Monthly Archives: June 2011

Final Cut Pro X is not ready. But it’s the future.

This week, Apple released their long-awaited major upgrade to Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X.

For those who don’t live in the professional video world, Final Cut Pro was Apple’s surprise entrance into the world of pro video editing software back in the late 90s, and combined with the new, cheap DV camcorders, it slowly took over the world. Now, over half of the world’s film and video content is edited with Final Cut. Personally, I’ve been using it since v1.1, and it was the gateway to my first real job at Central Park Media. It’s a program I still use almost every day.

It’s a great program, and it’s an institution for a reason. Like Photoshop, it does practically everything that a video professional needs (though not always well). Once you know the program, you establish what feels like a mind-meld with it. It becomes an appendage. Unfortunately, both the worlds of video and the Mac have changed a lot in the 13 years it’s been on the planet, and it was getting more than a bit creaky in its old age. Much of its code base was still written for Mac OS 9. It couldn’t access more than 4 GB of RAM (which isn’t that much when you’re dealing with HD video), and often locked up or unexpectedly quit.

And so, enter Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X. It’s really not even Final Cut Pro anymore. It’s been completely rewritten from scratch and reimagined — using roots from Apple’s consumer iMovie. It’s a great, innovative new program. It completely re-invents how a non-linear editing program works, and the changes in workflow and the way the timeline works is already making me a better editor. It essentially takes the faux-physical “management of clips” away from the process, leaving the editor to just concentrate on flow and feel — their actual job. It directly integrates color correction and other standard correction tasks.

But all you need to do is search Twitter for #FCPX and you’ll pretty much see nothing but frothing at the mouth about how much people hate it, and how everyone will switch to AVID (the other, older, major editor on the market).

Part of this is the fact that Editors hate change. Most editors are, surprisingly, not particularly technical people, and hate learning new software. Once they know their tools, they want to use their tools and that’s it. I knew video editors who were still insisting on using their ancient Amiga-based Video Toasters well into the 2000s.

But this is also a pretty interesting case study on consumer behavior. What is frustrating and terrifying so many people about FCPX isn’t that it’s incomplete (though it is), or that it’s vastly different than its predecessors and competitors (though it REALLY is). What’s freaking people out is that this is NOT Final Cut Pro. It doesn’t even read old Final Cut Pro files. Apple should have given this a new name and called it a 1.0 release, because that’s what it is — a 1.0 release of a brand new product.

That product is the future of video editing. It’s also not really done yet — it’s pretty stable, but missing quite a few key features that professionals rely on. I’d liken it to the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. The latter was clearly the future, with vastly better underpinnings and a much improved interface. But the first few versions just weren’t there yet for many people, and it was only after a year or two of upgrades that fixed its faults, most were able to transition completely away from the old software. Now, we look back on OS9 and it seems quaint and creaky.

Adobe Photoshop is in a similar position: it’s also in dire need of a complete ground-up re-coding and re-imagining. It’s drowning in decades-old legacy code, is appallingly slow and kludgy, and has an interface that looks thoroughly grounded in the 90s. But if Adobe’s next version looked and felt completely different, dropped vector support, and wouldn’t look at .PSD files, its users would be mutinous. By positioning Final Cut Pro X as an upgrade (or what looks like an upgrade), its users feel boxed in a corner, required to upgrade even if the new software isn’t what they’re looking for.

That said, I don’t know anyone that was all that happy with Mac OS X 10.0 and with Final Cut X in its current form, I’m left wanting in the following areas:

– There is virtually no integration with Motion. There’s no way to send a clip to a new Motion timeline easily, and definitely no way to get an effect you made in Motion back into FCP. You have to go through the file browser. Seriously?!

– There are very limited video filters. This wouldn’t be such a big deal normally, but major things, things that are available in Motion, are not available in Final Cut. Things like Gamma, levels, YUV adjust, blur, you name it. The only way to get these effects is to go through Motion, which is a huge hassle. (see above.)

– The browser for text effects and generators are so mired in prefab Apple templates that no professional would ever use, that it takes some getting used to before you realize that everything is customizable, and you actually do have quite a bit of control. But the templates are a waste of space.

