When Premiere and Final Cut users try to convince Avid editors that they are living in the past, they often don't understand the day-to-day experience of high-end TV and feature film post production.
To provide an insight into why Avid is still number 1 in Hollywood, Chris Fenwick invited TV editor Austin Flack to talk on his Final Cut Pro X podcast: the FCPX Grill.
If you don't have the time to listen to the whole 74 minute episode, here are my notes on what was said:
[6:05] AF: I’m a reality TV editor, I’ve been doing it for 6 or 7 years…
[6:47] AF:…I’ve done a lot of Top Chef, I did a season of Masterchef
[7:25] AF:…and I’ve done a few seasons of Catfish, that’s the latest thing I’ve been doing
[10:48] AF: USC, big film school, they had a big partnership with Avid…
[11:17] AF: I was using Premiere on my computer at home… I would try and click on the clips to drag them around and it wouldn’t work and I was “this is lame - screw this” and so I gave up on Avid
[11:55] AF: When I got my first TV assistant job, it was Avid, and I bluffed and said I used it in college
[12:23] AF: Since I got into TV it has been primarily Avid…
[13:08] AF: I did prefer Final Cut 7 - strongly - for several years. It was way more modern… a year into being on Avid shows, I realised I was faster on Avid. It was a more fluid process.
[15:26] AF: The primary reason that most editors and post people in L.A. working on big TV shows don’t think that Final Cut X or Premiere are ready are because of shared storage and multi-seat edits… Avid is fantastic at huge post-production projects.
[16:02] CF: So by shared storage you mean… all the media for all the episodes is going to go on one shared server …and everyone has access to the same media.
[17:14] AF: …we’re not just talking about editors, we’re talking about story producers, story assistants, assistant editors, even our supervising producers - they all have Avid …everything is happening at once. I’ve been on shows with 10–15 editors, another 10 story assists and story producers, other producers, five assistant editors … we can work at the same time in the same projects. That’s the big thing.
[18:20] AF: Final Cut X is not terrible, I’ve cut with it and there are things I like about it …Final Cut 7 was not a big threat to Avid in Hollywood …Final Cut 7 was never the incumbent. Avid has never let go of the throne
[20:04] AF: (On MTV’s Catfish) We are constantly jumping all over the place …I’m am touching virtually every episode and the other editors are touching my episodes
[20:40] AF: Right now I’m cutting the 5th episode of this show. I didn’t start it, other people are working on different things in it. We can break it up by act, we can break it up by scene and we’ll have the same project open - we are sharing the project. I can be editing Act 1, the editor down the hall can be editing Act 2, the assistant can be adding footage, graphics and music, and story producers can be making string outs for Act 3 and that is all happing in the exact same project.
[22:00] AF: We cannot work on the same timelines…
[22:26] CF: (In Final Cut Pro X terms…) So I open a library, you open the very same library, I open a project named scene 2, you’ve already opened up a project named scene 1
[23:14] AF: If I’m the first person to open a bin (an event in Final Cut Pro X terms), it locks to me - it’s my bin. No-one can change it while I have it open. When I close it someone else can open it and change it. They can still open it… if I had a bin open… they can just open it as read only
[25:13] AF: In Avid an assistant editor can email me or ping me and say the graphics are in, all I do is save mu project, which is a refresh all of a sudden these bins pop up in my project (events appear in a library) and everyone else’s project…
[25:51] AF:…As soon as I do something someone else has access to it, as soon as they do something I have access to it.
[26:02] AF: Although Avid isn’t easy to use, it’s a lot easier to use especially for story producers and story editors, who are not technically savvy, it is a lot easier than anything in the Finder (connecting to servers, uploading, version control)
[26:32] AF: It takes about two buttons to log into the servers… to log into the project and you are up an running… people can watch my cuts as I’m cutting… they can open them read only
[26:53] AF: You can load sequences into the source window (event viewer) from someone who is working on a project, but I want to steal some stuff from their timeline… (you can open their read-only compound clip in it’s own timeline) …you can pick out some stuff you want to take and overlay it onto your project… if I’m doing a flashback and I need a bit of that thing to flash back to, I can set an in and out, pick the tracks - maybe I don’t want their music, and I don’t want this graphic or something - and I can just lay that into my sequence
[27:58] AF: A lot of people in Hollywood love Adobe, they love Final Cut X, but if you add a bunch of editors to a project, that’s an Avid project.
Designed for editors to edit and assistants to assist
[28:37] CF: Austin, were you the person who Tweeted me once “I’ve been listening to the Final Cut Grill and everything you talk about helps the assistant editor”
[29:14] AF: I will admit that I was an Avid assistant, once, but these days I could not do that job…
[29:27] AF: Avid is not easy… technically-speaking. …I could still be a Final Cut 7 assistant editor… Final Cut X, I really understand it, I’m a tech-savvy guy, DaVinci Resolve, After Effects. …in Avid’s world, the editor becomes an idiot. Why I need something, I call an assistant and say “Could you take care of this, I don’t really know how to do it” …there’s just some things that are kind of old and kind of weird to use.
[30:27] AF: I don’t do any tasks that would be an assistant editor’s task… I’m just editing… it’s a failure of the process if I have to string-out a scene. They’re paying me a fair amount more than the story producers to edit.
[31:00] AF: When I’m editing, I find Avid much easier, much faster. …the kind of work you describe in Final Cut Pro X, which is great - with metadata, keywords and all these wonderful things you can do… that’s not ever what I’m doing.
[31:26] AF: When I start editing in Final Cut X I get really frustrated …when I’m in a timeline doing a cut that’s when I think Avid is much more fluid…
CF talked about at his company different editors sharing media in different rooms using Final Cut Pro X, a million Final Cut Pro X sales vs. 25,000 professional editors.
