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

Apr/13

3

Are the “Pros” at the tipping point with Final Cut Pro X?

It’s the end of the month and, as do most small business folk, I look at how the month has been, and how the year is going. Looking at the end of the March quarter, I noticed that our Sync-N-Link sales had tipped from our Final Cut Pro 7 version to favor Sync-N-Link X (for Final Cut Pro X).

Sync-N-Link is very specialized software, used only by “the pros” because it batch synchronizes separately recorded audio and video by using matching Timecode. This type of setup is not cheap and not simple, and generally only used in the higher levels of production where its efficiency tips the balance. Traditionally, Sync-N-Link for Final Cut Pro 5-7 has been our most profitable product for Final Cut Pro (Classic).

We figured that we’d do the version for Final Cut Pro X in November 2012. Instead we were strongly encouraged to move it up the schedule, so that Leverage and Danni Lowinski could be some of the Final Cut Pro X success stories. We were happy to be part of those successes, but – as predicted – sales were very sluggish, until November 2012, when sales started to improve.

Like I said, Sync-N-Link and Sync-N-Link X serve a very specific, and very much a “pro” market – episodic Television, Studio Movies, and the like. It doesn’t sell well to creators of “cat videos”. So, it can be used as a reasonable proxy for the use of both versions of Final Cut Pro in new shows. (People tend to buy Sync-N-Link as they start a workflow on a show or movie.)

When we developed the Final Cut Pro X version, we couldn’t simply remake the Final Cut Pro 7 app, instead we needed to rethink what it does in the context of the new software. One of the features of Final Cut Pro X that I think is absolutely at the center of its efficiency are Roles, and (importantly) subroles. Right from the start we offered the opportunity to assign subroles to tracks in the audio: Camera, Character name, mic ID, etc.

A good start but not good enough. We discovered that there was metadata identifying those channels often being entered by the audio person. This isn’t the first time we’ve discovered additional metadata coming from audio rather than video, so I guess if you want the easy life, get into production audio??

That audio channel metadata is carried in the WAV file as iXML and we now transfer it directly from the WAV file to an audio subrole  for Final Cut Pro X. We also maintain the timecode on the synchronized clip and bring clip metadata from either the audio or video to the Synchronized clip. This is part of our internal mantra of “don’t lose metadata”, ever!

So we think the Sync-N-Link X app is very useful in these high end workflows and will be required as shows (or movies) move to Final Cut Pro X, which is why the quarterly figures were so useful.

In March 2013 we sold more Sync-N-Link X than Sync-N-Link, which continues to sell just a little less than it did two years ago, indicating that there are still a lot of shows starting new on Final Cut Pro 7. Not only did we sell more for March, but for the entire first quarter of 2013.

While Final Cut Pro X may not be a perfect match for all workflows (e.g. collaborative ones) it’s pretty silly to continue with the “it’s not professional” mantra when clearly a lot of very professional users are making top level entertainment (and more) with it.

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52 comments

  • Robert DeSaeger · April 3, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Anytime when you have something that is different and out of the box, you will have people resisting change. Simply because they do not want to learn something new. So, instead of accepting it, it is far easier to knock something and fighting it. Than admitting that it is time to move on and learn something new where I can benefit. Change is part of life. Nothing stays the same, just look at home many trades have been lost in the last 150 years. Candle Lighter, Black Smith, type setter and the list goes on. Even Pilots will be replaced with Auto Pilots in the next 30 years or so.
    Just too bad that we can not find away to get rid of politicians and corrupt judges.
    Thank you for your article, it shows that FinalCut X is being used by the pros.
    robert

  • Tommy Collins · April 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I finally made the switch from In-Sync SpeedRazor and Adobe Premiere on a PC to a Mac about 5 years ago with FCP Studio and then Studio 2 on a PowerMac G5 (Non Intel). I was stuck with using FCP 6 because my Non-Intel Mac couldn’t be upgraded to FCP 7. So faced with the prospect of having to upgrade my Mac just to stay afloat with editing I purchased a MacBook Pro, Retina Display, 2.7GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB, 750GB SSD Drive. I decided not to upgrade to FCP 7 and made the jump to FCP X. I migrated my old FCP Studio 2 to the laptop. So having made the jump to a whole new Machine and completely new editing software I’m coming along mostly with the help of people like Philip Hodgetts and groups like BOSCPUG with people like Dan Berube and especially Apple one to one training. Well, after finally making the jump, I’m counting on Apple make FCP X the best out there.

