Tag Archives: rants and raves

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 herehere, 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.

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve written because I’ve been just too busy.  In that time, I’ve traversed the country multiple times for work and that thing they call a life that I try to fit in between projects.  I learned about the 3AM commute home by train in NYC (it takes a while).  I also learned that Virgin America is a godsend (thanks Google for free WiFi).  And that independent film has funding trouble (I doubt I’m the first to have this revelation).  But these are all just excuses for not writing more here.  I’ll now try to ease back into writing regularly by starting off with a small review…

Last week I started up on a rather large film project that requires I use multiple CPUs with multiple monitors at the same desk: for my Avid, FTP, and personal stations.

This is where the simple open-source utility from The Synergy Project is invaluable.  Originally demonstrated to me by my buddy Jacob Shea (who is an excellent composer FYI) this small program allows me to control all three computers using one computer’s keyboard and mouse.  All that it requires is that all the CPUs in question are connected to the same network.  Getting it to work is a little buggy, as is most open-source software, but once you get there, you’ll never want to be without it!

As utilities go, it’s very intuitive.  Because of the networked control, I am able to move back and forth between computers as if they were all running off the same CPU.  Gladly, though, they’re not, so I can harness each computer’s processing power for different functions without any hassle moving between different desks or keyboards.  It’s just that simple.  And while it seems like a small invention, you’d be amazed at how much more productive you can be without needing to move around so much.

It’s really a simple process.  Follow this link to download SynergyKM.  From there, install it on each computer you want to be able to control remotely.  Open your system preferences to gain access to the SynergyKM settings.  On your host computer, select the “default” location so you can make sure to save the settings.  Follow these two windows as guidance:


In the Server Configuration menu, hit the “+” symbol to create computers to access.  Enter the names according to your user’s Sharing name.  You’ll have to enter this for both the host computer you’re on and the client computers you want to access with the keyboard.  (Note: Spaces in the name should be typed as hyphens.)  No need to attack Server Options, but at least you know it’s there.

Next, on your client computers, use the following images as guidance.

Enter the hostname that matches your server computer’s Sharing name.  If you’re having trouble connecting, make sure the name displayed next to “This computer’s Screen Name” is the same on the server side for each computer.

And from there, voila.  You can now use your host computer’s keyboard and mouse on every computer you’ve set up with SynergyKM.  It’s fantastic.  Huge love to the developers!

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.

  1. Production
    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?
  2. Dailies
    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?
  3. Editing
    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?
  4. Conforming
    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?


Thanks Steve!

Maybe I’m just seeing things, but check out this Janelle Monae video!  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Could it be there’s a distinct homage to Yeasayer’s Ambling Alp, directed by Radical Friend and edited by yours truly?!?  You be the judge.

(Note: JUST AN EXCUSE to publish this awesome Janelle Monae video.  You know what I can’t do?  Dance like the people in this video.  Although I wish I could.)

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.

An important question I often get is “how do I join the union?” This question comes from many people I meet, from established editors to the young people just starting out in the Hollywood. The catch is that the answer isn’t at all that simple. The question should be: “should I join the union?” Putting it simply, if you’re asking that question, the answer is not quite yet. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

The people who should “join the union” are people who have been offered a position on a union show and are either rostered or have some other loophole to exploit.  Since the latter is a longshot, your best bet to joining the union is to roster. But let’s slow down a minute and talk about why you would want to join the union. The Motion Picture Editors Guild is a valuable organization of many of the most talented post-production artists in Hollywood. It provides great benefits: health insurance, a pension plan, protection from overwork/underpay, free screenings and seminars, and finally great discounts for things like software and cellphone plans. (For a complete list, check out this link.) But with every benefit, there is a downside. But that’s another rant.

So what do you need to join the union?  Well, the answer is you need to work non-union.  You need to work, be paid, and be credited as an editor (or whatever editing title you join the union as, i.e. Assistant Editor, etc.)  You can make below union scale.  You can work inconsistently.  All you need to have is the ability to demonstrate that you have 175 days of non-union work experience in the three years prior to applying.  If you’re joining as an Assistant or something else, the day requirement will be even less! Now, let’s say you’ve met these requirements.  What should you do?  Well, you should roster.  What is rostering?  Rostering is a list of membership-eligible people who the union says are qualified for work, but haven’t gotten their first union job yet.  It’s a sneaky way to keep you on their radar and to keep you from lying when you say “yes” if someone asks about your union status.  Of course, you don’t get anything tangable for rostering besides the piece of mind, but the advantage this provides is it allows a potential union employer to judge your resume without worrying about whether you’re in the union or not.  For information about what to do once you’re at this stage, click over to this link at the union’s website.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you must be asking yourself “how do I get a union job?”  Honestly, that’s the hard part.  Meeting people who could potentially hire you on union productions is entirely based on who you know.  Not being able to help anyone with that, I’ll address the circumstances under which you should jump from rostering to actually becoming a full member: don’t do it unless you are offered a job for more than a few months. The initiation fees are hundreds of dollars, and in order to get any of the health benefits, you need to work an initial 600 hours to qualify, so don’t do it if you won’t be working enough to justify it.  You should be very confident that you’ll be working for months, not weeks, and if you’re not making enough, keep your money and wait.  I personally waited two years between rostering and joining.

And what is it like on the inside?  Well, it’s kind of a double-edged sword.  I’ll save you the rant for Part 2 (forthcoming) but it certainly can be awesome.  The hardest part is to keep working union shows enough to maintain your benefits.  But if you can do that, it’s a great thing to have.  My only question is whether its sustainable in its current model.  But again, I’ll save that for Part 2.

For more information, leave a comment here or head on over to the Guild’s website.  Check back for my next entry in the saga of the Editor’s Guild…