The present and future of post production business and technology

What the heck is a “pro” anyway?

Yes, this is probably going to be a rant. I’m just about over hearing that Final Cut Pro X is “not for pros”, as if that had some useful meaning.

Guess what folks, that’s a totally meaningless sentence and anyone who says it is… Well, let’s just say I don’t have a high opinion of their thinking processes.

Every single person who gets paid for doing their work is professional. That’s the definition. So if a single Final Cut Pro X user ever gets paid for their work, then Final Cut Pro X is “for professionals”.

Unless you want to apply some “extra” meaning: Editing is a “profession”. Well, let’s explore that. If you want to use that definition of professional then you’d better have a professional body, some government regulation, education and professional conduct standards, and more.

Guess what? None of that applies to editors. The closest would be the Editor’s Guild, with about 6,000 members. But even that doesn’t really meet the definition of a “Profession”. There’s no government regulations controlling the standards that make one a professional: Medical and Legal professions do. While the Editors Guild does have membership standards, there’s no ongoing requirement for education to maintain your license to practice (like Accounting, Medical, Legal professions). In fact you don’t need a license from anyone to edit.

That is my point exactly. To say that anything “isn’t for pros” is making an assumption about what a “pro” is, and that’s rarely reasonable. What those people who are making that statement are really trying to do is to make sure their niche in the production world gets some kind of special treatment, or at least they believe they are in some way “special”.

It kind of goes with the attitude that says “the world is over, anyone can buy a professional NLE for just $299”. As if the price of the tools somehow affects the quality of the work. If you have that attitude you’ve already lost your credibility and you should go find another occupation!

For way too long, some in this industry sold the cost of their tools of trade as if that somehow made them “special”. Back in the 1990’s I realized that was a totally losing proposition. The only value you have to your clients are your skills. Buying a F23 doesn’t make you a Cinematographer; it makes you someone who can afford to buy an F23! The best still camera in the world isn’t responsible for a single great image without someone with skill and talent using it.

Your value to your clients is based on one thing and one thing only: how much money you can make them compared to how much money you cost them. If you don’t make your client more money than they pay you, you don’t have a job or career.  You do that with your skills, not your tools.

Here’s a question.  Presuming you get your car serviced regularly, what brand of electronics are used to tune the engine?  What brand tools did the carpenter use on that last job? What brand sphygmomanometer did the doctor or nurse use to take your blood pressure?

The answer to all of these is: “I don’t care.” I really don’t. As long as the chosen service provider uses tools they’re comfortable with to deliver the job I’m paying for, I don’t care what brand they choose. Nor should I.

If your clients care about the tools you use, then you’ve totally trained them wrong, and you’ve got a huge problem coming, as the tools are now – by comparison – dirt cheap. And therefore the perception is that you’re dirt cheap.

If you’ve been promoting the value of your skills to your clients, they don’t care what tools you use as long as you deliver the job on time, on budget and the way they want it.  If those tools are perceptually “easier” to use, or have automatics that balance out for the most common use cases, why not use that? By all means overwrite it with manual control when that’s important. Sometimes the shot is intended to be shaky (such is the state of “creativity today, but that’s another subject).

But who wants deliberate rolling shutter errors. Or if you do, how often as a percentage of the total? I’m prepared to say that the number of times you want a shot deliberately shaky or the rolling shutter artifacts really obvious, are definitely in the minority.

A “pro” will want to give their client the best value they can, taking advantage of the best that technology can offer, while still bringing their unique value to the client. (You should also know what your unique value is, but that’s another blog post.)

What I believe these misguided pundits are meaning is that Final Cut Pro X may not be suitable for some current workflows at version 1.  That is a reasonable statment.  To then somehow say that it’s not for “pros” comes back to the argument of what is a “pro” editor.

The craft of editing is now very different than it was 30 years ago. 30 years ago – around the time I started my first business in production – only large facilities and broadcasters really existed. My very basic first equipment purchase – all very carefully costed and only working in 3/4″ for budget reasons – still cost more than a reasonable house in the same area and time. Now that same capability would cost me less than a good motorbike, or a decent vacation.

