Post FCP 7, Which NLE do I teach?

Probably the most interesting conversation I had at NAB was Sunday night at the Independent Filmmakers of the Inland Empire KISS mini-golf event. The setting might have been unique but the problem was not: Now that Final Cut Pro 7 isn’t the default choice for colleges (and high schools) to teach, which NLE do I teach? As the conversation continued it became obvious that there were more factors at work than just taking a punt on which NLE will become the “next FCP 7”.

Although Final Cut Pro 6/7 are probably still the most used NLE (although I’m beginning to think that’s debatable), schools have to look forward so their students have relevant skills for an industry that’s still three or four years away. In the “pro” market Media Composer still rules “Hollywood” (although not necessarily the latest versions); Premiere Pro is gaining some foothold where it never has before; and Final Cut Pro X has a lot more penetration into the Pro market than most people think it has.

In this lady’s case, the complicating factor is that her school has a deal with so that students (and faculty) have unlimited access to the Lynda training library, meaning students can teach themselves the details of whichever app the school decided to teach.

Here’s the problem: there is no way that anyone can accurately determine which NLE will be popular/dominant in 3+ years when the students graduate. I have my own educated guess, but who knows, Lightworks on OS X might turn out to be incredibly popular due to its power and near-free pricing. (Arguably though, the cost of any NLE is so low these days that, used professionally, they are all effectively free.)

Then it came to me in a flash (or maybe it was just the UV light catching my eye). The role of the teacher/professor at the College level (particularly) is not to teach button pushing. The job is to teach the skills of telling compelling stories using video as the medium. Whether you cut the piece in Premiere Pro, Media Composer or Final Cut Pro (7 or X), it makes absolutely no difference.

I suggested teaching a short introduction to each of the major NLEs (Final Cut Pro X, Media Composer, Premiere Pro) and then allowing student to choose which NLE they want to use. At some point in the course, assign a project that forces them to use “one of the other” NLEs than their default, just to make sure they get exposure to more than one NLE.  Reality is, they are going to need skills in all current NLEs if they are to be employable when they graduate.

One of the main changes I’ve noticed among motivated college age students now, is they seem to be well suited to processing “similarity” rather than processing “difference” which I believe our older generations tend to do. Having learnt the general principles of a NLE, they will be able to adapt to using any other NLE with little problem.

So, which NLE should I teach? All of them, and yet none of them. Devote your classroom to teaching the craft skills for efficient and powerful storytelling, and let (or other source) handle the details, because no matter which details you teach, the market will be different in 3-4 years.

And not just the market, the NLEs themselves continue to evolve. If you taught Final Cut Pro 7 in 2009, how well equipped are your students? If you taught Premiere Pro CS 4 in 2009, your students are facing a completely revised media engine, interface (and with the next release) timeline and edit tools. If you taught Media Composer 4 in 2009, you’d have taught only the beginnings of AMA and missed a whole range of modern tools (including the Smart tool, for example, and Stereoscopic editing).

Teach the technique, not the tool.

14 replies on “Post FCP 7, Which NLE do I teach?”

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  1. One problem, as someone who works with colleges and universities to design and implement classrooms, if the limited budget, and red tape loop holes they have to jump through to get software purchased. Puting a copy of FCP X, PPro, MC, and Lightworks on each Mac in their classroom or lab, is simply prohibitive financially. Much less the red tape that demands to know why more than on is necessary, and will tell you no, regardless of your argument. There are also logistical issue for teachers (me being one) have to deal with. Technical issues come up, and having to trouble shoot 4 different NLEs can throw an instructor, and the even less knowledge so-called IT support for a major loop.

    So although I agree with the philosophy of your view, I don’t see it as being realistic to implement in today’s messed up, overly bureaucratic higher educational system.

    1. That’s a very valid point.

      As someone that’s taught a few editing classes, the bureaucracy and tech support challenges you described are quite real. I’m not sure what the solution would be but I like what Dylan was getting at in his comment.

