The next holds a mirror under the corpse's nose to test for breathing; the third sticks a pin into the body to test for reactions. Finally, they all walk away, convinced that the body in the coffin is indeed dead. To those of you who, following the announcement of Final Cut Pro X, are ready to declare Final Cut Pro (FCP) dead in the professional space, that's the kind of evidence that I'll need to agree. Until then, consider me unconvinced.
It's not because I can't see Apple doing it: Over the last 5 years, Apple's professional apps have slid from the standard bearer of the Mac's suitability for creative work-the proof of the Mac concept-to an insignificant revenue item buried in the "other" category. These changes have come about much to the delight of all Apple shareholders, if not the FCP editing community. No, I can definitely see Apple letting its Pro Apps go (or, at least, muting the elements that made them essential in the pro space), but the evidence to date has been insufficient for me to draw this conclusion.
Let me start by saying that I haven't seen the program, and I wasn't in the crowd at April's Las Vegas SuperMeet (which happened at the same time as, but not as a part of, NAB) for the big outing. But those who viewed the presentation have generally reached two polar opposite opinions. As Dire Straits sang, "Two men say they're Jesus; one of them must be wrong."
One extreme is voiced by Matt Toder of Gizmodo, who commented, "When FCP X is released in June, the countdown will be on for FCP 7. Whether it takes a year or possibly less, support will dry up and eventually it won't be a viable editing platform anymore." One issue Toder and others raise relates to how FCP X will interoperate with other production tools, particularly with advanced audio editing and color management tools built into FCP X, and most commentators have assumed that erstwhile suitemates Color, Soundtrack Pro, and DVD Studio Pro will be left by the wayside.
This may be true, but it's certainly not written in stone. Respected FCP expert Larry Jordan reported that he spoke with Apple representative Richard Townhill at the SuperMeet, and Townhill told him, "The purpose of today is to focus exclusively on Final Cut Pro, highlight some of the new features ... We will have much more to say about both Final Cut and our other applications in the future."
Another divisive issue is the redesigned, partly iMovie-inspired, interface. Toder states, "FCP X shouldn't be about helping people who don't know what they're doing, it should be about helping people who do know what they're doing work better and faster and, most often, that means giving them the flexibility to work however they please, using the techniques they've developed over years of working in tough conditions."
A contrary view was expressed by Craig Bergonzoni of www.filmmakermagazine.com, who commented, "In post-production one of the main goals is to worry about the art and have the software all but disappear. ... FCP X seems completely designed with that standard in mind. ... Apple
is once again leading the industry and raising the bar with what we should except from an NLE."
Overall, my reluctance to assume that Apple has abandoned the professional space is because it's a silly and unnecessary move. To a great degree Hollywood gave FCP its original street cred, with Walter Murch's Behind the Seen (about the editing of Cold Mountain in 2004), an unabashed 360-page exaltation of FCP. Hollywood acceptance led to FCP being taught in film schools, which engendered a burgeoning base of highly talented FCP editors. All of this happened at just the right time, with Avid missing the boat on pricing and usability and Adobe without a viable Mac alternative. Perception became reality, and FCP became the must-have tool for new creative professionals. If FCP doesn't serve the needs of the Hollywood crowd, it will start to undo that entire process.
An Apple rep commented at the Las Vegas SuperMeet that there were more than 2 million FCP users. If each buys a computer every 3 years at an average price of $5,000, that's more than $3 billion a year in revenue for just the hardware, which is still a lot of dough, even to a company that just announced $6 billion in quarterly profits.
Whatever happens, the response of the Hollywood editing community will be critical to the NLE market going forward. If they reject FCP X en masse, that rejection will trickle down to all professional, and even prosumer, ranks. We'll know that within 6-12 months of product launch as opinions form and propagate.
In the shorter term, pay close attention to issues such as those raised by Toder-interoperability with other industry tools and the future of other complementary products, particularly Soundtrack Pro and Color. If these tools are upgraded to 64-bit, with a functional roundtrip editing path with FCP X, it's a clear sign of commitment to the pro space. If these tools are discarded, and FCP X doesn't support the full range of professional input and output formats, it' s a clear sign that Apple has abandoned the pros in search of increased revenue from the enthusiast market.
In the meantime, I'm not assuming that that's what Apple has done-at least until I hold the proverbial mirror under FCP X's nose and see if it's still a living, breathing product for editing professionals.
Jan Ozer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is the author of Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5 (http://amzn.to/ozer-book).