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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.

By Adam Wilt | January 15, 2014

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 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. 


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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davidjahns: | January, 15, 2014

I think Library in 10.1 is a huge step forward that MAY cause me to give it another look. 

When I first saw the iPhoto-style Events in FCP -X, that showed ALL of your media for every “project”, I immediately thought, “Oh, s**t… this is never going to work…”  Ok, some 3rd party solutions came to the rescue, but still…

I still have not seen any type of collaborative workflow that comes anywhere close to usable for an established post facility - even with an XSAN - it’s just not usable in our environment, where multiple editors & assistants all need instant and simultaneous access to each other’s work.  Avid Unity set the bar many years ago, and no one else has gotten there.  FCP 7 with a SAN was close, but FCP-X…?  Well, I haven;t seen it work yet - maybe these guys have something new to share with us?

For me, the biggest drag about FCP 7 to X was that it was so unnecessary.  Sure - everybody loves the 64 bit horsepower - yadda yadda - but why change the project structure and the interface so drastically?  Final Cut Pro 8 could have buried Avid, and Premiere would still be an afterthought - and Apple & FCP 8 could have dominated the industry.  And they could have released some other product (Phenomenon?) that worked like FCP-X, and we’d have all been curious and kept an eye on it and we might have even been asking for some of those features… 


Frank Nelson: | January, 17, 2014

No doubt professional editors always care FCPX.

walker: | January, 20, 2014

Its like love, sometimes the relationship wasn’t meant to be. There was a time you were certain this was the one. Forever.
Then one day she’s changed. He’s not the guy you fell in love with. Some swearing, disbelief, a little desperiate hope.
You hesitate, you stutter, but finally you make the break and move on.

Looking back all you can say is “Why did i wait so long?”

The larger issue is, the editing world will be easier to define and better served if we just stop pretending that X is actually in use for motion picture or broadcast television. I know you have ‘AN’ example, and thats great - but the sooner the world brings some honesty to marketing to NLE prosumers vs. pro’s we can all get more relevant info, more quickly in our particular fields.

Thank you Apple, you took Cosa, transformed it into a thing of beauty,  gave me an amazing tool that taught me how to edit, For that i am grateful.

We have all left our x’s, moved on, found new dance partners, I for one am very, very happy i moved on.

IEBA: | January, 21, 2014

I wrote a detailed 5704 word response to this article.
Which the PVC web site then informed me was 704 words too long.
And then it forgot everything I typed.

I’m about as pissed as can be right now, both at this iMovie Pro fluff piece, and the fact that this jackass web site can’t hold on to a comment, or count words.

But put me in the column with the others who have moved away to other more powerful tools,
that don’t require a person to relearn how to edit,
don’t call their projects or clients, “events”
cost less than iMovie Pro ($120 a year for Premiere CC single app license)
and work blazingly fast on my 6-core i7, GTX 660, Blu-ray equipped Alienware PC that I bought for $800.
Oh, and my PC fits into my rack of gear very nicely.

Lower TCO, easy transition, less down time, money made hand over fist.

Adam Wilt: | January, 22, 2014

davidjahns: excellent points. Media management in pre-10.1 FCPX was, if I may use a technical term, batshit crazy, full stop. The Library scheme is much better, though still far from perfect. I’ll be interested to see how it plays in collaborative production; I’m just starting to explore that myself. I don’t expect it to match Avid’s Unity environment (as you say, nothing else comes close), but I’m hoping it’ll allow the same degree of file sharing and interchange as we had with FCP Classic and shared storage. And yes: Apple’s unceremonious dumping of Final Cut Studio is a classic and incomprehensible blunder that will be a business-school case study in dunderheadedness for decades to come.

walker: I’m glad you’re happy now that you’ve moved on, grin. But I’m confused about the “Cosa” comment: are you referring to CoSa, the After Effects folks, who got swallowed by Adobe? FCP Classic used to be “Key Grip” back in the Macromedia days.

IEBA: sorry the CMS behind PVC chucked away your comment; now you know what’s it’s like posting to this site, sigh (I’ve learned to write everything offline in a text editor, then stuff it in bit-by-bit. It only took two or three lost afternoons of work to train me, too!). Yeah, FCPX has a very different workflow, and embarrassingly twee terminology, and it’s still lumbered with the Color Board (not that the latter two annoy me or anything… not all the radical reinventions in FCPX are for the better). It’s certainly not for everyone, and I glad you were able to jump to PPro CC on Windows without much disruption, and that it’s working for you.

Not everyone needs to use the same NLE, or work in the same way. That’s freedom, isn’t it?

We have yet to see if FCPWORKS’ optimism survives contact with the real world; I just find it interesting and noteworthy that FCPWORKS thinks there’s a market out there worth betting a business on. “Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear to Tread”, perhaps? Time will tell. FCPX’s long-term success is not guaranteed; whether it ever makes a significant dent in the production-house / broadcast facility market is even more iffy. It may simply be too different to ever gain a critical mass of professional editors.

