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Our favourite NLE is ten years old today. We look back at its launch, the troubled early years and what the future might hold as Final Cut Pro goes into early adolescence.
It is hard to stress Final Cut Pro's impact on the industry before FCPX. Yes, there were large installed Avid houses who scoffed at the thought of a cheap NLE and lower chargeable rates, but apart from those, as FCP had made editing available to so many, it was everywhere.
We had all watched the bootleg preview of FCPX from NAB back in April 2011 and expected a lot. Apple had 'bought out' the LAFCPUG meeting and demoed the new app to editors who had queued up to get in.
The simplification of the timeline looked incredible when the same cuts were shown in FCP7 and FCPX side by side. We had skimming, live waveforms, the magnetic timeline and clips getting out of the way when things moved. Features that really did look like they were the basis of the next generation of non-linear editors.
All FCP7 fans had been looking for major speed increases, over the last few years we had spent a lot of time staring at that render bar. Mass transcoding files to one codec to avoid crashes even led to rap videos.
The new technology that Apple had wrapped into FCPX made it feel like this app couldn’t fail. It was going to be fast. Videomaker was convinced, they awarded the unreleased Final Cut Pro X 'Best Editing Software' at NAB.
But the cracks had already started to appear.
Rumours started to circulate that features were missing out of the new app, such as capture from tape. A hack of Ripple Training's servers didn't help when social media posts showed screen grabs of a very slimmed down list of preferences.
The comparisons between FCPX and iMovie started, (which to be fair the app hasn't shrugged off to this day) unfair now possibly, but the Rottweiler Scott Simmons immediately got his teeth into an iMove/FCP comparison video.
Apple's server's must have glowed hot on June 21st 2011 when FCPX 10.0 was finally released.
Editors across the globe downloaded the app and started to explore the new features. It was a big change and we think the majority of users were left a bit dumbstruck as their 'tool of choice' had been completely changed to the point that they had to relearn how to edit.
Features were missing, there was no broadcast output, no tape ingest, but these were dwarfed by the realisation that you couldn't open old FCP7 projects in FCPX.
Not strictly true, as Philip and Greg from Intelligent Assistance had been holed-up in the Apple skunk works developing an app that could take FCP7 XML and convert it into FCPXML that FCPX could read.
The launch was coupled with one of the most mindless marketing decisions Apple has ever made.
They killed Final Cut Pro 7
Overnight, FCP7 went from being the leading industry NLE, to an app that you couldn't buy and Apple didn't support. To paraphrase Steve Martin - The change from FCP7 to FCPX should have been a dissolve, not a cut. Unopened boxes of Final Cut Pro Studio 7 became like contraband as facilities scoured resellers for the last units.
Final Cut Pro X was attracting a lot of criticism, some of it very public and very embarrassing. In a lot of industry people's minds, it has never recovered.
I can't really judge how the Final Cut Pro team must have felt a few months after the launch, it must have been tough. But to their credit, they kept their heads down and carried on releasing updates, lots of them.
FCPX started to attract a following of editors who had ignored the barrage of negative social media and had actually tried it out. (FWIW I still encounter editors who are very vocal about their disdain of FCPX even though they have never used it!)
Users were attracted to its speed, the organisation tools, the ease with which they could upload to YouTube and Vimeo and more. Slowly Apple bought back features and added some reimagined new ones. Seven months on from its launch, the syncing of footage and the new multicam tools in 10.0.3 were revolutionary - no other NLE could touch it.
There was also the start of the huge FCP ecosystem. There were probably more FCPX tutorials on YouTube than all the other NLEs put together. The building of titles and effects in Motion led to the creation of a now super-saturated plugin market.
It seemed every six months we got a release that not only fixed bugs and fine tuned FCP for speed, but also came with new features, some aimed at regaining the pro market.
Those FCP7 editors who hadn't made the move to X, just carried on editing, it all still worked.
