Why do production pressures favor Final Cut Pro X?
I was watching the highly recommended Editor’s Lounge series of videos from the Why we make the Edit night and naturally the discussion turned to the increasing pressure to get work done faster. Derek McCants noted that where once he would have three weeks to cut an allocated segment, the expectation was it would now be done in one week.
This led to the following exchange (transcribed pretty much verbatim) starting at 21’26 into Part 2’s video:
BEE OTTINGER: I think time is – there’s just not as much time. That’s the bugaboo all of us have. It’s the Avid. The greatest thing in the world is the the Avid. I wouldn’t go back for anything, but it.. it… other people had more to say because it was easy to change. The ease of change you would think would make things more creative because you could try things and it isn’t that great.
DEREK MCCANTS (Editor Big Brother): I would agree.
BEE OTTINGER (Music Video): Time?
DEREK MCCANTS: Yeh, and because of that in reality there’s less ownership for the editor. It used to be that an editor would do an episode. Now there’s three or four editors – maybe five – are working on the same episode to get it done.
ANDREW SEKLIR (Editor Battlestar Galactica): And I think part of that is when you’re cutting on a Moviola it had one picture track, usually one soundtrack that was kind of keeping going. Now they expect you to have a completely temp’d version with every sound effect, leading to “I didn’t like the way that computer beeped”. We get these kind of notes from network. “I don’t like the ring of that cell phone.” And you go “OK, maybe that’s valid but it’s a temp mix”. But also with music and everything and that adds on.
It brings up two “modern” pressures that were not part of the traditional editor’s life (pre democratization of video): the lack of time, and the expectation that the “rough cut” will have music, temp effects, etc. The pressure is on the editor (and assistant) to go much further toward the finished piece so that the network or other approver won’t have to use their imagination. (Of course, that’s the producer’s failing and their response to be giving notes on temp effects indicates that the production skills of the executives, or their understanding of their industry, has fallen.)
I’d like to address both, and suggest why I think Final Cut Pro X is heading down the right direction. (Seriously, stick with me for a minute.)
I haven’t been using Final Cut Pro X on a huge project (yet, check back with me late next year) but I follow a lot of people who are and they universally comment that Final Cut Pro X is “200 to 400% faster” for them. As near as I can tell these people are doing the same sort of work on Final Cut Pro X as they were on Final Cut Pro 7 and finding that they get to a result from twice as fast to four times as fast.
Twice as fast to four times as fast!
Apple understands the pressure that’s on all production folk – be they working in “Hollywood” (the metaphoric one) or in the wider world of production – need to produce faster but with a higher quality product. So they designed with the following goals in mind:
- Avoid workarounds
- If we can automate and make something faster, we will
- Keep the quality at its highest possible level
- Be fast and fluid.
Now, I’m not going to argue that Final Cut Pro X as it is at 10.0.2 is a perfect solution for everyone. The lack of support for layered Photoshop files, and no selective copy or paste of attributes still get in the way for me, but they’re interim issues. Rather than looking at what the current release might lack, I’m more interested in how in-tune with modern production needs across the spectrum of editing, not only for broadcast television or film editing, Final Cut Pro X really is.
Back in June I wrote about the process of creating Conquering the Metadata Foundations of Final Cut Pro X:
What’s interesting is it parallels what seems like a design philosophy behind Final Cut Pro X. From what I’ve done in Final Cut Pro X, it seems to me to encourage a much more polished project along the way. It’s as easy to add an animated, high production value title as it would be to add a placeholder to remind you to do it later, as I’ve always (previously) done.
With the way clips (and titles) stick to other clips, I feel we’re encouraged to add polish as we go, by making it no extra pain to add the polish: a little color touch up; maybe a reposition; animate some clips. These are all so easy in Final Cut Pro X that I have to think this is part of the design philosophy.
What’s that got to do with the book? Every other book I’ve written or attempted to write, the draft was written in a Word processor and careful track had to be kept, with strict formatting guidelines, of what images were being added later in layout. It’s not until much later in the process, after the text is finalized, that it goes to layout.
That process wasn’t going to work in this case, so as I wrote on my computer, I would have Apple’s loaner beside me, snap a screen shot with the built in tools that are not perfect but functional. Rename it, drag it to iChat and dropped it via Bonjour to my own laptop. Then dragged the imaged directly from iChat to Pages and into the layout. It turned out to be a very efficient workflow.
I consider that to be a core strength with Final Cut Pro X – the ability to polish as you edit is much more fluid than in other NLEs of my experience. When you already have a searchable database of music cues and fx sounds, ready access to an Aperture photo library (or iPhoto), and hundreds of pre-programmed titles and looks, it’s much easier to approach finishing-as-you-go, and therefore fill that demand of modern production situations.
Now there are times when I don’t want to think about anything but story, and that’s just fine too. Final Cut Pro X gets out of the way there as well when all the finishing options just disappear from the interface when not needed.
While that’s great and I see how it fits with the ‘demand’ to see first cuts that appear finished from producers and executives, it’s the reported speed increases that fascinate me and tell me – for that reason alone – Apple’s bold attempt to redefine the NLE (as I had hoped) will be successful. In September last year I wrote an article What Should Apple do with Final Cut Pro:
What if Apple – since they have to rewrite much of Final Cut Pro – decided to not just do a “faster horse” rewrite but rethink what the NLE should and could be? The first problem with making major improvements is that it will involve change and we know that no-one likes change: they want things to get better but never change! So if Apple are re-imagining Final Cut Pro, it will be unpopular with “the pros”, at least until they give it a try. (And I can probably name those who will hate it among my acquaintances.)
Well, I did get the part about “the pros” hating it! And that some would come around when they gave it a try, but it was in a following paragraph that I asked them to:
Rethink the Interface. Reportedly Apple were looking to hire interface designers for the Pro Apps as recently as May 2010. I presume they’re hired by now, but you would expect a redesign to take at least a year to 18 months.
They rethought the interface according to the philosophy outlined above – faster and more automated – and we have Final Cut Pro X. Let’s assume that it’s only twice as fast as Final Cut Pro 7. Some of that is simply because of a modern foundation that drops any requirement for transcoding or rendering effects, and that’s shared with other modern NLEs like Premiere Pro, Vegas, Media Composer and Edius. But some is because of the way the interface has been redesigned.
I noted when I first started using Final Cut Pro X how fluid it all felt and I expect that’s driving the “it’s faster” meme.
The thing is, if we have one NLE that’s noticeably faster in use, that word will get out to producers and, guess what? Producers and executives like things done faster because that’s the direction they’ve been pushing. (Oh, and faster is usually cheaper.) If a two week job can be done in one, if a one week job can be done in three days, then whoever is doing it will adopt the tool that lets it be done in three days, or they’ll be looking for other work.
Now, I hope that there will always be projects that value the careful deliberation of the editor, where time for contemplation and reflection on the edit is expected, but if the panel at the Editor’s Lounge are to be believed – and they are – then these pressures are already part of their life.
It seems to me that if getting to a cut faster – and getting to a more finished cut while you do it – are the realities of a lot of editors lives, then Final Cut Pro X has been designed perfectly for the modern, professional edit environment. Even if it’s not there yet, the design intention and production reality seem destined to make Final Cut Pro X’s market share increase, even among the pros. (They won’t like it, but twice as fast can’t be ignored, let alone “four times faster”.)