What_FCP_has_done_to_the__industry

Tony Davies puts into words what a lot of us editors and producers have been thinking for a while. Final Cut Pro is a great tool, but its ease of use has caused a lot of problems within the industry too.

dickens_fcpIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

What a prescient man Dickens was, putting his finger on the dilemma facing 21st century broadcast production before Baird or Jobs were glints in their grandfathers’ eyes.

Final Cut Pro, along with relatively cheap acquisition formats and comparable NLE systems, has become both the best and worst thing to happen to television production. It is capable of both enhancing quality and driving it into the ground, of streamlining processes and destroying them and, perhaps most importantly of all in the age of the accountancy driven production manager, both saving money and costing money.

The first thing to say is that none of this is FCP’s fault. Like all tools (especially handguns!) it depends on who is using them and for what purpose. When cheap acquisition formats like the VX1000 and  Z1 appeared, production managers began handing them out like confetti. The principle that a million monkeys with a million typewriters will, given enough time, eventually produce Hamlet was ambitiously tried and tested : the result was a million weeping editors trying to assemble two usable shots from hours of crash zooms, wobbles and mute material.

tony_fcpNow just about every producer/director, including my good self, has a shiny little FCP application on their Mac Book Pro, and just about every production manager knows this. The first, tentative requests are already being made as to whether producers and directors in the field can use FCP as a tool and many are already giving an unqualified ‘yes’ as the answer. When I say unqualified, I mean unqualified!

This is because the envelope is already being pushed beyond what is acceptable use of FCP by non-editors in a broadcast environment. Acceptable, in my opinion, is use which does not degrade the quality of the on-screen product and without exception producers cannot use FCP, as if they were editors, and maintain quality. It’s like asking the conductor in an orchestra to be the first violin, but unfortunately many of the new breed of ‘Preditors’ have delusions of grandeur. Being able to use the basics of FCP does not make you a broadcast editor just as being able to play Chopsticks does not make you a concert pianist.

So what should FCP be used for by producers and directors in the field ? Well it’s a great tool for simplifying a basic shoot and feed workflow. On a recent job we were shooting XDCAM HD and feeding on a daily basis from locations around Asia. Being able to ingest the clips, get them in the right order on the timeline and writing them back to the disk saved a lot of time running between clips at feed time. I was also able to take whole interviews and pull out the sections we needed to be fed and choose colour shots.

Now, it could be argued that I am already straying into what should be an editor’s role, but on this particular assignment an editor simply would never have been used whether FCP existed or not. I am simply using the application as a tool to make my job easier rather than taking someone else’s job which I am not actually qualified to do.

Even for someone like myself who has a decent knowledge of FCP there are pitfalls. I recently made a complete ass of myself by deciding that the XDCAM transfer software was buggered because all the ingested material looked soft. After a whole day of new downloads, anguish and nail chewing, as well as some very kind remote assistance from some real FCP editors, I came to the obvious conclusion that it was because I was looking at 50i on my progressive laptop screen !

So where does the use of FCP leave us ? Unfortunately, I think, in a bad place. My rather jaundiced view of the broadcast industry is that cost has become not just the most important factor in decision making but the only factor for many people. A phrase I have heard is that TV has become “ a race to the bottom” and this does sadly seem to be true.

Producers are now cutting entire packages rather than using FCP as a compilation or edit preparation tool. When the choice has to be made between a quality cameraman, a quality editor and a humble producer to orchestrate the project or an all-singing, all-dancing one man band then most production managers seem incapable of differentiating between cost and value. Thus, in a market where cost rather than quality and value is king, the Preditors are in the ascendancy.

©2011 tony davies/fcp.co

Tony Davies is a freelance producer based in New Zealand who funds his love of expensive Canon lenses by travelling round the world producing, directing and sometimes editing.