release of Final Cut Pro X felt botched, I …">

the candler blog

Enter the Casual Editor

Filmmaking, technology

Perhaps when I said the release of Final Cut Pro X felt botched, I was jumping to a specific conclusion because of the way I use FCP today. In my day to day work, I require high-end tape-based input and output from Final Cut. I’m an edge case and FCP X might not be for me, but who is it for?

I think the price tag says everything you need to know about who Apple sees as its core market. At $299, it’s no longer the high end niche product it was when Final Cut Studio cost $1000. When I postulated that FCP would take most of its cues from Aperture, I never considered price tag or target markets; I was only thinking in terms of interface and usability. The bigger picture, from Apple’s perspective, is how many units they can move, and there is a much bigger market for non-professional filmmakers than there ever will be for full time editors. Much in the same way that Aperture appeals to photographers of all levels, Final Cut Pro X is meant to be accessible to folks who are unfamiliar with the antiquated ways of tape-based workflows. It is for the casual editor.

Defining Casual

The term “casual gamer” has become relatively commonplace over the last few years, best exemplified by the runaway success that is the Nintendo Wii. Debuting in 2006, the Nintendo gave up on the processing arms race its two biggest competitors, Microsoft and Sony, had been engaged in. Instead, they released a lower-powered machine with an innovative interface. The Wii remote represented a paradigm shift in gaming). This was a videogame system that grandma could play. Nintendo discovered an untapped market and used it to bludgeon the competition. The casual gamer wasn’t just born, it became the market to go after.

I believe that Apple is looking to sell Final Cut Pro X to casual editors, people who now lug around video in their phones and their still cameras, unaware of what to do with it. Filmmakers who would rather just jump in and start cutting without taking the time to learn the historic language of film; who will never have to understand what a “bin” is. They just want something that will let them get creative with their footage to an extent that iMovie can no longer handle.

Apple isn’t coming out of left field with this move. Look at the way professional video cameras have progressed over the last 20 years. They have dropped in price and compromised classically professional features in order to get them in the hands of consumers. The result has been a revolution in independent cinema. Panasonic in particular has aggressively gone after the “prosumer” market and won over many filmmakers even though many of their products have been technologically inferior to the competition. Apple is trying to bring the accessibility and availability revolution of film production tools to post production. The casual editor is tomorrow’s filmmaker and Apple is looking to that future.

What About Hardcore?

In the gaming analogue, hardcore gamers are the ones who drove the market back when gaming was something of a niche. They desired better graphics, more power, more buttons, more intense gameplay. Sony and Microsoft engaged with them, but Nintendo sidestepped them completely. The accepted knowledge at the time was that you didn’t want to irk the core; they’re the audience who spends money on consoles.

As the Wii reached ubiquity, hardcore gamers felt like they had been abandoned by one of the progenitors of their obsession. But did Nintendo abandon them? For all its blemishes, the Wii was still able to run great titles that even the most cynical hardcore player could find enjoyment in. It became commonplace for gamers to have more than one console in their house, and that was okay too. They could get their fix on the XBox and then goof off with the Wii.

Following that thread, perhaps Final Cut Pro X is a new tool that can be used for some projects but not for all of them. You can ruin1 run an install of FCP X alongside FCP 7, so it’s conceivable that one will be used for tape-based workflows while the other is relegated to low-end tapeless projects. Where Apple made it’s biggest misstep was in replacing FCP 7 with FCP X (you can no longer buy FCP 7) when really, it apparently is a different toolset.

A Final Word on Fear Mongering

Editors whose livelihood depends on Final Cut have plenty to think about at this juncture, but I think it takes it too far to say FCP X kills the product altogether. Editors are talking about moving to another NLE, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t seem fair to treat FCP X as unusable. It will find its footing and, hopefully, become the best available editor for most projects out there.

Final Cut Pro 7 still works today and it should work for a long time to come. Of course, one never knows when Apple will start phasing it out. Since it is based on legacy code, support could be dropped in a future version of OS X, but it will still work in 10.7 Lion and that should take you a few years into the future. By the time support is dropped, FCP X should be up to snuff.

Or not.

My point is that you shouldn’t whine about Apple selling editors up the river (the didn’t). Go find a tool that works for you and make great work. You can bet the casual editors of the world will.

  1. Unintentional typo pointed out by commenter Godless Atheist.

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