Like a great book or film (we editors like films), you have to frame a new Apple release in the context of the time it hits the market. In 1998, when Apple bought the product formerly known as “Key Grip” from Macromedia, it was a company under assault from all sides. Software developers were jumping ship to Windows, and Avid announced they were dropping support for the Mac. Apple needed a bold move to promote their new technologies (FireWire being the most important) and to remain relevant in the high end, high profit margin environment while the company started to rebuild. That move in 1999 was Final Cut Pro 1.0.
Flash forward to 2011, and Apple is poised to overtake ExxonMobil as the world’s largest company in terms of market capitalization. If you drill down to my little niche of high end post, not only has FCP flourished, but Avid has fully embraced the Mac again, Adobe is pushing forward with Premiere Pro, and even the now open source Lightworks is being released on the Mac platform. So what’s Apple’s next move now?
I think FCP X is an attempt to be a leader in a market where up until now they’ve been a follower. They’ve followed the basic nonlinear editing conventions first established in the 1980s by companies like Avid, and you could even argue that the metaphors in editing date back to the dawn of film- with terms like clips, bins, splicing, and trimming predating any computer.
But wait, you say. Why fix what isn’t broken? I think it’s too early to answer that question. This product has been out for about a month, and it’s being scrutinized and picked apart by experienced (and less experienced) editors everywhere. Some ideas in there could be great, and others could be change just for the sake of being different. The market, specifically the high end market, will make the final decision on that in the coming years.
The long term view
The days of standardizing on only one editing platform are over. In the last ten years the company where I work was pretty secure with FCP. I can count on one hand the number of jobs that demanded another platform (namely, Avid) and in those cases we rented a system for the short term.
Moving forward, our customers will still be starting projects in FCP 7 that we have to finish. So we’ll hold onto FCP 7. Our customers will also continue the move to tapeless workflows and inevitably start projects in X. Or X will evolve into something that’s truly valuable and fast for certain workflows. In either case we will add X to our toolset.
There’s really very little downside here. The cost of hardware and software is more competitive every year, and the system that cost 6 figures in 2001 can be had for a tenth of that cost today, with features and speed we could only dream about back then. We took a chance on FCP in 2001- we were prepared for the experiment to fail, but the rewards outweighed the risks. 2011 is a replay of that time, except this time the cost of entry to try new tools is lower and all the options fit into the infrastructure that our facility already has in place- a robust network of Mac Pros with fibre channel connections to Xsan storage.
So what’s the answer to the big question? What will we do in regards to future editing platforms in high end post? First off, we keep using the tools we have. This argument has been beaten to death, but it’s true: the legacy version of FCP works exactly the same as it did the day before X was released. Today’s editors know FCP 7 inside and out, they’re proficient and fast, and they know the workarounds needed to dance around the shortcomings. Not to mention the fact that customers will continue to show up with FCP 7 projects for the foreseeable future.
Next, we keep an eye on FCP X. I don’t buy the criticism that Apple has given up on the creative pro. If anything they are trying to expand the definition of what a “pro” is, and therefore expand their sales and bottom line. It may be a long time before X is mature enough to handle every project we currently throw at the current version, but just last week Apple updated their FCP X product page with videos directly comparing themselves with the current versions of Avid and Premiere Pro.
Finally, down the road, we may have to add an entirely new product to our workflow to replace FCP 7. It could be from Avid or Adobe, but since development on the Mac platform remains so strong we would still be able to retain most of today’s core infrastructure.