Final Cut Pro – Baby Steps Into The Future

23 07 2009

For the two or three of you who don’t know yet, Apple released its updates to its suite of video applications today.  Final Cut Suite 3, has updates and new enhancements to nearly all of the parts of the suite, including some cool title manipulation tools in Motion, voice level matching in Soundtrack Pro (a boon to quick and easy temp mixing), cooler markers and more flavors of ProRes in Final Cut, and more. Some of the features, like a floating timecode window and global transitions, are attempts to catch up with Avid’s Media Composer which has had that for a very long time. (Apple’s list of new features can be found on this page on their website.)

That, by the way, is a great advantage of competition.

But it is in the aspects of ease-of-use and collaboration that Apple has shown that it is paying attention to what it’s core market really wants. Despite the high-end videos of Francis Coppola and Walter Murch on TETRO, Final Cut’s appeal has always been to people on the lower-priced end of the market — the students, the low-budge indies, the people putting together their own shops. The entire suite concept caters to them — if your market is made up of people who can’t afford to hire separate title designers and sound editors, then the idea of charging people separate amounts for separate applications is a non-starter. For the indie filmmakers and podcasters who are creating their own soundtracks and flushing them out to the web in record time, buying ProTools and Media Composer is just too expensive. Even if Soundtrack Pro is way inferior to ProTools, it just simply doesn’t matter to that market. Having everything in a box (with round-tripping between the apps) is The Way To Go.

I’ll talk about the coolest indicator in a minute, but let me also say that the ease of use factor is also huge for this market. If I’m doing my own lower thirds, and I’m not a visual effects guru like Mark Christiansen, then I want easy-to-use templates that provide me with a great default setting.  I’ll change the look and feel if I want, but the fact that I don’t need to program in a motion effect, with a glow, and time everything out from scratch, means that I can get things done much more efficiently (even at the expense of greater individuality).

So, starting with something much higher than Ground Zero, appeals to many of the filmmakers that Apple is targeting as their market.

But here’s the cooler thing for me.

As many of you know, I’ve been harping on the idea of long distance collaboration for several years. It’s clear that more and more of us are working with people who we don’t see every day. Two years ago, I co-edited a small horror film called JACK IN THE BOX. It’s director and my co-editor were both on the East Coast, while I sat in Los Angeles editing. We exchanged files and projects via the net. It was a successful collaboration, but a bit frustrating because of the lack of face-to-face contact. This month I’m starting a new film where the director will be in Rhode Island, my co-editor in Massachusetts and me — still in California.

My point is that this is becoming more of the norm, rather than a rare instance. Commercials, corporate films, sponsored videos, and more, are fast being done by the People Who You Want To Hire, even if they’re in another city. But the tools just aren’t there yet to help re-create the face-to-face experience. We’ll be experimenting with some newer techniques on this one and I’ll report back, but the struggle is always to help all of us to feel like we’re in the same room.

Now Apple has introduced iChat Theatre, which allows the editor to play back his or her timeline right over iChat. If I read the tutorials properly, you no longer need to create a Quicktime export and then upload/FTP it. In fact, you no longer even need to create a Quicktime at all. This feature of Final Cut allows others on the iChat to look directly into a Viewer (or Canvas) on the editor’s machine. That’s it.

Now, it doesn’t have the real interactivity that I’d love — to have my iChat buddy be able to use his or her mouse to stop and scroll the cursor around on the timeline  (like Syncvue, for instance, does), and I don’t know if you can have more than two people on the iChat, but you can video chat with each other while you’re scrolling around. Mike Curtis says that you can show the timecode window as well, and that will be great for more precise discussion. But you certainly can’t take a mouse or Wacom tablet pen, and circle items on the screen (which would be handy for discussion visual effects) like you can on some services. It would also be cool if you could attach comments/markers to particular places on the timeline — so you could easily accumulate notes. But, using a screen grab tool like Snapz Pro X, you could record a notes session for later playback.

Very cool. Since one of the biggest issues in distance collaboration (as well as in any notes meeting, now that I think about it) is misinterpretation of notes.

My point, however, is that Apple has once again identified a growing need in their core market. Many of us working in lower budget ranges need to work with people across great distances. They haven’t given us any real groundbreaking tools to do that, but it is clear that they are thinking about it, and slowly introducing early versions of the tools that we will all need very very soon. These tools are very basic, and don’t really do much more than take ideas that have been floating around elsewhere for a while, and bring them into the suite. But the real takeaway here, is that they’ve now brought these things into their own tool and made them easy to use and integrate with their other tools. And that is going to be very appealing to this market.

