The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts

Jul/11

10

“Full-time Editor” or “Pro” is asking the wrong question

Over the last couple of weeks, some of the discussion around Final Cut Pro X is focused on who Apple wrote it for – a discussion I’ve contributed to in more than one place. And I see today in Oliver Peter’s excellent review of Final Cut Pro X he tackles the same question and punts on “full-time” editor as the distinguishing factor. (And yes, yet another Final Cut Pro X post, but one where the main point isn’t really about that piece of software specifically, but relevant to the discussion.)

It strikes me that we might really be asking the wrong question, or questions. It’s not so much what type of work you do, or what proportion of your time is spent doing it, or even the attitude one takes to one’s work – “professionalism”. In the context of talking about the relative suitability of tools, surely the question is on workflows and toolset?

As many have identified, and I don’t think anyone argues with, Final Cut Pro X is – right now – good for some workflows. Those acquiring to solid state, or from the limited range of tape-based digital support, and going out to the web, trade shows, into education etc, where the destination isn’t a traditional television screen, but some variant on a computer screen.

What Final Cut Pro X is not good for right now are workflows involving multiple cameras; workflows that require some external manipulation as has been done through Final Cut Pro 7’s XML interchange; workflows that require moving a Final Cut Pro 7 project forward, workflows that need broadcast grade monitoring… these are workflows that Final Cut Pro X doesn’t support right now, regardless if you would have used them once a week, or five times a day.

The toolset is different and won’t suit the needs of some people, while for others it will be more intuitive and fluid. Different strokes for different folks and having choice is good. The suitability of a toolset isn’t determined by how many hours a day you work with a tool: it’s determined on whether or not the toolset works.

This seems like a good time to – once again – remind people that a version 1.0 piece of software is interesting, and could be fun and profitable – but it should not be something you bet your livelihood, career or business on. Changing a toolset and workflows needs to be done carefully and strategically whichever way your decisions take you.

As for Final Cut Pro X, we know many of those things are going to change. For the new workflow and the new AXEL (Apple eXchange Editing Language) we know it is “within weeks” – i.e. the first maintenance release to fix the issues that show up after release when more variety of systems and workflows are attempted. While for multicam we know it’s coming from Apple but not when. I think we can also definitely expect some enhancement to the tools in Final Cut Pro X as it matures.

As an aside, I have to say I’m feeling just a little excited about (potentially) what replaces “Final Cut Pro XML” (or more accurately xmeml, which is the specific XML format Final Cut Pro 3 to 7 used). AXEL is a new XML format for sure, but to describe it as an “Editing Language” strikes me as being a bit grand for only an XML format.  Given there is strong evidence of “good to great” AppleScript support, and the new XML is being described as an “Editing Language” then I have very high expectations that the “XML replacement” will be also best-in-breed, a title that would currently go to the very, very scriptable Sony Vegas, where the scripting language allows third parties to significantly enhance the application (including in earlier times, adding a multicam feature if I recall correctly). My fondest wish would be that we get something similar with Final Cut Pro X: Apple provides a highly competent, fluid, modern editing tool for the majority of their customer base, and that third parties fill in the workflows that are less commonly used, but highly important to certain types of media production.

So it really is about the workflows. Those that are, or are not, supported by a specific tool. If my thinking about the actual “XML replacement” is even close, then the idea of a core application maintained by Apple, and enhanced in a wide rang of directions to fulfill less common, but important, workflows, or even customize the application for a specific workflow, is very attractive.

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28 comments

  • Peter Barrett · July 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Philip, I hope you’re right about AXEL – we have built numerous workflows based on tying AppleScript and FCP exports together in ways that let us do interesting things – automatically build ID boards from just a few prompts and an exported marker list, parse a big Color project to extract matching source shots/grades to apply to a reversioning, extract text subtitles for DVDSP multilingual versions – all stuff that right now only the Mac platform can easily do, via tools that take a long moment to master.

    The question then is, if you can do amazing scripty things within FCP X, what else will it talk to? Based on the execution warrants issued to FCS components, not a lot that’s useful, yet. Still, there’s hope of evolution, which I like. I’ll reserve judgment – call me when it’s in place, and when others support it.

