“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Cokes, Liz Taylor drinks Cokes, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again
I’m not sure when I first encountered that particular observation, but I recalled John Gruber citing it when he wrote about the iPhone 3G and I had that in mind yesterday when I drafted my reflections on what it means to speak of a professional market. There is only one Final Cut Pro. The software you install is the same whether you intend to use it on an iMac, a MacBook Pro or the highest of high-end Mac Pro systems. Because there is only one version it is able to provide the same core tools and experience for high school students as it does for editors in Hollywood. In many ways this has been the master stroke all along.
“[O]n Cold Mountain, we are able to have four Final Cut Pro stations, fully-equipped, for less than we would have had to spend for one Avid station. And to have four stations working on a feature film is a significant improvement over what you usually have, which is two. It’s good to have four burners on a stove when you’re cooking dinner. You can put all of them to use. You can cook a big dinner on two burners, but you have to juggle the pots and pans a lot more.
In addition, we were able to create what you would call satellite stations on four laptops equipped with Final Cut, offload the media for a number of sequences, and continue to work. So if we ever got into a situation where suddenly there was a huge amount of footage, we were able expand out to eight working stations.”
Walter Murch: An Interview with the Editor of Cold Mountain
This strategy has always made the rumours about “Final Cut Extreme” seem out-of-step with the direction Apple was pursuing. The turnkey solution involving specialist hardware and software is so rooted in the old, outdated model and Final Cut Pro has always existed as an alternative to that way of operating. In that respect, I don’t think FCP X is such a surprise. The world has moved on and to put it bluntly, the Mac of today is not your father’s Mac. I want to work with an editing tool that makes the most of contemporary technology. I want it to provide improved tools, which enable me to tell stories in different and exciting ways.
In case this sounds like I’m fetishising technology, Ken Russell, of all people, once chastised me for working with Super 8. I was curious about alternative practices in filmmaking and was embroiled in a passionate love affair with Derek Jarman’s films. “Don’t you realise Derek wanted to work with the latest technologies?!” While I was a little taken aback, I believe his point was that lower costs and greater accessibility of digital tools provided filmmakers with new opportunities and methods of working. The tools aren’t the whole story, but access to sophisticated tools opens up greater possibilities.
You could argue that in some respects the current FCP functions in other ways that are similar to the iPhone model (or given historical precedent, perhaps that should be articulated the other way round). In this space we see Apple providing a core solution, which editors are then able to adapt and customise to fulfil a specific purpose, if they so need, with products from a rich third-party ecosystem. If anything, this particular arrangement is only exaggerated when it comes to designing systems for the high-end broadcast market.
(Announcements like the recent partnership with AJA, suggests Avid is attempting to move closer to the FCP model.)
I’ve long held the opinion that Apple need not exhibit at large trade shows because, like it or not, Final Cut Pro still has a huge presence and is featured prominently on the third-party booths. It is this visibility that is testament to the strength and diversity of the ecosystem. I attended NAB in 2008 because I knew that even with Apple choosing not to exhibit, FCP would still be present and I wanted to see how the ecosystem would represent itself. According to the good folk at root6 this trend has continued, “[Apple] had no stand at [NAB2011], yet their products were everywhere.”. If you visit these shows or work in the industry, you know this to be true and more than likely you rely on tools provided by AJA, Blackmagic, Matrox, or perhaps DVS for I/O.
“To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some… just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form. That’s my opinion.”
Francis Ford Coppola, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
I do remember where I was when I heard this prediction. I was sitting in the darkness of the Triangle Cinema, still a few years away film school and I don’t think that I fully grasped what this could mean to me. 20 years (!) later I think that we’ve all heard the stories about movies made on a borrowed iMac or the first iPhone feature. More often than not these are the exceptions that prove the rule. But what if this is another turning point? What if FCP X represents the moment the lines between professional and consumer applications became blurred in the most radical way? Let’s imagine that the bar is raised rather than lowered. If it is, we may yet see such changes manifest and the world of filmmaking evolve.