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Final Cut Pro X: First Impressions From Russell Johnson

Posted by Tony Muzzatti on October 8, 2012

I had the chance to sit down with seasoned video editor Russ Johnson and discuss his initial reactions from working on his first project in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. Over the last 14 months there have been many discussions around FCPX and the direction Apple is taking its post-production software. As an experienced Final Cut Pro 7 editor, I still had a few lingering questions that needed answers. So I sought out Russ Johnson, served up an unhealthy batch of banana pancakes, and started rapidly firing questions at him. Hopefully your camera crews can take away something from this.

How long have you been an editor and where did you get your start? What is your experience with Final Cut software?

I started my career in editorial working at a post house in Burbank that produced promos and syndicated cut downs. Back then we were still using 3/4 inch machines and doing online offsite. Obviously I’ve witnessed a lot of change over the years. Being an avid Mac enthusiast I purchased the very first version Final Cut Pro and have used subsequent releases pretty much exclusively over the course of my life as an editor.

Talk to me about your first impression of Final Cut Pro X. What stood out to you?

Final Cut Pro X1I know it’s been said by many other editors before me, but I was initially struck by the radical changes in the interface, and was left with a feeling of disappointment that the software seemed to devolving towards something in the iMovie family rather that ground up rebuild of a professional editing tool. That being said, I work primarily in a tapeless workflow world at present, and there was a part of me that respected the fact this seemed to be a forward facing product designed to stay ahead of where the production industry was headed. Granted, that may have been a little short sited for loyal FCP users who still shoot on tape, but or me the fact that X seems build to cater to a tapeless world was intriguing.

When Final Cut Pro X debuted there were many questions surrounding the capabilities of the software in comparison to FCP7. What changed that made you feel like it was time to dive in?

To be honest I started viewing the product through a different lens when I saw other professional editors demonstrating the FCPX and touting its many advanced features at this year’s NAB. The 10.3 and 10.4 upgrade releases also went a long ways towards convincing me that Apple hadn’t completely abandoned its pro user base.

What is still missing from FCPX that you wish was there?

iStock 000001880124XSmallWhile I believe I understand what they’re trying to accomplish with the introduction of the magnetic timeline, and the potential benefits it offers, I have a personal workflow that cannot be replicated using it. I can’t escape the feeling of being constrained by it. To be completely onboard with FCP X I will have to change the way I work, and frankly changing the way you work can be a good and positive thing. But when you’re busy, and your main focus is on completing the work you have in front of you, generating quality content in a timely fashion, it’s hard to incorporate a sea change in how you work. I suspect there are editors being raised on the magnetic timeline who will come to view it as the only way to work, and I’m prepared to give it a chance when time allows. I’m just not quite there yet.

Talk to me about some of the new features. What is in FCPX that you find innovative or sets it apart from Premiere or Media Composer?

The project I chose to get my feet wet with FCP X involved a lot bizarre and fantastical scenarios, a sort of horror/fantasy comedy. So I found the ability to quickly audition filters and “looks” in FCP X to be a real help. The selection of looks and filters bundled with the program was impressive to begin with, but I also incorporated some filters from companies like that made a variety of FX oriented shots move very quickly.

How do you feel about the workflow inside the program? Do you like the new file organizing changes or would you rather work with bins?

There’s a lot I liked about the way files are organized in FCP X. Its innate ability to separate footage using meta-data and “facial recognition” (groups of people that is, two shots, three shots, etc.) was a real plus, and tagging footage with additional identifiers was very easy as well. I didn’t really miss bins by the end of the project.

Let’s talk about its application and how FCPX is going to be used in the industry. Apple seems to be targeting this software to a particular audience, would you agree with that? What direction do you think apple is trying to go with FCPX?

iStock 000016363888XSmallThis is the big question isn’t it? Like many in the industry, my initial impression was that Apple was dumbing down the program and stripping out features with an eye towards expanding its appeal to the pro-sumer market. I no longer feel that way. Rather, I believe that they are targeting the next generation of content producers who are not yet wed to a particular platform. There are so many more outlets for video then when I started in the business, a huge demand for content exists and it’s just getting bigger. But increased demand doesn’t always mean increased budgets or production resources. Much of that demand is filled by one man band operations who have to go out and shoot on DSLRs, then edit and do the polish work all by themselves. I think FCP X, which does offer a robust set of features at a low price point, will have great appeal to people working under these circumstances.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m personally still on the fence about it, but working from beginning to end with FCP X on a project definitely got my attention, and I’m going to continue to educate myself on subsequent upgrades as they come down the pipeline.

