In this article, experienced editor Marcos Castiel puts the case for and against the use of Final Cut Pro. Marcos makes some very well made points and comparisons. Well worth a read.
The Case Against Final Cut Pro
I started as an editor on AVID then Final Cut Pro 7 came out and a lot of small production companies started investing in it. After all, it was a much cheaper option compared to Avid.
Like so many freelance editors at the time I learned Final Cut Pro7 and started cutting most of my projects on it. As time went by, I found myself going back to Avid less and less, not by choice, just because the general editing ecosystem in commercials had migrated away from Avid in Europe.
In 2011 when Final Cut Pro X came out I was both excited and afraid. Excited because it was an evolution of Final Cut Pro 7 and afraid because it was also a revolution; the trackless concept of the magnetic timeline felt alien, wrong, against all that I was taught and trained to do.
I edit the kind of projects that, when the editor is done with the cut, the edit goes into a pipeline. It goes out to be graded, then to post-production, CG, cleanups, sound mixing, and often this happens at different companies. That means a lot of editors depend on export tools within their NLE to send this information out. We export OMFs for sound or AAFS, XMLs, and sometimes even the old EDL.
So cut to 2011, Final Cut Pro X is announced and I am thinking, “Looks cool, a big change, will check it out tomorrow.”
Tomorrow arrives and there is this huge backlash on the web, no OMF or XML export, and a bunch of other things missing. For me, the whole XML and OMF was the deal-breaker.
I can’t cut a commercial on an NLE and then have no way to export the information other people need to finish it.
Like so many others, realising that Final Cut Pro 7 was dead, I started thinking about where to go next. I could go back to Avid, no sweat, but I did not. I tried out Adobe Premiere Pro and it felt familiar and safe almost like Final Cut Pro 7 with a different set of clothes on.
The years passed and I cut a ton of projects on Premiere. It's a great NLE, it has a lot going for it for sure.
In late 2019 I was in New York cutting a commercial for Lipton Ice Tea. Afterwards, I was flying from New York to Shanghai to cut a Gatorade commercial being shot there. The thing was, we wrapped the Lipton project five days earlier than expected so I had time to kill.
I could have gone to museums, art galleries, but instead I thought to myself: “What’s happening with Final Cut Pro X? How far along has it come? Is anyone using it for the kind of projects I am cutting?”
So I looked around and I was surprised to see how much it had evolved, or at least fixed its shortcomings.
I bought it and for those five free days I played around with it. At the end of those five days I was sold on it. So much so that I decided there and then that I would cut the Gatorade commercial on it.
Gatorade Every Drop Counts
I got on the plane, arrived in China, straight to set, and my buddy from MPC, Barry Greaves (who was the VFX supervisor on that film) comes up to me and asks me to check a couple of shots, since this was a seamless transitions kind of film.
I said “no worries mate”, open up my MacBook Pro (at the time a 2015 15” Retina) fire up Final Cut Pro X, import some media, and then it hits me, “I don’t know enough about this software to be working on it.”
Here’s the thing, you can train and watch tutorials but until the moment you use a new NLE on a job you just don’t know enough about it.
The real world is very different from the tutorials, and it takes time to learn and build muscle memory to be fast and proficient on an NLE.
To be honest, after a couple of days on set and another ten days on the editing suite, I was rocking Final Cut Pro X. Not flying through it as I was used to doing on Premiere, but Final Cut Pro X was so fast that in the end my lack of experience on it was cancelled out by how fast the damn thing is.
So, you’re thinking “this guy seems to like Final Cut Pro, what’s the deal with the title of this article ‘The Case Against Final Cut Pro”? It’s because, if you are thinking about having a go at Final Cut Pro, I want to give you both sides of the coin; all the small and big issues that you will have to live with if you start cutting on Final Cut Pro, as well as all the things that make Final Cut Pro great.
First, there are a lot of Final Cut Pro users out there, but, being honest, there are not a lot of professional film editors using it. Most high-end commercials, TV series, and Feature films are being cut on either AVID or Premiere.
That is not a reflection on Final Cut Pro; it is a professional NLE and it can handle anything you throw at it. So why aren’t professional film editors using it?
Apple jumped the gun on Final Cut Pro X. It was not ready for professional use when it came out and it got a bad reputation. That is one of the reasons, and the bad reputation is still around, but the main reason is change.
Change can be frightening, and when you spend years editing on track-based NLEs, Final Cut is scary as hell, but change can also be good.
When a producer asks you what you need to cut his project and you say that you are using Final Cut Pro, get ready for a talk. I get that all the time, especially from German and French producers, so much to the point that now I avoid that conversation, I just don’t tell them which NLE I am using.
If I have to travel and edit on another editing suite, I just make sure they have a Mac, and if they don’t have Final Cut Pro, I install the trial version or run the whole thing from my laptop.
If anyone raises the issue I give a short answer, the workflow works, and I think it's the editor's prerogative to choose the NLE.
