SEEKING PERFECTION

Recently, at the Supermeet at IBC in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I was asked by the show organizers to discuss: “Is Final Cut Pro X Ready For Professional Use?”

In thinking about this topic, I realized that this answer is more complex than simply describing what the software does technically, or to showcase who else is using it. Upgrading software that we use as the foundation for our business is much more fraught than simply downloading a new game.

So, in this blog, I want to share a portion of my speech with you. This is not a perfect transcript of my talk – though it is close – but, rather, a detailed write-up based on my outline of the talk.

[ Here’s a link to see the speech, itself. ]

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IS FINAL CUT PRO X READY FOR PROFESSIONAL USE?

Larry Jordan – www.larryjordan.com
IBC Supermeet – Amsterdam
Sept. 15, 2013

A DISCLAIMER

First, I want to start with a disclaimer. My presentation is not sponsored, sanctioned, reviewed, or approved by Apple. I don’t work for Apple and I am not speaking for Apple. Mike Horton and Dan Berube, the producers of the SuperMeet, invited me to speak, and I said “Yes!”

My goal in this presentation is not to sell you a product, but to enable you to find and keep a job by working more efficiently, while creating better results. My business is training. Training in both Adobe and Apple products. I earn my living by helping you earn yours.

I don’t particularly care what software you choose – but I want you to choose the software you use for the right reasons. Because it is far more important to me that you are able to earn a living by telling the stories you want to tell, than that you are using the “right” software.

As it says on my business card, my goal is to “help you find work, improve your skills, and keep clients happy.”

DEFINE PROFESSIONAL

To begin, we need to define the word “Professional.” For me, it is someone who expects to get paid for their work. A hobbyist may enjoy the process of editing, but making money is not their main motivation. For a professional, it is.

In order for us to be paid, we need to deliver our projects on deadline, on budget, and with quality to meet or exceed client expectations. The order of these three is important: creating the highest quality program in the world won’t do you any good if you miss the deadline, or exceed the budget.

Quality is not the gating factor in our work. Business “details” like deadline and budget are far more important. Submit a program with less than ideal quality and that client will probably still hire you in the future. Miss the deadline and you’ll never work with them again.

As editors, all we really have to sell is our time and our talent (and our ability to deliver on time and on budget). Most jobs these days are freelance and most are quoted as a flat-rate, rather than hourly. This means that anything we can do to save time without sacrificing quality puts money in our pocket.

There is only one reason to purchase any new software: The new software enables you to complete a task faster, better, cheaper, or more easily than the software you currently own.

Consider that list: faster, better, cheaper, and more easily.

The “religious wars” of fighting over which is the “BEST” editing software may be great for starting a bar fight, but insufficient for making decisions that affect the life of your business.

I’m reminded of the Miller beer commercials from years past where two groups are arguing that it “Tastes Great,” or is “Less Filling.” As if either reason was sufficient unto itself for deciding what beer to drink. Shouting for one side or the other does not make the beer taste any better.

This is the core of our dilemma: we are making a decision about software that determines whether our business will grow and prosper or shrink and die. This is not a trivial decision and it is not an easy decision.

THE ELEMENTS OF THE ANSWER

First, you need to accept that Final Cut Pro 7 is dead and it is never coming back. The technology is too old, the hardware too advanced, the engineering investment too large, and the potential returns too small.

Whether you decide to migrate now, or later, at some point, Final Cut Pro 7 will stop working. Which means, at some point, you need to decide what to do next. You can delay the decision, but you can not avoid it.

Deciding which software to migrate to has three elements:

By references, I mean whether anyone else is using the software in a professional setting. In a show of hands at the beginning of my speech, fully half the room was already using Final Cut Pro X in their work.

By technical, I mean whether FCP X does what we need it to do. And this is NOT the same as “Does it work the way I have always worked?” It is foolish for us to expect software from any developer to grow and evolve, yet work exactly the same for every version.

By personal, I mean answering the question: “Why should I change?”

REFERENCES

At the beginning of my speech, Mike asked for a show of hands indicating how many people were using Final Cut Pro X in their business. Fully half of the people in this room raised their hands. Clearly, just in this room alone, there are hundreds of people using FCP X in a professional environment.

Earlier this year, Apple told me that more people had purchased Final Cut Pro X than purchased Final Cut Pro 7.

However, since I wanted to look at the high-end of our industry, I talked with a lot of people, some who wanted to remain anonymous because their projects were not announced, and others who were happy to go on the record.

There were two people I want to mention specifically who shared their thoughts with me for this presentation:

Sam is currently working on an unannounced feature film with about a $100 million production budget. The producers, director and editorial team spent six months researching what software to use for post-production. They choose Final Cut Pro X, because of some of the tools I’ll show you later in this presentation.