    But right now I work in the FCS suite every day and won’t be bothering with FCP X, apart from the odd friend’s wedding vid or whatever. If progress isn’t rapid, Avid is the most dependable choice, again, and a brand new grading system from somewhere.

    Were you in on this woeful app’s release? Surely somebody told them?

    • Admin comment by Philip · July 10, 2011 at 11:39 pm

      Other than what I studied and wrote about over the last year, I saw FCP X a week before it was publicly released. I like what they’ve done and am on record from last year saying that I wanted Apple to make the editing interface more “apple like”. It’s a foundation for the future. As for how it was handled, all I can ultimately decide is that I don’t have enough data to second guess Apple.

      • Ed Gal · July 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm

        Hello everybody,
        Are DVDs going to desappear? DVDSP has really many things that should be amelliorated…
        I’m specially interested on FCP’s future capacity to manage metadata, specially the one related with transcripts this is why I’d like someone to please answer these questions:
        There is nothing mentioned about AXEL on Hodgedds’s book “Conquering Metadata in FCPX”. Can AXEL’s syntax be known? And furthermore, can 3PlayMedia’s JSON be known? where could I get this information? Does anybody have an example (and explanation) of a whole AXEL and JSON file?
        Thank you all,
        Ed Gal

        • Admin comment by Philip · July 13, 2011 at 6:44 am

          While DVDs will likely be around for another couple of years, DVD Studio Pro as it is/was is adequate for the job and will continue to work for years to come.

          AXEL is still a complete unknown. When I wrote the book I had no idea of it’s existence, although it will be likely more about data interchange than transcription. Syntax will be known when Apple release the Software Developers Kit (SDK) that not only details AXEL but also the Applescript support. Until Apple releases that SDK we’re all in the dark.

  • Martijn Swart · July 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Funny to read the discussions about pro-editors and consumers and whatever. I have to agree it’s all about workflows.

    There are a lot of questions not asked by the professionals. What I fail to find are comments in the likes of, can I use an HD-SDI monitor to view my content, or how will it work with shared storage and multiple edit suites working on the same content? I think that are the questions that should define professional workflows.

    Let’s indeed hope AXEL will be the language of the future and it will be supported by many other manufacturers. Or… let’s hope Apple will finally start supporting MXF and other standards commonly used in the broadcast industry.

    • Michael Aranyshev · July 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      “What I fail to find are comments in the likes of, can I use an HD-SDI monitor to view my content”

      You aren’t looking hard enough. Matrox stated “FCP X does not support professional video monitoring” in their press release. AJA said effectively the same.

  • Michael Aranyshev · July 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “It strikes me that we might really be asking the wrong question, or questions.”

    I don’t see anything wrong with this question. FCPX makes someone who edits occasionally feel comfortable. It makes someone who edits regularly feel restricted and frustrated. Thereby it is an app for someone who edits casually.

    • Tam · July 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      This is what I find so strange. Why do people who edit casually really need another, more comfortable editing application? For the casual editor or even reporter – just what about the latest iMovie isn’t enough? It has colour correction, effects, drag and drop simplicity. For the casual or corporate user, how exactly are they hitting a workflow ceiling?
      Because the from what I can tell the workflow in FCPX for more complex projects isn’t going to be any easier. And it’s got nothing to do with whether your content ends up on a TV or the web. It’s about getting the best content into the edit, and that’s about organisation and evaluation. FCPX requires that everything be extensively tagged (or automatically recognised as a one person CU, group shot, whatever). But what if your work involves product shots, lots of them, that all have unique attributes? I realise, especially given Philip’s views and products, that metadata when used effectively can be a great step foward for some kinds of projects and I welcome that. But in some cases this absolute requirement to “edit by metadata” in FCPX may be much slower.
      Jeffery Harrell puts it far better than I can: (warning: strong language)
      http://jefferyharrell.tumblr.com/post/6865416226/project-management-in-fcp-x-no-just-no

      • Admin comment by Philip · July 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm

        Editing not as a full time job and “editing casually” are not the only two options. People editing professionally but not full time are not the majority of professional editors, as the article discusses. These people need much more powerful tools than casual or hobby editors. The workflow in fCP X is brilliant for complex projects, less so for complex Projects (timelines stacked) although to date I’ve stacked four clips for a 4 way pip and it was a easy as anything I’ve ever done.

