FCP X: Looking Forward While Looking Back

What FCP 1.0 might tell us about FCP X (and why the
Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893 is still instructive today)

It’s now more than a week since the great FCP X “mad dash” began, and the dust is far from settled. Time, I believe, for a useful look at Final Cut Pro history, to see if there are lessons in the past that can help us understand where FCP X might be going.

I was around for the release of FCP 1.0 in 1999. I bought it a few weeks after the initial release at NAB that year and remember being pretty excited… at first. It was stable, relatively easy to learn, and I got to explore it without the world looking over my shoulder telling me what I should or shouldn’t be thinking about it. Mostly, the experience was pretty good. However, considering the software’s later success, it’s easy to think it was a big hit right out of the gate — but that’s not how it happened. FCP had a reasonably rough journey from where it started to where it is today.

I remember being in countless online discussions in that first decade where others told me that I was flat out stupid for choosing it. It was “amateur software” they argued, no way ready for “prime time.” Sound familiar? The truth is that in the weeks directly after it’s release, it was a bold choice. It went against the established wisdom of nearly the entire professional video editing industry.

But to our credit, we early FCP editors were equally bold. We felt like pioneers, and no one could tell us what we couldn’t do our new software. We just wouldn’t listen. As FCP matured, we lived through revs that were annoyingly crash-prone, and spent time grinding our teeth (sometimes for months) waiting for FCP to catch up with other programs that had better titling and graphics integration, better media management, or longed-for features like Multi-Cam.

But while it was evolving, guess what? Our work kept getting done. Perhaps because we early FCP editors had little interest in focusing on what it might not do, concentrating instead on what it could.

I personally was told I couldn’t make broadcast video with it, right up to the day I got my first FCP-edited piece on the local news. I was told that I couldn’t key properly with it, right up until I sold a bunch of work I’d keyed with it. I was cautioned that to work in “corporate video” I’d need to dump FCP and switch to something “more professional.” But I just kept on “keeping on” with FCP, and you know what? All those critical voices died out — leaving me to continue using the software that eventually took me deeply into the corporate editing world and made me a very nice living through a lot of years.

And so in the current environment of radical change, some might assume that since a software package I’ve invested well over a decade in mastering might be disappearing, I would be freaked out. But somehow I’m not. Take it from someone who’s been there from the beginning — despite all the voices over the years that projected doom and gloom for FCP time and time and time again — the one thing that Final Cut Pro has never been is finished.

The voices I hear squalling about the new implementation? I understand them. They’ve got businesses and reputations and careers balanced on this particular tool. So change is more than annoying -– it’s scary. But I can tell you that one of the features of those early days with FCP was that we didn’t mind “scary” one bit. We thrived on it. In my experience, it’s a sweeter life when you get your cage rattled every so often. You can shun it or embrace it. What you can’t do is avoid it.

I miss those early days of FCP 1.0. And I know I’ll never get the same rush of discovery, even now with a fresh new FCP on my computer. We were the trappers and hunters that wandered the FCP continent while it was being settled. Those days were sweet… but they’re gone.

The new package comes after so much blinding success that the story of FCP X, as fundamentally changed as it is, will not be a story of pioneers. There are just too many of us using it now. We have to face the fact that we’re not the young radical cool editors anymore… we are the establishment. And like suddenly noticing a lot more hair growing on your ears as you age, that sucks. But it’s the price of success.

At the risk of torturing an outdated historical example, the FCP X release seems a bit to me like stories I’ve read about the Great Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893 (look it up) when the gun went off and a thousand wagons full of people rushed forward as one – each trying to stake a unique claim.

I’m sure that back then, there were a lot of old coots sitting on porches back east moaning that all the good “non-frontier” land was already taken — so there was no point in joining the younger folk in that great messy rush. But the future has always belonged to the people who understand that facing big risk is necessary if you want a chance to grab an equally big reward.

Not always. I get that. Sometimes failure is an option. And risk management is something that gains value as we move through life. But I’m hoping that it’s not ever going to be the primary driver of my business or personal life.

That would be sad.

So I’ll do what I think is smart. I’ll keep my current workflow intact. Install and start to understand X. And I’ll look to keep that Gretzky quote that Steve Jobs likes in mind. I can see that FCP X team is trying to skate to where the puck will be — and that sounds like a place where I would be comfortable as well — particularly if the alternative is to be stuck doing the same things the same way I’ve been doing them for the past decade.

The folks content to sit on the porch during the land rush? They didn’t understand that there’s always going to be a new frontier. All we can do is decide whether we want to go out there and see what’s happening — or sit this round out.

Sure other companies make fine editing software. But I don’t see any other software company taking the huge leaps that Apple has with FCP X. They’re playing it safe. Do YOU want to play it safe too? Is that the kind of artist or editor you’ve become?

