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FCP X – is it a 10 or a X, with sound effects from Family Fortunes?

The new Apple ‘app’ FCP X is supposed to be the professional replacement for the ‘old’ FCS3 and FCP7. But. From what I have read, and I have yet to actually try the system for myself to be honest – although I do have a copy, the new ‘app’ is not up to professional broadcast use. After all, this is a communication industry and the FCP X cannot communicate with any other piece of equipment (ok, other than a camera and the internet!) in the normal broadcast chain.


Now I guess the clever people at Apple will have actually spoken to some editors and/or potential users – hang on, maybe that should be the other way around. Ok, take two. Now I guess the clever people at Apple will have actually spoken to some potential users and/or professional editors, but from what I have seen on video and read online the only conclusion I can come to is that …… they didn’t listen to the professionals, except for those who wanted an easy life or work in one stop shops.


This does not surprise me, after all when I was first asked about working with FCP I did look up the Apple page and one of the first ‘recommendations’ was from an 8 year old boy! Now this was supposed to be the next big thing in broadcast editing and it is recommended by an 8 year old boy! By the way, I think Apple deserves a pat on the back for getting the kind of professional appreciation that it was getting then – after all the software was cheap. Facility managers and owners were rubbing their hands thinking of the ease of purchase and profits. Buy the discs, install and watch the money roll in.


This is where Apple’s true genius came into play. FCP only runs on MACs! So to get the best out of your FCP you need a MacPro. And now, 2011, they cost in the region of US$10k for a pretty basic one. If you are a pro production facility then I am pretty sure you could double that price to make sure the machine works at peak efficiency. So instead of only being a couple of thousand for the software and then a bog standard off the shelf pc, the new FCP requires a significant outlay for each and every machine you want to operate.


But I digress. It is not about the profiteering that has snuck in under the radar here. It is the complete disregard for anyone who previously spent a substantial budget on an editing system that, I admit I was surprised with and still enjoy working on, early on could not even match Avid for it’s ease of use and professional usage. With FCS3, Apple pretty much finished the FCP product.


The really weird part is that from what I have read, there are some things that are really cool about FCP X that could have made FCP 7 (or 8 as it could have become) a truly amazing machine. The magnetic timeline is just one idea that I have been begging for since day one on Avid. The idea that when you load a clip the audio will automatically assign to a specific EMPTY track is just brilliant – but Apple went and shot that idea in the head at birth with FCP X. True it will put the audio in a space where there is no other audio. But then all of the audio is on one set of surround stereo tracks.


Here’s a question for you Apple. Who in god’s name of the iPad/Phone/Pod generation (for those who don’t know, that is the new target for FCP X) uses Surround F***ing Sound on their iPad/Phone/Pod? Sorry, but they are all portable pieces of equipment that work with headphones!! A human being only has 2 ears!! So how can you generate ‘Surround F***ing Sound’ in a set of headphones?


After that, the next thing I like the look of is the shot analyses and the keyword binning. The machine itself will sort the shots into bins depending on size and content – ie. interviews can be broken down to various shot sizes and then keyworded so that all words that fit a certain answer can be keyed in to make the multiple repetition of questions and answers easier to search. Okay, I know they are not bins now but that is the terminology I use and I will stick to it as it is easier to remember!


But if they could get the keywords to sort out the bins for you, why could that not be used to track the audio into an OMF export? Why do they think that an offline/online editor would be interested in any way in doing a final audio mix for a film? That is the job of a professional who knows what the hell they are doing with the audio. I cannot think of the number of times a dubbing mixer has added a whole new layer and feel to my films because he has added sound effects at just the perfect point and in the perfect way.


Overall, I can only say that FCP X seems to me to be a good time to play that old sound effect from Family Fortunes when the family got the question wrong! I think Apple have pushed what was one of the, if not the, leading editing systems not just back to the stone age – but given the likes of Avid, Lightworks and Premiere Pro a real push into the limelight. Okay, most of you probably don’t know Lightworks but it was the original challenger to Avid and to be honest, was/is a lot easier to use and learn. It only took me 30 minutes to get working on Lightworks against a couple of hours on Avid.


