I’ve been avoiding it for the last eleven months since its release. I’ve read the critical reviews that pointed out everything that was missing from Final Cut Pro X vs. Final Cut Pro 7. I’ve reasoned with myself that teaching Final Cut Pro X would be a disservice to my students because it wont be what they encounter in the “real world.”
I’ve sat through demos from Apple representatives and watched it at conferences and workshops, but I hadn’t edited anything myself with it.
Until last week. And I feel almost guilty saying it – but I like it. Warts and all.
Before people read halfway down and abandon the rest of this post, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: I see the promise of Final Cut Pro X for web/newspaper use (not broadcast, which has its own set of unique requirements that I can’t claim to fully understand), though still not yet fully realized. I’m considering teaching it to students in place of Final Cut 7. Educators, journalists, and others, I would love it if you’d leave your thoughts about that move in the comments. Haven’t made decisions yet, but we all will have to soon.
Moving on …
Non-linear editing’s heritage
Take a look at what we call video editing software. Non-linear video editors. We’re defining software by what it isn’t rather than what it is. We don’t use the term “horseless carriage” anymore – we call them “cars.”
I didn’t really understand the origin for this term until I started teaching tape-to-tape linear editing at Syracuse University during grad school in 2008.
You see, I came to the party once non-linear editors had hit their stride, starting with Avid Xpress in 2006 and moving to Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro from there. I didn’t know what all the conventions on the editing screen meant – the source/record window, timelines, etc. I just knew your mark your clips with ins and outs, and then bring them down onto a timeline to make it all go, and so I just did it.
Teaching tape-to-tape, I saw where all of the conventions of Avid/FCP7/Premiere came from. These were programs designed to make editors transitioning from tape-based systems comfortable in an all-digital workflow. The terms, the interfaces – all were designed skeuomorphically, to mimic the familiar ways of doing things without needing to.
Final Cut Pro X doesn’t care about being familiar. Rather, it’s trying to create a new set of conventions.
What’s it like?
I’m not going to pretend to be an FCPX expert. Nor am I a linear video editing expert. I’m strictly grounded in the last generation of non-linear video editors – Final Cut Pro 7, Avid Xpress and Adobe Premiere Pro. I will call myself an expert on those.I have one video and three days under my belt with Final Cut Pro X and I can already feel that the software designers are on to something here – without any instructions or any real training, I was able to piece together a simple news video almost as cleanly as I was able to do it in Final Cut Pro 7. For a few things, like fixing incorrectly panned audio, or adding key frames, I turned to Professor Google, but most things I figured out through poking around.
My timeline is a mess (see the above screenshot at the beginning of the post), the complete opposite of the models of order that my FCP7 sequences are, but the end result is almost exactly the same:
I’m sure in time and with a little more practice/training, I’ll get more organized. This is cut together from footage I shot and provide to students specifically to train first-timers on Final Cut Pro 7. I turned my lesson on myself. I didn’t try anything fancy with the program yet, just the basics.
I did it this way on purpose – I wanted to see how intuitive the user interface was. While it’s not quite like hopping on an iPad and knowing how to use it instantly, it’s certainly easier to just sit down and start editing than it is with other NLEs. Of course, I say this without being able to erase six years of editing experience from my brain, but if the widespread adoption of iMovie is any indication, Apple may be onto something.
In a decade or two, there won’t be many people left in the industry with linear experience anyway, so why not introduce a new editing paradigm now and let people grow with it? It’s entirely possible that in a version or two, Premiere Pro and Avid will look and act like Final Cut Pro X, as opposed to Final Cut 7. People probably won’t complain because Apple already set the ground rules in 2011.
Not all sunshine and roses
So I’ve alluded to some problems I’ve had, and from conversations and comments from folks in the industry, I’m not alone.
Stephanie Augello, a video editor at Millimeter Photography in New York describes the problems getting footage from different cameras to play nice with each other:
If one is working w/ the same camera/format every time, then X suffices. However, in reality, and in the professional world, that rarely happens, and that is where X fails. A lot of times, I find myself working w/ footage from a variety of shooters, who own a variety of cameras, and have variable understanding of the technical ins and outs of video production. When I have loaded all of these different files into 7 at different times, the program will prompt me when something needs to be adjusted/troubleshooting is necessary. Or, even better, it just won’t work w/ the input. I have then had to employ some skill, and figure out how to make it work. It seems that, w/ X, the programmers have laid it out so that the software is supposed to just read, and then fix, those issues. It doesn’t.