Mike is the head of an editorial team running 24 edit bays. They do production for NBC programs and promotions, with their most popular show being “George to the Rescue,” for which they won an Emmy. The entire group uses Final Cut Pro X.

So, starting with the evidence in this room, to broadcast network television, to massively budgeted feature films, Final Cut Pro X is clearly being used for professional work. Then, again, so is Avid and so is Adobe.

Never before have we had such a wealth of tools to choose from. All excellent. All highly recommended. All being used at every level of post-production.

TECHNICAL

Final Cut Pro X, like its earlier versions, has a well-developed eco-system of developers that are extending the program with plug-ins and utilities. While we are all familiar with the legions of effects and transitions that are available, you may not know about all the incredible utilities that extend FCP X.

NOTE: During my speech, I demoed a number of new utilities for FCP X. Since the speech is over, I created a webinar that showcases these tools. You can view it here:

/store/108-cool-new-utilities-for-final-cut-pro-x/

It is easy to get trapped in the search for the “perfect.” The perfect camera, the perfect microphone, the perfect editing software.

Recently, I needed to buy a new hard disk. I spent two days researching the web for the prefect drive. Two days! In spite of the fact that I knew as soon as I brought it home, it would be full. That within another six months I would need to buy another drive and that within four years, it would be totally obsolete.

I didn’t need the “perfect” drive, I needed a drive that was good enough to meet my needs for the next year. Once I realized that, the drive was purchased and installed in about an hour.

I am a firm believer that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” The more we strive for perfection, the less likely we are to get anything accomplished. Most of the time, good enough is good enough.

PERSONAL

However, while it is nice to know other people are successfully using the software, and that there is lots of additional software available, these are not at the heart of the problem. Rather, I think, the issues are personal. And this is what I want to focus on for a few minutes.

We all hate change. I hate change; especially when it involves how we earn our living.

The first time I saw Final Cut Pro X, which was shortly before it was released, the first thought that came into my mind was: “I am not smart enough to learn how to use this software.” The thought of learning something this new and this different was enormously scary.

Fear paralyzes us from moving forward. In fact, I was afraid of this new software and, for a while, I avoided even thinking about it.

Michael Cioni, CEO of Light Iron and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, recently wrote that “Behavioral changes are more important than technical ones.”

As I was talking with Mike Fernandes at NBC/Universal, he said that “the biggest element in training my staff on FCP X was in overcoming their fear.”

Final Cut Pro X is different, significantly different, from Final Cut Pro 7. And differences are frightening.

After a bit, I realized that the only way I could get past my fear was to take the time to learn the software well enough to teach it. And teach it in such a way that acknowledged how different the software was, to enable the people watching my training to overcome their own fear and learn something knew.

Mike Fernandes went on to say: “One thing I’m very proud of about my team was that during and after training we didn’t lose one person. No one gave up.”

This reminds me of an example from history. In March, 1933, America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Tens of millions of people were out of work. Desperation was in the air as the country elected Franklin Roosevelt to his first term as president. In his inaugural address, three paragraphs in, Roosevelt stated: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Yes, it is scary tackling something new.

Yes, it is even scarier switching to something which supports our entire business.

But sitting still is not an option. It wasn’t in the Depression and it isn’t now.

OBJECTIONS

But, you say, Apple wounded me with the launch of Final Cut Pro X!

Yeah, they did. They screwed up that launch. It was probably the worst launch in Apple history, with the possible exception of Mobile Me. So, now what? Apple can’t go back and re-launch the product. That train has left the station.

Do you remember the hue and cry in 1999 when Avid said it was leaving the Mac? Yet, shortly thereafter they came back and have supported it ever since.

Remember the outrage when Adobe switched to all-subscription pricing? Yet, since then, they have lived up to their promises of more frequent updates with more substantial features.

Every company screws up. We need to judge a company by what they do AFTER making a mistake.

Look at what Apple did. In the slightly more than two years since the release of the first version of Final Cut Pro X, they have upgraded the software – for free – NINE times!

No other developer – not even Apple’s operating systems group – has been more aggressive. And Apples wasn’t just fixing bugs, they were adding significant new features.

But, you ask, why can’t things stay the way they were? Because the technology behind Final Cut Pro 7 is too old.

I came up with an analogy. Updating Final Cut Pro 7 would be like putting lipstick on a caterpillar. (Stay with me here.) Yes, it might look a bit better. And it would make me feel good, because I know everything about caterpillar management: how to get it to crawl along the stick, how to get it to change direction, I even know its favorite foods.

But, imagine how much better it would be if I let the caterpillar continue to grow and turn into a butterfly. Caterpillars are nice, but butterflies are amazing! Imagine a world filled with caterpillars and no butterflies. Think of what we would be missing.

