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Walter Murch on Final Cut Pro X: 'I Can't Use This.' What Should Students Learn?

10.31.11 @ 12:29PM Tags : , , , ,

I know, I know, Final Cut Pro X has been slammed by many, so what’s the point in posting yet another article about it? Well, one question I’ve been asked a lot since the release of FCP X is, “I’m a student, what NLE should I learn?” Before, the answer was easy: Final Cut Pro. Now, not so much. Should a student commit to FCP X, assuming it will become the future standard despite being woefully incomplete at present, or should they learn Adobe or Avid, assuming Apple’s role in the professional, wage-earning editing world as we know it is over? It’s a tough question, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments. In the meantime, here’s famed editor Walter Murch (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather II, and The English Patient among many others) talking about the X at the Boston Supermeet:

I know people who know people on the FCP X development team, and I’ve heard they were dismayed at the response. Real people work on these products and it can’t feel good to have the entire internet bash years of your hard work. So, now that you’ve heard Murch’s thoughts — and even he’s not sure what to think — what do you think students should learn if they’re starting from scratch today? Keep in mind Adobe’s Mac editor is up 45% since FCP X, and that FCPX recently added XML interchange, though it still doesn’t offer an official solution for backward compatibility.

More details on Much’s appearance at Chris Portal’s blog, including the tidbit that his edit for the upcoming ARRI ALEXA-shot Hemingway & Gellhorn includes 255 repositioned or blown-up shots (a practice many consider “unprofessional” in its own right). The times, they are a-changin’.

[via Filmmaker Magazine]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 49 COMMENTS

  • Jacques E. Bouchard on 10.31.11 @ 12:34PM

    If you`re working for yourself, learn Premiere on PC. You’ll have more tools at your disposal, a vast variety of free, community-supported utilities (if you don`t know VirtualDub please never call yourself an expert) and you can periodically upgrade your editing station piecemeal without mortgaging the house every time.

    If you work for someone else, learn FCP, then still learn Premiere so you’ll have an edge on all the fanboys.

  • @Jacques agreed. for independents Premiere CS5.5 on a new multi-core PC is extremely efficient and powerful, and works well with after effects.

  • I actually just taught an editing class to my students last week. I decided to teach Premiere Pro and told them that they can apply everything I taught to Final Cut Pro 8 since they’re so similar. It didn’t feel right for me to teach a version of Final Cut that may not even be used in the future… unless editors just decide to stick with Final Cut Pro 8?

  • Want to be a pro? Learn Avid Media Composer.

    • Pretty much this. At Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony all I’ve seen are Avid Symphony and Media Composer Stations.

  • I teach my students Avid. I can’t talk for anyone outside of Sweden, but here it’s the standard NLE in television. When I was a trainee at a production company I got a job offer as assisting editor just by mentioning that I knew Avid. It was about 50/50 between Avid and FCP, but when X came a called some of my old work mates and asked what they were doing and they went 100% Avid. So it was a new-brainer for me when it was time to decide what NLE to teach. Personally, I’m an Adobe guy. Do tons of work in Photoshop and After Effects and love the integration between them and Premiere Pro (which was my NLE of choice even before using PS and AE)

  • @Geoff- Agreed, the CS5.5 workflow is genius. The Mercury engine is so fast and the integration with AE is so seamless it feels like cheating. For and indie filmmaker wearing a lot of hats especially it just makes sense to be able to switch from the NLE to the compositor for color grading or to quickly work on a clip.
    Laforet has a video on his blog with a cool walkthrough with an Adobe guy that will get you excited about what you can do in CS5.5.

  • Neill Jones on 10.31.11 @ 1:42PM

    Just learn how to edit, they are all just tools at the end of the day. When I was a student we were forced to use the 2 and 3 machine SVHS edits just to force us to learn the basics. Then and only then were we allowed to use the Avid machines in the second year. I worked on Avid for ten years almost after that and I was stubborn that it was the industry standard and nothing came close. Then once faced with redundancy and the need to freelance, I learnt Final Cut, as otherwise I would have limited myself on the jobs I could take. In my current role I now use Premiere Pro 5, something I again raised my eyebrows at when told that’s what I would be using, but I’ve since found it to be a powerful reliable editing tool. Switching between the three can mess with your head a bit, but after an hour or so it all makes sense again. Learn how to edit, then learn all to tools that enable you to edit. I still believe that the editing interface on Avid once learnt fully is the most fluid and speedy but obviously you lose time on getting footage into the thing in the first place these days.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head Neill. Also, I think some may have lost touch with the reality of the costs involved – it’s fine for many to claim to just go Adobe et al, but the reality is that for many students (or hobbyists like myself), that is a lot of money to pony up, so Final Cut X is an affordable foot in the door.

