I didn’t always use Final Cut Pro, and I didn’t start using it from version 1.  I was a late convert.  I started out using Avid Media Composer.  But I did start using it after version 3 came out.  Before that I, and many other editors, begged and pleaded with the companies we worked with to use their Avids, after hours, to do our side projects.  But then FCP came out, and was cheap, so we could then use it to do all of our side work.  And I did use it for a lot of projects, but nothing for broadcast.

Then FCP 4.5 came out.  Now it not only had external hardware for it (Targa Cinewave, Matrox RT Mac), but it also worked with DVCPRO HD natively…capture directly via firewire, at full quality.  And that was the HD format that was taking the documentary world by storm. I did work on a TV series that was shot with that format.  720p 24over60.  But the Avid Meridians, that the production company used at the time, didn’t edit HD.  So all the tapes were converted to SD and then captured.  And we were going to online with the Avid Adrenaline.

Well, the Adrenaline was Avid’s big mistake.  It was slow, ploddingly so…and it was difficult to get accurate captures and outputs.  And at the time we went to online…it only did 1080i.  Well, all of our tapes were 720p…so we had a problem.  The tapes had to be converted to 1080 and then captured…and that was a HUGE expense.  The nine-episode series went $200,000 over budget.  That hurt.

Then I was approached to edit a two-hour History Channel show and the producer planned on shooting DVCPRO HD with the Varicam.  Well, I knew that Avid couldn’t do this. Sure, the Adrenaline had been updated, but I still was very wary.  Besides, I just attended a Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group meeting where they touted DVCPRO HD native workflow with FCP 4.5.  So we talked to a post expert about workflow, and they highly recommended FCP 4.5  And said that we could do all we needed to do with it to deliver a broadcast show. AJA had the hardware, it was solid. We could use firewire drives…all was good.  So we leapt.

And since then Final Cut Pro was my primary choice for editing. Yes, I still used Avid, but editing with Final Cut Pro was more natural to me. It seemed to think they way I thought.  I was faster, able to do more effects with ease.  It was the perfect tool to use for the projects I was presented with.

But it still wasn’t used in Hollywood all that much.  People looked down on it…thinking it was prosumer. It did start out that way, but it made huge strides in the professional editing market.  It started seeing use on the TV show “Scrubs.”  Walter Murch decided to use it for COLD MOUNTAIN.  More and more commercial productions and music videos were cut with FCP.  It was gaining ground.  But it wasn’t easy.  It took a lot of effort for us to convince people that FCP was ready for broadcast, that it did a better job than Avid.  That despite the low cost it was as good as Avid.  In fact, if the companies went with FCP, they could save a lot of money, and still produce the high quality they were used to.

It took years of struggle, but finally FCP made in-roads, and found a home in many production companies.  But there were still editors who mocked us for using FCP.  And who said that Apple wasn’t serious about the NLE market.  They had so many other things they paid more attention too…iPhones and iPods and iPads.  They didn’t put that much effort into FCP was their argument.  It was hard to believe, seeing that FCP 7 was so solid…there were more plugins and side apps made for it than any other NLE (HUGE support base)…more hardware options for FCP than any other NLE.

Then FCP X came out…and the rug was yanked out from under us.  Not only did Apple release a version of FCP that didn’t meet the needs of the broadcast professional…they EOL’d (End of Life) FCP 7…the last version that DID support professional broadcast workflows.  Everything the Avid guys were saying was right…Apple dumped all the professional features and made an NLE (Non-Linear Editor) for the masses.  They used to use us to tout their software.  Articles on their website showed how Bunim/Murray, the largest reality show company in the US, built their facility and workflows around FCP.  Films edited with FCP…”Jarhead,” “Zodiak,” “The Social Network.” TV shows… They were, and always had, used broadcast and film productions to showcase FCP as a professional editing solution that is so good for Hollywood, just imagine how good it will be for your projects!

Then they release a product that is useless for all those projects. Lacking every professional feature we have come to rely on. And not only that, change the interface so drastically, professional editors would be lost. All indications point to them leaving the broadcast market and aiming at the prosumer.  Why cater to 3% of your user base (according to Philip Hodgetts), when much more can be had from the people in the much larger, middle-range?  People making content for the web, DVD…  After all, tape is dead, according to Apple.  In saying that, they have indicated how out of touch they are with professional workflows. It might not be in the majority, but it is certainly there, and will be there for YEARS to come.  Avid knows this…and I highly doubt they will every remove tape capture and output from their software.

We professional editors rely on “muscle memory.” That is knowing where all the buttons, keys, menu options are when we are cutting…knowing them SO WELL that it is second nature to click on a button to do what we need done. If that one button moves, or doesn’t do what we need…that slows us down.  And in our high-pressure environment, we can’t afford to be slowed down.  When Avid changed the weight-lifter icon to an up arrow…the button indicating that you wanted to LIFT out a section of video…that threw us for a loop.  And when they moved the SELECTION arrows to the Smart Tool bar on the left of the timeline, that caused a lot of havoc.  Editors all over were furious.  Their muscle memory was disrupted.

FCP X goes well beyond that.  Forget everything you know about editing, and start over. Learn everything from scratch.  And change the names of everything, change the way things are organized…and call it “better…an improved way of doing things.”  Who’s to say it’s better?  What we have worked for us…worked well. Why fix what isn’t broken?  Sure, FCP X is now 64 bit, and can address more memory, and therefore is faster…people were crying for this.  They got it, but in the process, a complete re-design.  Adobe didn’t do that.  They went 64-bit and retained the look and feel of the app.  Everything is the same, well, most things.  But if you used Premiere CS4, going to CS5 is easy…nothings different.

Apple says that eventually they will add back some if not all of the pro-features missing from FCP 7.  But will it be too late?  Avid Adrenaline was a huge debacle that caused me and many others to switch to FCP. And even when things were fixed, and Avid came out with newer hardware, and much improved software, we stayed there, because it did what we needed. Now it looks like FCP X is doing to Apple what Adrenaline did for Avid…causing professional editors to look at alternatives. And once we find them, once we get used to the working with them, will we be inclined to switch back?  Switch back to a completely foreign interface?  We’ll see.

And yes, we could stick with FCP 7.  FCP X didn’t cause it to break. But sticking with an NLE that has no future will only go so far.  There will be no further improvements to the NLE we know and have come to rely on. It is gone. So we will continue to use it while we explore options that do work the way we need to work, and will advance with technology.

Future posts will have me doing projects with Avid MC and Adobe Premiere Pro, as I test the waters to see which will work best for me. And if Apple does come out with something that will fit my workflow later…who knows, I might go back.

Time will tell.

EDIT: To be clear.  I will continue to use FCP 7 as long as it does what I need.  But when it won’t be able to handle a workflow need I have I will explore other options.  If the next version of FCP adds the professional functionality I need… and allow for more advanced options other than included templates… then I will explore it as an option.