On September 2, Intelligent Assistance announced the release of two software programs that, depending on your point of view, are either revolutionary or just plain revolting: “First Cut” documentary editing software was first announced at the NAB Final Cut Pro Supermeet as “Th Assistant Editor.” The program takes in editing log notes similar to what would already be entered into the system for long-form documentary editing–and then automates the process of creating first cuts with story arc, B-roll and lower third titles.

First Cuts interface

With this automated first cut in place, documentarians would then be able to explore options available in the material and “juxtapose different versions while they seek inspiration and direction,” says Intelligent Assistance co-developer/CEO Philip Hodgetts.

“You have a lot control because you’re building it out of the key words you enter,” he explains. “In one or two words, tell us what scene it relates to or the subject it relates to. So you’re creating a cut that makes sense, with a story arc. We think people will use it interactively. I use it as a starting point for editing and it’ll be how some people will use it. Others might use it for inspiration and then start over from scratch.”

The second software program, “Finisher,” as its name suggests, fits at the other end of the editing process, taking A-roll edits and adding lower third titles and B-roll in seconds. Finisher will use all log notes provided, but doesn’t require them to do the job. “These tools fit a new class of software for editors called “Assisted Editing” because they assist the editor by dramatically increasing productivity and reducing the time to finished results,” says Hodgetts. “it’s time we offloaded some of the easier editing functions-–such as a first cut for a documentary– to software.”

Needless to say, the controversy that erupted was immediate, with editors sounding off on a Yahoo-based Avid list-serv among other sites. The gist of the horrified and sometimes angry response was that the Intelligent Assistance software is the editing equivalent of a drum machine. “Artificial” intelligence when it comes to editing is an oxymoron, say the critics. Others complained it reflected the formulaic, cookie-cutter editing of some TV shows. But not everyone complained. Some see it as a logical step to streamlining the editing process and one interested editor wanted to see an Avid version as well as the current FCP version.

Hodgetts answers the critics who think he’s gone too far. “We’re not creating art with this,” he says. “We’re creaeting a tool that lets an editor or producer get a hand on the material and get to a first cut quickly, very quickly. If you put in log notes, which you’ll be doing anyway, you can turn that log notes into edits, and then think about how you want to work with it.”

He reports his own experience of taking 13.5 minutes of footage of a “First Cut” edit. “I scripted out all the B-roll, moved things around, took out duplications, and I had 7.5 minutes of a worthwhile first cut in 45 minutes including the time going out to First Cut. That process would ordinarily have taken days.”

“It’s a tool,” he concludes. “It’s not about killing the editor. We’re just saying, Here’s another way of using the computer to make you more efficient as an editor and focus on the real role of being creative.”

Hodgetts and his co-developer/vp technology Dr. Gregory Clarke plan to introduce the tools to the editing world via Tupperware-type parties.

On a personal note, as the director of a documentary, the idea of being able to create a first cut so quickly is beguiling and a little scary (what will the “machine” do with all my precious footage?). But I realize the first cut won’t resemble the finished product, whether it’s arrived at in a painstaking traditional way or via computer. It’s something I wouldn’t mind trying on my next documentary.

Intelligent Assistance’s First Cuts is available now for US$295 (MSRP). Until September 17, it is available for US$245. First Cuts includes all the functionality of Finisher. Finish is available now for US $149 (MSRP). Until September 18, Finisher is available for US$99.