Being fair that conversation only happens once. When the agency, producers and clients see how fast I am using the software, how much creative freedom it gives everyone in the room, the subject never comes up again.
Workflow: the bad news is that you will depend on third-party companies to use Final Cut Pro.
Final Cut Pro native XMLs: they work fine with some software like Resolve, but not with Premiere, Nuke and others.
That’s the reason post productions companies are a bit afraid of people cutting on Final Cut Pro.
To work around this I, like so many other editors, use XtoCC a third-party app to convert a Final Cut Pro XML into “standard” XML and X2PRO audio to export AFFs from the Final Cut Pro XML for the sound studios.
There is no big secret here, these third-party apps work very well, and they are what allows me to use Final Cut Pro for the kind of projects I cut, but if in the future Apple decides to somehow block these apps, or the companies that make them go bust, well you get the picture... It’s a risk, a small risk I think, but still a risk.
Of course, Apple can at any time come out with a more expensive version of Final Cut Pro that has all those features built-in, like Final Cut Pro7 had, or they might not.
There is another minor inconveniences to using Final Cut Pro, some missing features like dupe detection or flattening Multicam clips, but those, although I miss them, especially the dupe detection, at the end of the day those are minor things you can work around.
Another argument against using Final Cut Pro is storage. Here is an example: I am cutting a commercial for Peloton at the moment. I asked the DIT on set to transcode to Apple ProRes 422 LT at original camera resolution, the final master will be 1080P, but I like to have a notion pixel by pixel of how far can I zoom in if I need to.
It was a one-day shoot with two Arri Alexa cameras at 4k. I got 1TB of footage, my Final Cut Pro cache file is around 300 GB at the moment. Why is that?
Because Final Cut Pro renders a lot, especially if you are a timeline editor as opposed to a Bin editor (more on that later). What I take from this is that Final Cut Pro will use up more storage space than the competition, but there are ways inside the program to manage that.
Collaboration, there are no built-in tools on FPC to collaborate with other editors on the same Library, there are great third-party tools out there , I like PostLab a lot.
VODAFONE New Life
And the final argument against Final Cut Pro is the very thing that makes it great: the Magnetic Timeline.
You will despair, you will hate it, that is until it clicks in your head, it suddenly makes sense and you think, “why has no one thought of this before?”
Get ready for a rough couple of weeks when you first start using it, but if you stick with it for a bit of time, you might find it was worth it.
Video Playback: Final Cut Pro works with Blackmagic, but they don’t play well together. I hear AJA is better, but I have never tried it. Video out through an HDMI cable is the best option for Final Cut Pro.
No eucom support: that is a shame because the one thing I miss is using an external mixer.
The last one is the interface, and that’s a personal thing. I think it has not aged well, it feels a bit “cute” for my taste.
So that’s the case against Final Cut Pro. Now let me tell you why it was the right decision for me to change to it, but each editor has their view on the NLE they prefer, and what works for some might not work for others.
The Case for Final Cut Pro
Fast! The damn thing is fast, I can´t stress that enough. There is no way to explain how fluid the editing is. It's one of the things you have to try out and see, but I will use an analogy: AVID is a Porsche, Premiere is a Ferrari, Final Cut Pro is an F-18.
Not exaggerating, Avid and Premiere are very fast cars and they are great, but Final Cut Pro is not a car, it's a fighter jet that goes at Mach speed.
That, at the end of that day, saves you time, and time is quality of life.
I think Final Cut Pro saves me one hour a day, maybe even an hour and a half. That’s more time to be creative on some days, or the chance to leave the editing room a couple of hours earlier and do something else altogether.
The Magnetic Timeline: a lot of stuff has been written about this feature since it's the one that defines Final Cut Pro and makes it great.
It's liberating, at this point pretty much everyone has an idea of how it works, so I will not go into too much detail. The main thing is that it removes a barrier between the editor and the edit.
You can edit almost at the speed of your thoughts. No worrying about which tracks are selected (none since Final Cut Pro has no tracks) or losing sync with that piece of sound design.
The magnetic timeline is one of those brilliant insights that, in retrospect, looks simple. So much so that I think it is, or will be, the new standard for all the other NLEs out there. Sooner or later both Avid, Resolve and Premier will have to embrace it.
There is a new generation of editors growing up on Final Cut Pro and they will never touch a track-based NLE, and why should they when the alternative is so much better.
Bin editors and Timeline editors.
Bin editors go through the footage, select the bits they like, create a sub clip, and place it in a bin.
Timeline editors will do the same but place all the strings/selects on a timeline. Personally I am a timeline editor. I started as a bin editor on Avid but changed. I like it when I am looking for a specific moment of a shot to see the other options around that shot, and that happens more naturally when you organise (and organise is the keyword here) your strings on a timeline.
Final Cut Pro allows me to be both, the way you can mark ranges of a shot as a favourite and have final cut only play out your favourites is an evolution of the bin concept, it works like a timeline.