[35:49] AF: (with Final Cut 7) the fact that we couldn’t have the same project open at the same time was a frustration.
[36:05] AF: Now Final Cut Pro X has reached parity with where Final Cut Pro 7 was, but Final Cut 7 wasn’t good enough.
[36:53] AF: If you really wanted to, you could edit a very complicated show on Final Cut X, but it wouldn’t be as fast and fluid
CF talked about bullet-point marketing. From a marketing perspective MacOS and Windows were the same - until you tried them. The same with Tivos and Comcast DVRs
[38:45] AF: (With Avid) it’s all this version control, it’s this database …a robust database that can manage these enormous projects and keep these versions in control and make sure everything stays linked…
[40:31] AF: As an editor… Avid is more fluid. Avid is, a lot of ways, antiquated… but when I’m editing - especially when I’m using dynamic trim, I’m so happy…
[41:48] AF: It’s a lot about not taking your hands off the keyboard… in Avid I can play the edit as I’m changing it …I change the edit with the J, K and L keys. If I select an edit, press L, the edit plays forward in real time, and if I press the space bar, the edit point has changed, and the great thing is that it loops forever until I unselect the edit…
[43:25] AF: (With dynamic trimming, you press the space bar when it feels right)
AF and CF discuss music editing.
[46:22] AF: I find it so terrible in Final Cut X that you are always mousing.
CF dismissed the need for dynamic trimming:
[47:59] FC: If it takes you five times to find the edit… you’ve got to get your chops up!
(Chris Fenwick does not speak for all Final Cut Pro X editors on this subject! AG)
[48:52] AF: (Dynamic trimming is) so wonderful… it gives you a second to think about it… there’s a fluidity, a simplicity and an elegance to just using your J, K and L keys… when you are rippling and rolling you get the four up, but you are still getting dynamic trimming…
[50:32] AF: I was a Final Cut 7 partisan… I preferred it in television… I preferred the mouse and clicking and dragging. In complicated television environments, the kind of cutting I’m doing am just way faster… when you are clicking and dragging, you are not seeing exactly what frame you dragged that out to. You are not seeing that frame play. You might look at the frame “that’s the frame where he closes his eyes” but then you play the edit and say “no that doesn’t work”
[51:35] AF: Dynamic trimming didn’t come to me quickly. The way it works in Resolve is powerful but sort of clunky… If you get into an Avid situation… you are not even clicking on stuff , it’s just a lovely world.
[53:22] AF: Probably 80% of what I’m doing… I am breaking audio sync on purpose in Avid… X makes it cumbersome to break audio sync and then… you can’t put them back together which is maddening to me… and it doesn’t show frame offsets, so you don’t see how much out of sync it is… I don’t like how its trying to keep audio in sync because usually not what I want…
[55:16] AF: I’m the editor. It feels like I’m in Microsoft Word and the paperclip is trying to tell me what to do… I’m in charge, I know what I’m doing.
AF then introduced “Franken-biting” making people say things they didn’t say.
[56:14] AF: (In Top Chef) We are trying to get them to explain the recipe in 10 seconds as opposed to a minute and a half…
[56:52] AF: The biggest reason why Avid is not going anywhere anytime soon is because of ScriptSync
[57:10] CF: I’ll turn to the producer and say I need five different versions of where he says the word “and”
AF then went on to explain ScriptSync (for transcribed or planned scripts) and PhraseFind (detecting words in verité footage).
[1:01:41] AF: (There’s so much footage in reality TV that) we always work offline… almost never working full res… ScriptSync is virtually everything.
[1:04:36] CF explains how Final Cut Pro X’s product manager came from Avid, and that he understands how some editors see Avid’s advantages over Final Cut Pro X. He went on to say that one day Avid and maybe soon after that Final Cut Pro X will be the old way of doing things. CF also said that the vast majority of people who call themselves editors need to do the assistant editing stuff.
[1:07:09] AF: When I edit stuff at home, I often use Final Cut X if it is relatively simple… I did cut a TV pilot on it and I got very frustrated.
[1:07:24] AF: If you’re an owner-operator or a small production company, Final Cut X or Adobe are great choices, I don’t think I would invest in Avid…
[1:07:56] AF: For big-time TV work Avid is still virtually the only game in town… if you’re a younger editor who aspires to big-time TV work, you need to know Avid for at least the next 5 or 6 years. You are going to be cutting in Avid… that’s just what’s going to happen
[1:08:20] AF: In a lot of ways Avid is a dinosaur that is ready to be disrupted, and that there are a lot of things they’ve been slow to embrace. Frankly I think that Adobe is the real threat. They are better at software than Avid, they are a bigger company, their survival depends on it. Apple’s survival does not depend on capturing the very high-level professional TV market… what they need is a Final Cut Server, and if that’s going to cost $1500 and need dedicated hardware, I don’t know if they feel like its worth it… Did Final Cut Server even come out?
[1:09:43] AF: Everything’s going to change: Avid has a lot of ridiculous qualities that are from the 80s…
[1:10:13] AF: Hollywood wants to use the best tool and right now Avid is the best tool for these things.
To see Austin Flack's video of how well dynamic trimming works in Avid, and more useful links, visit the FCPX Grill podcast episode page.
Following on from this episode there was a discussion about dynamic trimming on the fcp.co forum - showing advanced trimming in Final Cut and where it falls short compared with the Avid version.
Follow Austin Flack on Twitter and visit his website.
If Apple wants Avid's market, could they change Final Cut Pro X faster than Avid could change Avid Everywhere to capture some of Apple's editing market? We'll see!