In my travels, I’ve had to do a fair number of Automatic Duck project conversions. While I was learning this process, I found that there wasn’t much good information containing tips and tricks about making this process smooth. Especially now with the exodus from Apple because of FCPX, streamlining this process is more essential now than ever. I don’t propose to know all the answers, but I thought it was high time somebody started putting down their experiences so that we can start working towards some kind of a “Best Practices” document. I’m humble about my experience here, but I will say that I’ve done it a fair amount and I think my tips are good. I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a note in the Comments section and tell me what I got right or wrong.
Quick note: What I’ll talk about here is transferring between Avid and Final Cut Pro, because that’s what I have experience doing. However, since Adobe After Effects workflows are prevalent nowadays as well, I’d love to hear about your experiences there. Please, leave comments.
WHAT IS AUTODUCK?
Automatic Duck is shorthand for a number of programs developed by Wes Plate as a way to move editor sequences between Avid/Apple/Adobe products. Now that Wes has joined Adobe, his programs are now thankfully free to download. The apps are basically plugins for Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe After Effects, so you’ll need one of these apps (as well as Avid Media Composer, if that’s part of your workflow) in order to transfer your footage.
A quick note to update everyone on a “transmedia experience” I edited last month. The project is an interactive video that includes you in the story through emails, phone calls, and texts. It was a collaboration with fellow Emerson alums Landon Zakheim and Justin Gurnari the great crew at Fourth Wall Studios. It was a blast to work on and a lot of fun to experiment with the medium.
Check out this LA Times article written about the company.
Click this screenshot to take you to the site.
If you want to check out the trailer for their other project Dirty Work, you can watch it below.
A quick thought before I get into my rant: don’t you just hate it when your day job takes you away from something you really want to be working on?
Right after Apple’s well-documented, well-staged NAB presentation of the new features of FCPX, I went right to WordPress and started drafting an article with the title: “What if FCPX is not awesome?” I then proceeded to go right back to my 60-hour-a-week gig with little time to think about blogging. Smart, Rob. That was months ago. Now that I’m back to funemployment, all I can think is how I wish I had finished that article. Instead, I’m here with my late-to-the-game opinion.
The thoughts I wanted to get down on
paper the internet were a few musings on how big a gamble it was for Apple to completely re-write FCP and how many changes it could create in our industry if it was a flop. I wanted to talk about how, if indeed FCPX was indeed not awesome, it was going to tarnish Apple’s reputation as a company of not only great consumer apps like iPhoto but also high-end professional ones like Final Cut Pro and Logic. I was going to prognosticate that Adobe and Avid would be jumping for joy, but I was also going to say how worried I was if suddenly our entire post-production ecosystem is devastated.
So now I say, with no great joy and without getting into too much more hyperbole: FCPX is not awesome. I won’t go into listing out how FCPX has major problems. Chances are, if you ended up here, you already know most of the issues. If you need a refresher, check here, here, here, here, and here, and read a simple list of what it simply does not do anymore here. Or you can just watch this video made by Conan O’Brien’s editing team (shouts to @robtheeditor and @ddandthecups) which basically sums up everything you need to know about the consensus opinion:
So then where does this leave us? Well, for starters, disappointed. I have been using Final Cut Pro since 1.0, the very beginning. It was my first real introduction to non-linear editing. Hell, I did ten times my film school projects in my dorm-room on FCP than I ever did on any of the school’s editing stations. I certainly knew more about FCP then Avid or Adobe when I left school. FCP was a welcomed addition to the marketplace because it was relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and robust. To see it now neutered, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
But we’re here now, so eventually we must reach the last stage of grief: acceptance. We must accept that now there is one less professional-grade editing software on the market. Our baby has been put out to pasture. But lo-and-behold, part of me actually feels relieved and excited about the future of post-production. Could it be that Apple has actually helped us? “But Rob, whatever do you mean?” you say. The key is this: barriers to entry.
