Editors skeptical of Apple's commitment to pro market

In this election season, many observers on both sides of the red/blue divide are frustrated that the two sides seem to be living in different realities.

The same dynamic is playing out between Apple and professional editors over Final Cut Pro X. The editors and Apple seem to want to find some common ground, but they can’t agree on even basic facts.

Apple summoned me to a rare meeting last month at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. Later, I went over their points with Harry Miller III, head of the American Cinema Editors’ Technology Committee. It was like trying to dissect the Obama administration’s economic policies with Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.

Apple’s senior director of applications marketing, Richard Townhill, laid out Apple’s case that they’re proving their commitment to pro users. First, he said, Apple has been adding pro features, like improved multichannel audio, in response to feedback from pros, and even features more are being added as third-party plug-ins. Apple has even provided some information about its future plans for FCP, an absolutely huge concession in its secretive culture.

“Every time we’ve issued an update to Final Cut, we’ve talked a little bit about what’s going to come next,” Townhill said. “And I think it’s very important for the pro community to understand we’re fully committed to them as a marketplace, we’re fully committed to this as a platform, and we’re listening. The feedback they’re giving us is making it into the product.”

Second, he pointed to a survey from SCRI showing that since FCP X was released last June, pro editing facilities have still been buying FCP X for the majority of their new seats. And third, he noted testimonials from high-end users like Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment, which is using FCP X to cut “Leverage” for TNT.

“I can say that we’re committed to the pros, and that’s absolutely true, but what’s more compelling is our actions,” Townhill said. “And our actions have been to deliver consistent software updates with exactly the features pros are looking for.”

Fair enough. But then I spoke to Miller.

“I think their actions speak louder than their words in that if they wanted to go after the professional editing market, they are so far behind,” he said. “I think they maybe want to look like they want to stay in the professional editing market but their actions prove the opposite.”

Point by point, he’s unimpressed with Apple’s improvements. Third party plug-ins? Fine, but he’d rather have features built in. Multichannel audio support? “Final Cut Pro needs to be able to allow you to organize audio into tracks. Right now it’s just sort of amorphous — you can put any audio in any channel.” Pros, he said, need dedicated dialogue, music and sound effects tracks, and Final Cut Pro doesn’t support that yet. Other recent additions, like RED camera support? Nice to have, but not critical for most editors.

Meanwhile, FCP still lacks basic pro features, including support for sharing media among multiple editors. “As soon as Apple shows that you can do that sort of sharing, then I’d believe they were interested in a professional editing system.”

Miller’s own unscientific survey within ACE shows FCP with less than 15% market share and shrinking. And as for “Leverage,” he says, “I know at least one of their editors is miserable” using FCP.

Apple’s become so huge, and pros have become such a tiny part of its business, it’s easy to see why pro editors are skeptical of its commitment to this niche market. Also, Apple has a kind of messianic attitude built into its DNA. Steve Jobs wanted to change the world by democratizing technology, and it’s not obvious that high-end pros in studio filmmaking and broadcast/cable TV fit that agenda.

But Apple isn’t as monolithic as it looks, and I believe people like Townhill and the team working on FCP are sincere. The question is: Are they going to be able to fight the good fight within a company that’s thriving (and changing the world) on other fronts?

Bits & Bytes: RealD has joined Epic Games’ (“Gears of War”) Unreal Engine 3 integrated partners program, making stereoscopic 3D tech available to licensees and developers using Unreal Engine 3, which powers many popular games. … TriDef 3D, which provides automatic 2D-to-3D conversion of games, videos and photos on 3D-capable PCs, TVs and mobile phones, has now passed 1 million units in sales.

Moving Picture Company’s London and Vancouver studios delivered 340 vfx shots for “Dark Shadows,” including the Widow’s Hill sequences, establishing shots of Liverpool, and the showdown between Barnabas Collins and Angelique Brouchard. MPC’s vfx supervisors on the pic were Arundi Asregadoo and Erik Nordby. … The Senate VFX added 186 to “Dark Shadows, led by visual effects producer Sam Spacey. Shots included Collinwood Manor, the Angel Bay/Fish Canning Factory, and supernatural scenes of the ghostly Josette. … Pixomondo, especially its Stuttgart facility, is primary vfx provider for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Among its contributions this season: the three dragons. … Santa Monica-based vfx studio Luma Pictures contributed vfx to “The Dictator,” including greenscreen composites of New York and establishing shots throughout the film. Also, Luma is expanding its commercial vfx efforts with the hiring of agency producer Vicki Mayer. …

Deluxe’s Company 3 did color grading and editorial finishing on several of this summer’s tentpole releases. Stefan Sonnenfeld was colorist on “Battleship,” “Savages” and “The Bourne Legacy”; Stephen Nakamura was colorist on “Prometheus.” … Technicolor provided services to some 11 pictures in the official selection for Cannes, including: Opening night selection “Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson; David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis”; “Lawless,” directed by John Hillcoat; Lee Daniels’s “The Paperboy”; “Reality,” directed by Matteo Garrone; “De Rouille et d’Os (Rust and Bone), directed by Jacques Audiard; Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Io e Te” (“Me and You”); “Antiviral,” directed by Brandon Cronenberg; Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways,” “Le grand soir,” directed by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern; and “Dario Argento’s Dracula,” directed by Dario Argento.

E-onkyo music, the music distribution service managed by Onkyo Entertainment set to launch May 30, is the first online music distribution service to feature Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel sound. …

MelroseMAC has expanded its pro offerings with a new division, MelroseTEC, aimed at digital workflow solutions. Brian Boring, Steve McCracken and Antonio Nacrur lead the new division. …

SMPTE is accepting applications for the 2012 Lou Wolf Memorial Scholarship, for students seeking to further their undergraduate or graduate studies in motion pictures or television, with an emphasis on technology. Applicants must be student members of SMPTE. … The Hollywood Post Alliance has issued its call for entries for the 2012 HPA Awards. The period of eligibility is Sept. 7, 2011 through Sept. 10, 2012. Submissions for the Engineering Excellence and Creativity and Innovation Awards will be accepted through June 15. Submissions for creative categories will be accepted through July 10. Ceremony, one of the first of each year’s Awards Season, is to be held Nov. 1 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. … The L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce recently bestowed its Export Achievement Award on Matthews Studio Equipment. …

Bona Film Group has pacted with RealD to equip 100 screens in China with RealD 3D. … At CinemaCon, Qube Cinema demonstrated multi-integrated-media-block synchronization of 3D projections running at 120 frames per second per eye (240 fps total). Demonstration used a Barco projector. …

Litepanels has introduced the Sola ENG LED fresnel lighting kit for news and other traveling videographers. Unit comes in an FAA carry-on sized case.

Vitec Group has appointed Matt Danilowicz CEO of Vitec Videocom. Danilowicz replaces Joop Janssen, who is moving to CEO of EVS Broadcast Equipment. … NBC Olympics has tapped Avail-TVN to support delivery of on-demand multi-platform content of the Summer Olympics in London. Avail-TVN services will include: broadcast signal acquisition and file capture, C3 watermark verification, support various file formats, dynamic asset management, and distribution of the content. … Assimilate has expanded support for Scratch in India with the appointment of DOTS Techno-Creative Solution as a nationwide reseller. …

e-on Software has released Vue 10.5 Infinite and xStream. …

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