At that time, in Australia’s sixth largest TV market there would have been fewer than 10 people making a living as an editor. They would be in the TV Station and, well, news and production at the local TV Station.  By the mid 90’s there were probably 50 people in that same town making a living as editors, and by the time I left in 2001, double that again, or more.

As they were making a living from it, I’d have to count them all as pros. Not doing the same work as those producing TV News, or producing the Television at the network level, but cutting video to add value for their clients. Most of whom didn’t care what tools they used.

That was a long time ago and the picture has changed. Apple claim “two million installs” of Final Cut Pro 7 and earlier, compared with 1.4 million “unique registered users” a little over a year and a half ago. Not sure why the definition changed, but we all knew there were a lot more Final Cut Pro installs than there were “unique paying customers”.

The concept of a professional video editor has broadened. The editors that fill the 17-18 edit bays at TV Week are working professional editors. Similarly, those that edit movies for the majors studios are working professional editors? Both are professional. The thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of Event Videographers satisfy some demanding customers. I’ll rather get notes from a Studio Exec than an unhappy Mother of the Bride any day! All professional editors serve demanding customers, although the demands may not be the same.

So, to try and create the illusion that those professional editors using certain types of workflows are the only “pros” is ignorant at best, and insulting the vast majority of professional video editors, at worst.







29 responses to “What the heck is a “pro” anyway?”

  1. I personally don’t pay heed to the labels folks use like this. If it does what I need and does it in a fashion that makes it easier, quicker or richer, call it a widget if you like. I think some editors are afraid of losing their knowledge edge having had to fight with tools for so many years. It’s not easy for anyone to pick up non-linear editing with traditional tools. You know what you want to do, but don’t know how to do it? Learn the tool or hire a “pro.” Pros will always have an edge if they possess talent. If they have no talent, it’s not likely they were crafting, but assembling. Anyone can assemble a layout. But a craftsman can make that layout elegant and effective. FWIW, you aren’t the only one thinking this sort of thing, Philip. 🙂

  2. Stewart.

    The tradesman is always for more important then the tool.
    And your right, it doesn’t matter what tool you use, as long as you get the job done in an effective manner and keep the client happy.
    But,.. and it’s a big one,… There is one hell of a lot of snobbery out there within the editing community, about which tool one should use.
    I see most jobs advertised requesting FCP. And the attitude you get from employers when they find out that you prefer a different editing package to FCP, it’s rather unbelievable.
    I started learning my NLE skills on Premiere 3.5, on a 486 PC, I’ve ‘used’ Premiere all the way up to the CS5.
    I’ve spent loads of hours using FCP for short films and TV work, on PowerPC Mac and current Macs, standard def DV all the way up to RedOne footage.
    Yet my favorite editing app,. is Edius, and has been for some time, because it makes sense to me and I can work fast in it.
    When a Macophile corporate finds out you prefer to edit on something other then FCP, you can kiss any chance of getting a job with them or (anyone they know)goodbye.
    The snobbery is amazing.
    There’s no good reason for it either, because it’s the tradie, not the tool app, that gets the work done.
    And lets face it, if you can use any of those apps, you can adapt to the rest pretty quick.
    I find it galling that the same snobbery and blinkered views, leads to people being excluded because they ‘don’t use the right app’.
    A ‘Pro’ attitude, should always be to let the work onscreen speak for itself.

  3. In my discussions of what the shortcomings of FCP X for “professionals” might be, I’ve been careful to specify “broadcast and film editors” generally.

    Clearly there are massive sectors of the professional world for whom the presumed-missing features in FCP X are not going to make a difference.

    In the end only time will tell, and Apple may very well be accurately predicting the future trends in the market overall, but there are many people who are not going to be ready to head toward that future just yet.

