Should Professional Editors care about FCPX (again)?

Sam Mestman thinks so: he's betting his company on it. I think he's right. Attend his demo 25 January and make up your own mind.
Adam Wilt
By Adam Wilt 01.16.14

Last October Kevin McAuliffe told us in two articles that Final Cut Pro X wasn't worth caring about: "FCPX is still not ready for professional use". He caught a lot of crap for saying so, but he was right... in a very constrained context (which, if you read his rants, he carefully delineates). If you were a full-time editor working for or day-playing at an established production house, FCPX wasn't even on the radar.

But what you see depends on where you stand; editor and colorist Sam Mestman paints a considerably different picture. Mestman has over a decade of experience with Final Cut Pro, and has been using FCPX professionally since version 10.0.6. He’s CEO of the Los Angeles film collective We Make Movies, and is now the Workflow Architect for FCPWORKS, a new systems integration, training, and service company in LA. 

I started an email conversation with Mestman over the weekend after hearing about the FCPWORKS special event on 25 January, and we wound up having a chat over coffee in Mountain View on Monday, as Sam was passing through on his way to LA from SF.

FCPWORKS

FCPWorks logo

FCPWORKS is founded on the proposition that FCPX is a perfectly viable, fully professional NLE, and that there’s enough of a business there to support an integration company focused exclusively on it. As an Apple Authorized Reseller, FCPWORKS fully supports FCPX and the Mac platform, and integrates third party products from AJA, Blackmagic Design, Softron, Quantum, and others. Mestman explained: “When you go into the Apple Store, you can't put together a whole system. Yes, you can get the Mac and FCPX, but then you wind up going other places to get monitoring, I/O, and storage. We're aiming to be the Apple Store for pro editing: the one place where you can get all the hardware, all the software, all put together in one place.” 

I told Sam that I was excited that he was taking the contrarian viewpoint and pushing FCPX as the core of professional video solution; I’ve been using FCPX since version 10.0.4, almost as a guilty pleasure. Here’s a lightly-edited version of our correspondence:

SM: It’s a dangerous game to say anything nice about Apple in the Pro Video space these days, and, well, I guess all I can say is that I keep running across people like you who’ve been using it as a “guilty pleasure”, and have a hard time admitting to it publicly.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best kept secret in post. I’ve been using it professionally (as in, making money) since 10.6. I’m honestly sort of blown away that people find the idea of someone creating professional solutions for FCPX at this point, almost 3 years into its release, as being remotely controversial or newsworthy… but that’s life. I sort of look at the whole thing as an opportunity.  The product is great, demos for clients with an open mind are easy... so, for me, it’s like, what’s the big deal? It’s a good product that allows me to edit faster than I ever have, and I’ve used FCP7 (since its inception), as well as Avid and Premiere.  A lot of people think it’s crazy for some reason, but FCPWORKS is a no-brainer for me, and long overdue. The crazy thing for me is that there aren’t more people in the FCPX space that really understand how the program works.

Our goal with all this is not to convert people to FCPX. Our goal is to support the people who are already using it, and shed more light on the fact that it’s a fantastic tool for a wide range of projects. In terms of price vs. performance, nothing out there touches it. I don’t hate Avid or Premiere, I just happen to think FCPX allows me to work more efficiently than I can with those programs for the types of work I do… and I’m not alone in thinking that.

We are the only reseller I’m aware of that will be providing professional solutions built entirely around the FCPX ecosystem… for now.  I’m pretty sure once people see what we’re doing there will be quite a bit more competition there from existing resellers.

AJW: Given that FCPX is said to be a not-ready-for-prime-time, unprofessional, glorified iMovie with delusions of grandeur (grin), starting up an FCPX-centric integrations and service company is a bold and audacious move, especially in the Los Angeles factory-floor editing environment. How do you respond to the FCPX naysayers? What do you see as FCPX's strengths that make it a contender against the established base of Avids, and Adobe's increasing presence among serious editors?

SM: Ha! Hilarious. Anyway, for me, the fundamental advantages to X are project prep, media management, and offline/online workflow, especially for RED shoots. What if I could show you a way to have a fully synced, properly renamed Event with completely searchable script supervisor metadata within 10 minutes of having the footage downloaded from set? What if you didn’t need to do dailies anymore and on-set post was a reality? 