But sometimes I have to be a timeline editor (that explanation would be long, but it has to be with footage shot at 50 frames but to be edited at 25 frames), and what I do is miss or think Final Cut should do better to allow me to have multiple timelines open on different tabs at the same time. That, and a scrolling timeline.
Speed Ramp: yes you can speed ramp on Premiere and Avid, but it takes time, speed ramping on Final Cut Pro is easy and intuitive. I use speed ramp a lot, not the kind the viewer will notice, the invisible kind, speeding up the back end or front end of a clip to gain some frames there, or the middle to accentuate a moment in action. In Final Cut Pro that operation is painless and fast, not so much on the other NLEs around.
Compound Clips: yes you can nest a bunch of clips on Premiere and create a sequence within your timeline, and at first glance, it looks like they are the same. But they are not.
Let's take this example: I have a timeline in Final Cut Pro its 56 minutes long, episode 4 of a Netflix series. It plays well and I'm happy with all the scenes, but now it's the time I start playing with structure. What happens if I place scene 14 before scene 4, or if I create another night on that episode, and so on?
That’s when I love compound clips. First I will snapshot my project (duplicate the timeline), on that snapshot I will select all shots, music sound effects of each scene and create a single compound clip.
Let's say the episode has 34 scenes. Now when I look at my timeline, instead of 500 shots, 150 SFX, 15 musics, all I have are 34 compound clips, that I can move around until I find a structure for that episode that I like. When that is done I just break apart those compound clips back to their individual components, all without having to leave the timeline once.
Trust me it takes almost more time to write this explanation than to do it on Final Cut Pro. You can do it on Premiere, but it's a way longer process.
Glória Official Trailer on Netflix
Compound clips are one of the most powerful features of Final Cut Pro, they are great for pulling strings out of a project into the viewer. That’s useful sometimes, to clean up your timeline, they are a tool that helps the editor stay organised and focused.
Auditions: if you are not familiar with the Audition, basically it is a container in the timeline where you can drop shots that you like, audition them on your edit and pick the one that works best.
This feature alone saves me so much time, and also the ability to be able to go to the producer or director and say, yes for this line here I had four takes I liked, and here they are in the context of the edit, with just the press of a shortcut.
Roles is an extremely powerful tool. I use it regularly not only for audio, but I also have a video role just for Auditions. When I see a clip on my timeline that’s orange I know that’s an audition, might be good to share that with the director at some point, or if I get a temp VFX for the post-production house, I will place that on top of the shot they worked on assign my VFX role to it and again with a glance I can “read” my timeline.
But where roles really shines is in audio. Right now, I am in the middle of an edit, it's a 60” commercial. I have an English VO from the agency, another from the director and a German VO, one music I like, and another four musics the agency likes. When I am playing the commercial and someone goes, can we listen to it with music C and German VO, I click two buttons on the timeline Index and that’s it, here we go, and even if I move stuff around and change the edit nothing gets out of sync.
Protergia - Elements of Nature
Finishing: as I mentioned earlier, my workflow is one where other people and companies pick up my edit and they go through the process of finishing it, color grading, VFX, and sound. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like to present my edit as finished as possible. You only get one chance at a first impression.
After I have an edit, I think is good enough to present, I do a little finishing on it, I do a rough sound design, and I do a bit of color grading if the footage needs it, I might drop a flare on a shot, and stuff like that. After Effects is a great companion to Final Cut Pro, but the truth is that a lot of stuff I usually did on AE (because they were a pain to do in PP) I can easily do them on Final Cut Pro. So I have been visiting AE less and less and staying more inside Final Cut Pro alone.
Plug-Ins: I don’t know why exactly but plug-ins work better in Final Cut Pro than they do in PP. They feel more integrated somehow and they are faster.
You have them for all tastes and flavours, MotionVFX has some great ones. I don’t use a lot of plug-ins, but some like mflare tend to be very useful on some edits. It depends on the context of the edit you are working on.
So, my two cents on Final Cut Pro are: First, it can and it is used professionally every day by editors working on all sorts of projects.
It's the fastest NLE around, the easiest to learn by far, it may look simple, but if you dig deeper you will find almost all the features you need for every workflow.
If you are thinking about changing from a track-based NLE to Final Cut Pro, I would recommend two things. Check out the Final Cut Pro training at Ripple Training, their tutorials are very useful, even if you are an experienced editor. I would start there as the first step. Second, buy a Final Cut Pro keyboard cover. It will be very useful for the first couple of weeks until you build muscle memory for the shortcuts you use the most.
Finally, Cut Pro, Avid, Premiere, all of them are very good NLEs, and none of them will make you a better editor, they are just tools to tell stories. It's the stories you tell and how you tell them that matter. However, Final Cut Pro will make you a faster editor, and you will enjoy the process of editing a lot more. With PP or Avid, even if you know those NLEs like the back of your hand, you will find sometimes a slowdown, a barrier between you and your edit. In Final Cut Pro that barrier is almost non-existing.