About a year ago, I wrote a two-part piece on getting into the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild (Part 1, Part 2). In it, I wrote about inexpensive non-linear editing systems and the problems that poses for making a living as an editor:
Experience aside, one once needed access to extremely pricey equipment to be able to hone one’s skills and practice as an editor. This provided an extra barrier to entry for anyone trying to get into the business. With the introduction of [Final Cut Pro], it has become easy for any person with about $5000 to be able to create a broadcast-capable editing system. […] That has made it easy for young kids in high school and college (I’m speaking about yours truly and many following after me) to learn the skill of editing quite easily.
But today, it seems the tide as shifted back somewhat. Not completely, but somewhat. At the time I wrote that, the $5,000 number came from my loose budgeting around a Mac laptop, a copy of Final Cut Studio 3, some extra RAM and peripherals, and maybe some hard drives to boot. I was not considering the $2500 price-tag for Avid Media Composer or Adobe Master Suite. It seems now, though, that my math should be adjusted, because I would never call the current version of FCPX broadcast-capable. And given that math, it seems that a broadcast-capable edit suite just went up in price.
In the past, many new post houses and editors chose Final Cut Pro over Avid or Adobe because of budget. There were always small arguments to be made for which fit the required workflow the best but, in truth, all three basically provided the same functionality. The exception to this was that FCP cost much much less. Since the release of FCPX, though, the paradigm has changed. Now, I’d be willing to bet that the average beginning filmmaker will spend their money on the new FCPX while most professionals and production companies will focus on Media Composer and Premiere. And why shouldn’t they? FCPX is easy to use and does a lot of thinking for you, while Adobe and Avid provide support for nearly every type of production and the architecture of the software is scalable up to the largest projects. But, because not every level of editor requires the same software, us professionals can breath a sigh of relief about some young kid with a Mac and FCP asking for half our rate and thusly eating our lunch. It’s not that easy anymore.
Before, someone could buy FCP7 and cut their home movies on it while reading the press about how Walter Murch and the editors from The Social Network used the same software to edit Oscar-winning films. (Side note: has anyone interview these people about for their thoughts on FCPX? Can someone please get on that? Send me a link!) While that was great to imagine, believing that was simply drinking Apple’s Kool-Aid. Not all editors need the same software. Here’s an example: in-the-field documentarians and journalists don’t need a particularly robust editor. They just need to get their footage in, view it, tweak it, and spit it out fast to Youtube, CNN iReport, and so on. They don’t need advanced media-management tools for dealing with terabytes of footage. They don’t need power-windows and secondary color-correction effects. They don’t need the ability to export data and sequences for Pro-Tools, Resolve, or Smoke. And now there’s software to serve their needs. This is good.
But this new version of Final Cut Pro is also good for editors who need more advanced tools, in the way that it pushes professionals to harder-to-reach software. There used to be two levels of software: consumer and professional. Now, though, Apple has created a new class of software that requires an intermediate-level knowledge of editing and post, but not a mastery. And so, for those of us out there who are required to be masters, the talent pool just got smaller. And that’s also a good thing. Now, I don’t need to look over my shoulder as much, wondering when the next development is going to take away the need for an Assistant Editor, or whether some new hotshot film director is just going to cut out the need for an editor entirely and cut their projects themselves. Apple is revolutionizing the prosumer market, and there’s no shame in that. From where I sit, the more prosumers we have, the more it separates me from everyone else.
PS: Just caught this as I was writing this, from the ever-excellent Revision 3 show Film Riot. It’s another good primer on the good and bad of FCPX, and recommends it exactly to who the software is targeted to: the beginner. Please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love feedback on my thoughts. Also thanks to @therealjimhall for his feedback.
One other small post-script: I fear for the life of Aperture and Logic. If I use those programs on a daily basis, I’d be very afraid of this trend.
The ever-brilliant Splice Here blog (soon to be Splice Now) by Steve Cohen lays out the perfect list of questions that every production should answer before they shoot one frame. If you or someone on your production team can’t answer this question before you start shooting, STOP! and get it answered. Not knowing the answer can get you in to trouble. Original link: File-Based Basics « Splice Here.