        Forcing organizing by metadata is absolutely the right thing to do and the other NLEs will follow. I can’t think of an instance where it would be slower.

  • Craig Seeman · July 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    While there’s much missing in FCPX it reminds me very much of a relational database for video . . . and the reaction to it much like those who use spread sheets because they fear relational databases.

    Not only do some fear the project organization through a database but and editing paradigm focused on clip to clip relationships vs clip along a timing grid presentation.

    • Admin comment by Philip · July 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      Now that’s an interesting perspective Craig – I’d not drawn the similarity between a database structured on relationships and a timeline structured on relationships.

      Thanks.

    • Michael Aranyshev · July 12, 2011 at 11:28 am

      I’m tired of this “afraid” insults. I’m cutting features. It is hundreds of hours of organization work. I cut five seasons of Survivor type Reality TV with over 2 thousands of hours of footage for each season. I ain’t afraid of nothing. Anything that would help organization is very welcome. The problem is what’s now in FCPX doesn’t help a bit. Take production sound. It comes in BWF-poly files with a lav for each character, a boom, an M+S pair and a production mix. It comes with date, reel, timecode and shot/take info. All in one file. Both FCP and FCPX read this metadata just fine but in FCP it is readily visible and actually usable, because of much smarter use of available screen real estate. Now, how all this “relational” stuff add anything meaningful to the case?

      CoreData is part of the system. It was virtually free for FCPX team. They used what they have without much customizing for video postproduction requirements. In present form it is great for managing a family video archive in case the family is big and the archive is a couple of generations big. With an LTO library support it will be a decent solution for stock footage shop but that’s just a coincidence.

      • Craig Seeman · July 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm

        @Michael Aranyshev
        The lack implementation does not negate that the potential do use the data is there and flexible.

        There are people who are adverse to the timeline storyline structure because the don’t have “tracks” which very much remind me of the rigid grid relationship in a spread sheet. The relationships in FCPX are media to each other rather than along the rows and columns in a spread sheet.

        A secondary storyline has a single relationship (one connection) to a clip below it. One can move the connection to a different clip, changing that relationship.

        In addition a single clip is connected to a clip below it. The relationship is to a given frame. That connection though can be moved to another frame, changing that relationship. Of course Secondary Storylines can also change that frame level relationship as well in addition to the clip relationship.

        Thus a Secondary Storyline can change its relationship to any frame of any clip above/below it by changing the connection. A Connected Clip can change its relationship by changing which frame it is connected to above/below it.

        Looking at it another way, a Storyline is a many clip to one clip relationship. A connected clip is a one clip to once clip relationship. In all cases the frame it relates to can vary and in the case of storylines it can be any frame of any clip.

        In addition Storyline clips relate to the clips before and after it, allowing transitions and such. Connected clips do not have that relationship. If and how Apple builds on these relationships remains to be seen but the Timeline clips and storylines are not tied to row/column grid. There are people who seem to be bothered by this because they’ve been accustomed to the grid rather then editing with these relationships. I can envision created some very complicated relationship patterns which can assist in some very complex projects.

        • Craig Seeman · July 12, 2011 at 6:54 pm

          Replying to myself since I think I see where this is going.

          If you lay it out a bit differently visually it’s the rudiment of a nodal rather than time grid based editing system. Although there’s certainly a time overlay, it’s not constrained by that.

          It’s not only where the media object happens over time but what points on other objects which they tie to. The point that they tie, the node, can be anywhere where they exist in common time though.

          • Admin comment by Philip · July 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm

            Nice thinking Craig. I’ll have to think more about it, but I think you’re on to something.

          • Richard Harrington · July 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

            I agree. This is why Motion lets you view a Layers panel, a timeline, a mini timeline, and a floating HUD.

            What bothers me is the FCPX doesn’t give you many chooses. Why CAN”T I have a traditional timeline with tracks if that is how I like to organize data.

            Even Apple Numbers lets you view Spreadsheets in different ways (including as forms on a tablet).

            Seems like letting people work they way they wanted was a hallmark in previous FCP.

            Want to import at the finder level and import… fine.
            Want to use 3 point editing, no? Just drag to the timeline then,

            CHOICE was key as well as flexibility. Much of that seems lost.