She goes on to summarize pretty much how I feel about the whole program:
Basically to summarize this, X has tried to take tasks that involve a certain degree of skill and understanding, and make them natural. It’s not quite there yet.
Denise DeBelius, a freelance video/photo editor based in Washington D.C., found that while the broad strokes are easy in FCPX, details get difficult, something I found when trying to fine-tune things a bit:
I found it to be rather easy at first, but once I wanted to start nuanced editing, it became absolutely maddening. Trying to neatly stack clips is nearly impossible and the inability to lock layers is utterly self-defeating. Maybe I’m just too familiar with FCP, but it took me 3x as long to edit my last project.
For my part, I experienced a lot of stability issues – the software is a complete rewrite of Final Cut Pro, so some of this is expected, but I experienced many crashes and lockups along the way to editing a simple news video. I’m not running the newest hardware (it’s a 2009-era Mac Pro running Lion, with quad-core Xeon processor, 3 gb of RAM, and an ATI Radeon video card with 512 mb of memory) but you would be hard-pressed to find publications running newer than this, especially with the financial problems in the journalism industry.
I also shot and edited the footage in standard definition, so as not to strain anything. I haven’t tried HD footage yet, but it’s probably going to be worse.
This isn’t acceptable, especially in a fast-paced news environment.
Weighing the pros and cons for teaching
If you are the lone-wolf freelancer, editing on one machine and shooting with one type of camera, then this software makes sense. It’s easier on the wallet than other NLEs ($300) and it’s simpler to use (I didn’t have to futz with resolutions or sequence settings. I just dragged stuff in and started editing, and it all worked).
It’s also the only version you can buy of the venerable Final Cut Pro.
Which brings me back to the teaching process – what good is teaching students Final Cut Pro 7 if they can’t actually buy it to do their work in the field? Sure, many news outlets will still have it on their machines, but the reality is many students aren’t getting staff jobs right out of college, at least not right away. Final Cut Pro X is all they have got, unless they are willing to experiment and try Premiere Pro or Avid, but the price of each ($799 for Premiere Pro, $2499 for Avid Media Composer) make them non-starters.
Then there’s Apple – notorious for dropping technology it considers obsolete – remember the floppy disc? Flash? And now, the DVD? Who is to say that the next operating system upgrade after Mountain Lion this year won’t drop support for legacy software, like Final Cut Pro 7? Stranger things has happened, and the news organizations will have no choice but to “upgrade” to FCPX.
And then there is the cross-platform aspect to teaching FCPX – right now, students concentrating on broadcast journalism can easily find a home at web news outlets and vice versa – Final Cut 7 is Final Cut 7 is Avid is Premiere. It’s all pretty much the same. FCPX drives a wedge into the whole process, essentially precluding students from jumping back and forth between software, all in the name of having the coveted “Final Cut Pro” under the skills section of the resume. It’s an all or nothing proposition.
The big question
I’m going to head off a couple of the inevitable arguments now: that I teach both and that it’s not about the software, it’s about the principles of good video editing.
Teaching both pieces of software will likely lead to inevitable confusion – and also lead to students who are masters of nothing. Learning to cut a video is hard enough – getting good at it requires repetition, and hopping back and forth between software prevents that processor repetition from happening.
And about the principles part of the argument – I agree completely – but to not focus on any tools at all is a problem, too – students need some marketable skills, and teaching yourself is a great way to learn, but there’s something to be said for good classroom instruction on the topic.
Final Cut Pro is to multimedia journalism what the pen and notebook are to print journalism – except it’s just a bit more complicated to learn than pen and paper. To leave students to fend for themselves on this would be unfair to the less technically inclined in the group. Journalism is about the story, and I’m teaching the tools to make them transparent in the reporting process.
It’s a hard process to decide what software to use, because I’m trying to look ahead a couple of years and figure out what people will be using when my current students graduate – not what’s in use right now, because it will likely be different.
The best students will learn what I teach them, and then learn what I didn’t teach them.
I’ll leave it at that and toss the question to you, the reader:
What video editing software do you think a multimedia journalist should be taught in school, and why?
Leave your answer in the comments below, and thanks for your input.