What's wrong with the young FCP editor?
I was recently reading a blog post about an Avid editor’s experience with Final Cut Pro. There were both good points and bad points from this user’s point of view and a number of things he did and didn’t like. That’s not unusual when an Avid editor moves over to FCP for the first time. What really caught my eye was a comment at the bottom of the post. He was talking about a group of experienced editors sitting around discussing FCP and one of them made this observation: “How is it my son can make Final Cut work so well?â€ This kind of comment isn’t unusual at all as FCP is pretty much the editing platform of choice for the “next generation.” What generation am I in? I’m not really sure. I’m 36 so I’ve certainly used (and still use on a regular basis) my fair share of Avid Media Composer but I have also been a FCP owner since version 1.0 so I am a champion of both. Final Cut Pro came along at just the right time, at just the right price point and was just the right product to give a whole generation of filmmakers an affordable tool. FCP, a Firewire equipped DV camera, and a Firewire Macintosh was everything you needed. Many folks learned FCP and then began to call themselves and market themselves as an editor. But what I am consistently seeing from a lot of editors, “younger generation,” “next generation,” “sons” whatever you want to call them, is a real lack of some basic post production knowledge. There’s almost a total lack of knowledge about the offline/online workflow and almost an aversion to doing an online at all. Sure with newer formats and cheap hard drives and Kona cards the need for a traditional online isn’t near what it used to be. What used to be the online process of taking low resolution footage (AVR 3 anyone?) and recapturing to high resolutions isn’t necessary with P2 media, Pro Res, and even DV. But there’s more to an online that high-rezing footage. There’s quality control with video levels, color correction and color grading, formatting, graphics, masters and sub-masters, audio lay-back, and SD down conversion among a lot of other things.
But I’m also talking about something so simple as someone who has taken a mini-dv dub of D-Beta source reels and then doesn’t want to do the online because the dv footage “looks great!” There’s often a blank stare when you request an EDL. If the young editor does know how to generate an EDL (it is only a menu pull down after all) they very often don’t know how to check its integrity or even read the numbers that the EDL generates for that matter. Continuing in the offline to online vein, there is often no knowledge of why you would want to collapse your video layers down to a single track to avoid capturing a lot of unused media that is never seen on video track 1. I’ve taken a Final Cut Pro project on several occasions that had to be prepped for online and been confronted with an unwieldy timeline with many unused video tracks, clips turned off but left in the timeline, unused media that had been stored at the end of the edit left in the timeline (even when a list was generated) and just an overall sloppiness in the organization of the project. I know that every one has their own way of working but to leave this kind of sloppiness intact when sending a project to another editor or to a post house for online is something that was rarely seen before FCP came along. I’ve even been confronted with a project that needed to be rebuilt from a crashed, and very cheap, hard drive. It was unable to be recaptured as the editor used a cheap camera to capture the media and it didn’t capture the timecode. FCP could see the camera and it allowed for transport control but since no timecode was captured, FCP assigned its own. The editor was floored that we couldn’t batch capture. And that’s only after I explained the concept of batch capturing. He was happy to learn this was possible until we discovered there was improper timecode in the clips he had captured. I asked why he didn’t check the timecode upon his first capture. I got another blank stare and the response, ” I never do.”
Why is this kind of thing so prevalent in a Final Cut Pro world? I think the biggest reason is that you have people who aren’t really editors editing projects. Yes many people can push the buttons and yes many young directors want to cut their own projects but there is an overall scope to what the full edit of a project means that isn’t understood and isn’t being done. This is so much more prevalent with young editors who only know Final Cut Pro and have never set foot in a post-house. Most directors who edit their own projects aren’t quite as clueless. I don’t expect a director who has learned insert and overwrite in FCP to know the full checklist of editing but I do expect them to allow someone else into the edit to make the technical side work. I have a great workflow with a number of directors that lets me begin the project with proper set-up, organization and capture. I then do my own offline cut and pass it to the director for his or her own tweaks. After some back and forth I then take the locked edit back for the final preparation to online and audio. If there is no traditional “online” then I am able to properly finish it on my system. It works well, it full-fills the director’s desire to do some of his/her own editing but also acknowledges that they don’t know the nuances of the technical side so they let someone else handle that. This isn’t as easy when you have someone who claims to be an editor and is supposed to know this kind of stuff but doesn’t. They are often insulted when you try to teach them otherwise. As a freelancer there was one thing I learned; most post-houses have their own way of doing things and if I learned what that was then they were much happier to take on projects I was involved with. I think part of the problem is you have a lot of film schools that try to teach the art of the edit but they never deal with the technical side. I believe it was Robert Rodrieguez that said if you are technical and creative you are unstoppable. A lot of the other editors that didn’t go to film school have just bought a copy of FCP and learned it themselves. There’s an unbelievable amount of free tutorials and learning aids on the Internet so anyone can learn how to use it. But those tutorials that teach you how to make exciting things like glowing type don’t make any mention of boring topics like proper video levels and program formatting. I’m still amazed at how many times I’ve explained the concept of a program starting at an even 1:00:00:00 timecode on a master tape and how foreign that concept is to some people.
You also have plug-ins that are cheap and freely available but those plug-ins only reside on the system they are installed on. Once click can create amazing effects that were once only possible on a higher-end graphics system done by an animator. You might not have all of these effects available if you move from your system to another. Plus if you do have an edit go to online the online editor won’t have these effects available either. And as powerful as an online system may be, it can’t necessarily recreate those dancing, smoking fonts and crazy video looks that came from a stack of filters applied to a clip. Again, a lot of FCP editors just don’t understand why.
Of course many of these things discussed above are learned from doing. Either doing in the right kind of editing class or doing when working alongside a more experienced editor or doing from this point forward after making a mistake. But many a young editor who knows how to push the buttons of Final Cut Pro never have the opportunity to do these things so they never learn them. Many of them have no desire to learn any more than what they know that has gotten the DV or HDV project in and out the door and made a client happy. Some of them see no value in a larger post house at all, at least until the cable network refuses a show they have “mastered to mini-dv” due to problems with the specs. Let me be clear that I’m certainly not talking about all young FCP editors. I’ve had a number of editors from local production programs call and just want to sit quietly and watch an edit session. How boring is that!?! It’s actually quite exciting if your goal is to properly learn the craft. If you are a Final Cut editor working in your own little world, do yourself a favor and try to reach beyond the walls of your own room as there’s a lot more out there to post production than just your install of Final Cut Pro.