I’ve been following the ‘NLE Wars’ with quite a bit of interest for some time now. Like many, folks who have been using FCP for years, including all of my own current work work, as well as a number of feature films in the past, I am very concerned about the end-of-life for FCP/FC Studio in the wake of the release of FCP X, and am really, really, not motivated to switch to another platform. Switching costs time, switching costs money. Switching means that a video that could take a half a day to edit in FCP could take days more.
Switching is also an inevitability.
Although FCP 7 has been running like a champ on OSX Lion, there’s no reason to believe it will continue to do so on future version of Apple OSes, and every reason to believe that FCP will, at some point, just cease to function entirely, or that components will begin to break as Apple’s core architecture continues to advance into new areas.
This simple truth has caused no end of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) for professional editors and content creators alike. What to do? Where to go next?
We all keep on hearing in the major publications and blogs from NLE pundits, that editors must be open to working with multiple platforms, and that no single NLE is right for all situations, and that is true…But at the same time mastering a handful of NLEs to cover all contingencies is also not a reasonable solution for editors who need to get the job done in the best, cheapest, and most efficient way possible.
While being open to multiple platforms is certainly a worthy goal, the practical reality is that we can only master so many pieces of software, and have room for only a certain number of tools in our noggins…Considering we all must be able to not only master an NLE, or two, but a compositing/motion graphics package, an audio suite, an image editing tool (i.e. Photoshop), and something for color correction…Depending on the scope of your work the list could extend well into a dozen packages, not including plug-ins and add-ons.
What editors need to be looking at right now is finding something that will allow them to create their best work in a package that will address the broadest needs of your work…I want to invoke the 80/20 rule here, but that doesn’t seem entirely applicable. Whatever tool is chosen needs to meet most of your needs for the least effort in terms of time and re-training.
So here’s my completely non-scientific thoughts about all of the major platforms, and why I would choose/avoid any one of them:
It’s generally agreed that Apple really screwed the pooch with the release of FCP X…Strong words? Yeah, but deserved. Apple literally pulled the rug out from under thousands of professional editors, and facilities that have come to rely on Final Cut Studio as the backbone of their editorial pipelines. What’s worse, Apple has done this before, with Shake, and they do so with no remorse, or promise of something to abate the pain.
In FCP X, Apple has created an advanced version of iMovie which, for the most part, leaves the professional editing/content creation crowd in the dust. To Apple’s defense, they really did need to pull the bandage off the wound, with respect to getting a 64-bit editor out there, but from a professional perspective, a re-engineered FCP 8 would have been a much more reasonable way of getting there…Wherein also lies the problem.
Apple is a giant consumer products company and, regardless of what anyone tells you, that’s where their product focus is going to be. Professional Editorial and Motion Graphics was a niche market for them that didn’t sell anywhere near the kind of hardware that they would need to sell to justify an ongoing commitment to this market segment, so iMovie Pro is likely to be the direction for all of their product innovation.
Don’t get me wrong, FCP X is a pretty cool product…I’ve seen demos, and it boasts a lot of really nice features, including a great green screen keyer, some pretty nifty titling tools, and built in audio editing functionality, to name a few.
The biggest problem with FCP X is that it is not friendly with the kind of collaborative workflow that is dictated by professional production situations, where you are handing off cuts to different departments. The trackless editing paradigm may be the future, but it’s not how people are working in the industry now, and since this is a ‘get it done yesterday’ kind of business, what people are doing the here and now is kind of key.
If I were strictly working on one-off web videos of my own, and wanted to do everything in one place, with one tool, FCP X could serve those needs very well. But I don’t always work that way, and there is just too much of a learning curve with FCP X for to risk that large an investment of time in a niche-market tool that will not service other types of work, for different clients.
Avid Media Composer/Symphony
Avid has come a long way in the last couple of years. Partially guided by new management, with a new philosophy towards hearing their customers and, as a result, has introduced greatly improved versions of the Media Composer line.
It’s still a pretty complex tool, and even with its shift towards a more flexible, FCP-like, UI, Media Composer is still pretty rigid in how you interact with it versus the Final Cut way of doing things.