Then there’s stuff like the timeline index, real time effects, keywords, smart collections, favorites, skimming, etc. You’re going to see some really interesting things happen in workflow this year. The fact is that people don’t really understand how to work quickly in FCPX because it requires a fundamental change in the way established people already edit in order to take advantage of it. If you try and make a screwdriver work like a hammer, you probably won’t think the screwdriver is a very good tool.

AJW: Apple threw us under the bus when they sent Final Cut Studio to sleep with the fishes [sorry, I've been following the Chris Christie story, so mob metaphors come naturally]. They could do it again with FCPX. Why do you think FCPX has a future secure enough to be worth building a new company around? 

SM: Sigh… What if the world ends tomorrow? They just released the Mac Pro, the world’s most advanced computer for professionals. Clearly, they care about the professional space. ... Why would a company put so much effort into something if they planned on killing it?

Sam stressed that FCPX is just now getting to the point where its architecture is mature enough that features can start being added, and I concur. FCPX is built atop new, modern fundamentals like Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL, which enable symmetric multiprocessing and distributed CPU/GPU processing respectively. GCD and OpenCL have been part of OS X since 10.6, and FCPX was designed from the ground up to exploit them. A redesign of this magnitude takes a while to gain the stability and features of what came before, but it’s a design with room to grow and an eye to the future. 

Parallels

Compare it to the changeover from Mac OS 9 to OS X: Mac OS had achieved a high level of polish, elegance, and usability by OS 9, but the underpinnings were getting a bit creaky: crash-prone cooperative multitasking, no integrated TCP/IP networking (remember the Chooser?), a display model that was groaning under the load of ever-larger screens and faster update rates (like full-frame video playback). 

OS X 10.0 was widely panned upon release: it was slow, buggy, feature-poor, and user-abusive. It was no replacement for OS 9, certainly not for any professional with a job to do! Yes, Mach kernel; yes, BSD/Unix; yes, proper pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection and networking underneath – but that was largely invisible to the poor bloke just trying to get something done. What that bloke saw was the candy-striped, gumdrop-rich Aqua interface; why, it practically screamed “consumer” compared to the more sober, gray-on-gray OS 9 Desktop. And it didn’t work anything like the old OS, either.

But it got better.

Three years in, OS X 10.3 was good enough that it started gaining serious traction (I cut over earlier, from 9 to 10.2, but I was a devil-may-care thrill-seeker in those days); now, whether you’re running 10.6.8 or 10.9.1 or something in between, it’s hard to imagine going back to OS 9. Yes, some things have been lost – windowshading, anyone? – but the new OS is far more robust, flexible, and capable than the old one, and it still has room to grow.

Final Cut Pro launched on the classic Mac OS (it started off as a cross-platform MacOS / Windows product, but that’s a different story), using the architectural underpinnings of the day – underpinnings that have shown their limits as time has gone by. Just as OS X made a clean break from OS 9, FCPX threw out all the old stuff and started over.

FCPX 10.0 was widely panned upon release: it was slow, buggy, feature-poor, and user-abusive (especially compared to FCP 7, which had undergone over a decade of refinement). It was no replacement for FCP 7, certainly not for any professional with a job to do! Yes, multithreaded background processing; yes, new media architecture – but that was largely invisible to the poor bloke just trying to get something done. What that bloke saw was the iMovie-like interface; why, it practically screamed “consumer” compared to the more sober, traditional FCP 7 screen. And it didn’t work anything like the old FCP, either.

But it’s getting better.

We’re not yet three years into FCPX, and FCPX 10.1 is just beginning to approach its “OS X 10.3” point: the inflexible and megalomaniacal media organization of earlier versions has been (largely) tamed with Libraries, and finally we can hide the Browser and have more space to focus on our timelines and tools. Yes, some things are inexplicable – Color Board, anyone? – but the new FCP is intelligently multithreaded; far more comfortable with modern, native media (4K, long-GOP, etc.); and it still has room to grow. A lot of room.

FCPX 10.1 with Browser hidden

At last: space for 'scopes and inspector, without having to move the Browser to a 2nd monitor!

 

Up next: That's fine, but...; the Demo; Should you care?


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