< Back to all posts
Final Cut Pro X: First Impressions From Russell Johnson
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?
I 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?
While 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?
This 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.