How the iPad killed Final Cut Pro (and how Apple have taken the pee out of professional)

(Originally I posted this on badjam.co.uk earlier this year. It’s a bit out of date but many of the points still stand. Whilst this clearly betrays Apple as the main target of ridicule in my film Kernel Panic, I would like to add I was targeting EVERY shitty corporation that churns out ineffective smart phones. combustible laptops and dodgy DVR’s. They’re all bastards in my eyes.).

Last year Apple finally released the updated version of FCP. An update that was deeply flawed and lacking many of the basic features, tools and capabilities that the professional broadcast and film industry need as standard. Depending on who you believe, this was either a colossal mistake or a deliberate strategy to exit an over saturated market, currently sitting at 700,000 FCP seats worldwide. Over the last decade Apple has transformed itself from the choice of the niche market creative professional to the market leader in hand held gadgets and shiny, stylish toys. Beautifully designed chimeras, neither phone or computer *(see below for extra rantage…).

So, Apple have shifted focus. Theyʼre a corporation, with a board subservient to the needs of their investors (namely, they need Apple to shit money like a haemorrhaging cash cow). To them, the professional user is a minority market that has no place clogging up their spreadsheets. Why take a few million from the pro market when you can make billions from new shiny gizmos and apps. Oh, there is the prestige argument. After all, thatʼs why Apple bought Shake, the workhorse effects and grading tool used to great effect on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. A highly regarded piece of software for a billion dollar, Oscar winning franchise, Apple could cover themselves in purchased glory. Later, Apple would also consume Final Touch, another industry favourite amongst graders and finishers, renaming this £2000 software as Color and incorporating it into the FCP Studio package at no extra cost. An exciting bargain that enthused and excited our nerdy herd. And then there was the great Walter Murch, a sound and editing genius, the man who wrote the indispensable In The Blink Of An Eye. He took FCP to his bosom, as did the Coen brothers and many other high profile names. A whole generation of editors and film makers followed their example. Ditching our PCʼs and joyfully embracing our lovely new G4ʻs, we clambered with great enthusiasm onto the FCP bandwagon. Whilst the vastly more expensive Avid system dominated the high end, FCP made increasing inroads on the editing market. BBC Factual converted completely to an FCP based delivery system, joining ranks with many of their peers in the broadcasting world. Pretty soon, FCP had become the worlds most popular non-linear editing platform.

The years went by. The DV revolution was superseded by the HD revolution, and seemingly out of nowhere came the 5d and its ilk. Much had changed, yet FCP remained a constant. A bit too much of a constant. Besides the lack of upgrade or improved functionality, there was its dated quirks, its ageing, unresolved bugs. We were becoming increasingly aware of FCP’s weaknesses (in the last 3 years, my bread and butter freelance editing work has been with a broadcast facilities house, churning out 6-8 projects on a shift. Crashes, failed renders and faulty exports are not common, but they do happen at an surprising and worrying rate.). Apple were in danger of being left behind by their competitors, and FCPʼs users were becoming desperate for evolution, innovation and improvement, the very things the legend of Apple was forged with.

The promise of Shake and Color were never fully utilised by Apple, who left them undeveloped and unloved before their premature demise. To placate us, we were promised a new version of FCP that we would enthral and enrapture us. A radically different, reworked version that would dramatically reduce rendering times and would take full advantage of all the processors in an 8 core mac. FINALLY! This was the big one for me. Running Activity Monitor during an export or render in FCP 7 will reveal one processor working at full tilt while itʼs expensive bothers and sisters slumber peacefully in their little silicone beds. However, whilst we were waiting, Adobe took the opportunity to turn its crappy Premiere software into something approaching useful. And soon, it started getting dangerously close to being fucking good. With the rival waiting in the wings, all it took was for the final curtain to fall on FCP for Adobe to take the spotlight. And what a disastrous final performance FCPX proved to be. You couldn’t open your old projects, no multitrack editing. No integration with tape formats (on the way out, true. But STILL a mainstay of broadcasters across the world). And did I just mention trackless editing? Where I currently work, we need 12 tracks of audio for surround sound delivery. During an edit, these 12 tracks can expand exponentially as we add overlays and mixes. A common industry practice when sound editing is to use one set of tracks for an individuals dialogue, one for music and then others for various layers of effects. And as for video tracks? Again, you may have a layer for titles, a layer for subtitles and so forth. Then thereʼs layers for video fx, for which my record has been over 60 (that mother fucker used to take an hour just to open! After that, I pre-rendered the FX, or better yet… just did them all in After Effects! Oh, how you live and learn). No, trackless editing was not an innovation, as Apple and there apologists would have it. It exists to serve the needs of an amateur user who craved simplicity over the practical needs of the professional. Someone tooling about on their iPad or iPhone, pissing around with their holiday video. Itʼs simple not good enough for myself and the majority of professional users. One day someone, somewhere will make a feature film using FCPX, just to prove a bloody point. Good for them. To me, thatʼs like shooting a feature film on a mobile phone. Itʼs doable, but it wouldn’t be anyone’s choice to limit themselves in such a stupid way.