      • Graham Kay on 11.1.11 @ 4:34AM

        But don’t forget the additional cost (up to 100% it seems) of buying a Mac over buying a PC…

        • Graham Kay on 11.1.11 @ 4:38AM

          …Plus, even FCP users will end up wanting to use Photoshop and After Effects, so it makes sense to add Premiere for the integration you get.

          Granted, Adobe is expensive if you buy the whole suite – especially here in the UK where the price in £ is the same as the price in $, never mind the exchange rate…! But as a student you would be able to get a healthy discount on this (80% at present?)

          • But adobe suite is dirt cheap for students and works on a mac or pc ( I think around $350 for production suit including AE, Ps, Ai, and acouple other programs. )

  • You should learn every single piece of software that you might use. That’s what successful filmmakers are doing, that’s what tech-savvy kids are used to doing, that’s what any tech-based artist should do. Not because it’s cost-effective, not because it might earn you a wage, but because it improves your craft, teaches you to see workflow and technique as separate, and technique and form as separate.

  • While I certainly agree that at the end of the day these are all just tools and it’s the fundamentals that matter, lets be a little more pragmatic.

    If you want to work at a studio, as an assistant editor, or at a post house then learn Avid. It has advantages like better media management, better multi-bay work management, dedicated hardware support and so on. If you can’t afford the bells and whistles of an Avid system, then take some classes and get certified; it looks good on a resume.

    If you’re an indie studio or freelance, I strongly suggest Premiere over FCP. The ability to ingest native footage saves time and there are serious advantages to being cross platform (frameserving video to a command line encoder anyone?). The Adobe Creative suite has tools to allow crosstalk between Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop, and their newly updated audio editor Audition (a standard in radio production and making headway into recording studios). With their recent purchase of Iridas Technology and their ability to so deftly respond to customer request for features, Adobe has a lot of momentum with innovation.

    Do I feel like FCP will bounce back? Probably. The new version is basically a platform re-write. They lost ground and I think it’ll take a good 3+ years to see them work up momentum if they can get on a more nimble release schedule. Besides being the “first” affordable NLE with a good feature-set, it doesn’t have much going for it now and the next few releases will be a catch up game unless they can kill the market with an amazing set of new features no one saw coming.

    • What also worries me about FCP is the fact Apple is considering discontinuing their Mac Pro line of towers. This could put another major dent in workstation availability until more Thunderbolt peripherals are available (PCI-E capture cards, etc).

      • I think you might want to rephrase that, as there are only rumours that Apple may be discontinuing the Mac Pro, and many of the sources seem to be the same ones that swore the latest iPhone was going to be a total redesign. You say it though as if it were fact, which it isn’t (yet).

  • come on kids, get off the man’s lawn

  • Mike Bullock on 11.1.11 @ 12:44AM

    I’m with Arthur. I’m enthusiast photographer turned self-taught videographer/editor after hitting the record button on my DSLR earlier this year. Since then, I’ve landed 4 commercial gigs creating videos, including a web series for a major cable network. I actually own FCP8 and Adobe’s CS5 Production Suite and I still find myself migrating to FCPX for it’s intuitiveness. I fully realize this doesn’t come close to meeting the demands of broadcast- or cinematic level work, but how many people are there out there like me that need a tool like this? I’m guessing a ton. And when you look at the quality of the results vs. higher-end production techniques, the gap is closing quickly. Pros…please don’t take that as a slam. I’ve got a ton of respect for your work and aspire to get to that level through hard work. I’m just pointing out that Apple may be setting it’s sites for market with a larger base and faster growth. I, for one, appreciate what they’ve given me the capability to do.

    • Mike,

      It’s not so much as an attack on people with your level of need so much as Apple very obviously released a program that wasn’t ready. If FCP wants to remain a product for the professional segment like Apple promises it will be, then its re-coding made it stumble in the race.

      When there are features missing that people who work 8 hours a day need to do their job, it’s not a fun situation. Compound that with Apple stopping the sale of FCP 7 (a move which they reversed since) and they basically cut off supply of working software.

      Even though I’m dedicated to Adobe and didn’t feel any of the heat from these issues… still feels like a weird move for Apple to bounce back from.

  • Koo, the student version of Media Composer is only $295 and includes free upgrades for the next 4 years!

