Two years ago I wrote a piece called FCP X: the missed opportunity. At the time I wasn’t bashing the program, but rather Apple’s seemingly clumsy approach to the transition, and today I can still smell the lingering smoke from those burned bridges. Reading it today, I stand most of my original assertions: FCP X 10.0 was essentially beta software, but not bad software. Apple dropped the ball by not providing a clearer roadmap for deeply invested customers who had used previous versions for over a decade, an error they eventually tried to reverse by being very un-Apple like and pre-announcing features the pros were looking for. Adobe and Avid smelled blood in the water, and fought hard to pick up those dismayed FCP 7 expatriates.
By the fall of 2011 I had downloaded first the trial and then the full version of Final Cut Pro, but didn’t spend much time with it. I felt like it was too limiting and that it was trying to somehow save me from myself. After all, I had spent almost 20 years meticulously building timelines without clips “magnetically” sticking together. Nonlinear editing systems from their inception in the 80s built their workflows and terminology upon concepts established a century earlier with cutting film. “Clips” represented snippets of film hanging in “bins” that allowed editors to quickly organize and “splice” them together. Final Cut Pro X was scrubbed almost entirely of this language, and it felt somewhat arbitrary.
In 2012 I started to spend more time with FCP X and tried to really understand it. Dismissing it before ever really using it just didn’t feel right. I eventually chose the “trial by fire” approach: I had a willing client with some patience to spare, and we jumped in. The first day was frustrating for me, but the second was much better, and by day three I was fairly confident that I knew what I was doing. Since then I’ve only edited projects in FCP X unless I had to go another way (the lack of tape support still sends me to FCP 7 to master to HDCAM). I truly enjoy the non-destructive nature of the timeline, and the database driven organizational tools are amazingly flexible. The software (usually) feels fast and responsive, and the modern architecture with AV Foundation allows me to mix and match formats and framerates quite fluidly.
In the months and years since its launch, Final Cut Pro X has evolved into a different animal than it was on release day. Apple’s steady drumbeat of software updates (9 by the most recent count) introduced new features and stability. Sales of FCP X have already exceeded those of the previous version. The third party plugin market is flourishing.
Many people forget that it took years for FCP “classic” to break through. Pros largely dismissed the first several versions. How could a sub-$1000 application compete with systems like Avid’s Media Composer with its proprietary hardware, market dominance, and high price tag? Some (myself included) experimented with it on personal systems and started to realize the potential. By 2001 (two years into FCP’s life) I was using it as my main editing tool, and although it was exciting to be trying something new after 6 years of Avid, I wouldn’t wish that experience on the faint of heart. Mac hardware and software in those days was downright anemic compared to today- we were still using Mac OS 9 and all the system crashes that came with it. Third party support was sketchy and workarounds were plentiful.
FCP’s turning point was seen by many as what became known as its “Cold Mountain moment.” In 2003, esteemed editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient) decided to cut his latest project with Final Cut Pro, and the professional world took notice. The rest of the decade saw FCP eating market share away from the competitors, and eventually dominating that market by a wide margin.
The release of version 10 basically reset the clock in 2011, and pros largely dismissed the first several versions. How could a sub-$300 application compete with Final Cut Studio and its mature suite of applications, comprehensive features, and market dominance? As I mentioned earlier, it’s widely believed that X sales have surpassed those of FCP 7’s entire installed base, so that could be seen as a success.
But when was FCP X’s turning point? For me, it occurred earlier this week. After spending a few months editing in X, I had several jobs that sent me back to FCP 7 and Premiere Pro CS6. I immediately noticed how the user experience felt like a trip into the past. Not bad, necessarily. Premiere Pro is a really well-built application, and I can still work tremendously fast in FCP 7 thanks to a dozen years’ worth of muscle memory, but I was feeling strangely confined by the workflow. I missed features that I had grown accustomed to. The legacy feel of timeline navigation in 7 and CS6 was cumbersome.
2013 isn’t like 2003. There won’t be another Cold Mountain moment, because our tools have been democratized to the point that any pro level Mac can have FCP 7, Premiere Pro, FCP X, and Avid Media Composer installed simultaneously. We can no longer master one editing solution and forget the rest. Final Cut Pro X provides an extremely compelling alternative to the status quo, and many people will experience their own turning points as they discover its value.