But wait. We still have FCP 7, donʼt we? Well, not really. How long will an unsupported piece of software remain compatible with a company dedicated to upgrading their operating systems on a YEARLY basis, whose new machines are not backwards compatible with the FCP friendly Snow Leopard? In time, our Macʼs will knacker and die, whilst those who run facilities companies will find it increasingly difficult to expand, as we struggle to source FCP7 friendly machines. If youʼre a professional, you need a reliable, stable platform that isn’t prone to crashing. Whatever way you cut it, OUR FCP has a very limited future.

Oh, the fanboyʼs howl derisory snipes and barbs towards any of our well reasoned criticisms. Some profess to be industry professional who cannot understand why we are being such a bunch of whining cry babies. Most seem to be bedroom editors just trolling for the lols (their fucking terminology, not mine). Meanwhile, the main body of professional FCP editors have quietly stepped away (including those of us who started on G4 laptops, editing with FCP 3 in their bedrooms… but thankfully not trolling for the lols…). Major broadcasters like the BBC, CNN and many others have given up on FCP as a professional platform, not trusting to rely on an unsupported piece of dead code. Uncle Murch went as far as to say that Apple had “gone insane”. Some hope that Apple will reconsider. Rumours abound that there is an FCP 8, abandoned mid development that Apple may resurrect (in my opinion, not bloody likely). Whilst some have returned to Avid, many look towards Adobe. Premiere has improved greatly over the years, fully earning its Pro suffix. With its After Effects compatibility and a price closer to FCP 7, it stands to be the winner in the post FCPX grand slam.

But then, nothing is certain. Apple has met criticism with updates and third party apps that have solved some of the issues the professionals have with FCPX. Even the backwards compatibility issue has been partially fixed. But it remains an unwieldy, unprofessional tool greatly out of step with the needs and standards of the broadcast and film industry. Perhaps one day it will become a great asset to editors once more. But itʼs too little, too late. Our trust has been broken, our patience unrewarded. For years, Apple was bankrolled by the support of the creative industry, but mainstream success has negated all of that. We should have seen the signs after the phenomenal success of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Already, MacPros have been removed from the frontline of Apples sale push. And rumours persist that they are scrapping them altogether. The future will see more integration with hand held devices. Apple is mainstream, as ubiquitous to our modern age as Hoover, Virgin, Dyson or Durex. Our needs are a minimal market, and would serve as a resources drain if they made any effort to develop the tools to serve our purposes. Thatʼs capitalism for you folks.

So Apple is finished with us, thanks to the success of their iWhatevers and iWhatnots. And yes, their attitude does indeed extract the urine. Boo fucking hoo. Time to move on to new software and new platforms, right? But what if Avid goes bust? What if Adobe shifts focus to the prosumer market? What happens when our hardware manufacturers turn away from the big, heavy monster processors under our desks towards palm sized mobile devices? Will we be cutting on these posh looking calculators? How do we get an SDI feed out of that? How does that integrate with scopes and broadcast monitors? Are we seeing the death of affordable home computers that we use for rendering and exporting? A decade after Apple and others brought the tools of film making to the low income wannabe (such as myself), are we about to see all that go? We are at the whim of our software and hardware providers, who in turn are slaves to market forces. Walter Murch raised this very issue in a recent interview. He observed that in the old days, all you needed to cut pictures was a pair of scissors and some glue. But now? Software. Hardware. Peripherals. Monitors. Electricity.

We are dependent on these corporate bodies for our tools and utilities that earn us our bread and board. Such entities which at any time could go bust, change direction or completely shaft us nine ways on a Sunday. At least the likes of ILM and Pixar have the right idea, writing and controlling most of their own software. No oneʼs going to pull a fast one on them. Of course, not all of us are bearded billionaires with near infinite resources. Another possibility is the emergence of software properties in the open source/crowd sourced/Kickstarter market. But then again, the big boys have patents on all manner of software design and features, which would inhibit any new players. Also, licensing of technologies like Dolby costs the fucking Earth. So, for now, our concerns and choice of future editing platforms will endure.

In the short term, Iʼve jumped to Premiere, though I still use FCP 7. Longer term is a bit more worrying and I am struck with horror at the thought of working on Windows again. Perhaps cutting with scissors and Pritt stick isn’t such a bad thing after all.

*(and some would say, little more than shiny rectangles burning electricity in your pocket. No, I donʼt own a fucking iPhone. Or a smart phone of any description. I have a laptop for my mobile computing needs. Yʼknow, one of those big heavy blocks that can actually do all the stuff that computers are supposed to do. Because I like things that fucking WORK, not toys that run out of juice after you spent 5 minutes trying to get some bullshit gimmicky app to look up the name of the song some band are playing on a stage. And whilst Iʼm at it, next time youʼre at a gig, watch the band with your eyes, not through the compressed medium of your shitty hand held device, recording another unnecessary video, to be uploaded to your fucking Facebook page. Enjoy the show and cherish the memory that the superior visual quality of your ocular orbs gift you. Choppy, artefact plagued, noisy video, swamped with distorted audio fucked by peaking is not how you should remember the work of artists. They worked hard to get on stage, donʼt insult them by half blinding yourselves with unnecessary technology. Oh, wait. Isn’t that the argument against 3d? I digress…).

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