Thoughts on FCPX
Ever since Apple’s introduction of Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) in 2011, it has been divisive amongst the editing community. The magnetic timeline was such a radical departure from preceding non-linear editing (NLE) platforms that editors could literally be seen running naked down LA streets, tearing out their hair screaming ‘I wanted a faster horse’. This is of course in reference to Walter Murch’s comments about editing platforms from his fantastic book ‘In the Blink of an Eye’: Before the invention of the car, if you asked someone what they wanted for better transport, the’d tell you ‘a faster horse’. The point is change is always divisive, inevitable and necessary. But the central question is does it even matter?
Prior to FCPX, Final Cut Pro Studio was, for some, a saviour from the monopoly of Avid over the professional editing world. However, Avid isn’t going anywhere. For the same reason RED cinema cameras will be second to Arri’s (indefinitely): The film business is about relationships. Arri and Avid have been in the industry a long time. Sure, Final Cut Studio made for a financially obvious decision for indie-filmmakers, but the elite of hollywood filmmakers need the support and assistance of those behind the tools. Avid are ready to support any technical issues that the most renowned editors on the planet may come across. I’m confident that Avid would like the sales numbers which FCPX and Adobe boast for their software but they are feeding a different market. Adobe claimed that their sales jumped following the release of FCPX. I’ll bet they did. Obviously FCPX wasn’t what everyone hoped it might be. It wasn’t a faster horse. And horse customers were waiting with their wallets open, so when race day came they left with somebody else’s faster horse. The irony is ever since FCPX’s release, Adobe have been converting their editing software, Premiere Pro; adding mechanical limbs and wheels to their horse so to match many of the great new features Apple unveiled. Adobe’s rhetoric seemed to conflict with their actions. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Premiere is fantastic – Avid’s doing its own thing (good for them) – but Premiere Pro is great because it knows that it appeals to a different market to Avid.
Final Cut on the other hand enjoys its former laurels and always paints itself as revolutionary high-end software, but it lacks the infrastructure and development of hardware that is familiar to Adobe, Avid and now, Blackmagic, a new contender in the NLE market.
Apple is in the fashion and consumer industry. I think this still scares editors. Rightly so, perhaps, given that at any moment Apple could pull the rug from under FCPX users and invest the resources into a new Apple Watch. But never forget that artistry and productivity are still key to Apple’s appeal which they generate for their products. Look at the marketing for the iPad along with countless other Apple products. In so many of Apple’s adverts and promotional videos, productivity and creativity are part of the central message. Many of Final Cut’s features empower creative individuals, akin to the way their hardware is marketed. FCPX has the basics (including amazingly cheesy transitions) one may need to complete an entire creative video project.
Final Cut is open. Say what you want about any features Final Cut Pro originally lacked, third parties have come onboard and turned FCPX into a powerhouse primed for the highest end solutions. In this way Final Cut Pro acts as a software platform comparable to Apple’s own hardware such as the iPad, Mac or iPhone. A centralised core experience which is opened up by the developing community to be whatever one may need it to be. In my head I’m hearing the old iPhone adverts ‘there’s an app for just about anything’… and now there’s a plugin for just about anything for FCPX too!
Apple doesn’t appear to be investing in the infrastructure (such as standby tech support and online platforms) in the way Adobe and Avid are: The community is. When I had questions or queries about a plug-in for FCPX, I emailed the small-ish company behind the plug-in and within 24 hours I had their support. This may not be much use for any cataclysmic errors one may encounter with the editing software itself; but I’m yet to come across any that weren’t solvable in under ten minutes thanks to the community (and their forums). What we have here hence is a piece of software that is a platform rather than an end to end solution. By the time it is your solution, you may have spent more than double the original price of FCPX on plug-ins and add-ons but you’ll only bring the price up to matchor less than Avid or Adobe’s ‘solutions’. Oh you need more than one USB-C port? Sure thing, that’ll be extra. Very Apple. But for most people getting into video editing, they can start using amazing software affordably. With this community based infrastructure I think FCPX is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
In this light, accessibility is key to Apple’s productivity empowerment. For students, its very affordable. I’m not a fan of subscription models for students. Because you throw the students in a load of shit when their course finishes: Pay more now you’ve graduated, or lose access to EVERYTHING you have worked hard on during your studies. No thank you. That’s why I never upgraded from CS6. Avid do offer an accessible price for new filmmakers. But the learning curve may be too high and get in the way of a fluid creative experience which stood be focused on learning to tell stories. If you want to be an editor, learn Avid and as many platforms as you can, if you want to be a filmmaker, make films. This might seem contradictory, but I don’t think it is insensible to suggest that an editor who is ready to work regardless of the system in front of them is well prepared.
With all said and done, as the dust settles on the battle between the editing platforms, remember that solutions, regardless of manufacturer, are only temporary and relevant to the problem, the story, you are trying to solve. Never forget that you are here to tell stories. As a filmmaker, the choice of editing software should sit somewhere between which manufacturer of C-Stand and tripod to choose. It’s not an artistic decision like camera and lenses. The solution is relevant only to the production, not to the product.
If you are interested in learning FCPX, I have an array of free tutorials on my YouTube channel.