– Multicam is missing, as many have noted. This is basically essential to cutting multicamera shows, and its absence will be a dealbreaker to anyone who deals with timecode-sync’ed video for a living.

– Poor to no 3rd party video device support. This means that unless you’re using DV or HDV, you’re stuck with capturing and printing to tape with the software that came with your card.

– There’s NO WAY TO HAVE MULTIPLE TIMELINES, spread out on a timeline, or otherwise break free of the singular approach Apple has dictated we edit in.

– All movie files, if you apply any enhancements to them whatsoever, are quietly copied into the project folder in the root of whatever hard drive you’ve chosen for the project. There is no way to turn this off. These are GIGANTIC files!!

– No import/export of timelines, even from old FCP. (iMovie doesn’t count.)

There are many great innovations in this app (the magnetic timeline is very cool), but it does inherit a lot of iMovie’s hand-holding, and frankly, many professionals would be horribly frustrated by that. Once Apple adds back in a lot of the features that it didn’t get to rebuilding yet, and smooths out some interface issues, we will have a winner. Right now, it’s a gawky adolescent.


A Double Dose of Katherine Hepburn

A few months ago I went on a big Katherine Hepburn kick (who can blame me? She’s still hot), and added a ton of her movies to my Netflix queue. However, I’ve been going through my physical discs so slowly that it took all this time to get through them. Many of them, such as Holiday, I’ve enjoyed immensely. Others, like Desk Set, are just kind of silly and dated.

The majority of her work seems to consist of romantic comedies in which she plays an incredibly smart career woman who’s at some sort of feminist odds with her husband. Or maybe it just seems that way because I just got two of those films in the mail at once: Adam’s Rib and Woman of the Year.

I was particularly looking forward to Woman of the Year, having seen photos of the stage play version and wondered what it was about. Spencer Tracy plays sports reporter Sam Craig, while Hepburn plays political reporter/columnist Tess Harding. After a public feud in their respective columns, the two end up falling in love and marrying. Unfortunately Tess is such a workaholic that she can hardly see that she’s making for a very poor wife.

And that’s about where Woman of the Year lost me. The character of Tess is an outright psychopath. She expects her new husband to move in with her, change nothing about her life, and adjust to her jet-setting ways while compromising nothing on her own. At one point she adopts a Greek orphan child, and is content to leave him home alone, unsupervised. By the time she realizes her mistake, it’s too late, and Sam has left her, leaving her with no recourse than to try to be a stereotypical “good wife” with “comedic” results.

I don’t know what this film is trying to say. Are we to honestly believe that a woman so intelligent and ambitious as Tess would put absolutely no work into marriage at all? That her career is to the detriment of any possible family life? One could conjecture, but little in the film’s conclusion will offer any help: like so many romantic comedies of the era, it ends with simply a punchline, and little resolve. The narrative arc is so weak, I’m left wondering what the point of it all was.

Adam’s Rib proved a great counterpoint, since it’s a far better film. Tracy and Hepburn reprise their roles as a bickering professional husband-and-wife, this time becoming opposing council in a sensational attempted murder trial of a woman who shot and injured her cheating husband. Hepburn’s Amanda Bonner is passionately convinced that her trial is evidence of a double-standard (a man has the right to protect the sanctity of his family!), while Tracy’s Adam Bonner is hotly dedicated to his work prosecuting the flaky woman that pulled the trigger. Ultimately the case and its ideals bring both the marriage and the courtroom to their knees.

What was, and still is, refreshing about Adam’s Rib is that it takes both sides seriously — both are intelligent, thoughtful people with entirely reasonable opinions, and both are entirely unable to see the other person’s point of view. Even today it’s refreshing to see a thoughtful debate on a dicey feminist issue (I don’t know how to feel about it today), but even more relevant is how divergent social and political opinions can truly break a family apart. (Plus it’s funny, though not always — the 1940s seems to find great humor in repugnant, “humorous” side characters that serve no purpose other than to annoy.)

Of the two, Adam’s Rib is worth seeing, despite being the less famous of the two.

Hepburn’s filmography has some major gems in it, like The Lion in Winter and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. There are still many more I haven’t gotten to yet. There’s so much good stuff here that it’s worth churning up the occasional dud.