    I like Premiere but it still lacks some things. Might as well just get both. Adobe will have to copy some of Media Composer’s features at some point – and if you know them on Avid, you’ll have a head start understanding them in Premiere :) Same thing the other way around.

    At work, we’re an Avid shop (with a heck of a lot of systems)… and have a ton of work in at the moment. I think we’re currently employing more editors than at any previous time in the 20-year history of the company. If you want to be paid real money for editing, it can’t hurt to know Avid, Premiere and After Effects. Oh, and how to edit :)

    Also, Avid’s pretty good for indies. Not only is Avid fantastic for editing features on… but movie marketing gigs can provide a good cash flow for indie filmmakers. Two of the guys I work with are majorly-awarded indie feature film writer / directors. Doing movie marketing is a pretty enjoyable, lucrative and it can’t hurt to get good at marketing movies – since as an indie filmmaker you’re always in the business of marketing your next project (whether to investors, kickstarter or viewers).

    Thing is… I’m not sure if I know a single movie marketing place that uses Premiere as its primary editing tool. We all have it on our design computers (they all have Adobe Master Collection, Cinema, Maya, etc) – but again, it’s still lacking a few important features.

    So yeah, I think every student should just get both. Maybe start on Premiere, but have that student copy of Media Composer ready to go if/when you need to learn in a hurry in order to get a decent-paying job :)

    Sorry for the long post.


  • Like any other trade, the more tools you have in your belt the more apt you are at completing a variety of jobs. There is no one size fits all. I use Avid professionally everyday. I have also been using FCP X for shorter side projects that are DSLR oriented and require fast turn around. Every project is unique, in general learn as many programs as you can (Avid, FCP X, After Effects, PS, Nuke, etc). This will set you above other editors/assistants that you may be competing against for jobs.

  • I don’t think FCP X is as bad as everyone has made it out to be. I’ve been learning it over the past few months and I’ve switched all of my work from FCP 7 to FCP X. It took a while to get used to the interface I will have to admit, but once I did it’s become much faster.

    I shoot with DSLRs and when you compare FCP 7 to FCP X with a DSLR workflow, there’s no comparison. I would lose an entire day to just converting my H.264 codec to ProRes when I was still using 7. With X you just drop the clips in, that combined with 64 bit processing power, has really sped up my workflow.

    Now those things being said I am mostly a one man band and many people are going to dismiss my opinion as “prosumer” because I use DSLRs, but when you’re trying to make it in film you’ve got to use the tools that are available to you. I chose to shoot with DSLRs because that’s what I could afford, and that’s what it really boils down to. All of these cameras and editing software are just tools.

    What matters is that you put out quality work. So use what you think you can do your best work with. For me that happens to be FCP X. But honestly, learning as many different NLE editing softwares as you can will never hurt you.

  • Avid is available for students at the price of $300. Adobe Production at $450. I’ll choose between both. I chose Avid. It will be good to have both and get an immense amount of software.

  • There are jobs still out there with FCP7 so learning it still isn’t a bad idea. You can transfer a lot of that knowledge to Adobe Premiere, which everyone should learn due to it’s easy integration with the After Effects and the rest of the Adobe suite. Walter Bascardi of Creative Cow gives it high marks.

  • Derek Williams on 11.2.11 @ 3:50AM

    My college had just about decided to shift from Avid to FCP 7, we were about to buy another 7 suites when “X” was dropped on us. Everything is on hold now and to be honest we don’t really know what to do. Avid is very good, but the students generally hate it whereas FCP was so popular.

    I bought one “X” to trial it and there I’m afraid I have no intention of buying any more. It may well have a niche – and probably quite a big one in the home consumer market, but the way the timeline does things without being asked and the messy way the keyframes work to name just two gripes make it a no-no for teaching IMO.

    So it’s probably Avid for the media courses and Premier for everything else. Premier will probably win out because all the students are buying it for home use and seem to like it. It is, I have to say, really very good these days.

    “X” is not FCP, it’s something else. Had it been launched as something else no-one would have complained. What a mess, and not just for Apple, we’ve been dumped in it as well.

  • Before Boston, Walter Murch talks about Final Cut Pro X at FIF 2011 La Roche sur Yon

  • Premiere Pro is a good solution. or just stick with FCP 6 or 7 they have pretty much everything you need in an NLE with lots of tutorials on the web and a proven track record.

