FCPX and the Death of Final Cut Pro 7 is All Vincent Laforet’s Fault (or Why I think FCPX is Aimed Squarely at Photographers)

First, let me start by saying that my blog post title today is totally tongue-in-cheek. Just a provocative title to make a subtle point and not in anyway meant as an indictment against Vincent. In fact, it’s a testament to his groundbreaking work in DSLR filmmaking and the impact his little film “Reverie” has had. Indulge me if you will…

I’ve been thinking this week “what in the world is going on with Apple and Final Cut Pro?” For the past ten years, it has been the “little engine that could.” Ten years ago when Apple released FCP 1.0, it was kind of a joke in the high-end pro filmmaking and TV world. Avid was the BMOC (big man on campus). But through Apple’s innovation and listening to pro filmmakers, they turned FCP into one of the most popular non-linear editing systems in Hollywood. Everyone from big budget studio pics to little indie guys were using Final Cut Pro (and eventually Final Cut Studio). Apple’s “Final Cut in Action” page had slick testimonial videos from the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, the Coen Brothers, Radical Media, ID4 producer Dean Devlin, and high-profile film schools like Full Sail University. The message was clear. Final Cut Pro, a program that cost a fraction of the traditional editing suites in Hollywood, was just as powerful as its predecessors. Avid and Adobe saw their market share shrink.

Now after waiting two years for an update to FCP 7, what does Apple deliver? A very slick, very sophisticated 1.0 product that is not usable by all the aforementioned high-profile Hollywood types whose testimonials help gave it the credibility to become what it once was.

So I’m sitting in bed, unable to sleep. Not because of Apple, but because my wife is taking a much-needed lone vacation and I always find it hard to sleep when she’s not home. But I digress. (I miss you sweetheart if you’re reading this). As I was saying, I’m sitting in bed wracking my brain about what Apple is up to. Everything I’m seeing is telling me they are abandoning that high-end pro market. Killing off Soundtrack Pro, Cinema Tools, Final Cut Server, DVD Studio Pro and not importing legacy projects is one pretty big sign. Then I watched most of this insightful video by the guys at Ripple Training (a leading producer of training videos and resources for Mac video producers). Mark Spencer, Alex Lindsay and Steve Martin (yes, his name is Steve Martin, and no it’s not the comedian) sat around a table for 2 hours talking about their take on FCPX and answering a lot of questions about it. They then showed much of the program. It is a complete paradigm shift in how an editor thinks (and how every other significant video editing program works). Other blog posts I read which backed this up include this one by FCP expert Chris Fenwick, and of course, this funny (albeit profanity-laden) post by maker of the now famous “No Title for This” video Jeffery Harrell. The nail in the coffin was Shake developer and ex-Apple inside man Ron Brinkmann’s post yesterday.

As Fenwick’s and Brinkmann’s posts suggest, Apple has abandoned the high-end pro video market in favor of the potentially more lucrative mid-level market. It really is iMovie Pro. Apple is not stupid. They are revolutionary in their thinking and 9 times out of 10 are way ahead of the game. They had to know this would put off a lot of top-tier professionals. They must believe that in the long run, a $299 mid-level program will make way more money than a $1,000 high-level suite.

But who is this mid-level market they’re targeting? It can’t be the general hobbyists. iMovie is good enough for that. And parents aren’t going to spend $300 just to edit home movies. Neither do think it’s the indie and wannabe filmmakers. Why? Because indie and wannabe filmmakers want to eventually make it to Hollywood. And I don’t think Hollywood is going to adopt FCPX. Which also means film schools won’t adopt FCPX. So I’m left thinking what industry is big enough to make the investment in FCPX (and the subsequent disenfranchisement of Hollywood) worthwhile?

Photographers…

Yes. This is just my little ol’ theory. But as someone who is hip deep in both the film and photography industries (ergo the name of my blog), it is all clear to me. This must be where Apple is targeting. And this is where the title of my post comes into play.

When Vincent made “Reverie” everything changed. Filmmakers started shooting with DSLR cameras. Photographers started calling themselves “visual artists” and directors. “Cats and dogs were living together. MASS HYSTERIA!” There’s only one market I can think of that is big enough to change the course of the river that was FCP. Pro photographers-turned-filmmakers (or pros wanting to add video to their repertoire). Ironically, I’m not even talking about Vincent Laforet level photographers. I’m talking about all those “Debbie Digitals” and mom & pop photographers who’ve been editing their DSLR footage with iMovie and have been flustered by FCP. I think it’s a safe assumption that this market is easily 10-20 times bigger than the high-end pro video producer/filmmaking market. So a 2/3 drop in price is nothing compared to the upside.

Proof in the Pudding

Again, this is just my very humble and untested gut reaction. But here are a few nuances that support my hypothesis

  • Smart Collections. One of the most significant paradigm shifts in FCPX is the loss of “Bins” in favor of “Smart Collections.” Words mean things people. A “bin” is a direct inference to old filmmaking lexicon (film strips used to be held in bins). The way smart collections work in FCPX, when you ingest your media, you must tag them with keywords, which puts them into these smart collections. And it does so chronologically, i.e. media is dated and named based on when it was created. Hmmm? What workflow can you think of that involves keywording your media as you ingest it, and is managed primarily in chronological order? Oh yeah, photo post processing programs like Adobe Lightroom and Aperture. It’s a paradigm photographers are already familiar with.
  • Event Libraries. Again, names mean things. Your media is no longer contained in “scratch disks,” but in event libraries. All your media must either be IN a library (which you can save anywhere you want), or if not saved directly to your library, it is still referenced via your library in FCPX. Hmmm? What other media workflow process do you know uses the term “libraries” for cataloging and storing media. Oh yeah, Lightroom and Aperture. Moving on.
  • Imploring Users to Upgrade from iMovie. Right on the FCPX website is a section on why you should upgrade from iMovie. Hello? Who is this message aimed at? The tens of thousands of pro filmmakers that have been editing in FCP 7? No. The new dad that just wants to edit home movies and his iPhone vacation clips (who never even visits the Pro applications page of Apple.com)? No. It’s aimed at professional visual artists who are currently using iMovie. The overwhelming number of professional visual artists using iMovie to edit are pro photographers.
  • Color Wheels Gone. Another paradigm shift… color wheels are gone. Now, you look at the color spectrum on a horizontal line, not unlike how one might look at, oh, I don’t know, a histogram? Hmmm?

These are just a few things to ponder. But I think they’re pretty significant (well, the first three anyway. I admit the color wheels/histogram theory is kind of a stretch). But when you combine these changes with the fact that it has direct hooks into Aperture, and all the other things people have been complaining about, I think my theory holds some water.

Predictions

I’m going to go out on a limb. These are some of the things I predict we will see in the next 365 days…

  • The Hollywood testimonials will be replaced by testimonial videos by Mike Colon, Joe Buissink, Jasmine Star, MeRa Koh, Scott Bourne, or some other photographer(s) in their ilk (NOTE: although I do know these people personally, I do NOT have any knowledge one way or the other confirming my theory. I’m just guessing. There is no inside info here.)
  • You will see a testimonial video by some high (or relatively high) profile wedding cinematographer. My guess would be they approach StillMotion.
  • You will see full page FCPX ads in major pro photography magazines like Professional Photographer (again, even though I freelance write for this magazine, I have no inside knowledge. Just theorizing).
  • You’ll see a large FCPX contingency at the major photo shows like WPPI, PhotoPlus and Imaging.

So. What do you guys think of my crazy theory?

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