The Editor's Spin: My Movie Business
Posted Mar 4, 2004

From the first time I captured my son's fetal heartbeat on CD and sent it to his grandparents, I knew from their reaction that CDs would soon give way to DVDs and I'd find myself in the movie business. Of course, it's not entirely new to me. I began dabbling in personal event videography a year and a half ago when I edited and authored a DVD from video captured at my wedding. Since then I've worked on another wedding, two births, a bris, a speech, and—since my son was born—roughly a slideshow or DVD-Video a week to keep the grandparents satisfied. Say hello to Hollywood.

I've used a number of different tools on these projects, including consumer and prosumer video editors and DVD authoring tools. Occasionally my choice of tool has been project-driven—complex edit jobs call for editing-specific tools, and low-light video or subpar audio calls for mid-range editors with the cleaning tools to bring the content up to snuff. Quick-turn projects with minimal editing but expectations of attractive, easily navigated DVDs call for simple DVD-oriented tools. And then of course there are projects that require both, usually because the NLE of choice doesn't do DVD output.

Because I only moonlight as a movie-maker, and my main line of work is editing EMedia and reviewing products herein, the logic of expediency usually dictates the tools I choose for each project. Whatever is the flavor of the month on the test bench tends to get the job unless it's ill-equipped or mismatched.

So I might do a bris with Media Studio Pro, a birth with Final Cut Express, a wedding with Studio 9, or a dozen quick-and-clean, soundtrack-driven slideshows in MyDVD. Most of my projects fall somewhere in the MyDVD-to-Studio 9 range; I rarely require the editing power of FCP or Premiere or the layered and nested menus of Photoshop-abetted DVD products like Encore or DVD Studio Pro. And while I'd recommend Studio 9 to any personal videographer with even modest editing ambitions, you're better off with MyDVD if your goals are editing-light and DVD-specific. But the key to selling tools to the consumer market is not so much matching the tool to the project as matching it to the user.

One thing that's important to understand about consumer software is that, conceptually speaking, it's much more difficult to develop than professional tools. Granted, software engineers and video editors don't have identical left-brain blueprints, but it's a lot easier for a software engineer to look inside the minds of expert users with isolated expertise than entry-level consumers who bring nothing to the table but high, vague expectations that have more to do with popular entertainment than personal vision and know-how. Who simultaneously want a little of everything and a lot of nothing—no tech-speak, no low-level coding, no content fine-tuning or process management.

CD recording software engineers faced this challenge long before makers of NLEs or DVD authoring tools did, simply because their technology achieved consumer awareness and inexpensiveness first. And while DVD authoring-tool vendors were learning the delicate art of making magnificently dumbed-down yet powerful tools, the CD-R guys were on to the next step: connecting the dots of consumer desire in multifaceted integrated tools. Roxio did it first with Easy CD & DVD Creator 6, which set a new standard for versatility, combining all-purpose CD recording, basic DVD authoring, and DVD recording in a single tool. They didn't put meat on all those bones—Creator was as robust as ever, but DVD Builder was no MyDVD—and the clothes they hung on them didn't match. But they made their point, threw down the all-in-one gauntlet, and sent every vendor of CD recording and consumer DVD authoring apps back to the drawing board.

Nero responded with an equally versatile, equally flawed multipurpose tool. Then Sonic shot back, leveraging their Veritas Desktop acquisition in MyDVD 5 Studio Deluxe. The integrated RecordNow wasn't up to its usual standard, but the latest MyDVD 5, with a little video editing thrown into the mix, was well-nigh irresistible.

The next answer to Roxio's challenge came from Ulead, whose MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator, just released at this writing, features a CD recording application, MyDVD-like on-disc editing, and a cool "Multi-trim" video editing tool (for making scrubber-based multiple cuts from individual clips) that's exactly what the doctor ordered for video editing in these jack-of-all-trades tools.

Which brings us back to Roxio, who appears to have raised the stakes again. Their latest, Easy Media Creator 7, demo'd for EMedia in late January, may blow them all out of the water. This is no review, since I haven't used the product yet myself, but the demo was far from slick and nonetheless stunning. Creator 7 adds the estimable VideoWave NLE and PhotoSuite image editor, improves DVD Builder, and replaces that silly launch screen with a very manageable Explorer interface and an exceptionally handy task list feature that makes for logical and accommodating application triage. The video editor includes multitrack mixing and noise reduction. The photo tool offers some basic image panning (increasingly the rage in the hobbyist ranks), including six types of panning automation.

And it does it all for $99. That's probably the coolest thing about the state of competition in the consumer content creation space—it's not a price war; all the tools cost $99 or thereabouts. It's all about upping the feature ante and reducing the number of tools a user needs to buy. The all-in-one approach shouldn't be mistaken for one-tool-fits-all, but it's a huge boon for those it fits. And for those of you it does, welcome to the movie business.