As a professional, FCP X is no use to me in the work I do from day to day. If, and that is a very big if, Apple sort out the problems and get it ready to return to the broadcast programme making chain then I will have to use it. But saying I can always go out and buy a bunch of plugins to make it properly pro is frankly rude. By doing that they are simply sharing out the cost of developing software that they had already invested a shed load in and bringing the final price back in line with the likes of Avid.


Finally, our survey said …………………!!!!!!! (By the way thanks to Family Fortunes and the copyright owner for not giving me any grief about using this analogy.)

Do you have to put your feet there?

A long time ago, whilst editing a particularly easy collection of programme promos, the director decided to slip his shoes off and put his feet up on the desk. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem, apart from two things. Firstly, they smelt – bad. And then they were between me and the mixing desk, so I had to lean over them to get to do my job. A quick soft request later and the feet moved to the end of the desk but the shoes didn’t go back on until home time. Thank god for air conditioning!

I have been thinking for a long time about why producers demand to sit in the edit with an editor they know they can trust – and that with just a few swishes of the cane they can get to jump through hoops for them. Nowadays we have the technology, we have the ability, we can rebuild the editing process. But it would, at a stroke, remove one of the highest earning sections of the industry – the post production facility.

Imagine it. You have finished filming your latest baby, the files have all been copied to a hard drive, that has then been copied and FedEx’d to your favourite editor. He opens the package and gets started logging the footage, after a coffee and chat with daughter and/or wife about why the next clothes shopping trip has to be to the thrift shop – to deliver the remains of last months shopping. You see, this editor can work his own schedule – he’ll get the work done, he’ll get the product back to you, he can chat with you all day on Skype and he can make sure that exactly what you want is on-screen. And he can do this from the comfort of his own office. The producer needs time to arrange the script and tie up a few loose ends – well at least with a remote editor this process doesn’t mean I have to sit there with headphones on and my mouth shut all day.

So does this mean that you no longer have those moaning ‘but you can’t use that there because …..’ or the ‘your commentary is good but it could be better if …..’ conversations? No you still get them and you still get to explain why you are right and the editor is wrong – or vice versa depending on the reasoning. You still get the whole productive process but you no longer have to put up with the smelly feet, the caffeine addiction, the alcohol addiction or any addiction that could crinkle the nose of a pig at 50 feet! Plus if your editor is really class he’ll be living somewhere nice and warm, with easy access to a beach – I know seems like a big distraction but to be honest it is the easiest way to make sure someone turns up for you every time. When you live well, you work well. After all how many bankers would still be working today if it wasn’t for the financial return? To quote John McEnroe ‘You cannot be serious’ if you think they do it for the benefit of their fellow man.

With Microsoft buying Skype, and so many other instant messaging systems (including iChat which works with FCP to view the film remotely) pushing free internet conversations and downloads, why is not possible for editors and producers to be on two different continents? If you want to work with someone, you will move the clocks to suit them if it means you get to work with your favourite director a few times a year. I know I would if I could convince any of my favourite producers to give it a go.

Probably the biggest advantage would be the cost. After shipping the drive the editor would be able to offer the edit at a reduced rate compared to taking the edit to a facility in the city you are in. If he has his own equipment then that is part of the quote. The tea and/or coffee/sambuca that he drinks all day is not included in the bill. The skype chats and emailing are all free, unlike the international call you had to make last week at Post NamNam to just get that quote spot on for the graphics. Post production costs could drop dramatically.

Think about. You have the original copy of the rushes. What exactly do you need to get the film to air? A final master video – check. A copy of the final cut in edl form – check. A copy of the edit project with final cut easy to find – check. OMFI of the audios – check. Fine so now you can go and spend a few more days either cleaning the audio, retouching the grade, making some nice transitional graphics to cover the slates that you agreed earlier that now look old and dated. And guess what. Having used your favourite editor, the only one who understands what you want, the only one who doesn’t complain about the whooshing of the switch behind him, you have the money left in the budget for all of these little tweaks. AND. You have the film you could see when you started off on the project.

So, do you have to put your feet there? They’re blocking my camera’s view of you!

Is 3D really the future?