Another aspect to this distance collaboration is their Easy Export feature which, on first glance, looks like an easy way to upload to YouTube, MobileMe and more (including BluRay — cool; direct export to DVDs from the timeline).

Oh, and one final point. They’ve made both the price of the suite and the upgrade price incredibly low. The upgrade for someone who already has a purchased copy is $299. That means that they are essentially telling the community that they’ve be idiotic not to upgrade. No one who has the money to make a video project of any kind, doesn’t have $300. (The full price, for those people who don’t have access to an educational discount or their own copy already, is $999.). Once again, Apple is saying to the indie and low budget community — this is for you.

Now it’s time for Avid and Adobe to decide if this is a market that each of them want, and then go for it.


By the way, some other bloggers are beginning to post their own thoughts on this. Steve Cohen, over at Splice Here, is one of them. Richard Harrington, at the Pro Video Coalition, and Mike Curtis are two others who you should check out.



8 responses to “Final Cut Pro – Baby Steps Into The Future”

23 07 2009
Rob Imbs (18:44:23) :

I can’t wait for iChat Theatre, I often collaborate during an edit, and it’s a pain in the butt to export low res copy’s throughout the process. I’m looking forward to upgrading to FCS3. My GF works at Apple, that means half off the 299$ price, I’m lucky.

23 07 2009
Norman (18:50:38) :

Wow, now THAT’S a girlfriend! Let me know how the upgrade works for you. Not sure when I’ll get mine.

23 07 2009
Steve Cohen (19:40:53) :

I like the remote collaboration stuff, too. But we should all understand that it comes with a very big gotcha. Editors in the third world earn maybe $400 a week. No benefits, nada. I think the day just got a lot closer when we’ll have to compete with that. We like to believe that quality wins, that the best editor will get the job. But competing with Mexico or Korea or India or China inevitably brings wages down at home. A receding tide lowers all boats.

23 07 2009
D Halsall (20:02:01) :

In Europe we can get funding from the government for film-projects if we collaborate with people in other EU countries. This has made it so much easier now.

23 07 2009
Norman (21:46:55) :


Well, I don’t disagree with that. But the reality is that we just cannot hold back a tidal wave by simply holding up a small bucket (hmmm, I missed something with that metaphor, didn’t I?). The days of our high wages are going away. In television, for instance, the economics are simply not there to support both the size and the cost of a crew in the way it used to. Syndication is GONE. 24 episode orders are GONE. High advertising rates are GONE. As a result, the days of 3-5 million dollar pattern budgets are… you guessed it… GONE.

Unfortunately, that means that our lives as editors are changing Big Time. We need to compete on a much more basic level than we ever have. There will absolutely be producers who are completely bottom line driven (I think we’ve both worked for people like that) and they will go where the cost of living is less, even if it means less quality control. But there will also be producers who hire us because we bring more to the project than someone who charges 10% of our rate. That having been said, I’ve worked with filmmakers from Vietnam and the Middle East who are awesomely talented. Lower dollars doesn’t necessarily mean less talented. That is going to affect what we can charge and, therefore, how we work. (For instance, I can see editors working on multiple projects at one time for one rate, and soloing for a different rate.)

So, you’re right, the receding tide is also going to produce some rocky waters for those of us who are used to floating around in expensive boats. But I think we’re all better off when we look around for all kinds of boats to pilot, rather than sticking with our old ones.

And that, my friend, is a metaphor way to broken to make any sense any more. So, I’d better move on.

23 07 2009
Steve Cohen (22:38:16) :

Maybe the falling wages are creating a downdraft on your mind. You can’t stand in the way of a train, but then again, if we’d said that back in the early days of unionism we’d still be working in the coal mines for a dollar a day — which is what you get in the third world now. I will continue to hope that working remotely just ain’t as good as being in the same room. We’ll see.

27 07 2009
Wellington Road Pictures» Blog Archive » Thanks, Norman! (00:34:54) :

[…] I was thinking this, and was going to write about it but I didn’t have the depth of experience to make the point as clear as Norman does. […]

12 11 2010
Black under eyes (19:09:21) :

Tyvm for the useful post! I wouldn’t have found this otherwise!

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