  4. Hi Phillip. Excellent points. In fact, after graduating Video Symphony (a vocational editing institute) I realized that the most valuable marketing asset I had was not the school’s name, but rather it was the network of friends I created. Of course certain University degree’s can add marketing value, Harvard for example, but this is rarely the case in Film School. As you mention there are almost no requirements to be an editor, and also no entrance requirements to learn about the craft.

    One major reason that I became an Apple Certified Final Cut Pro Instructor was for the exact reason you mention above; in a world where no one needs any credentials, I created some to differentiate myself.

    TL:DR The value of film school is the information and the networking, not the school’s logo.

    1. While I’ve never been to Film School or anything close, it’s long been my observation that the network was most important, rather than the specific skills.

      1. The only other benefit in my mind is that you’re forced to produce. You have assignments and you have deadlines.

        It’s important to realize that you can’t wait for everything to be perfect for something to be finished, otherwise it never would be.

  5. George E. Kennedy, Jr.

    Philip, Cheers on the post. I swear I’ll be happy when FCPX is out, so these folks can shout up. One of the problems with the new world order of social media, etc. Is everyone is a critic and want to reinvent the profession as we no it. Nothing wrong with reinventing the wheel, but don’t go mad. Thanks for the great post.


  6. You can give anyone a guitar, doesnt mean music comes out. These so called pro editors bashing fcpx are probably the same editors that edit all that terrible executed movies and commercials i see on TV everyday, while ‘amatures’ creating masterpieces on Vimeo.

  7. Christian Wilby

    As you started in the post production industry I was starting in the publishing industry. There are a LOT of similarities of what we had to go through and what you are now having to go through. Stick to your guns Phil, because I can tell you this; you’ve got it exactly right.

  8. Martin Vincent

    Thank you Philip to remind us the true meaning of video workers.

  9. What is really happening to some people is fear to change. But I would tell them don’t forget that NLE’s are just tools for editing. I agree with you that the skills of an editor are independent of the tools he uses (I tell that all the time to my students). But some of the “Pro’s” (the one’s that make money editing) are more afraid of changes because they think that knowing how to use a specific NLE is their main skill, and loosing that it may affect their income. I consider myself a “Pro”, but I am not afraid of what may come because I am open to learn new tools in order to make my work easier and faster. To make my work better it doesn’t depend on the tools I use, it only depends on my skills on knowing how to deliver the best edit from the material I receive. If when I try the new FCPX I see that there are important missing features (as rumored) I may simply keep using FCP7 or Avid or Adobe or whatever other NLE is available. At the end, change is refreshing and it forces you to learn new things. And if the change that Apple proposes is not good for you, just take another direction. But without risk there is no innovation. By the way Philip, congratulations on your Blog and your Podcast. I just become a fan of yours.

    1. I think the reality is that changes to the tools *do* have an effect on the industry. There’s often a significant investment and attachment to the accumulated knowledge required to use a system efficiently and effectively. I can see how a threat to that, real or imagined, could raise red flags. I fear the ship has sailed. The introduction of the original Final Cut Pro was a watershed moment. The fundamental shift in thinking that the new software represented created all kinds of challenges for the traditional media industries, while providing new opportunities for others looking for alternative ways to work.

      When I train folks how to edit with Final Cut Pro I’m conscious that a deeper understanding of the tool will usually enable them to better exercise their creativity. Just as one practices to master a musical instrument, I think you can achieve a similar kind of transcendence as an editor.

      Faced with such constant, radical shifts I can sympathise with a certain amount of trepidation, but for better or worse filmmaking is technological art. An outright fear of change doesn’t bode well. I always remember thinking as I read Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography what might have happened if he’d felt inspired by the coming of sound.

  10. David Smith

    I’ve tried to lay off speculating what might be missing and not just moved from FCPX as I doubt it might be much thats important (just how much editing gets done at this Mt. Olympus like “pro” end anyway, doesn’t pay many that I know’s mortgage). This always sounds like the distant echos of long set user grumbling (mostly Avid right?). Were close to what is probably a game changer, which at first will face flack from those outside the know, then sure enough after a while Adobe or similar will pick up on it, the rest will creakily follow, do a worse job and try to claim it as theirs anyway. Seen it all so often I’m bored rigid by it. Roll on June so I at least can get going.