Which camera(s) are you using? Which audio recorder?
What kinds of files are you creating?
What frame rate, sample rate, timecode rate, raster size are you recording?
Who’s doing them? What do you need for editing, review and conforming?
Who syncs and how will they do it? Who backs up and when?
How are drives being moved around; where are they stored?
What system will you use? What kind of drives/raid?
How will you output cut material for review?
What are you turning over to sound and music?
Will you roll your own or have a post house do it?
How do you handle visual effects created in your editing room?
And those created by the vfx team?
What kinds of files will you use for color correction?
And for television, a crucial question — when do you convert to HD?
Are you curious about the union? This blog is a continuation of my previous entry on how you get into the Motion Picture Editors Guild. I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little insight into getting into the union. What I didn’t realize is that it would devolve into an entire diatribe about the state of the Editors Guild in the larger Hollywood perspective. So I packed my first entry with information, and saved the rant for here. I guess I figured that it would be a good idea to keep my thoughts organized, no?
These days, so much editing work in Hollywood is non-union. You can find nearly any type of production being done without the protections of the Editors Guild. But why is this, you ask? This is due cheifly to the introduction of inexpensive editing systems in the last ten years. Experience aside, one once needed access to extremely pricey equipment to be able to hone one’s skills and practice as an editor. This provided an extra barrier to entry for anyone trying to get into the business. With the introduction of Avid and Lightworks and then Final Cut Pro, it has become easy for any person with about $5000 to be able to create a broadcast-capable editing system. Now, all people need are talent, skill, and connections. (He says, as if it was nothing.) That has made it easy for young kids in high school and college (I’m speaking about yours truly and many following after me) to learn the skill of editing quite easily.
This situation has created a problem for the union because, given its current setup, its members maintain no monopoly on any tangible skill anymore. Unlike the other Hollywood unions such as SAG or the DGA, the Editors Guild places no requirement on its members to only work on union productions. In order to maintain your benefits, a union member must work 300 hours every six months. (Here is a link explaining the requirements.) This is a double-edged sword, because it allows union members to take advantage of all the non-union work but sometimes have to choose less union work over more non-union work. You can be a member in good standing but not be given benefits based on the fact that you have not enough hours in your given six-month window. Now, you can “bank” hours, which means that you can keep some of your hours if you work more than the 300, but it’s not that simple because the bank is limited to 450 hours, meaning that you can really only keep your benefits for another six months without a union gig of at least 3-4 weeks. Not as easy as it seems, is it?
When it comes to getting non-union work, I have seen more better-paying jobs as an assistant editor there than I have working union. Typically, I do independently-financed union features, and that work typically comes with depressed budgets and depressed rates. Granted, at least these productions are union projects, where I can work for a depressed rate but still get my union hours, but the grass is not necessarily greener on the union side. Other work, like reality TV and award shows, can be well-compensating but not pay into your benefits at all. And thus, I am constantly left with a dilemma. Recently, I turned down a large amount of non-union work for a smaller amount of union work, because its cheaper in the long run to not pay for my own individual health insurance. But its only getting harder to make those choices. Starting in August 2011, a union member must work 400 hours to maintain benefits!
In today’s post-production reality, it does make sense how the union has positioned itself. Their allowance for union members to work non-union without penalty has allowed me to keep working union but not lose out on all my previous connections. This is good. However, this has only contributed to the union’s increasing irrelevance in this town. Unless the project is a high-profile film or scripted television show, it is almost certainly non-union. American Idol, the biggest show on TV right now, is non-union. The biggest producers of reality television right now are non-union. Many of the biggest post-production houses in Los Angeles are non-union. And union people will take those jobs because they pay. I am no fan of this. Let it be said, though, that all I am trying to do is make clear the realities to people who are looking at joining the union. I don’t know how to fix this. I just know I wish I could keep my benefits and be able to pay my bills. Sometimes I wonder if that will ever come to pass.