10 Things About Final Cut Pro X That Surprised a Veteran Editor

Next month marks the 8th anniversary of Apple’s introduction of Final Cut Pro X. I won’t bother rehashing all the drama that surrounded it. Nor will I attempt to prove it’s a viable NLE worthy of it’s “Pro” moniker.

Instead, I thought it would be an entertaining, perhaps even educational, and hopefully, an enlightening endeavor to investigate this topic from a unique point of view. That of a person who has interviewed literally hundreds of professional editors using FCP X, and the things he learned along the way. Regardless of what NLE you use, the insights offered will help you see technology, and this industry, in ways which will grow you as an artist.

Out of the fire, on to the grill

Veteran editor Chris Fenwick has over 30 years of experience working throughout the desktop video revolution. He is also a founding partner at Slice Editorial in Oakland, California, where he currently edits projects for Fortune 100 companies. He has cut his teeth on almost every editing system that came (and went); and in the midst of chaos and upheaval in the editing world over Apple summarily killing off FCP “Classic,” he settled on FCP X.

Fascinated with the vitriolic response to FCP X he was seeing in the industry, Chris decided to start a podcast wherein he would find and talk to professional editors using it. He called it FCP X Grill (at the time, he was co-hosting another podcast with veteran colorist Alex MacLean called Digital Cinema Cafe, so he was keeping with the “restaurant” theme). He wasn’t sure he’d be able to find many guests for the show. It turns out, he found plenty. Enough to end his podcast run with 168 episodes.

I jumped at the opportunity to interview Chris and pick his brain, and Chris relished being on the other end of the interview mic. He was also a bit skeptical about whether he could come up with a list of the top 10 surprising things on the subject. But as a longtime editor, he was game to experiment. We found out a whole lot more than we expected.

Creating the Podcast

Chris recounts how it all started. “I was sitting in my office late one night [in 2013], and I posted on Twitter…”

“I found David Fabelo in Texas. It was 11 o’clock at night here in California, and I sent David a Twitter message. ‘You’re editing a documentary on Final Cut Pro X?’ Almost immediately, he responded. Keep in mind it’s like 1 o’clock in the morning for him, and I’m like, ‘uh, are you up?’

“And so we started DMing each other. He said, ‘I’d love to talk about Final Cut.’ One of those like-minded people. I was like ‘When could you do it?’ He said, ‘I could do it now.’ I go, ‘It’s the middle of the night.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’”

“So we got on Skype, and we talked for an hour or so, and that was the first actual interview I did. It ended up being episode #5 of the podcast. And that’s when I realized ‘Okay, this could work.’”

The podcast did well. It connected Chris with dozens of filmmakers, post-production supervisors, editors, and industry pundits. With 169 (and counting) guests, it should be easy to come up with ten surprising things he’d learned about FCP X. So here goes…

#1 – FCP X Users Are Easy to Find

“The first surprise was how easy it was to find people passionate about FCP X,” Chris recalls. “If you listen to the naysayers… ‘Final Cut is crap, nobody uses it, it’s not professional, whatever.’ You’d think it would be hard to find people. But it wasn’t hard at all.

“To borrow a cheap phrase, when you get past the fake news about FCP X, there’s a real story. It’s completely legitimate and compelling, about people doing amazing things with it.”

#2 – FCP X is Popular Internationally

“Another surprising thing,” Chris says, “is how popular it is in other parts of the world, like Central and South America and Europe. They use FCP X at higher levels, especially broadcasters. People there are less likely to listen to the bullshit hype and bad press and look at the facts.”

#3 – Choosing an NLE is Like High School

“Another surprising thing is how much like high school choosing an NLE is,” Chris laughs. “When you’re in high school, peer pressure drives everything. What’s cool, who’s wearing what, and who’s listening to what music. There’s such pressure to be one of the cool kids.

“There was more than one time when I would get somebody talking on Skype differently from the way they did publicly. When they have to confront their peers, they want to jump on the naysayer band. On the podcast, they opened up into a private comfort zone.”

#4 – FCP X Editors are Innovative

“I was also surprised how innovative some of these people were,” Chris continues. “Dustin Hoye produces a fishing show in FCP X called The Next Bite.”

“They have to deliver each episode to different cable outlets, so they developed graphics packages with the appropriate metadata. With one pull-down menu in the Inspector, they’d toggle between two different looks for the same show. They would duplicate the timeline, then they go in and pull all the pull-downs for all the titles. Boom! They’re ready to export the next show for different networks.”

#5 – Even Veteran Editors Can Learn a Lot

“On more than one occasion, I’ve learned new features and workflows,” Chris says. “A great example was Episode 29 with Thomas Grove Carter, a sought-after commercial and music video editor who works at Trim Editing in London. He taught me a creative use of the proxy workflow. It was like an absolute ‘aha’ moment.

