Where now for Final Cut Pro users? Patrick Jong Taylor looks at its past, present and future.
Los Angeles is a magnet for editors, and rightly so. It’s still the place where movies are made. And even if you don’t get to work on the next blockbuster, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re receiving some of that magic pixie-dust through osmosis. The reality, of course, is that only a select few will ever reach the upper echelon of the field, even if that’s not everyone's objective. Many editors are content as long as they can keep cashing checks doing something they’re good at and enjoy doing. However, the very product that granted them access to the world of film editing also made it difficult for them to maintain that livelihood.
"A dying industry"?
A 2011 report by research firm IBIS listed “Video Postproduction Services” as a dying industry. According to the study, in the prior decade, the industry experienced a 24.9% decline in revenue, and a 43.2% decline in establishments, i.e. post houses. But these numbers don’t directly translate into less work for editors during the period. Much of this work has moved in-house, as production companies at all levels began adopting Final Cut Pro as their NLE of choice, adding new seats at a fraction of Avid’s fees.
Although Avid dominated the high end feature market, FCP (and later its suite of applications) steadily grew in prominence, occupying the vast middle of broadcasters, new media companies, indie filmmakers, and freelancers. FCP’s lower cost of entry and (other than requiring a Mac) its hardware-independent workflow attracted Avid converts, even treading on Avid’s feature turf. But it’s greatest effect was perhaps among the gathering tide of new editors, either bused in or pumped out from LA’s many film schools.
Too many editors
The growing glut of FCP editors meant more people competing for roughly the same number of jobs, until those jobs began to dwindle. At the end of the decade, when money was frozen all over town and fledgling production companies shuttered their doors en masse, it didn’t stop the floodgates, as the perpetual rush of new editors joined seasoned vets in the hunt for work. There isn’t much hard-and-fast data on the subject, but there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest wages took an expected hit across the board, if you were lucky enough to have a job at all. These were hard times for a lot of experienced FCP editors, not to mention those that hoped to start their careers, only to run smack into an economic stumbling block.
To be fair, Apple’s Final Cut products aren't exactly to blame for what happened. They just helped precipitate a democratisation of the industry, as the affordable tools and workflows somewhat levelled the technological playing field, which in turn enticed more participants. It can even be argued that FCP, while increasing the number of editors, and therefore the competition for jobs, spurred growth within the industry during its reign. Countless indie features, shorts , commercials and broadcast programs were cut with it, mainly because it was cheap, capable, and had an inexhaustible well of editors proficient in the platform.
Flash forward a few years and the landscape for editors isn’t nearly as bleak. The money has loosened and is flowing once again, although not at pre-recession levels. But Final Cut Pro, that great engine for creating new editors, is not more, replaced by what many consider to be a souped-up version of Apple’s consumer NLE. Worse still, the new, trackless editor was missing key features, and didn’t support legacy projects, a slap in the face to professionals. Apple’s decision to focus on the user stepping up from iMovie threw the industry into a state of upheaval. The evaporation of trust in Apple meant difficult decisions lay ahead. Many production companies and post houses are still trying to determine which costly alternative to adopt, while fighting to remain financially solvent. And, regardless of the job availability, the LA market will always have a constant influx of budding editors. They no longer have that low cost, professional NLE to help usher them towards their careers.
Or do they?
Perhaps Lightworks, particularly with an OS X release, man fill both voids, providing what Final Cut Pro did a decade earlier: a powerful, stable, feature-rich toolset at an unbeatable price.
Los Angeles loves its sequels.