  • Charlie · April 3, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I think we are at a tipping point. I’m using it daily to cut trailers/TV spots for the major studios. There are, however, a couple things that need to be addressed a bit better before I’m 100% committed to switching completely. We still need to interact with finishing houses here in LA, many of whom are AVID based, or on older versions of Smoke etc. EDL’s are a must at present, and while there is a solution which is really very good, the EDL’s still lack things such as notes describing applied FX, Filters, Custom transition names etc. This often forces me to go back through FCP 7, which is, uh… not ideal. I get that EDL’s are a creaky old technology, but until there is widespread adoption of XML, it’s the reality. If everyone was cutting in X, there’s be reason for folks upstream to accommodate it but, for now, that’s not the case..

    The audio side is handled pretty well, though compatibility with apps other than protools and nuendo would be a good thing. If one could creat OMF/AAF’s that could be opened in MC/Symphony, maybe logic etc, that would be fairly huge.

    Lastly better collaborative tools, and media management are needed. Ability to consolidate sequences with handles, ability to delete render files globally rather than one by one, slightly more forgiving re-linking (I’m looking at you XMP ID’s!) etc.

    That said, X really is amazing, and I hope it continues to gain traction in this space. I freaking hate cutting in other NLE’s now. :-)

    • Robin S. Kurz · April 5, 2013 at 4:51 am

      How is it Apple’s job to support EDLs (or even AAF), both as you correctly state are creaky old and more so completely inferior formats to XML, and not *Avid’s* job to get with the program (as e.g. Adobe/Premiere has) and finally support XML import?? I see no reasonable logic in that.

      • CHARLIE AUSTIN · April 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

        I didn’t say it was Apples job.

        • Ben Balser · April 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm

          Look at DaVinci Resolve 10. I think those Avid houses will be getting very dated very soon.

    • Markus · April 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Charlie, you must be the first editor to use FCPX for motion picture trailers here in Hollywood. What company do you work for? I do the same thing for a living here in Los Angeles and we are all still stuck with FCP 7 (with the other 50% of movie trailer houses using AVID). I do use FCPX for my personal use and like it quite a lot. However, I can’t see how FCPX in its current state can be used in the highly collaborative environment of motion picture advertising.

      The problems you are describing are fairly minor, IMH. EDL’s will go away soon. They serve very little purpose anymore since all the feature film materials we work with are file based and mostly in a very unfinished state. Finishing houses have to overcut manually anyway since the timecode in our clips and sequences has no reference to anything finishable. Even now, when I send out cuts for finishing from FCP7, I put instructions for scaling, filters etc. as titles into my sequence and I have received very positive feedback from finishing houses.

      If you are doing promos for television networks, that a different story, since they are indeed still mostly tape based (HDCAM).

      I’d really love to hear more about your workflow and how you’re dealing with FCPX’s fluid concept of the magnetic timeline and the generally very complex and track-heavy timelines of movie trailers.

  • Duane Martin · April 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    When FCP X was first released the resistance was not a so much a reaction to “change” but a reaction to the complete lack of tools required to complete an edit beyond “cat videos”. People were justifiably pissed. However, a lot has happened in almost two years. Recently I used FCP X to cut a short film shot on Epic (after the 10.0.6 release), then a paid gig on a short doc, then a paid corporate video piece. Now I am back in FCP 7 cutting some corporate video pieces, and let me tell you, I know FCP 7, but I am finding myself musing “wow, I could actually do this faster in FCP X.” I know I am not alone with this discovery.