    1. Nothing has been “removed” from Final Cut Pro. Rather that they have not yet had time to write everything for Final Cut Pro X. Not that that was your point, just something I wanted to clarify.

      1. simon

        Well, they should NOT be releasing half finished software anyway.

        1. I think it should be made clear that there was a lit of features for Final Cut Pro 1 that still has not been fully implemented in Final Cut Pro 7. It will never be “finished”, so all software is unfinished software, unless it’s end of life.

  11. Greg

    Jerry Hofmann put it nicely on a Final Cut Pro X thread over at Creative COW:
    “All that matters is your résumé, not your toolset.”

  12. I heartily agree with your thoughts about the tools. A professional uses whatever tool will do the job, from $1200 FCS, to free VLC, Perian, Flip-4-Mac, Handbrake, whatever.

    I disagree with your assessment about “professional” though. As someone who earns a living doing video production day in and out, I consider myself a Pro, but I know I compete with many who do it as a “side job” where their main job provides their real income. I’m not saying anything of skill & talent.

    A “landscape architect” could be a phenomenal vDSLR shooter. But you have to ask: if they are so good, and they love doing it as a hobby, why can’t they make that leap and do it full time.

    Or even take me… I have a few home improvement tools. I do my own drywall, spackle, & paint on every house I’ve lived in. I’ve done it for others. Does that make me a Professional at it. Hell no.

    I’ve put my own wood molding in a few rooms. Does that make me a Pro carpenter? No.

    So I’d say that someone who does video production as a hobby, regardless of the quality of their work, is not what I would call a Professional Videographer. I’d call them a hobbyist, an enthusiast.

    And they may produce great creative work. But that’s not the point. One person _relies_ on their tools to make a living. The other doesn’t.

  13. Spike

    This whole issue of “pro” v. “amateur” (you know hacks and posers) has really been exacerbated by the FCPX intro and it’s been fun to watch…and I have an interesting perspective on the issue. Not so much about what they are saying but why they saying it.

    I have had my little micro production company for almost ten years now. I am one of the hundreds of little shops the pros see as little bedroom outfits who aren’t really serious or capable.

    But before I started my little shop, I spent 25 years in the ad agency/brand marketing business (and I mean the big leagues – working on big brands with big production budgets..including a fairly long stint at Universal).

    The people I have found to be screaming the loudest about this pro/non pro deal are the guys (and their respective post houses) who have been ripping their clients off for post production for years…because they could. I know them well.

    I can’t count the number of times I paid 5 figures to cut a 30 second spot. I thought it was a rip off then…and still do. I would beat the hell out of the producers to get the price down but it was always “That’s what a good production house charges…”. Post houses, because there were literally so few, had a license to steal…and did.

    It’s that same “Hollywood” BS mentality and process that cost me (and still costs) 5 bucks a day to rent a damn C-47 clothespin (not literally but you know what I mean)…and why I am looking at $1,000 bucks for a matte box that costs about $100 to make. Film production costs (and related equipment and services) have always been outrageously inflated because everybody was happy to pay whatever anybody pretty much asked.

    But back to the editors…What’s really ironic is that for the most part these “pro’s” were and are nothing but machine operators who made a fortune not because of any inherent creative skill but because they knew/know how to run the equipment (which by the way cost them a fortune – see Hollywood costs above – and they needed charge an even bigger fortune to cover their overhead and capitol expenses).

    They were told what to cut and when by the agency guys (and sometimes the director but generally not) and guys like me…whoever was paying them.

    Anybody notice that no feature editors have chimed in on this FCP X issue. It’s all the big post house and TV guys…the large majority of whom are “technical editors” – you know, wrists – who are selling a service.

