couldn't have been implemented on top of tradional folders and bins.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDylan Reeve

But in practice it does work that way. Create a Keyword Collection, name it and drag media to it, just like it was a Bin. Want to group them, create a folder and drag your Bins to it, I mean your Keyword Collections.

How is that different?


June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Hodgetts

Just like a magic trick, or solving a Rubix Cube, it's easy when you know how. Now we know, thanks to Phillip, but the 6 of us truly could not figure it out to the intuitive degree we could with FCP 7 or even Premier. That's not Apple bashing. It's a fact. I have several witnesses to attest to it.

I live to be proven wrong. I really do hope that this app turns out to be the winner we'd all hoped it'd be. Despite the dismissive tone of the post above, I look to those who have gone before to learn new things every day. My commentary is simply echoing what I have felt and heard from many other editors. Other editors who aren't privy to the degree of access and hand holding that many of the pundits are.

Also, I believe that even though there was an apparently simple solution, (that none of us, plus the 40 or so people in the chat room could find at the time) to the issue I singled out there are many other issues that still linger. I read new blog posts every day about editors who are finding more and more that their efforts are hamstrung by the way FCP X forces you to work. It isn't a matter of us just blundering in, smacking our keyboards like chimps, and then getting mad that the banana dispenser is broken. We really WANT this app to be the tool we use.

Read the entire article. I stand by everything I said. I didn't ask for a refund and still plan to keep trying and learning about FCP X. Unlike some out there, I plan to keep an open mind.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Miller

ahhh... i love a good cage match...

BTW... these are the type of kernals of wisdom that I love from Steve Miller... " It isn't a matter of us just blundering in, smacking our keyboards like chimps, and then getting mad that the banana dispenser is broken."

June 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterChris Fenwick

Thanks Steve Miller! I like your examples. They show the big picture.
I'm keeping my FCP7, but last night I ordered Premiere (Production Premium Pkg CS5.5)
I'd like to follow any future comments.

June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBuck Wilde

You're missing some basic functionality for "Keyword" use which did replace bins. But, I'll let you figure that out. This release of FCPX isn't a surprise, in terms of what, and what it's not. In fact, there was rumor a year ago that Apple was going to dump FCP support and turn all it's attention towards iMovie, and, well, they did. Mind you, if you look around at the world we live in today, it's all about change. How well you as an individual deals with that change is entirely up to you. For pretty much all FCP users their use of this application changed, big time. Not all changes in life are necessarily good ones, but make no mistake about it, change is inevitable and there's no stopping it.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve M,

This whole post is almost funny. I particularly like this passage: >>Look, I have given many a lecture, formal and informal, to groups of novice editors. Most all of them think of Final Cut as a HUGE step up from iMovie, or whatever app they’re currently using. Many amateurs say that they have played with FCP and most say that they have been thoroughly baffled by it. They look at the people who use it as the true pros. Ummm, it’s in the NAME OF THE PRODUCT after all. They look at it as something to aspire to. To be able to say “I use Final Cut Pro!” is a badge of honor for the newly-minted editor. <<

Meaning anyone using FCPX couldn't possible be a professional editor, nor could they be perceived as a professional editor. So let me get this straight, if you and I edit the same project and you use whatever you now consider a professional editing application, and I use FCPX,  my project couldn't possible have a professional finished look, is that what you're saying? Or, are you saying, if my client knew I edited this with FCPX,  I would no longer be considered a professional editor? Or, perhaps, if I use FCPX,  I'm no longer considered a professional editor by you?

>>To be able to say “I use Final Cut Pro!” is a badge of honor <<
Meaning, now that FCP looks like something you consider a non-professional editing application, and the fact, you're probably more than qualified to edit and produce a professional finished product with it, that badge is...well, what is it?

When I read this post, it's almost like the big camera syndrome. Meaning, if I show up at a shoot and my camera isn't the size of a VW, I won't be considered a professional videographer, Oops, that's not professional, we're now calling ourselves DP's. Granted, i will admit, there still Is that kind of perception depending upon the client, but with the advent of the DSLR, i don't think so anymore. Maybe that's it, with time, I too can be considered a professional editor by my peers, who now use this same editing application but are still to ashamed to be associated with it. Maybe so!

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve M,

@Steve M, (ironic, no?)

I think you've missed my point. I'm not saying that you MUST use Final Cut Pro to be a professional editor. I'm saying that many people who start out as amateurs/hobbyists, presumably using iMovie, try and use FCP 1-7 and find that it is a bit overwhelming. They, (rightfully) perceive FCP as being a step up from their consumer-based app. There's a sea of things like XML import/export, Multi-cam editing, compositing features, (my personal fave) and SO much more that they'll never need to use. These many things that they don't need often obscure and interfere with the things they do need. Hence, the bafflement.

Professional editors, IMHO, are the people who DO need all those things. Who DO know what all the buttons do. Not because we read the manual or take a training class, but because we use them every day to make our living. Having experienced the "Avid Prejudice" of the LA market first hand I would be the absolute last person to disparage you, or anybody else for that matter, from using whatever edit system suits your needs and gives you the warm fuzzies. What I am saying is that FCP X has taken away about 90% of the tool kit that I use day-to-day. The tool kit that makes me money and makes my clients happy.

