The overarching meme of the FCP X saga has got to be the “Pro” angle. You’ve almost certainly read the articles yourself and know the score already. I’m referring, of course, to the squall of questions and unbridled speculation around whether FCP X is really aimed at the “professional market”. These claims are often supported by the “it’s just iMovie Pro” trope and filled with arguments about whether the software will really support the tool set or workflows required by professional editors. Without testing the software in a meaningful way I think that it’s impossible to say one way or the other, but that doesn’t appear to be stemming the tide of opinion — or official response.

(For the record in an interview for MacVideo recorded at the SuperMeet, Steve Martin, President of Ripple Training, who actually seems to have some concrete insight, doesn’t agree that the sky is falling.)

As the storm rages on, I’m increasingly intrigued by how the term “professional” is being used and what it’s taken to mean. If we consider how it has been applied, it seems frequently to be used not only as a means of asserting the validity of ones own experience, but also as a way to exclude and reject other sectors where media production occurs in a professional context. I’m sure a lot of us are rankled by elitism, but in this situation, I’m truly surprised that the perpetrators don’t see how blinkered and prejudiced their arguments appear.

When Final Cut Pro made its debut in 1999, one of the things that justified the “revolutionary” tag was the price. 12 years later, it’s perhaps difficult to recall how radical the departure was, but $999 lowered the bar for entry, it provided new opportunities and ultimately changed the post production industry forever. Those of you with memories as long as mine will remember well the taunts that FCP was not suitable for professionals. Back then FCP was widely derided and in some quarters, the disdain has persisted to today. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Final Cut Pro is often still regarded and dimssed as a “toy”.

One of the perks of my job as a trainer and consultant is that I have chance to work with folks from all manner of backgrounds. I meet the editors who cut with Avid by day, while working with FCP on independent projects at home. I have opportunity to train Avid stalwarts who are pleasantly surprised to discover so much of what they understood about FCP to be myth. For those with previous knowledge of Final Cut Pro, I will often advise more efficient workflows and ways to further integrate other applications in the Final Cut Studio suite. What is striking about the last crowd is that I never can tell where they’ll come from. Amongst the more predictable broadcasters, filmmakers, journalists, teachers and students, I’ll encounter anthropologists, web designers, visual artists, bankers, programmers, police officers (and their civilian co-workers), soldiers, youth leaders and campaign workers. I am never surprised anymore and it’s always intriguing to learn about how they’re using the tools. In fact that’s the one thing that unites all these people, in some way, they are working in a professional capacity with FCP to create original content. These are new jobs, new roles, which have altered the face of media production, as much as the internet has challenged and changed established distribution models. Just as digital NLE’s transformed the cutting room, there’s no turning back now. And when these people complete the courses I teach, they often come away with a greater understanding of how to work with the software than many broadcast editors. If I’ve done my job correctly, they will have an increased capacity to tell their particular stories more effectively.

As the release of FCP X draws nearer I can’t help thinking that we’re facing another shift. Only time will tell if it will be as dramatic, but history isn’t on the side of those who choose to resist it.

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  1. chris maytag says:

    I consider myself to be a “professional user” of FCP (and many other related tools, from AE to C4D and so on), but have never claimed that my skills are “professional” in measure. I don’t work as a feature editor. I don’t have “A.C.E.” after my name. I’ve never edited a feature, a doc, or even a commercial. But iMovie and its ilk are nowhere near what I need to do my job, and I use FCS every day to do that job. I value its toolset, I long for better ones, and share the mix of excitement and dread felt by many “real” editors in light of the FCPx announcement. The real test — and the only one that matters, as far as I’m concerned — is whether the new suite will help people accomplish what they want to do better, faster, and more creatively.

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks, Jonathan, for these reasonable and intelligent thoughts. I have been following the furor over FCP X since last week and yours is the first that zeros in on what is “wrong with this picture”. I have started to rail against some of the bloggers who wear this “professional” mantle like it was the armor of angels…then let it go because their collective hubris got me so pissed of I could not think straight.
    The irony for me is that the vast majority of the complainers who claim the “pro” title exclusively for themselves, as best I can infer, are TV and big post house folks. Having spent my entire first career in that industry (as a suit at pretty senior levels who often found myself saying about post houses…”I paid this for THAT!”) my experience is that the people who are complaining the most are, in a hell of a lot of cases…technicians. Or more accurately, as I knew them. Wrists.
    They had the skills to run the machines (back when it was film to tape or tape to tape…then evolved to computers and digital) and charged a fortune for it, but that was it. Not much for them has changed as technology has evolved. They still sit at a keyboard and do what they were told by producers, directors or agency guys…like me. They were and are assembly line workers. Very modern assembly line workers who once in a while have some input into the process but assembly line workers none the less. Successful. No doubt. Making some pretty serious money if they rent out their chunk of the assembly line? You bet.
    But here is my point…they may be professionals, but as long as they exhibit the arrogance many of them have exhibited relative to FCP…that Apple is ignoring them and only paying attention to all of the amateurs out there…they will never be pros.

  3. I for one would love to see the “Pro” tag dropped it is just a badge to make us feel like we are getting our moneys worth. And whilst we are at it let’s drop the price too and encourage more users. We may then get to a point where Editors are judged by their cuts and not the kit they operate.

  4. JET says:

    @chris my only intention here is to challenge the narrow definition of professional that seems to seep into the discussion. I wholeheartedly agree there are tools which we rely on today which are vital to current workflows. I understand their importance or relevance — in fact an aspect of my job is to help people understand the potential. At the same time I’m not adverse to reconsidering what the possibilities are and learning new ways to get the job done. As a corollary to that point and of course as a trainer I’m biased but, I firmly believe there is scope and opportunity for in-depth training to help a wide range of people better understand the tools they work with day-to-day.

    @Mike I recognise your frustration, but I certainly hope you’d be more gentle with me should we ever end up in an edit suite together! I would like to better understand the expressions of outrage. Yes, it makes a more compelling story and shouting can get you noticed, but as you suggest it’s not the most attractive way to behave and ultimately it just doesn’t serve the interests of their case.

    @Malcolm I sense there’s a bit of a utopian in you! (You might say it takes one to know one.) It’s true, it would be nice if the tools got out of the way. I believe in training for this reason. I look forward to seeing which rules and assumptions FCP X challenges.

  5. The ongoing battle we see here with the ‘Pro’ vs. ‘no-Pro’ users of FCP, Premiere, Avid and on, is a complete Deja vue from the 90’s where typo professionals argumented why Desktop Publishing with PageMaker and QuarkXpress never would be a professional tool, and didn’t fit into a production workflow. Just look at who and what is defacto standard today. This is what we are experiencing with video, film and moviemaking now. The best part is – it puts the story in center, and not the tool.

  6. JET says:

    @Jens yes, I agree there are clear parallels to desktop publishing, but editors have also experienced changes closer to home. The transition from film is a relatively recent example, but there were earlier developments to the tools that would have required forward-looking editors adapt.

  7. […] around FCP X has shown a great many of us are labouring under the misapprehension that these labels still matter. While we argue a generation of filmmakers have moved […]

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