My burning questions about Final Cut Pro X

If rumors are right they may be answered next week.


As we sit what might be less than a week out from Final Cut Pro X’s release (if the rumors hold true) there’s been a new firestorm of controversy that erupted after posted some YouTube videos from a recent LAFCPUG meeting where FCP guru/trainer made this statement about FCPX 1.0: “It will not be ready for professional use.” And he has since followed up on that comment. Comments should always be taking in context. With the context of what I have seen about FCPX here are the questions that I will answer first when I download my copy.

One big topic of contention is the term “professional” and what that term means in regards to FCPX. Will it really be a “pro” application? Is it just a more “pro” version of iMovie? Will FCPX do “professional” things right out of the download?

That’s where the term professional needs to be defined. In terms of this discussion I will define professional not just as one who makes money from editing but in terms of what the software will do. The professional workflows that many of us (those who read the blogs, follow along in Twitter and discuss in Internet forums) use include things like good I/O, 3rd party support (both software and hardware) and collaboration with other post-production people and other pieces for software to get the job done. If you cut on FCP, view your edit only on your computer monitor, deliver only for web or computer or non-broadcast playback and never interface or interact with anyone or anything outside your FCP box then this post probably isn’t for you.

If you use a AJA, Matrox or Blackmagic hardware, roundtrip around Final Cut Studio, interface with other applications for color grading or online, have to send jobs out for an audio mix or graphics and all the while make a living doing that then these may be questions that you are asking too.

Once Final Cut Pro X has been released I’ll repost these exact questions with the answers that I’ve found after kicking the tires on the thing.

And what are those questions now?

(in no particular order)

Will FCPX support XML in and out of the application?

Of all the things that might be “missing” out of FCPX I think XML i/o might be the most glaring omission if it’s not there … but it also might be the most likely feature in this list to actually be included. XML interoperability allows for such an amazing interchange with 3rd party products I think it might single handily be the feature that could put FCP on the tip-top of the NLE heap if I was forced at gunpoint to use only one NLE for the rest of my life … that is if I could keep those 3rd party products in my workflow.

XML is responsible for so much: Automatic Ducking in and out of After Effects (not to mention Media Composer, Pro Tools, Quantel etc …); amazingly useful phonetic searching via Get for Final Cut Pro; the automagic syncing that is PluralEyes (yes FCPX will have some Pluraleyesing built-in but PluralEyes can do more than just sync audio to your DSLR picture); several of Digital Rebeillion’s products on XML to interact with FCP; the simple elegance that is EditMule’s Auto Collapse (yes with FCPX’s trackless timeline you’d think this might not be necessary but I shudder to think of how much more sloppy timelines might get for the unorganized editor without the constraints of tracks); CoreMelt’s Lock N Load X stabilizer, a lot of Intelligent Assistance’s products … this list could go on and on.

There’s so many 3rd party tools that rely on XML I really can’t believe that Apple wouldn’t include XML i/o in FCPX. If you look at iMovie you’ll even see an option for XML out for Final Cut Pro.

Will 3rd party I/O hardware be supported at launch?

If you’ve got a professional FCP edit suite then you’ve (most likely) got some type of AJA, Blackmagic Design or Matrox hardware that allows true broadcast monitoring on something other than your computer display. Yes FCP can use a computer monitor for full screen playback but to get a true representation of your video it needs to be viewed externally. Especially when working with interlaced and mixed format material.

There’s also the need of many professional edit suites to view on multiple monitors in different parts of the room for clients. In my edit suite I have a large progressive plasma display for viewing HD as well as a standard definition Sony that is always getting a down-convert. Sometimes that is displayed letterbox, sometimes center cut depending on the need. This is something I could not live without. If FCPX doesn’t support 3rd party hardware then moving to it is not an option.

There is the Firewire based AJA Io HD (and maybe some new Thunderbolt product to ship) but there’s way more AJA Kona cards out there that need to be supported.

Will 3rd party plug-ins work?

I think the short answer to that is no. FCPX is a 64-bit application and plug-ins written for FCP7 and below are 32-bit. There was some pain to be had when Adobe went 64 bit with After Effects as a lot of those 3rd party plug-ins had to be rewritten. So that might be some pain in the wallet as we re-buy plug-ins. It also might be some pain in the workflow as we try to work without plug-ins we’ve come to know and love. In that case it’ll be keep using FCP7. There could be the possibility of some way to run 32-bit plug-ins in emulation mode in FCPX. I’d take having to render them all to not being able to use them.