      But I think you would still have to pick a primary NLE for your students to learn (my vote is for PPro). And maybe the school administration could be convinced to let you have one computer in the lab that has all of the NLEs that the students can rotate learning on.

      Again, I know that there are a lot of details that would still have to be worked out.

      Fundamental editing concepts will span all apps but it may mean that we’ll have to demonstrate how to do core techniques (like say trimming) in 3 – or 4 NLEs.

      Of course, not only would it be hard to find instructors that are proficient in all the major NLEs but now it may take 4 or 5 times as long to get through the lesson plan.

      Oy. I don’t know what the solution is…

  2. It’s important to teach the art and skill of editing, not the use of a particular software package – that transcends the NLE. Although it’s also important to give students an appropriate operational understanding of the tools necessary to actually get work.

    In practice, if I had to choose just one application to base post-production training on, I’d choose Media Composer. For better or worse it’s still a fairly dominant application in the professional world. More importantly though it imposes a fairly strict structure on it’s use.

    I’ve long argued that someone who learned editing on Media Composer would find it easier to transition to other NLEs than the other way around.

    So if you needed to outfit a lab with NLEs on which to conduct a lot of course work, I think Media Composer would be the right choice. I also think it would be foolish not to, at the very least, have a number of workstations available with other NLEs on them.

    Learn the basics on Avid, then extend those skills to Premiere, FCP 7, FCP X, Lightworks and who knows what else.

    1. Media Composer is considered “dowdy” among college age students. And the career prospects are not particularly good as it’s only a smallish niche of the professional market that actually uses Media Composer.

      1. I’d wager Media Composer to be around 20% max of the whole (global) editing market.

        1. 20%??!
          Neva evah. And even if it was, it’s shrinking by the minute, like it or not. I also teach and absolutely *no one* I’ve taught over the last 2-3 years knows what “Avid” is. Zero.

  3. Totally agree that learning how to create a story with visuals and sounds is what really matters. I got my start cutting Super 8 and then 16mm film and the storytelling skills I learned then are what count today no matter what editing tool I use. Of course I’ve since layered on many additional creative and technical skills that today’s NLEs all allow.

    So I can’t really answer the question about which NLE to teach. But I also agree that whatever you choose, it’s worth teaching the core similarities among them all, as well as the differences and the reasons you might choose one tool over another. Each has its own pros and cons, but they all can do the job.

    BTW, I recently switched from FCP7 to Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. So sure there was some learning involved regarding how the new tool works, but all the skills I had using FCP translated directly into PP. I suspect your students (and I) will likely need to make similar transitions more than once in their future careers, and it’s good for them to know that vs. being overly dedicated to a particular tool.

    1. Into the third para and you couldn’t wait any longer could you Dan… 🙂

    2. “but all the skills I had using FCP translated directly into PP”

      Always love seeing the “sticking with the OLD is a GOOD thing… because I don’t need to learn or rethink anything”-logical fallacies. I’m sure that mentality is both making AND saving Adobe a lot-o-cash. 😀

  4. Worth noting is the fact that most graduates do not enter the position of ‘editor’ immediately after graduating. That’s true at least for Film and Television, where I work. We hire entry-level people as assistant editors, and more often than not, media managers. Having the skills for these roles actually requires a very in-depth knowledge of the NLE that the post house is using (on top of an in-depth and ongoing knowledge of cameras and file formats).

    While editors are very good at storytelling, once they’re a bit older and the technology has changed, (in my experience) they don’t seem to have the time to keep up with file formats and media management. They are still excellent storytellers, but they’ve honed their craft in the NLE and have lost the ability to get footage in and out. The Avid workflow, in particular, is set up to have an army of AEs and media managers just to serve a few editors.

    However, this discussion is specifically about what NLE to teach in an editing class. Seems like Avid is the hardest to learn, and that most students are savvy enough to learn the others on their own when the time comes. After bringing on and subsequently firing a few young fake-it-till-you-make-it types, we can’t hire anyone that doesn’t have Avid skills anymore. Doesn’t matter how good their storytelling skills are if they can’t actually tell a story quickly nor retain visual quality of the footage through the process.

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