That said, if you’re working on small projects, or big projects involving many departments and vendors, or if you are working on a film workflow that is originating from, or going back to a film conform, there is no better tool for editing and managing your media than Avid Media Composer.
Most importantly, if you put your eggs into the Avid basket, you can be assured that you are working with a company that has the professional film-and-video market at the core of its business model, and never need to fear that a product that you’ve come to rely on for years has been suddenly dropped from their product line.
Also, any changes to UI and functionality from one major release to another will be handled in an incremental fashion, that doesn’t involve the inconvenience, and associated expense, of learning to reinvent the wheel. Also, most current post-production workflows have originated with Avid as the driving environment, so collaboration is not an issue.
So, while Avid MC and Symphony may not have the greatest built-in compositing and effects capabilities of a Final Cut Pro, you will get most of your editing work done while only having to jump out to another package, such as Adobe After Effects, or Photoshop, for advanced compositing tasks.
Finally, if you’re working in the pro editing marketplace, or want to be, you can’t go wrong in terms of future employment prospects if you make Avid your go-to editor. It’s still the industry standard for NLEs, if there is one.
Until the end of June, 2012, Avid is offering an upgrade/crossgrade offer for the latest version of Avid Symphony for $995 if you are an FCP user, or have a license for Avid Xpress DV or Xpress Pro. A very good deal that will pay dividends.
I hate to call Premiere the ‘new kid on the block’ as its been around since the ’90s…But it’s really only been getting a lot of attention from professional editors, outside of the broadcast marketplace, in the last couple of years. Adobe has put a lot of effort into, first making the package viable, and now putting it into a position where Premiere, along with the other tools in the CS suite, is a serious contender as an end-to-end content creation package.
Adobe Premiere CS 6 had taken another giant step forward in this regard, and more and more folks are stepping up to try the tool, if not switching to it outright…And why not? Many of us have one of the Creative Suite packages on our computer, and the latest version is almost a freebie when we upgrade. But now there’s a better reason than free…Adobe Premiere CS is a truly competitive tool in the pro NLE marketplace.
The overall suite integration is the best out there, exceeding that of the last version of Final Cut Studio, and there’s not a lot that any working editor needs to get done that can’t get done within the Adobe Creative Suite. Further, since Adobe implements a fairly standard tracks-and-timeline paradigm across the suite, along with very flexible ingest/output/import/export capabilities, content creators will have no issues sending work to collaborators using different tools and workflows, making this a highly collaborative toolset.
Final Cut Pro became the tool/suite of choice for low-budget and web video makers because of its low cost, flexibility, and end-to-end content creation capabilities, and for these reasons, I believe that Adobe CS 6 is an excellent choice as a direct replacement for Final Cut Studio for these applications.
Smoke needs to be mentioned, as it is a significant tool from a professional finishing perspective. Coming from a lineage as part of the hardware-coupled Discreet line that, at one point, ran upwards of around $85k per installation, the $3k-plus-your-Mac cost of Smoke today is a bargain, and it is certainly a very powerful tool…But it’s extremely niche, and unless you’re doing ‘online’ assembly and finishing as your mainstay, it’s not the best investment.
My Personal Solution
I’m going to keep using FCP 7 until the wheels fall off, and forget that FCP X exists until such time as Apple really steps up with a professional release of the product that is embraced by the content creation marketplace…The Avid Symphony offer is enticing, but as a content creator on a budget, I’m going to put my software dollars into upgrading my Adobe CS Suite and Lightroom software, with the idea of moving to Premiere Pro CS 6 in the future. It’s a strategy not without some minor risks…For example, Should I return to the feature film editorial market at some point, I may wind up having to purchase Media Composer at a higher price than the current crossgrade offer, but nothing is without risk in this business, especially software strategy.
In the end, while editors and content creators must be open to a variety of platforms, having a good idea of the kind of work, and workflows, that are your bread-and-butter will largely dictate what approach you take towards solidifying your software strategy, and put an end to your personal ‘analysis paralysis’, keeping in mind that it can all change…Almost overnight.