          • Admin comment by Philip · July 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm

            Why can’t you have two completely incompatible structures for a timeline? That’s why. If you like that design there are other applications that support it. Apple think the magnetic timeline is more valuable to the majority of their customers, clearly you do not fit that profile. I think the comparison to a spreadsheet would be more like comparing an Event with a Project as different views of media (makes as much sense as your example did).

            The previous version of FCP is dead. Comparing it to FCP X is pointless. The change has happened. I’m heartless, yes, (and I am sorry for that, but I just can’t get emotional about tools) but the world changed June 21, at least for some editors, and it’s not going back. Adapt (and I think you probably have more than your complaining implies) and move forward. Ultimately it is the only option.

        • Michael Aranyshev · July 13, 2011 at 5:43 am

          When you change the node order and connection between nodes in a composer you change the resulting composition. It is direct. When you change clip connection on the magnetic timeline your edit doesn’t change. It may somehow indirectly affect what’s going to happen when you’re back from the maintenance mode to the cutting mode. Very detached. Clip connections have little to do with actual editing. They are just pieces of gaffer tape used to keep stuff together on what is essentially a 1V2A timeline which is permanently in a ripple mode.

          • Craig Seeman · July 13, 2011 at 7:58 am

            “When you change clip connection on the magnetic timeline your edit doesn’t change.”

            Because FCPX is still being developed. Many features are not fully exploited yet.

            Changing the Connection can have significant impact on what you do NEXT if you move or split clips and then move them. You are moving media objects that bring the relationship with them. If you don’t move anything you see no change. The fundamental flexibility in FCPX is in movement in which relationships either are maintained or are mutable. If you all you do is “cut” and not “move” you won’t see how important relationships are. From your description it appears you haven’t actually used or tested these relationships. That you can describe FCPX as 1V2A shows a checkers perspective of a three dimensional chess board. The relationships can get far more complex than tracks can visual represent. They can get quit deep and complex.

  • Art Bell · July 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Possibly a more real world ‘question’ would be if you make your living using a tool you have some stake and some cred in the game to comment from experience on a tools value, and utility right now, right here in the real world.

    The same world where you use the tool create with it, ship and bill and get paid every week – or you don’t ship and then don’t bill and then don’t get paid because the tool doesn’t work as hyped.

    If you make your living critiquing and commenting and rationalizing on tools that makes one analogous to movie critics compared to folks who actually make movies.

    Pass the popcorn.

  • Dylan Reeve · July 13, 2011 at 3:06 am

    Apple software (and hardware to some extent) has a history of being quite prescriptive in the way you use it – they prescribe the way to do it.

    FCP Classic was perhaps a notable exception to that – there was probably a few ways to do just about anything.

    FCP X could be seen as fixing it. It is very prescriptive.

    The line of “is FCP X any use for me”, as I see it, is how flexible your workflow can be. If you’re working alone and can make your workflows fit the way FCP X wants you to do it then you’re probably going to be fine.

    Unfortunately for TV and Film work those workflows can’t be as flexible as the NLE is just one step in a bigger chain. Perhaps this also is represented by “full time editors” as they typically are the ones working within a very structured workflow that can’t be readily adjusted.

    • Craig Seeman · July 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

      I think even the broadcast industry has faced some odd new tools that were “prescriptive.” I wonder how people felt about the first node based compositors. I also vaguely remember complete befuddlement when I first saw a Quantel Harry. There have been many strange and at least transiently successful tools who’s GUI and workflows seemed to have been developed by non human lifeforms from distant galaxies.

      • Dylan Reeve · July 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

        Indeed, there have been some paradigm shifts, but typically they can the slotted into existing workflows. Harry was different (and Quantel’s tool still are quite unique) but it still did deck control and SDI and could read EDLs.

        I can’t think of any other NLEs that have completely done away with all standard conventions and workflows in favour of a new paradigm that may or may not be better.

        Like I say – if you can adapt the way you work to fit the way Apple thinks you should then FCP X is a pretty good app. If not, well I think it’s going to be a lot hard to adapt FCP X to fit the way you need to work.