A secondary question to this would be does FCPX even have a plug-in architecture? This wasn’t mentioned at the SuperMeet sneak peek and I haven’t seen it mentioned in anything else so that’s a valid question as well. A very valid question.

Will there be any tape-based support?

I’ll concede the point that there’s a whole lot of FCP users out there who never have and never will touch videotape. The Fred’s of the YouTube world couldn’t care less about tape and for those producers who shoot tapeless there’s always post-houses and service stations to handle your tape I/O if need be.

But as one who works in a post-house and one who works on broadcast programs I’ll sure miss the convenience of doing all my tape interfacing in FCP. Sure capture is almost as easy using something like Blackmagic’s Media Express and that tool works well. And as bad as FCP’s Edit to Tape functionality is (when compared to Media Composer’s Digital Cut) what’s even worse is nothing at all. It’s so easy to insert a slate or a copyright onto a master tape from within FCP. And it’s so convenient to stop a tape output if and issue is encountered, fix the issue in FCP and pick that Assemble Edit back up onto the tape without having to re-export the fix to be used in a different application.

And I still think ending up with a tape master is a good idea because they store so much better than a hard drive. Not just because you need to spin up a hard drive every now and then to ensure their life span but because you’re less likely to pull a tape master off the shelf in crunch and reuse it, losing what was originally on there. Yes that happened recently.

I’ll be curious to see if there’s any level of tape support in FCPX and what that might be. It might tell us a lot about where FCPX is to be positioned in the market.

Will we be able to switch the FCPX layout to a more traditional 2-monitor setup?

This idea of two separate, dedicated viewing windows, that has been the base of 3-point editing for as long as I can remember, appears to have gone out the window with FCPX. While rumors have floated that there might be a more traditional Viewer/Canvas – Source/Record window layout in FCPX we haven’t seen one in any of the screenshots or the public demo. Opinion may vary on whether two monitor windows are needed but I think I’m really going to miss the dedicated Viewer.

While it’s debatable whether or not FCPX is an iMovie Pro it’s not debatable that FCPX looks a lot like iMovie, right down to window configurations. I’ve played with and edited short videos on and off in iMovie for as long as it has been around. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked with a Viewer before but I very much miss it when I am in iMovie.

It’s not that I’m desperate to do keyframing in the Viewer (I’m looking forward to doing a lot of that right in the timline) but more because I often want to see my incoming or outgoing frame in the timeline while I audition clips in the Viewer. As I do that I’m looking at things like framing, focus, color and action while I search for the proper IN point of my clip in the Viewer. All the while I like to see my reference frame (I say IN point but it may be a different frame depending on the type of edit I’m going to do) in the timeline. Just having that image sitting in my peripheral vision can influence my choice of the next shot I use and, more specifically, the IN I choose as a cut point.

I’m all up for new ways of working if Apple has found a better way to audition source clips and choose IN and OUT points but this single monitor idea bothers me. And there’s not track patch panel in the FCPX timeline. I don’t know what they’ve come up with to replace that but if it’s better than I’m all for it. But after working with iMovie I’m not at all convinced it’s a better way of working.

Will FCPX support multiclipping and multicam?

Multiclipping and multicam isn’t something that most FCP editors need on a regular basis. In fact there’s probably quite a few people out there who are cutting their music videos and/or their four camera shoot without using those features. That’s sad as multiclipping and multicam can save so much time. Organization is so much simpler and workflow so much smoother from a timeline standpoint when you do use those features.

And to be clear, I see multiclipping and multicam as two different features. You can’t have multiCAM (as it currently exists) without multiCLIPPING, at least as it relates to how FCP and Media Composer work. I use multiclipping far more than multicam as I group together takes for music videos that often have 20, 30, 80 performance takes. It makes life so much easier as I cringe at the idea of working with a 50 layer FCP timeline that I’ve seen some directors who cut their own music videos do. Why not use a feature that so simplifies your work?