    I still don’t know how our team could switch the TV drama I work on over to FCP X in the upcoming season 7; I just don’t get how to collaborate, but I know some people have cracked this nut. There are some other features still lacking, but FCP X is really close to being a no-brainer as far as pro work goes. The “pros” are quickly outweighing the “cons”. Seriously spend some time learning the interface and you might be surprised at just how fast editing can be done in FCP X!

    • Author comment by Philip · April 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Collaboration is still a problem with FCP X (as it was with FCP 1-7 and with most NLEs excluding Media Composer) but I’m sure it’s on Apple’s agenda somewhere. I know there are other gaps in the workflow – Change Lists for example (we’re working on it)- that make FCP X untenable for some, but it is interesting to see the change in tide in sales of software that only appeals to the “Pros”.

  • Snow R. Shai · April 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    The pros have been tipping away for quite some time now.
    Nice to see the numbers supporting that.
    Other “pros” still don’t get it…

  • Pat Spahr · April 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    It is justifiably understandable that Apple created some disharmony in the field with the initial release FCP X and its shortcomings. The lack of regard for the pro community was a let down especially in light of the fact that it has long been the arts and artists who have been steadfast in their support of the Mac platform. I am a film student at a small mid-western university and my school made the decision to simply migrate everything to Adobe Premiere Pro. Since the school would be licensing the whole Creative Suite for the media labs anyway, such as graphic design and interactive design students need the other publishing tools, we have the Swiss army knife of Mac-based design tools. I have my own copy of CS6 on my new MacBook Pro and also ordered a copy of Avid Media Composer and Pro Tools since they are still, seemingly, industry standards. This is a long-winded way of saying Apple has chosen to allow themselves to lag far behind the field. They want to be the platform of choice for those in the middle of the bell curve, leaving the pros at the high-end little choice other than to choose the competitive alternative.

  • Joe Mahma · April 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    You can have X. I’m all over PP6 at this point. Have fun!

    • Author comment by Philip · April 4, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      And a very fine choice it is, and even better in CS7. Funny how I don’t hear any FCP X users who feel the need to criticize other people’s choices. Truth is, there are no bad choices. Choose what works best for you and keep competition great.

      • Fernando · April 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        My friend, there ARE bad choices. I’m sorry. I don’t intend to berate FCPX. But there are absolutely bad choices. I’m a loyal and long time FCP fan who feels betrayed. And I’m not alone. Check out Walter Biscardi’s forum on Creative Cow regarding this issue. I’m all for change but FCPX is ridiculous. An excellent measure if FCPX was a good business decision is to see if Apple follows up FCPX again with such a “radical departure.” Further alienating users. It worked so well the first time right? Let’s do it again. I would not criticize the user only the software maker however. I would agree, competition is great. Had Apple not missed the mark so poorly, I may never have found Adobe CS6. Thanks Apple.

        • Author comment by Philip · April 4, 2013 at 10:25 pm

          I stand by the assertion that there are no bad choices: except those that you make in choosing something that doesn’t meet your needs. Media Composer is a good tool, Premiere Pro ditto, Final Cut Pro, Vegas and Edius (and Smoke and Resolve??) are all tools way and above what we had when I started out in production.

          I’m glad The Adobe Suite is working for you, there are some great tools in there, that are only going to get better with the next release.

          I hope fervently that in 10-12 years, that Apple will take another examination of the landscape and – it it’s deemed necessary – give us an other radical departure. While I like Premiere Pro, editing in FCP X is fluid and fun. I don’t say everyone has to use it, just that I like it and I consider myself a professional.

