Editors unhappy with new features, want old ones back

When Apple released the latest version of its popular Final Cut Pro editing app last week, execs probably hoped to set off buzz across the blogs and Twitter. And so they did — though it’s safe to say the buzz they got isn’t what any company would ever want.

The release of Final Cut Pro X was met with the kind of vitriolic and satirical commentary across the Web — and even on Conan O’Brien’s TBS yakker — that’s usually only earned by major political or celebrity flubs. But instead of pundits it was post pros across the country and throughout the world who tweeted their disappointment that Apple had stripped Final Cut Pro X of many of the features they consider fundamental to doing their jobs on daily basis.

An online petition from “editors and affected filmmakers” asking Apple to restore previous versions of FCP and declare the new version a “prosumer” app had more than 3,700 signatures by midday Tuesday.

Others stoutly defend the app, saying the changes represented the future of editing and that the program finally makes use of recent innovations in hardware technology such as Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL, which allow it to scale up and use all available cores to do background rendering.

In the middle of all of this, Apple remained silent aside from a press release extolling the changes in the app. (Apple did not respond to requests for comment for this report.)

There is consensus, even among the program’s detractors, that FCPX is whip fast. It pulls in media very rapidly and once the files are in FCPX, they’re immediately visible.

Editor Angus Wall, who was quoted in the original Apple press release and was able to test a beta version of FCPX, also thinks the program is the first step toward creating an app that’s much easier to use, with a serious caveat especially for what’s supposed to be a professional editing program.

“The way it handles metadata is amazing and it also does a great job of breaking down a film into projects that are small enough to manage,” says Wall. “But in its current form, it’s not ready for me to use on a feature.”

Both Wall and Evan Schechtman, CTO of Radical Media, like FCPX’s simplified features for handling metadata, which leave the editor with more time to actually cut. However Schechtman agrees that the program needs some serious adjustments before it’s ready for professional use. As of Friday, Schechtman was having trouble deploying the app at a corporate level because of the way the iTunes store forces users to create individual accounts, instead of letting a single corporate account register multiple users.

On top of that, not every editor sees the way this app pulls in metadata and automatically begins organizing media as a plus. For some, it cuts to the heart of what is supposed to be the editor’s domain.

“When someone pays you to edit, what you’re really being paid for is your ability to organize and think,” says Walter Biscardi, who owns his own boutique post house in Georgia. “The whole point is that you’re supposed to be putting together the media in a way that’s going to make sense for the project and not in the way some program tells you you’re supposed to do it.”

Confidential no more

Biscardi, who wrote about the problems with FCPX at CreativeCow.net, a support site for creative professionals, is also dismayed that FCPX displays all ingested media, all the time. For someone who runs his own shop, this can be catastrophic.

“Say you’re working on a project for UPS and another one for FedEx and UPS comes in one day and they see all of FedEx’s files,” said Biscardi, who owns Biscardi Creative Media. “You just can’t have that. Each client should only see their own project at any time and if they know you’re working with a competitor, you could lose the job right there.”

In FCPX Apple also introduced what it calls a Magnetic Timeline, which is supposed to take editors beyond traditional track-based timelines. While Wall believes this is more reflective of how cutting is done now, Biscardi doesn’t love this feature either. He’s convinced it will hinder his ability to stay organized during a complex project.

FCPX dropped Apple’s multi-camera editing system, which had been lauded as one of the best and was a cornerstone in Final Cut Pro’s reputation. That’s part of what drove writers and editors on O’Brien’s latenight show to create a video lampooning FCPX that aired last week. The video has had more than 50,000 views on YouTube already.

Wall thinks Apple will add functions or that third-party developers will address these needs in the coming months. In the meantime, he believes Apple is working hard to address the concerns of editors.

“I have to have faith that they’re taking this in a direction that will eventually lead to a huge step forward,” says Wall. “Change is always painful in the beginning but eventually it leads to something great.”

In that respect, Wall, Schechtman, and technologist and instructor Philip Hodgetts, believe the current cries about what’s been taken out of FCPX are premature. They’re all sure Apple — or someone — will address the problems in this $299 app.

“From the way people are reacting, you’d think that Final Cut Pro 7 had been raptured off their machines,” says Hodgetts. “This isn’t Armageddon. It’s just change and I think people resist change especially when they’re used to a certain type of workflow.”

Though supernatural disappearances of Final Cut Pro 7 have yet to be reported, the app has been “called home” in a way. When Apple released X, they pulled 7 from the shelves, leaving any production that planned to add seats or had them on order in the lurch. FCPX will not open files from version 7, incidentally. But FCP’s competitors Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer can.

“I can’t wait for six months for them to come out with something that corrects all these problems,” says Biscardi, who is at work on a PBS project, among other things. “I have to move on now and add seats of Adobe Premiere Pro or something else that can help me finish the projects we need to do today.”

Update: Tuesday night Apple posted information at their website aimed at answering concerns about FCPX. Though they don’t give set dates, the company says they will add multi-camera support and the ability to export XML. They also go on to explain that when the ability to export XML is added, third-party developers will then be able to create the tools needed to export OMF, AAF, EDL and other exchange formats. They have also promised that commercial and educational licensing for FCPX, Motion 5 and Compressor 4 will be available for quantities of 20 or more “soon.”

Backlash bonanza

And Adobe as well as Avid are ready to make use of the FCPX backlash. Both see it as an opportunity to bring more professional users into the fold. Adobe is even offering financial incentives for FCP users to come over to Premiere Pro.

“I have to admit we had kind of a wry smile on our faces when Apple announced all their metadata functions,” says Al Mooney of Adobe. “We’ve had those functions for while now and we’re able to open to Final Cut 7 files in our latest version of Premiere Pro.”

While Apple has scaled back its features in FCPX, it also dramatically dropped its price. FCP was previously priced over $1,000. Adobe Premiere Pro is $799 on its own and $1,699 when packaged as part of their Production Premium bundle, which includes After Effects, among other apps. Avid Media Composer 5.5 starts at $2,295.

“If you look at the price for Final Cut X, you could say they’re turning away from professional users and more toward a prosumer audience — and, honestly, that’s where there’s a lot of money,” says Hodgetts. “I think it’s a win-win all around because Final Cut will become more a prosumer product in its current state and Adobe and Avid will end up with more of the professional consumers.” Final Cut Furor

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