But, you ask, why can’t we have just one editing tool?

Think about the last time you hired a carpenter to repair or remodel something around the house. Did they bring just a single hammer or screwdriver? No! They brought a whole tool chest in order to have the right tool at the right time to do the job the right way in the shortest possible amount of time.

We are long past the time where a single tool is sufficient.

But, you ask, why doesn’t Apple just build all these features into the product?

Think about everything inside an auto parts store. If a car manufacturer built in every possible option and accessory for their car, the car would never be built and, if it was, I couldn’t afford to buy it.

Developing the “best” software is just like developing the “best” car: developers are always making choices about which features to include and which to leave out. They have to; even companies as large as Apple don’t have unlimited resources or engineering teams.

CHANGE

Change is inevitable. Like it or not, we are in an industry that defines itself by change. Cameras change. Video formats change. Distribution technology changes. Technology defines itself by change. Even worse, we are competing with younger folks who have no knowledge of “how things used to be done.”

We must accept – like it or not – that change is an inevitable part of telling stories with pictures; otherwise, we will be left behind — filled with great stories but without the technical tools we need to tell them.

If you are a hobbyist, you can use whatever tools you want – for as long as you want. But if you are a professional, accepting change and growing with it is the path for survival.

FINAL THOUGHTS

All software – regardless of the developer – has flaws. Rather than search for perfection, we need to look for software that will keep up with our speed of working, grow with us into the future, and evolve with us as our needs change.

Avid makes world-class software. Adobe makes world-class software. And Apple makes world-class software. Yet none of this software is “perfect.” Perfection isn’t the issue.

Is Final Cut Pro X ready for professional use? Of course it is. I edit with it every day. It is an amazing tool. But you knew that already. In fact, that isn’t even the right question.

The real question is what do we do to overcome our fear of the new? And the answer is that the best way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it and move forward in spite of it. And, suddenly, you’ll realize the fear is gone.

The future does not stand still. Neither should we.

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As always, I’m interested in your comments.

Larry


7 Responses to SEEKING PERFECTION

  1. ben scott says:

    Hi Larry,

    Been teaching FCPX for the past few days

    I really like many features in FCPX (since 10.0.6) especially the organisational tools and the feedback within each tool.
    There are many features of FCPX which genuinely feel FUN to use!

    I do still feel that 4 things need to be really improved, not sure if you agree (certainly these came up in my class and I found it tricky to explain why they are the way they are)

    The precision editor to me seems to be something which takes far longer than the old way in FCP7 and Avid in their edit windows (why reinvent something that worked really well and was fast)

    The audio sorely needs bussing of elements for filtering the sound

    The default behaviour of transitions seems mad, why does audio always get faded for a visual transition?

    The colour board doesnt relate to any of the scopes and takes longer than a colour wheel (once again why reinvent something that worked really well and was fast)

    Interested to hear your response

    from Ben Scott

    • Larry says:

      Ben:

      Good comments. Here are my thoughts:

      1. The Precision Editor is not designed to be fast. It is designed to be intuitive, to help people who have never trimmed before to understand what trimming does and how it works. All the old trimming keyboard shortcuts from FCP 7 also work the same way in FCP X, and they are fast (but not intuitive.)

      2. Agreed, audio mixing is still weak. This is why I recommend using Adobe Audition with FCP X

      3. When applying a transition (Command+T), when the audio and video are displayed in a single clip, the transition is applied to both audio and video. When you select both clip and choose Clip > Expand Audio/Video, which displays the audio as a slightly separated clip from the video, applying the transition will be video only.

      4. I agree, the rectangular color board is VERY difficult to work with.

      Larry

  2. Steve says:

    I am now considering FCP X and Motion. I switched to Adobe, but I am now forced to come up with a new workflow as their subscription model does not suit me. I have become so reliant on Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop… but it looks like my future could include FCP X, Motion and Painter!!!! The question remains what do I do with all the plug-ins I have purchased for the Adobe suite?

  3. Ben, the FCPX color board does relate to traditional color scopes; it’s as if the radius has been sliced and the circle stretched out into a straight line. If you drag up on a puck you add that color; if you drag down on a puck you remove that color. I agree that it wasn’t particularly necessary to ‘reinvent’ the color wheel, but the FCPX color board is very straightforward and in my opinion quicker to use than a traditional color wheel.

    I completely agree with you that FCPX needs much better audio capabilities and that the default transition state is weak. I do, however, think that the precision editor is nicely implemented, though I have rarely had to use it.

  4. ben scott says:

    thanks larry

    these were similar answers to mine

  5. Leo Hans says:

    @Steve

    Pixelmator is a very good cheap alternative to Photoshop.

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