But it’s already a “guilty pleasure” of many documentary filmmakers and other small-scale users like me, for whom, “events” and the Color Board not withstanding, it’s turned out to be the fastest and least bothersome way to put a show together. To that extent I do have a dog in this fight: I want to see FCPX survive, so I can keep on using it (selfish, I am). I note however that my wishes have proven to have little predictive power!

It’s early days yet, like the early days of FCP Classic: FCPX sees the same outright dismissal, the same insistence that it is not and will never be a professional tool (this time, though, with added vitriol from the jilted-lover demographic – see “dunderheadedness” above – which I fully understand, having been betrothed to FCP Classic for a decade myself). I humbly submit that I don’t know whether FCPX will succeed or whether it will fail, and furthermore, neither does anyone else.

Let’s see what happens.

I like to watch!

IEBA: | January, 23, 2014

I do not recall outright dismissal of FCP-1. I recall it being the underdog, the new kid on the block. But easy to try due to low initial cost ($250 IIRC) I was cutting things in Premiere 5 and when 5.5 completely changed the interface, I decided to give FCP-1 a try. It flowed where Premiere choked (on a G3 Mac). It had UI subtleties that make it much easier to just cut video.

It was a VERY easy transition. Like getting out of one car and into another. I just kept driving, but it was a new car underneath me. It ran a lot better.

The next advancement was being able to handle HD, 24p matchback, DynamicRT, then it segued to adding companion apps, smaller feature updates, and then codec upgrades.

For seasoned editors… they know how to drive a car.
They don’t want to relearn how to drive (like laying forward in the Batmobile).
Like the Batmobile, it still drives, but, why change it?

If this article is focusing on the industries rising up around FCPx, then you should have included Crumple Pop, and other FCPx companies. To discuss only ONE company, and to allow comments like “the Mac Pro, the world’s most advanced computer for professionals.” or “In terms of price vs. performance, nothing out there touches [FCPx].” to be published unchecked or quantified has a feel of promotion, instead of useful information.

There are PC’s that trounce the new Mac Pro in GPU processing.
If we’re talking single apps, my $120 a year license to Adobe Premiere CC doesn’t just “touch” FCPx, it resoundingly beats it in price/performance.

This article is a disappointingly vast, VAST departure from the quality, detailed, expert, and information-full articles and reviews you normally write.

IEBA: | January, 23, 2014

The $250 price might have been EDU pricing.
But it was fairly easy to get that price on Apple’s EDU store, or through online retailers.

Adam Wilt: | January, 24, 2014

“For seasoned editors… they know how to drive a car. They don’t want to relearn how to drive (like laying forward in the Batmobile).”

A perfectly valid point. If anything sinks FCPX, even once it matures, it’ll be the different way it drives. “Think Different” is fine, but “Think Too Different” can be fatal.

“Like the Batmobile, it still drives, but, why change it?”

The argument to be made is that maybe it’s a better way to do things. I am NOT suggesting that the wholesale reworking of the interface was entirely required and universally successful; I think a lot of useful baby got thrown out with the legacy bathwater. But there are differences, not so much in what’s being done but in the WAYS that it’s done and the mechanisms to do it, that don’t translate too well to the old UI, that wind up making me a faster and happier cutter. All I can say is that *for me* the learning curve was worth it. I know plenty of folks who agree… and just as many who vehemently do not!

“If this article is focusing on the industries rising up around FCPx, then you should have included Crumple Pop, and other FCPx companies.”

This is not that article, and wasn’t supposed to be.

“To discuss only ONE company, and to allow comments like ‘the Mac Pro, the world’s most advanced computer for professionals’ or ‘In terms of price vs. performance, nothing out there touches [FCPx]’ to be published unchecked or quantified has a feel of promotion…”

As far as I know, there is ONLY one company doing what FCPWORKS is doing, and to me that was worth a writeup. Given the widespread contempt for FCPX in the professional market, I was fascinated to learn that someone was *starting a company* focusing on supporting FCPX in that market: a very bold and (if the prevailing opinions turn out to be correct in the long run) possibly foolhardy endeavor. I wanted to find out what their mindset was: why did they think they could make a go of this? In the process, I let Sam tell his story in his own words, so that the reader can get an idea of where he’s coming from. If he’s made overly-bold claims, well, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone selling a product or service has done so. I figured that the reader can tell the difference between reportage and editorial. Perhaps I misfigured.

“If we’re talking single apps, my $120 a year license to Adobe Premiere CC doesn’t just ‘touch’ FCPx, it resoundingly beats it in price/performance.”

Sure, the first year… and how much the next year, and the year after? Even if Adobe doesn’t hike the price on you (I got a cold call from an Adobe boiler room in India last week, offering a promo price on CC Team: $480/seat/year if purchased before Feb 28, $840/seat/year thereafter), the price balance tips before three years have passed, grin.

But seriously: I’m not interested in a “my NLE can beat your NLE” religious war. I’m interested in what works, and why. If CC is working better *for you*, great: that’s what counts. I have no problem with that.

“This article is a disappointingly vast, VAST departure from the quality, detailed, expert, and information-full articles and reviews you normally write.”

Sorry to have wasted your time.

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