    The “big” post house guys are the ones screaming the loudest because the jig is up on their scam and they know it. Pretty much anybody can do post production now because the cost of entry is so low (and the pro’s are using FCP X as the touchstone for that).

    Just cruise around the demo pages people have on Vimeo and YouTube.

    Sure a lot of it is not great stuff, but a lot is shot and posted by little guys like me for very happy clients. This new production and distribution paradigm is killing them and they know it…so they are screaming real loud about creeping amateurism in the guise of FCP X.

    They saw it happening in the ad agency business when average Joes were shooting little homemade spots and ending up on the Superbowl. The agencies were like deer in the headlights because clients were saying…what do we need you for?

    My point to all of this is that the days of the “closed shop” for self proclaimed pros are over. Every time I get a project for $5,000 or $10,000 (and that does indeed make me a pro) that they used to charge $20,000 or $30,000 for…they feel another nail go in their business model’s coffin.

    And $295 for FCP? Great. My accountant loves it and as noted in the article…my clients will never know. They just love what I do.

    Wow, that rant was fun. Who needs “pro” shrinks when you can do this?

    1. Good rant Spike, and good relevant comment.

    2. Exactly. This opens up a whole world of decent production values to a tier of clients who have never been able to afford it before, because those 5-figure production budgets – and even 4-figure budgets – were out of reach.

      But someone like me – who has always combined writing and art direction, by virtue of having been halfway literate and then getting a formal design education – who has a secret past in audio production back in the days of razor blades and thus took to waveform editing like a duck to water some years back – can now, at the tender age of 51, add video and a little imagination (plus the wit to know what I’m NOT capable of) and, for a new set of small businesses, bring to life that old banner ad that used to say: “Your website is your television station.”

  14. Alberto Hauffen

    I know exactly what Phillip means when he says, “You do that with your skills, not your tools.” I fondly remember him in the early days of LAFCPUG meetings. When most PROs were showing their skills on then so-coveted Titanium Powerbooks, he was doing his magic on a tiny, white plastic encased iBook!


    1. I never realized I was making a statement! 🙂

  15. Great post, Philip.
    Thank you.
    Spike’s relevent rant reminded me of my good ‘ol big post houses days.
    True. But those extra costs goes to big, fancy rooms, leather sofas, internal cafe shops and highly skilled artists. A great place to get the job done quickly, but at the highest level.
    The work gradually distributes between the big, small & micro houses.
    There is a place both.

  16. Stranger

    “As long as the chosen service provider uses tools they’re comfortable with to deliver the job I’m paying for, I don’t care what brand they choose. Nor should I.” — Do you think that standards that some organizations have for hardware and production path, are outdated? Say, why BBC really cares for 2/3-inch sensor or for 50 Mbit/s bitrate? Should not they care for image quality? They have their QA people who can watch and check and see whether it looks good or not. But for some reason BBC requires certain hardware to be used for certain projects. Do you think they should not care about hardware and editing, and should look only at the final result? Why they are not doing exactly that?

  17. It’s like saying that someone is not a real artist, because he uses acrylic instead of oil paint, or gouache. Absolute nonsense. It’s what you do with the tool that counts.

  18. I’m a pro in that I make my living at video production. I will be the first to not only admit but be proud that I have delivered video edited not in Final Cut Pro, not even in Final Cut Express but in iMovie. I was able to get the video ingested, edited with the client and on-line far quicker with the free edit software than I could have with Final Cut Pro which I normally use. The client was delighted. At no time did the client ask what or how much the application cost nor did she care.

    I enjoy working with Final Cut Pro v.6 but am excited to test FCPX. I already believe many of its features (ported up from iMovie!) will make my workflow faster and more efficient.

    David Burckhard
    PicturePoint On-line

  19. MartinX

    Where is Australia’s sixth largest TV market?

    1. At the time it was Newcastle/Lake Macquarie, these days it’s more likely to be Queensland’s Gold Coast region.