Final Cut Pro X Babbling

It Doesn’t Suck…


 “Nobody in town uses it.”
the echo chamber

“It” is Final Cut Pro X, which -if you’ve been under a rock for the last 2 years or so- is Apple’s replacement for the aging, but much-loved, Final Cut Pro 7. “Town” is Hollywood CA. And, in the context of this rant,  “nobody” is, allegedly, everybody who edits movie trailers and TV commercials for movies. Interestingly, that quote has been repeated to me in the office in which I work. Why interestingly? Because in this office I cut movie trailers and TV commercials for movies. On Final Cut Pro X.  Does that seem. . . Odd?  It reminds me of. . . something. . . (insert time machine noise here)

A few years before the turn of the century, I worked for a little trailer company in Hollywood. One day in 1999, Apple released a brand new editing program called Final Cut Pro.  It looked pretty cool, was relatively inexpensive and I’m kind of a geek, so I immediately bought a copy. I tried cutting something in it. It crashed. At version 1.0, it was kind of useless for what I do. Most “professional” editors believed it was basically a toy. No OMF output. No EDL output. Maybe good for home movies, certainly unsuitable for real work.

But, I kept messing with my little copy at home. After a few updates I felt it kind of was useable, so I brought FCP and my recently retired Performa into my office, set it up next to my Media Composer, and started cutting stuff on it. Media Composer was definitely more “powerful”, but my little FCP rig could do a bunch of stuff MC couldn’t. Also, FCP was kind of fun to cut in.

People at work thought it looked interesting, but didn’t take it seriously. Then, in January or February of 2000 (FCP 1.2?) somehow managed to get a TV spot cut in FCP approved, and finished . . . maybe it wasn’t so useless. Conveniently, we were needing to replace our aging Avid systems and the folks who ran the place decided to dive into FCP one system at a time. Eventually we switched completely to FCP. Many others followed. 

Now clearly, plenty of other people were using FCP, but not in our little trailer-cutting niche. More importantly for FCP’s broad adoption, the first TV show cut in FCP came out at around the same time, the “new” Oxygen Network began using it, eventually somebody cut a “hollywood” film on it, and the floodgates opened. FCP became an “industry standard”.  A few more years passed. I went to work at another little trailer company. . .

One day in 2011, Apple released a brand new editing program called Final Cut Pro X. Being a geek, I immediately bought a copy. I opened it up. Tried to cut something in it. It crashed. A lot. It was really weird. It was also really really cool and fun in a lot of ways. But at 1.0 it was not ready for what I do. Like many others, I recoiled in horror, gave up, and continued working away in FCP 7.

But after a few updates that addressed my workflow, I gave it another try. After a bit of hair pulling and a couple tutorials, I discovered I actually liked it. So, I loaded it up on my work system and started cutting stuff on it. Then, in May or June of 2012 (FCPX 10.4?) I somehow managed to get a theatrical :30 trailer cut in FCP X approved, and finished. But things are different this time. . .

In spite of the fact that people in this business have been cutting real, national spots in FCPX for well over a year, despite the fact that one can quickly do quality graphics and compositing in X that would normally need to be done in another application, despite all the features of X that make life as an editor easier, many people in the trailer business still don’t take FCP X seriously. Nobody wants to try it because. . . nobody wants to try it. Honestly, had that attitude been prevalent 15 years ago, there probably wouldn’t have been a Final Cut 7 to cling to like a sinking lifeboat. It’s time to let go.

That’s not to say there haven’t been legitimate reasons not to use X. When it came out, FCPX wasn’t even close to being ready to do everything that FCP 7 could do. That is no longer true. If you now, for some reason, require fixed tracks or another specific feature (that is actually missing, not rumored to be) then it may not be for you.  If you learn it, and just don’t like it, fine. But there’s another, illegitimate reason people don’t give it a shot. Apple botched the launch of FCP X. It looked like iMovie and they “killed” FC Studio which, even though it still works, made people feel that Apple was “abandoning” pros. That scared a lot of people off initially, including me.

I spent the first year of FCP X’s existence re-learning the MC interface and learning the much improved Premiere. Fine NLE’s, but they just didn’t have the same “feeling” as good old FCP. And FCP X just sat there on my system, getting updated, but not getting used. Until the point alluded to above that I felt that if I did something with X, I could get it out to finish. So I waded back in. Now, my hair pulling moments come when I’m in FCP 7 or Premiere. There are still things other NLE’s do better than X, and there are things X does better than the others, some things X does others can’t do and vice-versa. And there are some things that you can only do in FCP X. But because of the initial bad taste people got, there’s still a ton of wrong information floating around in the echo chamber.

Despite what you may have heard, you can exchange sequences from X with FCP 7 and Premiere in both directions. For X, the one big sticking point has been the ability to easily share work in a multi (FCP X)-editor workflow. It’s do-able now, but kind of confusing.

[UPDATE: This was written before 10.1 was released. Now, sharing stuff works almost exactly as before, maybe easier. Export XML of Project, Event, or Library from one system, import into another. EZ

Current versions of Resolve, Smoke, Logic and others all open FCP X projects. It’s likely that a lot of other things will be able to interact with X as well pretty soon. In our little niche we need EDL’s and AAF’s, and for what Automatic Duck used to cost you can do all that and get enough really cool plugins to make your head explode. And cutting in X is fun. That’s right, Fun.

At this point FCP X is a viable replacement for the original FCP. It’s different. You can’t just jump into it. You need to take the time to learn it. But, as someone who does this for a living, believe me, it’s worth it. If you’re an Avid person, stick with MC. If you like Premiere, stick with it. But if, like me, you’re someone who really likes cutting in FCP 7, I’ll just say this. . . once you learn how FCP X works, once you get past the point of having to figure out which button/keystroke/menu/window does what, once you get comfortable with it, it feels the same. It’s hard to define, but. . .  you know what I mean.

If you cut on FCP “classic”, unless you just freeze your system in time,  you’re going to have to learn a new NLE. If you run a company based on FCP “classic” you’re going to have to switch NLE’s. And the prevailing wisdom is that FCP X is not a viable choice. “Nobody in town uses it.” Well, the prevailing wisdom is. . . misinformed. I use it. There are plenty of others who use it. If you need to switch from FCP 7 – and you do – you should give X a try.