One of our number in the above referenced meet-up put it best. I'm paraphrasing here, but he basically said there is a huge difference between somebody who edits and a professional editor. What that difference boils down to for me is flexibility. I believe that anybody with a modicum of storytelling skill, some well-shot footage, and a basic knowledge of any edit system can put together an acceptable, or even WONDERFUL piece. I have seen some event videographers who use iMovie and put out a product that is beautiful, effective and profitable. These are good, and often times ideal conditions, to edit something. I do believe that FCP X is suited just fine for this kind of editing. Ditto the cuts-only kind of editing done with news, reality shows, etc.

The strength of a professional editor then is somebody who can take a distinctly un-ideal situation and make it work. And not just make it work, but make it work quickly, on budget, and to a quality level that justifies the hefty fees we command. The point of my rant, and I call it a rant in the post, BTW, is that this current iteration of FCP doesn't allow me, nor the couple-dozen editor friends of mine, to do the kind of professional-grade work we were able to do with FCP 7. I'm not saying other people can't make it work. I'm not even saying I can't make it work. I'm simply saying that it took away a bunch of features and workflow elements that need not have been eliminated.

Take for example the magnetic timeline. I like the idea of clips snapping into each other. I use it all the time in FCP 7. The thing that killed me about FCP X when I first played with it, however, was that everything just slides down the timeline, slamming into the next clip in front of it. It's as if the entire timeline was slanted downhill and everything slides to the bottom. An "editor" would be fine with this. He/She is telling the story he/she wants to, and each thing slides into every other thing. Simple. A professional editor may be asked to build things modularly, however. We may need to keep elements separate in the timeline until the final mastering, or maybe we just want to keep groups of things in the timeline with space in between them for organization purposes. The WHY isn't important. It's the fact that we no longer have the ability to work this way.

Now, before you say, "just insert a slug, asshole!" keep in mind that that's yet another keystroke/mouseclick/etc. we need to do, wasting us precious time and the client precious money. Also, it's simply not as flexible as open space in the timeline.

Now, not all editors want to work this way. But many that I know DO, and the inability to do so infuriates us. How hard would it have been to give us a checkbox that turned the feature off? Bury it deep in the prefs for crying out loud. We'll find it! That's the kind of thing that I was referencing when I said they have a barely concealed contempt for customization. Whether you want things to slide or not, you're stuck with it, and that's that.

And before you think I'm hung up on just one thing, here's a list of things that illustrate my point:
-Non-customizable window layouts
-No way to easily mark a clip "used" or "good" like the "Good" checkbox in FCP 7
-In-out points for source footage that reset themselves
-A terrible, overly simplistic keyframer

There's probably more, but that's all I've had time to find. And yes, I await the inevitable "Well, you obviously didn't try blah blah blah!". There may be work-arounds for these things, but my point was that Apple went out of their way to hide these kind of things and that the pro editors who do the kinds of things I do couldn't find them, either.

My contention is that the reason Apple removed the customization is for the same amateur-to-pro confusion jump above. They're clearing out the clutter so that people who don't need those elements don't need to be bothered with them. But, since the people who DO need those elements are professional editors, (not just "people who edit") then this app is NOT geared towards the professional. The problem solver. The turd polisher, if you will.

And, to your point of the "FCP is a badge of honor" bit: As I said in my original post, I believe Apple is using the name FCP to sell the new app to the very obfuscated consumers who were confused by the old FCP. See my Cadillac analogy in the original post. It's simply not the same thing.

So, long and short, I'd never begrudge anybody using whatever edit system they like, and can get results with. Final Cut Pro 1-7 was NEVER the only tool out there, nor even the best one for everybody. You could cut the next great American film on iMovie and if the content and story were good, and your eye as an editor is sound, it'd look every bit as good as if it were cut with any version of FCP. What I'm simply saying is that for the kind of editing that I, and many of my pro editor friends make our livings with, FCP X is a lacking, faulty too. FCP 7 was everything to everybody. FCP X is everything to some, and nothing to others.

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Miller

That is ironic! I hear you, and understand your point, but reading your post, you obviously haven't explored very deep into this interface. Which Is fine. You don't have the time, don't want to, whatever. Creating black between a clip, very simple, creating a bin, which took you how long? You can't be serious on that one. Anyway, my point, before you judge the book, try reading it first, then make an opinion. Apple has already stated they'll fix the XML and multi cam issue in their first update. BTW, you could multi cam 4 cameras right now, easily and effectively. Look under the hood brother, there's more than meets the eye, and I can't wait to see what the younger generation editors come up with using this version. All good, all good!

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve M.

Let me see.. this is how I make my living – and so it’s no big deal now that my $6,000 worth of plugins no longer work? And have any of you seen the new and wonderful "Lion"? It cripples almost ALL of Adobe Pro apps from CS5. Apple is writing software for children now. Will someone write a new pro platform so we all can tell Apple goodbye?? Apple can go ^@$& themselves.

July 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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