(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.
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”
4. Repeat with EVERY OTHER CLIP YOU IMPORT AND WANT TO CALL B-ROLL THROUGHOUT THE EDITING PROCESS.
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.