FCP X: What do we do now?

So at the moment, FCP X is pretty much a disaster. Lots of people are saying that it will get better, but for now I could never make a movie with it. That’s not being elitist or anything, it’s just a tool that I can’t use. Maybe it will get to a point where we can use FCP X, but for now I’m working under the assumption that FCP 7 is the end of the line for me.

Now, I just upgraded to FCP 7 a couple weeks before the release of FCP X, and I’m feeling pretty clever about that. But it also points out an important thing. We don’t always have to use top-of-the-line software to edit. I tend not to work under crazy deadlines, so things like 32-bit rendering and lack of multicore support are more minor annoyance than workflow killer. If I can bring videos files in, convert them to a nice codec, edit them, and then export in several different ways, including OMF, then I’m very happy.

So I’m not here to complain about FCP X. Maybe it will end up being awesome. At the moment I worry about little things like having to trick it into doing audio and video transitions separately but maybe the world is changing and I won’t be the cool kid who know how all the software works anymore. I’ll be using FCP 7 until it stops being useful to me then I’ll try something else. I want to explore the other options I’ve ignored for so long because FCP was so good.

First up is Avid. Avid has really stepped up its game in the past few years. They’ve put out a ton of releases, and most importantly for me, they’ve started limited support for 3rd party I/O hardware. Cost has always been my biggest problem with Avid. I know it works great, but I just don’t have the money for a $5,000 Mojo DX. I’m using a $200 Blackmagic Intensity Pro right now, and it does absolutely everything I need. Avid doesn’t support any Blackmagic cards, but the $450 Matrox MXO2 Mini they currently support is a fair deal. The great thing about Avid is DNxHD, which is just as wonderfully simple as ProRes, and it’s freely available, which will become important as we look at other options.

I experimented with Adobe Premiere back in college, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It wasn’t quite as confusing as iMovie, but it immediately turned me off. In the meantime, Adobe has totally overhauled the program, and it is by many accounts a great program. I’ve always considered it a bit of a joke, but considering that it already comes with the Production Premium suite, a lot of places I work already own it. And it works with all the same hardware FCP does. I’m anxious to try a small project with it to see how things turn out. It seems like a poor-man’s FCP 7, but a very rich man’s FCP X. It’s written in modern code, and fully takes advantage of the power of our modern computers, but it also looks and feels like a regular editing program. What it doesn’t have is a ProRes or DNxHD. If you already have FCP on your computer, you can use ProRes, but that’s not something we can rely on indefinitely. It seems like DNxHD would be the best choice, since you’ve long been able to install Avid codecs on any computer separately from the Avid software.

The wild card I started thinking about this week is Lightworks. It has a long history, with long-time Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker being the most prominent of the fancy-pants editors who use it. I talked with her assistant about it a couple years ago and he was actually using FCP to do a lot of supplemental work, because Lightworks was missing some of the fancy new HD features FCP could handle at the time. It was recently turned in to open source software, although the full source code hasn’t been released yet. The price of $0 is hard to beat. They plan to update it with a lot of the things that I would like to see in an editing software, including support for the fancy codecs I like so much. I’m going to download it and try it out soon, and I will report back on my impressions. At the moment it only runs on Windows, which is a big scary thing for some people, but I for one would welcome a return to Windows. The only reason I switched to Mac OS was for FCP, but with that out of the picture, all the major programs are available for either platform.

I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson recently, that counting on a single company to supply all of our needs is foolish. I’ve even seen some rumblings online that Apple might abandon the Mac Pro. Without the expansion slots and huge processing power of the Mac Pro, you’re left with the future promise of Thunderbolt, which sounds pretty cool, but leaves out decades of legacy connectors only available through PCI Express slots, like Fiber, SCSI, SAS, etc. and we can’t all just go out and buy new storage solutions every couple years. What we can definitely be flexible about is software. Software is cheap, and the more of it we know, the better off we’ll be.