Up until my discussion with Russ, the words Final Cut Pro X had a negative Pavlov effect on me. I had heard so many negative things from professional video editors that I was eventually turned off from the idea of trying FCPX for myself. After this discussion I can see that Apple is not abandoning their pro user base and FCPX is not a reinvention of the wheel like I thought 14 months ago. It caters to a new breed of production workflows and it opens a discussion topic that hasn’t been opened since NLE systems first appeared…is this the direction we want to go with post-production?

About Russell Johnson

Russ has spent the last 20 years learning about filmmaking by immersing himself in as many different aspects of the process as possible. He began his editorial career at the Burbank promo house “5 Guys Named Moe,” and is now proud to edit for the Dallas video based AMP Productions. His resume includes a laundry professional experience including writer, producer, director, script supervisor, editor, visual effects producer, puppeteer, and Universal Studios Tour Guide.


  1. I have been a Final Cut Pro user for 10 years. When I saw what Apple did with Final Cut Pro 10 I decided that I wanted to go with a trusted brand. I’ve been happily cutting on Premiere For the last year and love it. It works great with the other postproduction tools that Adobe has. Therefore I can’t see a reason why I should move to Final Cut 10.

  2. I need to give FCP X another look. I too have switched to Premier—awesome software. I bought The entire extended production suite when it was 50% off… what a deal. The one thing that would pull me back to FCP is AJA came out with a driver that will work with FCP X and my ioHD which is how I monitor video when I cut. In a perfect world it would work with Premier CS6.

  3. Adobe Premiere seems to be absorbing much of the FCP community. I have been editing on Premiere personally since 2003, but professionally I have been editing in FCP since 2007. I altogether stopped editing in FCP about 2 years ago and now strictly edit everything on Premiere. The communication premiere has with AE and Photoshop make it seamless to move projects between the array of tools Adobe CS offers. It is not likely I will ever go back to FCP after everything I have learned about it, but that is not to say it cannot still be considered professional editing software. Thanks for sharing your experience Donal and George!

  4. I’ve used everything from Vegas to Premiere to Fcp7, at various stages of maturity (the software, not me.) My biggest concern as an employer was always the ease with which the software could be taught and learned. Based in the Midwest, the talent pool wasn’t as big as the coasts. If I were hiring now, I’d standardize on FcpX, because the new crop of creatives love Apple, and once you get past the negative buzz, X is the least frustrating editing software and most capable software I’ve worked with.

  5. It does not matter what little upgrades you get, the reality is the brain drain from the engineering crew that dev finalcut at Apple. Close to 40% of the people who were valuable to the finalcut product have left. The remainder have seen the budgets cut. Unless there is an infusion of money and talent FC is not coming back as a pro product. We are seeing Adobe spend tons of money on Premiere and video over the past few years as PS as about maxed many returns out. Adobe is leveraging video as a medium for income. It was the upstairs folks who saw video in everything that opened up $ to the Premiere team and the hiring. This is why that is growing. Adobe is for content creation. Apples biz model does not need that nor will for the near term or even long term. Apple is switching to consumers, not pros.

  6. We moved to Adobe’s cloud service and after a month of use we throw Premiere out of the window! Then, we gave a try to FCPX. It really started rough too. But after 2 weeks of intense work, we begin to love the things we hate. Then, the workflow has been speed up in way that we can’t do before on any NLE.

  7. I’ve switched to FCPX for most stuff. I agree about the magnetic timeline, and I have a feeling that will see something of an overhaul in the not-too-distant future. But secondary timelines and compound clips give you flexibility and are actually quite cool. The real kicker, though, is the integration with Motion. The fact that I can build my own transitions, my own looks and filters, hell even my own SCENES and use them directly in the editor is huge. To do the same thing in premiere, requires a round-trip to After Effects. Which is cool in it’s own right, and that USED to be standard…. but I believe what Apple is doing is amazingly innovative, and while it still has some bugs to work out, they’ve made it very clear, to me at least, that they are in the game. Can’t wait for the next update to hit.

  8. I can understand why so many people are moving to Adobe Premiere, it is hard leaving a comfort zone….
    I went from Final Cut 7 to Premiere then to Final Cut Pro X then to Premiere and back to Final Cut Pro X (FCPX).
    Lots of things I loved about Premiere, but more things I loved about Final Cut X.
    I’m a 5D shooter and the two biggest things for me that I loved about FCPX is super fast workflow and integration with Motion 5.
    Open FCPX connect my camera and bang, window pops up asking me to import, simple. Converts to Apple ProRes in seconds.
    Colour grading is simple also and FCPX does an amazing job.
    My current workflow.
    FCPX & MOTION5, exported with COMPRESSOR.
    For extra colour correction, effects and more refining, I use Autodesk SMOKE with mochaPro.

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