  • Fernando · April 4, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    So let me get this right… Apple introduces Final Cut Pro, inspires a multitude of independent filmmakers and videographers by bringing previously high end editing tools to the masses. They were listening. Over the years they made improvements aligned with the needs of their newly found “disciples,” I’m guilty of being one. They found success and soon turned inward. Now that they have our attention, found they no longer needed the input of “working editors.” But what does it matter, you have my money and you have me hooked. I have become dependent on your tools and by extension, your vision as a company to the needs of professional, working editors. Then, without warn… FCPX. No input from professional users whatsoever. If there was input the departure from FC7 to FXPX would have been smooth and expected. Why then would Apple go back and add features, via updates, that so many users missed and demanded? See what just happened there? Now they are listening once again. I know it’s broad and a bit simplistic but, essentially it’s true. Apple served me well and for years I flat out refused to entertain Avid or Adobe tools. I started out on a PPC G5(no intel chips.) Made a decent living with the tools at hand, in spite of it’s shortcomings, and there were many. I began to see more and more software require Intel chips such as FCP7. Didn’t bite at the time. The tide of Intel based software grew more so I decided it was time to upgrade. I bought an 27″ iMac. Great, I’m set now FCP6(Studio 3) new Intel Chips. Until I tried to load FCP6(Studio 3) on the new iMac. I had previously purchased Studio 1, 2, and 3. Now the software is not compatible. I’m done. No more purchasing Apple editing software for me. If I want a “radical departure” FCPX is NOT the solution for me. I made my own “radical departure”, I purchased Adobe CS6 and my only regret is that I hadn’t done it years ago. Why? They listen. And the tools are far superior to FCP. 1) Everyone uses Photoshop regardless of platform or editing preference. And it integrates very well into CS6. 2) After Effects is without question the industry standard for compositing and motion graphics. Which integrates flawlessly. 3) Premiere Pro is fast and powerful. Equal if not better than Final Cut. Specifically, adjustment layers can be applied to video tracks, metadata makes sense, no need to RENDER every single time I add an effect or footage that doesn’t match the sequence settings, the list goes on. 4) Audition may not have the library or loops of Soundtrack Pro but, it is easier to use and I have found it far superior applying useful effects and mastering. I could go on but suffice it to say I know professionals use FCPX. Heck one recent filmmaker recently completed his film using an iPhone. But a true indicator of a successful venture in business is wether something is repeatable. Do you honestly think Apple will follow up FCPX with a similar “radical departure” designed to change the landscape of the editing community? I think not. Although, according to this article, the trend is shifting back to FCP(I hope not) and most would agree I will not further reward shameful practices with my hard earned “working editor” money. I could be wrong but, I doubt it.

    • Chris WIlby · April 5, 2013 at 12:55 am

      Fernando we can all hold onto our old conceits far too long; let go. Anecdotal as Philips comments are, they are a growing sign of things to come. Its happening here in the UK/Europe and its happening in the USA. Live with it. Give FCPX a go, you never know… :-)

      Ps: enjoy the NLE your on!

  • Roger Hayes · April 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    To me, it comes down to trust. I earn my living editing and I need to know that the companies whom I buy hardware and software from are fully committed to supporting the “tools of my trade” without making me radically change my way of working. I don’t trust Apple anymore to be that kind of company and it’s not just with FCP’s makeover. I am currently editing new projects on Premiere Pro CS6 and only using FCP 7 on previously finished projects that I have to re-open and make changes to for the client.

    • Author comment by Philip · April 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      Not one of the companies we rely on can be trusted. In not one of them is the NLE an important focus of their business or crucial to their business. I include Avid, Adobe, Apple, Sony (Vegas) and Grass Valley (Edius) in that. Camera companies kill formats and lines regularly. It’s part of life. Do not trust anything but your storytelling skills, not any particular craft skills in software.

      • Steve Marshall · April 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm

        I TRUST Avid…. projects I created 15years ago before the version number re-started can still be opened with the current version!!! Furthermore I think Media Composer / Symphony ARE BOTH crucial to Avid’s business… how many Adobe/FCPX collaborators do you know that share media over ISIS systems or use DNA break-out boxes?
        The fact remains Philip, Larry Jordan and a great many other love Apple – and I will agree they make some great products, and so do other companies… as Philip says there are not necessarily bad choices, except for bad decisions when it comes to choosing the right tool for the job….
        If being professional means you need to have your Audio exported to an audio professional to mix on a ProTools, Fairlight, AMS Neeve or other professional audio system…. then in that case choose anything EXCEPT FCPX!