  • Cosmin Gurau on 11.3.11 @ 11:27AM

    Sony Vegas. How come nobody talks about Sony Vegas? I’ve been using it professionally for years, and before that I used Premiere Pro. Vegas is a million times faster, and although it has some occasional bugs, I actually found it more reliable than Premiere. Why does everybody consider that Vegas should be considered an entry level editing platform? Sure, there is no Sony After Effects, I admit that. A good reason for choosing Premiere is because it has great compatibility with After Effects. But really, if you put JUST Premiere and Vegas, they’re not THAT different in terms of what you can do with them. And before bashing me, ask yourself “Have I really really worked with Vegas? Do I actually know this software’s pros and cons or am I just jumping on the bandwagon.”

  • What about Lightworks? Its been used to edit many features and has the advantage of being free! Surely a big issue for students.

  • Learn multiple platforms and NLE. What’s the harm in learning them all! It’s all basically the same underlying functions and really interface learning cuve’s is all you have to manage. A good editor is focused on the craft, the tools always change. Walter Murch is a perfect example of that!
    The more in tune you are with them all the better you can adapt to the chaning editing world. Learn compression apps, color grading apps, motion graphic apps, 3D rendering apps learn all of them as much as you can and as best as you can.

    In the end what matters is the finished product not how you got there.

  • I’ve got to say, Lightworks is not getting the love it deserves. The laundry list of Academy Award winning films that have used LIghtworks to edit since it started 20 years ago is massive, and while I don’t have the statistics on hand, I’m sure the list is at least comparable to Adobe, FCP, or Avid, and probably better than at least one of them. In my opinion, people who want to be editors should learn Lightworks first, or even at the same time as they learn a nonfree NLE, and then familiarize themselves perhaps with the similar features in the three big companies, and expand on whichever they can most easily get their hands on. The full list Lightworks publishes on their website is here

  • The answer to this question is easy: an Editor (and especially an Assistant Editor) needs to be able to work on every platform. The tool is not the skill, it simply serves it. Your students should be exposed to Avid, Premiere, and Final Cut Pro X. I would include FCP7, but Premiere is pretty similar to it, and thus it shouldn’t present much of a learning curve.

  • I use and love Sony Vegas Pro, and some people like to mock that. Some friends try to convince me that Final Cut is what you need to learn, but, honestly, nothing in it has given me any inclination to switch. In fact, I’ve looked at some of it’s methods and thought I can do that much easier in Vegas. Eventually, I’ll buy a Mac, and learn the basics, but, right now, I’m very happy with Vegas and will stick with it until a project forces me elsewhere.

  • Why are people always so concerned about backwards compatibility? Sometimes to make real progress, you have to drop old formats. Finish your projects on FCP7, then upgrade and move on.

    I have used the trial version of FCP X for a month now and have actually been very happy. I see how people could be prejudice against it because it looks similar to iMovie; however, It has all the cutting features of the old FCP as well as many new ones in a really powerful new trackless timeline. Once you become familiar with the new techniques, you will question how some edits took so long to sequence in FCP7. Oh and one more thing: BACKGROUND RENDERING!

    I would say the only thing which really needs work is the compatibility with other pro software such as exporting OMF for ProTools and sending clips back and forth to After Effects or 3rd party colour grading apps.

  • I couldnt agree more with Mitch, i’v been using FCP for the past 5+ years on complex movie projects including features shot on Red, i switched from another famous editor to FCP and couldnt have been happier.
    Though i have not used FCP X personally, i’v been usinh iMovie on my both iPad & the iPhone. Its amazing.
    When i eventually do the transition to FCP X i’ll make sure i’v finished up on all of my ‘old’ projects.
    I do my own colorgrading too, so i’ll wait till X comes up with a patch for my Tangent wave device..
    Oh and i cant wait to have my ha ds on a 24inch iPad to control the time line on the X just i can do with on my iMove on the iPad ;-p

    I am simply too hooked with the whole Apple system and their whole integration with all the iDevices and the Apple TV2.

    Apple, please fix X soon..

  • I never used iMovie, always FCP6 or 7. Now I use FCPX. I like it because it’s different and interesting. The non-tracks are flexible to place clips anywhere I want, yet use magnetic when needed (wow!). With the free Pro Export from AD, I do (as I’ve always done) my audio processing in Pro Tools. Media management is great! ‘Don’t know if Compressor 4 is better, but presumably it is (ver 3 always got bad reviews).

    The app is somewhat buggy at times, but there’s a lot of potential in FCPX. It runs better on my old MBP than FCS, but I plan to get a new MBP in 2012. That’ll really ignite. Overall, I think FCPX is geared for future editors. Current and veteran “pro” editors shouldn’t touch this software. Just do what you do and let others enjoy FCPX, aka get outta here with your discouragement.

