Larry Jordan on FCPX controversy: things are certainly a mess
By Larry Jordan
June 27, 2011

Larry Jordan on FCPX controversy: things are certainly a mess

Last Tuesday, Apple released Final Cut Pro X — a statement, which does not come as a surprise to the post community. However, what has stunned many of us since then was HOW they released it. 

As some of Post Magazine readers may know, I was privileged to see an early form of Final Cut Pro X in February — a form that very closely resembled the final version of the software. I joined about 40 other editors for this initial preview.

At that time, I had a few brief conversations with key members of the Apple team to get a better understanding of where they were headed.

The software that Apple demoed in February closely paralleled what Apple showed in April. The presentation focused only on Final Cut Pro and was very sparse with details of how it would integrate into the overall post-production workflow.

A month later, I was given a pre-release version and asked to provide feedback to Apple; which I did, pages and pages of it, along with bug reports and comments on the interface.

I also started to outline the training I wanted to provide on the new product — except I couldn’t get my head around it. It felt like I needed to forget everything I knew before I could learn what was new.  

And, truthfully, I struggled with trying to understand the software for a couple of weeks until I had three epiphanies that suddenly crystallized everything:

1.    Final Cut Pro X was not designed to integrate with Final Cut Pro 7.
2.    To understand how Final Cut Pro X works, you need to look first at iMovie — not that they are the same, but they share the same philosophical foundation of video editing.
3.    Final Cut Pro X is database, not clip-driven.

Once I came to that understanding, finding a way to teach Final Cut X became much easier.

I knew, from some of my earliest conversations, that FCP X and FCP 7 could coexist on the same system. This, I felt, was a masterstroke on Apple’s part, because it allowed editors to continue working with their existing software while they learned the new version.

It never occurred to me that Apple would discontinue FCP 7 in the same week that they shipped FCP X!  Even more stunning, it also did not occur to me that Apple had no intention of providing a conversion utility from FCP 7 to FCP X — the need for this seemed so self-evident to me that, frankly, I never asked Apple whether they planned to do this or not.  Had I known earlier, I would have started pounding on the table much sooner.

(As a note, Randy Ubilos, chief architect for video applications at Apple, has written that FCP 7 project files don’t contain enough information to transfer to FCP X.  This is nonsense — first, Adobe Premiere has been converting FCP 7 files for over a year, and speaking from a non-technical perspective, FCP 7 provides a timecode reference and track linking of every clip to a specific position in the Timeline. At a minimum, FCP X could simply connect clips to the primary storyline at that timecode. It doesn’t have to be elegant — it just needs to be!)

As every editor knows, we make most of our money repurposing existing assets. To have that ability cut-off means that we lose the ability to profit on past projects. This is totally unacceptable.

The second big issue I have with Apple is the “walled garden” approach. Video editing does not occur in a vacuum. It creates a tapestry of elements coming from a wide variety of applications — some created by Apple, most of them not.

To release a new version which can not be scripted, can’t import or export XML, can’t export EDL, can’t export OMF, and can’t even export from an In to an Out in the Timeline in the face of how editing is done today at any professional facility is stunningly myopic.

I remain convinced that Final Cut Pro X has a lot of potential, and many editors are already using it and sending me emails that they are happy with the current version.

However, the potential of Final Cut Pro X is now totally overshadowed by the incredibly poor job Apple did launching this product. In less than four days they managed to lose the trust of the one market they need to retain if they want to continue to be successful at the professional level of video editing — the professional editor.

Some say that Apple’s goal is to make this product a consumer product. Senior product management executives at Apple assure me that they designed this product for the professional market.

I am willing to wait and see what Apple does for the next couple of months before making a final decision. I can easily edit all my existing projects on Final Cut Pro 7.

However, Apple needs to move quickly — meaning RIGHT NOW — to staunch the damage they’ve already done. Specifically, Apple needs to:

1.    Return Final Cut Studio (3) to the market and continue to support it.  If it is not compatible with Lion, let us know now so we can plan not to upgrade when Lion is released. (In fact, proactively tell us if Final Cut Pro 7 is compatible with Lion.)

2.    Immediately fund the development of a conversion utility from FCP 7 to FCP X — then announce when it will be available.

3.    Publicly announce a roadmap for the next release of Final Cut Pro — explaining what features will be in it and when we can expect it.

I am not yet willing to join those who are saying Apple has abandoned the professional market to focus on consumers.  Nor am I willing to give up and switch to a different platform as my main editing system.

But the burden falls to Apple — to break their silence, fix their mistakes, and involve us in the process of engineering the software for the future.

As one professional editor commented in my blog: “Aside from the feature sets that have been discussed quite thoroughly, it’s almost as if they are ACTIVELY trying to alienate the professional community. This is not how professionals do business. Period.”

Randy Ubilos wrote that “Final Cut Pro X is the beginning of a journey, not the end.”  I’m happy with that — provided we are allowed to help determine the direction we are going. I hate traveling blind.

For more about Larry Jordan, visit his WEBSITE.