        • Author comment by Philip · April 7, 2013 at 9:15 am

          Stephen, I think it’s great that you trust Avid. I think it’s a mistake to trust any company, however I must correct your misconception that going to ProTools from FCP X is a problem. Hasn’t been an issue for a year now. Shows are finished on FCP X for broadcast and audio done in ProTools all the time. Perhaps you’re still working from a position of ignorance on how fast FCP X has developed. Keep in mind no “pro” used FCP 1 until version 3 or 4, some 7 years after it was released.

          • Steve Marshall · April 10, 2013 at 3:52 am

            Philip/Leo,
            Thank you for correcting me… on the whole FCPX/audio post workflow… I’ll probably take a look at FCP X now… AAF export is something I have been waiting for!
            Steve

        • Leo Hans · April 8, 2013 at 10:33 am

          Steve, AVID is not the only one NLE used in broadcast quality projects.
          FCPX has solid reasons to be used despite it’s iMovie look at first sight and perfectly work with other video and audio tools for post.

  • Don B. · April 10, 2013 at 7:06 am

    It seems like the people who criticize FCPX the loudest are the ones who have never used it at all. It is really slick.

    • Charlie · April 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      True. though to be fair, the magnetic timeline does take a while to get used to, especially if you depend on tracks for visual organization. I trust apple is working on solutions to that, as well as implementation of some needed missing features. Also, you have to jump through some hoops to fit into a multi platform, multi app, post production workflow. It’s all doable, but it does require some relearning. That said… yeah, X pretty much rocks.

      • Author comment by Philip · April 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm

        In FCP X we use Roles to identify the sort of information you used to rely on for visual organization. You can highlight a role across the whole timeline (say to identify B-roll, or FX) and you can enable or disable a role any time.

        I think you’ll find there are fewer and fewer hoops you need to jump through.

        As for unlearning in order to relearn? That will be the core skill in the future.

        • CraigS · April 12, 2013 at 5:51 am

          As someone who started editing on a CMX 340 in 1980 and Avid in 1990, one of my earliest concerns about NLEs and their use of tracks is that there had always been a fundamental conflict of purpose by using tracks both to composite and organize.

          Apple’s FCPX seems to be the first and only NLE to approach resolving that conflicted design with Roles.

          Roles does need some additional work though. I need to be able to “target” a Role while I edit. In some cases that would mean both targeting (tagging?) both the video and audio channels (and it may be more than one) as I edit the clips into the story line. I do hope that at some point Apple allows Roles to be assigned to the keyboard (just as one targeted tracks using keyboard numbers) and, in the case of Roles, allows such “assignment windows” to stay open for “memory” assistance. It could work much the way keyword tagging does now.

          I love that after 20 years of NLE use I finally have one that properly differentiates between compositing and organizations but closing in on two years after its release, Roles still has some work to go to facilitate organizing as easily as it should be.

          I do find it surprising that so many veteran editors prefer the convoluted “track dance” one must go through over organizing with metadata.

        • CHARLIE AUSTIN · April 12, 2013 at 7:44 am

          Of course Philip. What I mean by “visual organization’ is more related to possibly having the ability to have selected Roles stick together. A kind of Z ordering if you will. When I’m cutting music, I’d like all the little 2 second chunks I’ve cobbled together, upcut etc, to stay more or less adjacent to each other. In a Project with 15 lanes of clips, it’s less than ideal that, when cutting a clip in lane 15, the newly separated bit on the left or right jumps to lane 1 if it can, when I need to pull it up 4 bars and resync it by lining up a kick drum hit. Just a little “group” button next to the “show/hide” button in each master Role TL index pane or something.

          I love the X timeline even as it is though, and use Roles extensively….

  • Edgar Galart · April 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Ok, Ok…
    But when is Lumberjack coming? I really want to try it!

  • George Washington · April 25, 2013 at 11:51 pm

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