Multicam editing is achieved by multiclipping your camera angles together and viewing them live during timeline playback and switching the angles. With the prevalence of cheap DSLR cameras I find myself using multicam mode much more today than I did just a few years ago as so may jobs I work on shoot more than one camera. Most everyone on the crew has a Canon DSLR so why not shoot multiple angles at once (at least that often seems to be the equation)? How simple it is for timeline organization and how handy it is for viewing 2, 3, 4 angles when you can pop a multiclip into multicam with a few clicks and not worry about turning tracks on and off and cutting material away to see what’s on a lower video layer. And did I mention it makes for much faster editing?

Unless FCPX has something unique up its sleeve (and maybe it will since Apple is rethinking this whole non-linear edit thing a bit) it’s going to be hard to have a multicam mode without a Viewer (see above). They could very easily have multiCLIPPING in FCPX without full multiCAM but I’m not holding my breath.

Will there be a Media Manager?

Oh the Media Mangler. There was once a day when the thought of a trip to the Media Manager brought up visions of pain and suffering as you never knew what kind of craziness you might end up with when the operation was done. These days the Media Manager works much like it should (though recently it seems to not want to properly trim projects). It’s really a vital hub for performing a lot of housekeeping operations. It’s handy for archiving an edit, creating a low resolution version of an entire project, making an offline version and/or moving an entire project.

FCP’s major competitors both have media management type functions: Avid Media Composer with Transcode/Consolidate and Adobe Premiere Pro with Project Trimmer. A media management tool is quite a vital piece of a professional non-linear editing application. A large part of what we do is move media around to a lot of places in different forms for different reasons. It takes the guesswork out of trying to do it in the Finder. I can’t imagine there NOT being some type of project media management tool in FCPX but some rumors point to no.

Will FCPX’s Events be the only way to organize media?

If you look at the Events browser in iMovie, it is what it is. Pretty much everything you’ve ever imported into iMovie in one place. Never mind that it’s two years later and I don’t need media of granny’s birthday party around anymore as I edit video from the pool party. Turn that to professional editing and you often have multiple jobs from multiple clients on a system at once. There is no way I would ever want client A media around when working on job for client B. With the way FCPX Events appear to work it seems like it will all be around. Sure you can probably import via Event so one could leave client A media closed but what if you have clients A – K. That’s a lot of unused stuff just sitting there.

And as a side note to Events, FCPX introduces this new way of organizing by range-based key-wording and tagging to use in Collections. While this is an exciting new way to think about a rather tedious part of the editing process I would ask if we can option for traditional organization methods.

For example, if I keyword a shot for male, interior, and kitchen then that clip might show up in three different places. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. It guess it could be both depending on what you’re doing. But if all the media you’ve ever imported lives in the Event Library and you’ve keyworded and organized all of it then that could make for a pretty cluttered Event Library with a lot of clicking around and twirling down or little twirly triangles to find what you’re looking for.

Will there still be a Studio?

This one is one what everybody is asking. We know FCPX is coming for $299 and we’ve seen rumors of Motion 5. But what of Compressor, Color and Soundtrack Pro? Some have suggested that Color and STP have been folded into FCPX. While FCPX does have some advanced features like secondaries and audio clean-up I can guarantee they haven’t built-in all the features of those dedicated applications. Compressor is one of those love/hate relationships. I hate how it often operates but I love that it is there. Encoding is a very important part of what we do today so some type of compression application is a must.

There’s bound to be more questions.

Those are some of the burning questions that I have been asking. I’m sure many pro users are asking the same things as well as many other questions that I either haven’t thought of or forgot to ask above. Feel free to leave your own questions in the comments. We’ll follow up on these after it ships.


Scott Simmons

Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn’t really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production and Graphic Design he was in one of the early graduating classes at the Watkins Film School in Nashville, Tennessee. During that time at Watkins he discovered editing. While most of his classmates in film school wanted to be directors, Scott saw real career opportunities in post production and took a job as an assistant editor after completing film school. In 1999, Scott took the leap into freelancing and in 2007 accepted a position as an editor at Filmworkers – Nashville. In 2005 Scott created The Editblog a website dedicated to all things editing and post-production which is now housed here at PVC. Someday he hopes to edit on a beach with a touch screen device, a wireless hard drive and a Red Stripe.

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