  • Hugo Jordan on 11.5.11 @ 2:39AM

    I think it’s important for students to keep up to date with every application that’s relevant. FCP was very relevant in the past, and perhaps may become more relevant in the future, but right now, is seems like Avid & Adobe Premier have become more relevant. (can we count how many times I use the word relevant.) You can’t just learn 1 application anymore. When I was in college, everyone said you had to learn Avid. And I did. A few years later, FCP became the hot application to use, and then I was a bit upset that I was sold so heavily on only learning Avid. Currently I use both, and they both have their pros and cons. But I know in the professional environment, I have an edge because I know both. So to answer the question, students should learn whatever’s relevant, knowing that it will change in the future, but if your committed to the craft, you will keep learning and adapting if you want to relevant. Cheers.

  • The problems with re-positioning or blowing up have never been about professionalism, itself. The problem has always been a technical mismatch. Since the beginning of film as an industry, there has been a frame larger then what is screened that has given some margin for re-faming.

    Blowing up beyond 5% would reveal a change in film grain. That has been the limitation. In any case it is at the director’s discretion, which overrides the editor respecting that which the D.P. has delivered. Photography has always included cropping as part of the process.

  • I rather like FCPX and so does everyone else in the office (about 30 editors working with a lot of stunt footage and CGI). But that said, we got it over the summer knowing that it was very different than FCS3 and with zero intention of doing anything more than perhaps cutting a couple of trailers or BTS stuff on it for the next year. This is our learning time and Apple’s real world debugging time.

    Back in April we already knew that we might need 10 more seats for an upcoming project and since we had the money we spent it. So we are good on FCS3 for the meantime.

    Others we know hate FCPX and switched. Whatever. in the end it’s not what you use but what you create that really matters. So if you can do the job in Avid etc, go for it.

  • Trying to figure out which application will garner the most job prospects is really tough. What is marketable today might not be so in the future. FCP had a 10-year prime, but who knows what app will have its prime. Students do not have it good right now. A lot of you suggest learning all three, and maybe throw in Vegas too. Ultimately I find that a person who knows or claims to know several high-end applications isn’t very good at any of them beyond the basics. It’s a watered down approach to editing. Take a chance and become immersed in one? Yeah, risks and predictions could make you poor or rich, and a lot of students might not be ready to work for a few years, and they’ll need a reel to show their application-specific skills.

    Also, given the filmmaking industry is in turmoil, it might not matter what anybody knows if there are no films to edit. With students graduating with debts as high as $120k, that’s something else to ponder. Will there be jobs available? Probably not. There will be fierce competition for few gigs. Veteran editors will retire and not be replaced.

    For students: 1) What software? and 2) Should you even pursue this discipline? Good luck!

  • I think the last thing any student should be worried about is which particular editing program to “master” in college. Learn as many as you can get your hands on. You are only limited by your access to software and at $300, FCP X is very accessible. But also sit down in front of Avid, Premiere and Vegas if you get the chance. Remember, these are just tools and film school is about learning technique (or at least it used to be). You will have plenty of time AFTER college to perfect your skills with your tool of choice. Be ready to tackle whatever platform becomes the industry standard for the NEXT decade.

    When Walter Murch was learning editing there was only one choice: cutting on film! When I was in film school we had 2 choices: cut on film or linear edit with 3/4″ tape. (Mostly it was tape, because the old film gear kept breaking and the University refused to replace it.) Even though Walter Murch and I don’t edit the same type of media, we do have one thing in common. We both have made our living the past 10 years with a tool that DIDN”T EVEN EXIST when we were college aged. But we are both still working.

    If you choose to go to a film school, go to learn TECHNIQUE, not tools. And there is no better time in your life than college to learn and develop editing technique. Take advantage of it.

  • FCPX is the worst tool for students to learn on. It just hides the complexities behind tools that make decisions for you and hide information about where everything really is.

  • I really don’t like FCPX, but i’m willing to give it a shot in a few more months.

    I am a student, and a guy who helped develop FCX came and “pitched” it to the higher ups of the college. I sat in on the meeting, but didn’t really learn anything new. 64 bit, magnetic timeline, etc..

    But even the guy said its not about what program you use it’s actually HAVING the ability TO edit!

    That said, I REALLY like Premiere CS6 and am bit saddened that the school decided to go ahead and upgrade to FCX