The brief of Adobe Premiere's new Product Manager was 'To eat Final Cut Pro's lunch'. It started with one of the most amazing pieces of software alchemy out there. They made Premiere's GUI dark, trying to shake off its rather Soviet inspired sparse light grey look. It was touted as the direct replacement for FCP7 for all those who didn't want to make the jump to FCPX.
Underneath its new appearance it had the same old clunky, crash inducing code and the Adobe engineers embarked on a long game of 'Whac-A-Mole' squashing bugs.
But it started to gain traction, even though it lacked essential editing tools like a Clip Mixer. To their credit, Adobe listened and added features as fast as they could, which in a way was a problem as some of them were not really that well executed.
FCPX was a source of inspiration, Skimming led to HoverScrub, Motion plugins led to the nightmare that is MOGRTS, the multicam tool could now do more than 4 angles. They were developing at a pace that was to outstrip Apple and in the industry's eyes, they had made FCP8.
Its biggest selling point though, was that it was available on a lot of users systems already. If you used Photoshop and/or After Effects, then you could get Premiere for free in the new Creative Cloud subscription. Going cross platform also helped build the user base.
Whilst all this was going on, Blackmagic whose wallet was bulging after selling so many I/O cards, had acquired da Vinci Systems. Grant Petty's mission was to provide colour correction tools to everyday video and film editors that had previously cost hundreds of thousands of Dollars.
He did a good job too and many productions were tripping over to Resolve for finishing as FCP users were rather underwhelmed by the basic Color Board.
But Grant had a bigger plan, NAB after NAB saw a new Resolve launched with evolving editing tools. We are now at the point where Resolve is perceived as an editor with advanced colour correction as opposed to a colour corrector with good editing tools!
The pace of Blackmagic's development of Resolve has been very fast, couple that with a free version that anybody can download and use - and you have the reason why Resolve is gaining support across the board, from broadcast TV to YouTubers; feature films to weddings.
Both Premiere and Resolve have learnt from Final Cut Pro, they have used the app for inspiration, but moved forward in the traditional 'two-up' source and record paradigm that editors are very comfortable with.
Oh, and during these ten years, Avid has just been Avid.
We got in early with an article about what we would like to see in Final Cut Pro over the next ten years, so we won't bore you with duplication.
Looking back over the ten years, we think Final Cut Pro's perception in the film and TV industry is still coloured by the rather disastrous launch. Thankfully, the person (above the FCP team) who was responsible for that colossal marketing misjudgement has left Apple.
Premiere and Resolve have silently and slowly mopped-up the editors who don't want to liberate themselves from tracks, bins and audio patching.
The way forward for Apple is two pronged, innovate and then communicate with users and potential users.
Firstly, Apple is positioned perfectly with the new M1+ machines to tune FCP for maximum performance that the other NLE companies will struggle to match. They also need to get their development mojo back now the transition to Apple Silicon is well under way. Surely a super-simple but very powerful collaborative workflow is just around the corner?
The last few releases seem to be a bit thin on the ground feature wise - will 10.6 be the large update we have been waiting for? (Dupe detection anyone?)
Secondly, Apple needs to shout more about how great Final Cut Pro is. Now, we are not suggesting a TV spot like Adobe's Premiere Pro commercial that probably only touched the NLE to match back up with the soundtrack. We are talking about getting back involved with the community.
Apple has axed its training program, its certification process, it doesn't officially appear anymore at NAB or IBC. Over the last few years, things have slightly changed, the Cupertino omertà lifted with the chance to question the Pro Apps team at the FCPX Creative Summit.
But, it's not enough!
Apple need to promote Final Cut Pro more. It's worth it, it sells Macs.
The amount of users wanting to produce video is growing day by day and FCP needs to be in front of them as they make a choice on how they are going to edit. FCP will always have the users who have upgraded from iMovie, but there are so many more who now see Premiere as the 'Pro solution' and thus the thing to aspire to.
This is well within Apple's power, they have a track (no pun intended) record of changing the way people think or completely revolutionising an industry with a product.
So, after a difficult birth and competition from its siblings, let's hope that Final Cut Pro grows into a popular teenager that everyone likes.
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