        • Admin comment by Philip · July 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm

          True, only Apple have the fortitude to make the changes they think are appropriate for the next decade of editing, and we know that won’t be like the last decade. Disruptive for some, yes, but for those who need those things (and the majority of FCP 7 users don’t care about EDLs or SDI) then FCP X probably isn’t for you.

          • Dylan Reeve · July 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm

            Like I say – if you’re workflow can adapt to Apple’s ideas then it’s not bad, just different.

            If it can’t… Well we know the reaction there 🙂

            It’s not about pro, not-pro, full-time or part-time – it’s just about the workflow and the environment.

          • Daniel Clarke · July 19, 2011 at 1:33 am

            Seems to me by having that fortitude they give themselves a high burden of proof.
            The missing features features can’t all be explained away by saying that they are part of Apple’s vision of the future.
            Some of them look like miss steps and oversights which is just makes it harder to make the leap of faith.

  • Ben Balser · July 22, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Example, in a local FCP users group, two specific people keep complaining After Effects is easier to use then Motion. But the rest of the group loves Motion more. Same two people rely on DVD delivery daily and think Apple is insane to scale that back. The rest of the group rarely touches DVD or Blu-Ray for delivery. So, do these two folks justify the group as a whole demand support for DVD and AE? Or do we just let them move on to some other platform, and sincerely wish them well? I can clearly see Apple in a similar boat. BTW, we have TV cutters loving FCP X. We have three features cut by our members who loved doing it in FCP X. We did a mini-seminar at our last meeting, and the overwhelming majority were “shocked” at how fast, easy, powerful FCP X was, and totally changed from haters to lovers. I’ve had the same reaction to the three 1-Day custom seminars I’ve done (I’m an Apple cert’d master trainer). So, yes, some folks just don’t like it no matter what. But the overwhelming majority of folks I’ve worked with and taught are loving it. And they cover a very, very broad range of professionals (who make a living with it) to hobbiests (who do vacation videos). Is it for “professionals”? Yes it is, I know lots who love it. So that’s the wrong question to ask. “Does it help me specifically work smarter, easier, faster, and more creatively?” That’s the ONLY question that should be asked. And when folks who’ve seen FCP X in it’s glory with me decided it wasn’t for them, there was no problem. I find some folks demand you agree with them, or even demand you disagree with them, no matter what. But I don’t have time for that. If you don’t like it, I will help you find the best deals on Avid or Adobe products. But if you love FCP X, I’ll support you to the best of my ability, throughout the next decade. I don’t see any “debate” necessary. Cause it’s equally as easy to point out the woeful deficiencies in any NLE ever made, not just FCP X. Pick the imperfect, ever evolving NLE you want, be creative, be happy, play nice.

  • James Gardiner · July 23, 2011 at 6:34 am

    I have been monitoring the FCP desaster for a while now. Waiting to see what floats to the surface.

    As a X owner of a facility, we had FCP and Avid systems. In my mind, I didn;t care what we used as long as it did the job and the editor was comfortable with it. To tell the truth, even today, for long form work, I would always suggest Avid.
    Looking at the future of Apple in the Pro world, the recent handling of the FCPX release could not have been worse.
    Philip, you and I have largely agreed on exactly what the situation was and what was likely to be in FCPX. And yes its a very good foundation for a great product that will have been a good successor to FCP7.. in about 1.5 to 2 years from now.
    My rational here is that, this no longer matters. The way Apple treated the Pros, and companies that have invested 100 of thousands in this technology in recent time is so poor, it does not matter that Apple will eventually get FCPX to sing and be a true competitor to Avid and Premiere. FCP will, from now on, always be considered the non pro tool.
    This is not because it is any better or worse, but because of how Apple does business.
    As a facility owners, I simply could not risk what has happened.. AGAIN!
    It has been long enough to consider Apple reation to this situation. I don;t see them makeing peace. “Ie “Sorry we screwed up”. Its nothing but hollow drops of shallow promises about future revisions coming in “the future”. As a business I cannot budget for “the future”. Pros/Businesses need time frames and roadmaps. Something Apple has shown to be incapable of.
    An editor is nothing but a tool. If you are a real PRO, working on more then corporate videos and weddings, Man up, learn a new one. You cannot learn talent, so if your worried this will hurt your career in editing, ask yourself if you should be in the industry in the first place.

    James (On the “Red Pill” (Matrix tip))

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