SXSW in review from Mezz 2

For the second consecutive year, I’ve signed up to work with the New Media department at SXSW.  The position I take is that of a glorified volunteer.  The traits that glorify it are 1) insane hours before and during the fest, 2) staff lanyard (the act of being handed a staff lanyard is simultaneously thrilling and depressing) and 3) I get to recruit my own edit team.

Officially, my title is New Media Editor Crew Chief. It’s catchy, I know.  Even if it doesn’t appear that I get anything out of this at face value, I am always excited to take part in SXSW.  It offers the rush of short production deadlines that I came to love and now miss from my time working in live television at ESPN.  Additionally, SXSW is a great place to meet really smart and creative people.  When I was a SXSW intern in 2010, my supervisor was a New Yorker by the name of Joe Nicolosi.  I didn’t know it at the time, because the dude is so modest, but I was a huge fan of his work.  He was the brains behind Star Wars: Retold, a hilarious interpretation of episodes 4, 5 and 6 by someone who hasn’t seen it. Genius.

This year, in preparation for SXSW, Joe recruited me to help with five film festival bumpers he was commissioned to produce.  They were all amazing, but the one that has really caught the attention of the world is “Mario”.  It’s a mumblecore-style, hipster interpretation of the story of Nintendo’s Mario.  This short film takes the shape of a movie trailer where all the seemingly obscure features of the video game we grew up with are interpreted to make perfect sense.  Go watch it if you haven’t yet. There are some one-liners in there that are sure to live on forever.  Unfortunately, there are no plans to make this a feature length film, yet.

During the festival, I was more or less secluded on the south side of the huge Austin Convention Center, on the Mezzanine level, which most elevators and staircases bypass.  We got moved from the North side, which we called home last year.  This was an upgrade.  Our department got to spread out into two rooms.  Myself and the editors mostly stayed in one room where we had 13 Mac Pro’s and iMac’s set up.  We brought lamps in and turned off the florescent overhead lighting.  It was quiet and dark and a perfect environment for us, considering the circumstances.

I oversaw editors every day until 6pm, then either went to the IFC Crossroads House, the HP Airstream trailer park, or caught a show.  The only requirement was free beer.  It’s an easy requirement to fulfill, so almost anything goes.  All in all, a great time.  I can’t wait for next year.  We’re hoping and planning for a centralized storage system and the implementation of Final Cut Server. Does anyone want to sponsor the New Media department?  It would be awesome testing grounds for a medium sized server/ingest system. Help us say goodbye to sneaker-net.

Final Cut Pro: We’re sticking with it

My personal edit desk. I like to stay organized.

There is currently no discussion more prominent among independent editors and post production houses as the  one  involving Final Cut Pro; specifically whether or not to stick with it, when there are other [and some would say better] options available.  Most blog posts on this topic from other professionals make an attempt to sway their readers’ opinions, maybe just to convince themselves that they are making the right decision when it comes to their choice of edit platform.

I will attempt to verbalize the reasons for my decision to stick with Final Cut Studio in its darkest hour. Yes, we are observing its darkest hour.  Two years have passed since the suite got a whole-number upgrade.  When Final Cut Studio 3 was introduced, it included mostly cosmetic features [the timecode window, improved markers, iChat Theater] and other upgrades which tangibly improved the suite [Addition of Color, ProRes 4444 and AVCintra support, alpha transition support, background exporting]. Despite these additions to the suite, many professional editors we’re not satisfied with the upgraded toolset compared to other tools that were available at the time such as Premiere CS4 (and more recently, CS5).  Pros were hoping for upgrades to the keyframe editor, native support for a larger variety of formats, codecs and resolutions and other feature sets that have been built into competing edit platforms for years. But, as the saying goes, it’s always darkest before dawn.  My dawn is this coming April, when [according to rumor] Apple plans to introduce the next major Final Cut Studio upgrade.  An upgrade which Larry Jordan has called “jaw-dropping”.

I am very aware that editors and post houses see Adobe Premiere CS5 as their solution to the Final Cut dilemma. In many cases, this is for good reason.  For starters, round-tripping to After Effects is so simple.  Final Cut Pro offers easy round tripping to Motion, but at this point, After Effects offers a broader toolset for effects work, so even die-hard FCP users will choose AE for their moderate to advanced keying needs.

Here are some of my reasons for sticking with Final Cut Studio. (disclaimer: if the next version of FCS is a true disappointment, I might reconsider, if for no other reason that to remain relevant in the industry.)

1. I grew up using Final Cut Pro.  When Apple bought it from Macromedia in 1998, my dad picked one of the first copies.  I was 13 years old.  I installed it on my Mac out of curiosity.  I learned the tool by capturing video that I shot myself, and I began to absorb the art and process of editing by watching movies and television shows.  I did this without realizing that I was training myself for my career.  Final Cut Pro was an advanced application, but it was so well designed that a 13-year-old kid never got discouraged, only more intrigued with every passing edit session. It’s this kind of attention to detail and ease of use that should never be ignored.

2. Aesthetically speaking, Final Cut Pro has stayed true to its roots. Despite the huge functionality improvements over the last 13 years, Apple has managed to keep the interface clean, organized and powerful.  That’s how I like to work*.  Premiere has a clickable button for every single operation.  The first time I launched it, I spent 10 minutes just trying to identify everything I was looking at.  Powerful, but clunky.

*The way I work.

3. Final Cut Pro is built to let the process of storytelling take priority over showing off your toolset.  First of all, nobody that uses FCS is trying to show off.  The only people they would be impressing is iMovie users. Apple has been able to put Final Cut Pro in the hands of so many users that it’s no longer the elite application that it once was.

Now more than ever, the art of visual storytelling is being threatened by amateurs who don’t respect the power of manipulating images for the screen. The availability of the tools is tricking a lot of unqualified users into believing that possession of software is key to being a an editor. And sometimes they get lucky.  Fact of the matter is, it’s not a job. Editing is a lifestyle.

I’ll continue this post at a later date, as I’m already at 700 words. If there is something you disagree with, let’s start a discussion.