Before you decide, imagine for a moment what’s going to happen if FCP X just follows the same development path that FCP 1.0 did? Years of improvements, added capabilities, and leveraging what the computer industry is moving towards – rather than clinging to what it used to be?

That sounds pretty interesting to me. So I’m in for the ride.

With the clarity of hindsight, I can now see that the original FCP, for all its initial imperfections, revolutionized video editing as we know it. No one can be sure if FCP X will do the same. But I do know that what the FCP development team is trying to do is move the industry forward. That makes sense to me.

I remember clearly all those voices that trashed FCP 1.0 every step of the way during its early years. Know what? They were dead wrong. With the clear perspective of history, we can now see that the early FCP nay-sayers totally and completely missed what it would become.

And in my opinion they largely missed it by concentrating exclusively on what FCP 1.0 was not and ignoring what it was. That’s instructive in the present, and I think that’s where the current FCP X discussion has largely become stuck. We keep yelling about what it’s not. And quietly ignoring what it is and even more important, what it’s likely to become.

If I’d joined the “what FCP isn’t” crowd in those early days — I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Feeling scared? That’s okay. Change is hard. But it’s also exciting.

Those wagon train pioneers back in Oklahoma? They understood the essence of progress. Keep an eye out for potholes in the landscape — but keep moving forward. Sure, a few pioneers DO end up being the folks with the arrows in their backs. But others go on to found cities, tame the landscape and live exciting lives.

This generation won’t have the sweet rush of discovery that we pioneers did. You’ll instead be battered from all sided by voices that tell you what you should feel about the experience of driving FCP X – well before you try it for yourself.

And I’m sorry for that. But I’m going to deal with it kinda like I deal with everything else in my life. Look to the basic truths for inspiration. If FCP X is good software that meets most editors needs — even if it’s not initially perfect — it will win in the end.

Just like 1.0 did.

Ready to go exploring? I am.

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About The Author

Bill Davis

Bill Davis owns and operates NewVideo, a production studio in Scottsdale, Arizona focused on corporate video projects. During his 20 year career in the visual arts, he’s been in demand as a voice talent, videographer, script writer, and producer. He became one of the earliest adopters of Final Cut Pro in 1999, and spent a decade as a featured writer and Contributing Editor at Videomaker Magazine. He is also the creator of StartEditingNow! — a unique modern turnkey editing instruction curriculum that ships with professionally shot, fully rights-cleared “multi-track movie” content for classroom editing instruction in middle schools, high schools and universities.

4 Comments

  1. Kevin Kelly on

    Bill,

    Wow what a great perspective!! I really enjoyed your story.

    I’m a video enthusiast with an amateur background. In the last couple years I have jumped onboard the Apple band wagon. I started using iMovie with my MBP to edit a bunch of old video I had taken over the years in various formats (Compact VHS, Video8, MiniDV). No big deal, or paid projects, just hobby related and invaluable family video from yesteryear.

    Recently I added a full blown iMac 27′ and the Sony NX5U Prosumer camera to my video tool set. I have gotten comfortable with iMovie and have been waiting for months for FCP so I could graduate to the “Pro” level editing software.

    I am one of the few perhaps, that finds FCP to be beyond my expectations as it leverages what I have learned using iMovie, adds Pro tools, and the promise of more cool technology. I am a babe in the woods regarding video editing and only do it as a hobby, but I really like FCP and am “ready to exploring” and grow my skills as Apple grows FCP.

    Just offering the perspective of one of the folks on the sideline of this robust discussion so you knew we are out here. Maybe I am skating toward where the puck will be and had no idea I was doing so. If the puck is there great, if not I am enjoying the experience of learning and using FCP.

    Regards,
    Kevin

  2. Thank you for this. I have also been using FCP since 1.0. I agree with you. Thank you or putting this into a logical expression. :)

  3. Your article takes a different approach on how to think about the new FCP X. It’s also the right approach. Your analogies are right on the money and have turned my attitude 180 degrees. I think the one biggest deal breaker for me was the price: how can a great editing program be worth only $299.00? Thanks for steering me back on track.

    Cheers,

    – Don

  4. Thanks for a voice of reason. Apple has a history of inovation and you put a nice perspective on the change nay sayers. Sure Apple could have handled it better. They are now responding with both the NYTimes and Apple FAQ. Interesting how many of the nay sayer claims are busted by the FAQs. This is mass hysteria as the old version did not suddenly stop working. Once again you can buy the old version. I hope your article along with the other objective voices of reason will calm the mass hysteria. FCPX should be viewed as the V1.0 of a new improved product. Apple is on top because it constantly challenges the status quo and breaks the rules.