Okay so 3D has been around for over a century, the very first 3D film shown to a paying audience was The Power of Love in 1922, but the very first patent for a 3D camera dates back to 1900, with a patent for the process of 3D coming 10 years before that. The most famous 3D films are associated with the 1950’s schlock horror films that came out of Hollywood, but recently film was found in archives in Germany that show even during Nazi rule German cinematographers were working with 3D film, predating even the schlock films.

It was only with Avatar by James Cameron that 3D really made any money for itself, but then could that be the very graphical nature of the film or the quality of the story or the use of 3D? Any one of these could be the reason, but could it not also be down to the fact the the consumer nowadays is used to technological advancements coming thick and fast? Cameron managed to find a perfect storm of the ideal story and the funky new technology that would allow him to make an amazing film. Something that the films that came after have not been able to replicate. Either they have had a faux 3D forced on them or they have been made in a rush to meet the delivery deadlines and so not had time to refine the shots to really make them sing to the audience. Thereby repeating the errors of all the other failed 3D movies since the 1950’s.

I can see 3D being an amazing experience if you are looking at say an IMAX film of the deep, the heights of the Himalayas, a live stage performance or even a sporting event, but when it comes to looking at the world around me – sorry but I prefer to see that in 3D with my own eyes. My preference is to watch movies that catch my attention and divert me for a few hours a day through great stories and acting, not just tickle a fancy to see something I can see anytime of day – and pay twice the price for the pleasure.

I think that with 3D, the standard television documentary is going to become more ‘look how great the DP is’ than ‘now this is something you need to know’ story telling. One basic issue with 3D is that when edited it needs to have longer shot timing so that the full impact of the 3D can be registered by the viewer. Now this is also going to mean that the voice over will have to be thinned out so as not to distract, or it will need to act like a football commentator drawing viewers attention to specific parts of the shot. In this world the DP is king. The director can tell him where to point the camera but without a decent DP the resulting image will not be as awe inspiring as it could be. The story itself will also have to be very specific to the shots being used or the viewer is going to become confused as to why the shots are there and that will distract from the story itself, something you can get away with in 2D as the pace of the story can dictate what the audience is paying attention to.

As an editor this sounds great, less shots = shorter edit time. But, and here is the real rub, shorter edit times means lower edit budgets. And given that shooting in 3D is proving to be a very time consuming process, some crews report having only managed 90 shots in the can after 2 weeks shooting for a 90 minute doc, that share of the budget is going to be even smaller as more money will have had to go to the shoot. When will it reach the point of 3D docs being made in-camera? Remember, Alfred Hitchcock only ever shot the number of frames he needed for each shot in his films.

If that is the case then how will 3D survive the move into the average Joe’s home? At the moment the non-glasses 3D tv sets are only just beginning to come onto the shelves, and with the glasses the remaining sets are only viewable to a finite number of people in your lounge, if you can afford to buy extra glasses great or else it’s just you and a friend. But as with any advancement in our entertainment systems, there will come a time in the near future when trying to buy anything other than a 3D tv will be impossible. Remember when CDs/DVDs replaced Cassette and Video tapes? They were ‘phased out’ to allow the new product to take over the market.

The next new product is already coming through the manufacturers. Holographic tv is going to be used by Japan as a part of their bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Their idea being that with a holographic tv system you can go to your local football stadium and watch the live game full size on your own pitch. Sounds great, and there was a tv show that showed how this could work in the world of ordinary tv. The 1990’s mini series Wild Palms had holographic soap operas where the characters moved around in the viewers own lounge. Now that is a forward step in tv if you ask me.

But none of these advancements are driven by a desire of the audience to buy the new products, although there are those to whom keeping up with the Jones’s is more important than cost, but driven by the nature of the media manufacturing industry. They have to continue to make profits and that can only be done by getting people to buy a replacement product as soon as it is available. With the short attention spans of Joe Q public being guided by the adverts online/on tv/on iPad or whatever medium you use, no matter how good the new tech is – it’s the next piece of tech that is more important. Which when you make programmes for tv means that beyond programmes of rapid gratification like X Factor or the Got Talent brands, there is not really space left for the intelligent programming that needs to be wrapped around these mass publicity opiates.

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