“Thomas was in a hotel room with a big RAID loaded with original media during a commercial shoot. He also had proxies in a library on his laptop. He could yank all the RAID cables from his laptop and go running down to the director on the set. He’d say ‘I want to show you something I’m working on.’ He could scrub through it and fiddle with it. All he would do was link over to the proxy files as opposed to the full-resolution files.”

Chris is referring to a feature in FCP X wherein you can quickly switch between proxy media and full resolution originals. It’s a single toggle switch in the Viewer. To do this on a shoot is a major advantage for an editor tethered to a production in-progress.

#6 – FCP X Gets Used in Secret

Sometimes Chris came across folks using FCP X under the radar. “I was interviewing Josh Beal and we were talking about the different kinds of tools in Final Cut. I found out that he was also cutting an Avid show.

“It was a series and I agreed not to say which one. He was like ‘Oh yeah, I do a lot of the pre-edits in FCP X, because I can do it a lot quicker.”

So there you go. Even if a show is not using FCP X officially as their main NLE, it still may get used somewhere along the line. We use many tools to achieve our goals as editors.

#7 – Apple Opens Up

We then shifted to the 2018 FCP X Creative Summit. Created by FMC (a leading producer of training conferences for production and post-production professionals), the Summit includes a trip to Apple headquarters in Cupertino and three days of FCP X training. One panel featured the developers, engineers, testers, and marketers behind FCP X.

“That was the first public forum offering a look into their process,” Chris said. “They asked us not to talk about the technical specifics they mentioned. But it was an unprecedented approach from Apple.

“They not only took questions from the audience, they had questions for the audience. It was surprising, a little shocking, and very welcomed.”

#8 – Future Surprises

I asked Chris to consider what future surprises he expected to see in the industry. He turned to his favorite device, the iPhone. “iOS-based cameras are fascinating,” he says. “The smart technology behind the sensor is mind-boggling to me. The fact that the Clips app can use two cameras to do a faux key in 360-degrees…that is where the future of video production is.

“I’d love to see an entire business built on iOS products. We’re on the verge of production companies doing an end-to-end workflow on iOS. It’s all about the higher bandwidth needed to upload and deliver. Apple’s practiced content distribution in plain sight all these years. It’s been with Apple TV and the iTunes Store. And all the ‘fringe’ things you see in iPhone apps now are potential signposts to the future.”

#9 – Features from Apple’s Developer Team

Turning to Final Cut Pro X as an app, I asked Chris which developmental surprises he’d found it had brought. The app receives several updates per year. Which new features were surprising to him?

“In the beginning, everybody was like ‘I need my color wheels.’ FCP X was not professional because version 1.0 didn’t have them,” Chris recalls. “And also paste attributes, (which allows you to paste all or some of one clip’s current settings to others). If you understand how they worked in Final Cut Pro 7, it’s hard to imagine getting by without them.

“But Apple surprised us by not only bringing back features, but also by improving them. The color wheels returned, but better than they were before. They added other color tools like color curves, custom LUTs, and hue/saturation curves. Those never even existed in FCP before X.”

And that’s a nice segue into point #10, which references an old story fundamental to Apple’s development philosophy.

#10 – Henry Ford

I asked Chris to speculate what it was that had so set the post world on fire when FCP X first came out; what was it about this brand new editing paradigm that initially caused so much confusion and angst before fervor gave way to acceptance and improved efficiency for editors who took the plunge?

Chris turned to that famous story about Henry Ford—that if Ford had given people what they wanted, he would have given them a faster horse. He explains. “So it’s 1927 and you’re standing there at the Ford dealer about to buy a Model A car. And you’re like, ‘Well hold on, where do I get this gasoline that you say it has to have in it? You know, when my horse gets hungry, I hang an oat bag over its head, and he eats, and I can keep going.’

“And the dealer says ‘Yeah, yeah, but the gas stations will come. Buy the damn car, you’ll see. There’s going to be a future where there’s a gas station on every corner.’ And guess what? That’s where we live now.

“But imagine what a difficult sell it would have been back then. If you’re going to advance technology fantastically, it’s going to be a difficult sell. It always will be.”

I can’t help but think about the NAB show which recently finished its annual trek to Vegas. That show, and others like it, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will never be a dearth of creativity and innovation to move our industry forward. And if nothing else, history has shown us that the most forward-thinking technological advancements often result in fear and backlash from those either uncertain about the future, or afraid of change.

It happened when photography went from film to digital. You see it happening now in distribution with the advent of sites like Netflix challenging the traditional theatrical experience. And you saw it in 2011, when Apple killed arguably the most popular NLE on the planet to bring about a successor that paved the way for not just a faster horse, but a full-blown car.

Noah Kadner

Noah Kadner is the virtual production editor at American Cinematographer and hosts the Virtual Production podcast. He also writes the Virtual Production Field Guide series for Epic Games. Kadner has broad experience in cutting-edge production and post-production workflows and spent a number of years working internally at Apple. If you’re looking for advice or a turnkey virtual production LED volume in your facility, you can contact Noah via The Virtual Company.