FCP X - Is it ready for it's close up ?

I was asked by my friend
Edmond Terakopian, an award winning photo journalist, who is also pretty skilled at using his 5DMkII for shooting video what I thought of Final Cut Pro X for an article he was writing for the British Journal of Photograpy. As a self shooter/editor he has taken to the new software, however he was interested in my opinion from the point of view of someone working in broadcast post production.

Its fair to say that FCPX received a very negative reaction from many sections of the editing community. The ones who seemed to be shouting “foul” the loudest were those working in TV facilities houses and broadcast environments.

Having worked in broadcast television for over 20 years I can understand why they were unhappy.

Despite only spending a couple of days checking it out, its obvious straight away it needs some additional features to be ready for use in facilities houses or by broadcasters.

Apple had spent about 10 years building up a reputation for Final Cut Pro, forcing facility houses and broadcasters to take it seriously. It has arguably helped to drive the prices of Avid down and become a favourite among production companies who have taken the plunge and bought their own editing kit.
It has also seen off many rivals, Edit, Media 100 (just about) and Lightworks being a few examples.

While Avid is still the favourite of higher end post houses and broadcasters FCP has chipped away at its dominance, however it does seem Apple have just hit the rewind button with FCPX.

FCPX seems to be squarely aimed at the “pro-sumer”, the iMovie compatibility and social media publishing options have been rolled out first. There is no denying this is aimed initially at a different market to FCP7, the new software is designed to make as much of the process as possible as easy as possible for one person to do it all.

However making television programmes is rarely a solitary endeavour. The credit list at the end of a TV show makes that pretty obvious. Feature films even more so. Collaboration is a key part of the process. TV facilities need to be able to move media along the stages of the production and post production process as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. Shoot, ingest, rough cut, fine cut, finishing, visual FX colour grading, audio dubbing and layback is a common path for many TV shows. Different people bring different skill sets along the way, kit wise,
Avid, Apple, DaVinci, Baselight, ProTools and Fairlight are just a few that are used. Getting all those to integrate uses a combination of EDL. XML and OMF files depending on what is going where.

Once finished, programmes are subject to “Tech Assess”. Everything must conform to a strict broadcast technical standard, every programme is watched and checked for any errors. Careful monitoring is required during the programme finishing to achieve this, the current lack of ability to interface FCPX properly with broadcast monitors or measuring equipment makes this impossible. Specific audio track layouts must be followed with both full mixes and discreet audio tracks requested and laid out to specific tracks on tape. HD delivery is still most commonly requested to be on HDCam SR tape.

Tape is not dead in our world, we wish it was, but the archive of tape is huge. Apple’s tapeless utopia is no where near a reality. Fifty odd years of worldwide tape based acquisition and mastering adds up, not to mention all the film that was transferred to tape. Many programmes especially documentaries have elements drawn from this archive. Even without the archive material, tape is usually the preferred delivery format, although file based delivery is becoming an option, not everything fits that workflow.

Final Cut X, in its current incarnation, literally allows none of the above process to happen, and these are things we do day in. day out.
All the tools we need to collaborate with our colleagues are missing and the hardware to allow critical external monitoring and measuring to ensure technical compliance are not supported. Programme delivery requirements cant be met.
With all of that missing and the whole thing served up on an iMovie based GUI, you can perhaps see why some were miffed.

So we have to wait for Apple to add features, or development by third parties, they will come in time, but at what cost ? Currently the price of adding
Automatic Duck in order to add the ability to export audio files is $495.00. So these are not cheap add-ons. Estimates seem to vary as to how long it may take for all these developments to happen but a couple of years does not seem unreasonable given how long it took FCP to develop into a serious contender.

Meanwhile we use Avid and FCP7 as we ever did. Adobe is currently not that popular in the broadcast world, I asked my agency TOVS who have been supplying freelancers for around 25 years if they are ever asked for Adobe editors. The reply “I think we had one call” However Adobe Premiere Pro is very like FCP in operation and workflow so it could become a favourite for disgruntled FCPX users looking to swap.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Not everyone has to meet broadcast delivery requirements or needs elaborate collaborate workflows.
The first things that struck me about FCPX is that it feels quick and the timeline feels smooth. The 64 bit architecture is certainly a performance boost. DSLR film makers, for example, can take advantage of this speed and the easy file based importing, everything is geared towards the single user operator.
Effects and “looks”, via the clever interface with Motion can be quickly and easily auditioned and FCPX guides the less technically skilled editors along the way, automatically creating tracks as needed, avoiding clip collisions and keeping things in sync. Sub frame audio editing is a real advantage and background render is a long awaited addition too, (although I did notice this seems to pause when certain editing processes are happening). Either way it has some really innovative features and with development I can certainly see the potential,
If your main skill is shooting, these things will initially make your life easier as you develop your editing skills.
I say initially, as I find these things unnecessary and constraining and as your editing experience develops so may you. Once you learn the rules you want to be able to break them in ways that suit you, thats when real possibilities open up. One of FCP’s strengths was the flexibility to work in ways that suited the user. My worry is FCPX is too locked down to allow this and concentrates a little too much on handholding, and making things easy for the “pro-sumer” but time will tell.
In terms of the broadcast market, The Onion made a great spoof some time ago about the new
Apple Wheel Laptop. The pay off line seems apt. Just replace “business users” with “broadcast users” and you get:-

“It's not yet clear if this will catch on with broadcast users who need to use computers and editing software for their actual work, and not just dicking around”

Ok maybe a little unfair, but funny all the same.

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