Love it or hate it, Apple's Final Cut Pro X is here to stay. It is a radical departure from the Final Cut 7 software that came before it, and is perhaps a sign that Apple intends to usher in a brave new world of video editing. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Michael Wohl, one of the primary designers of the original Final Cut Pro, writer of Apple's Courseware and Star Trainer here at macProVideo.com to discuss Final Cut Pro X in more detail.
In this exclusive feature interview and guide to Final Cut Pro X, Michael Wohl talks about:
And now, the interview ...
RS: Hi Michael, welcome to The Hub! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
MW: Thank you. Great to be here.
RS: Tell us about what kind of video-based work you do.
MW: Sure. I’ve been involved in a lot of different projects over the past twenty years. From writing and directing Indie films to commercial editing for both the web and theatrical projects. I’m actually embarking on a brand new documentary project that’s coming up in the next couple of months that’s going to be about Ethiopia’s agricultural transformation. It’s going to be a five-year project.
I mainly write, produce, direct and edit, and for different projects I’ll do different combinations of those things. For about 5 or 6 years I was primarily working as an editor for hire and then I eventually moved on to focusing on my own projects and I opened my own production company and did a lot more producing and directing of my own work. Then I stopped doing a lot of commercial editing, but still do a lot on my own and for friends and what not.
RS: Do have a preference to the type of video projects you work on?
MW: Well, that’s a hard question. I really don’t have a specific thing. In terms of what I write, it’s generally more in the independent comedy, independent drama side of things. In general I like to work on things that engage me and things that I can believe in. For non-fiction documentary work especially, it’s important to me that I believe in the project and it’s not just some corporate work for hire. Early on in my career I did a bunch of training work for Chevron doing gas station safety videos and stuff like that. I try to avoid stuff like that these days and stick to something I’m more invested in emotionally.
RS: Sure. Tell us more about this documentary that you’re currently working on.
MW: The country of Ethiopia is going through a radical transformation where they’re trying to overhaul their entire agricultural system to basically learn to feed the country better. You know it’s been a very poor country for many years and they’ve been struggling agriculturally and politically. The Gates Foundation has been heavily involved in trying to transform their agricultural system. Everything from the technology farmers use on the ground to education, improving irrigation techniques, both commercially and at the residential level. Then there’s a need to improve the infrastructure in order to help get crops to markets. For example, there are poor roads in areas where it takes people 8 or 10 hours to get their crops to market. With better roads they could be there in 30 minutes and that has a huge impact on their livelihoods.
This transformation, should it go successfully, I think will impact not just the agricultural sector but it really will elevate the whole country in a dramatic way. The hope is that if this pilot project is successful, it can be implemented in other Third World countries in Africa and around the world.
RS: Are you directing, filming and producing this documentary?
MW: We’ve got an amazing academy-nominated DP, Vicente Franco, who is involved. I’ve got a producing partner and then I’ll probably be producing and directing and doing some shooting. But we’re also working in conjunction with a local Ethiopian production company that’ll be helping us in every aspect of it as well.
RS: Excellent. Will you do any of the editing yourself?
MW: We’ll see. I’ll probably do a fair amount of the editing myself, actually. There’re different deliverables. We’re going to be turning in interim videos to the Gates Foundation to show how we’re progressing. As it’s a 5-year project, we’ll be submitting some interim summary videos and some web videos to put on their website to show off the successes. Simultaneously we have the long term goal of creating a feature-length documentary about the entire experience and about Western NGOs going into Third World countries and trying to help. Honestly, at this stage we have no idea what the subject of the feature-length documentary will be, but we hope to gather enough footage to create a really interesting and powerful documentary.
RS: This sounds like a fascinating project to be involved in! But the big question is, what will you be using to edit the footage?
MW: (Laughs) We’ll see! Over the next five years there’ll be some big changes in the market place... We’re talking presumably about the differences with the new version of Final Cut Pro X that’s just come out? It’s a little hard to say whether this software is going to be up to the task of a documentary that’s going to have thousands of hours of footage and multiple people working on it simultaneously. However, over the next few years I fully expect Apple to upgrade it and improve it and I imagine that eventually it certainly will be.
Shot from Michael Wohl's FCP X training at macProVideo.com.
RS: I believe you worked on the creation of the original Final Cut? Can you tell us more about your involvement in its development?
MW: I was actually the second guy hired to work on the Final Cut team back in 1995. I had been working at Adobe with the engineer, Randy Ubillos. He was basically brought over to Macromedia to create a brand new video tool and he immediately contacted me and asked if I wanted to come over and help design this new software (FCP).
Originally my job was as a local video production company inside Macromedia to do projects, test the software and give feedback on how things should work and what would make the best tool. Eventually that grew into a job where I was mostly designing the software... I mean it was a big team and I was one of a group of people. I was doing a lot of the mock-ups of the interface and focusing on the interaction. That is, to decide on what experience the user needed to have in order to accomplish certain goals. So, as the software matured I moved into areas dealing with training and I did all of the initial demos for all the trade shows. Then I did all the internal training at Apple and then I was involved in some of the first external training available for end users and for trainers.
RS: So during that period Apple bought Final Cut from Macromedia. How long were you involved in Final Cut at Apple?
MW: Well, I never expected to stay on. When I first came on in 1995 I asked Randy how long it would take, and he was like, "Oh, it should take us about a year.". I thought OK, I could take a year away from my filmmaking and go work on this software. (laughs) And then over the course of the next five years I was really happy to be involved. But first of all it was a very grueling and difficult process. Secondly, I never wanted to be permanently in software. I always wanted to go back into making films so I promised myself as soon as we shipped version 1 I’d leave and go back to filmmaking. Essentially that’s what I did, I stayed on an extra 6 months until version 1.2 was released in order to help fix some mistakes and improve it a little bit. So basically in October 1999 I left and went back to filmmaking, did a feature film and opened my own production company.
Remember this? The Final Cut Pro 7 interface.
RS: It’s no secret that Final Cut Pro X is radically different to the Final Cut versions that came before it. So, what are your favorite features in the new version?
MW: Well, it’s important to say that Final Cut Pro X is not a new version of Final Cut. To call it that is to misunderstand everything about it. It is a brand new piece of software. So much so that in my humble opinion, I think Apple would’ve had a better time of this if they just named it something completely new. And I think the audience reaction would be more uniformly great. Right now we’re seeing a very mixed reaction.
Make no doubt about it, Final Cut Pro X is an amazing piece of software. There are tons of really cool features, and I’ll tell you a about a couple of specific ones in a second. I think that there is an expectation problem where people want to pick up right where Final Cut 7 left off and you’ve got to realize that was a 10-year-old piece of software that was never going to survive another 10 years. It needed to be reinvented. And I think they did a bold and difficult thing to do this complete reinvention. Inevitably there’s going to be a lot of disappointment along with a lot of excitement.
That being said, I think there are quite a few really nice, new features in Final Cut Pro X. I’m not referring to the obvious, flashy ones, like the Magnetic Timeline—the way things move out of the way when you drag them around—I’m not really impressed with that. I mean it’s cool and it looks good and for some editors it’ll prevent a certain number of mistakes. But one feature I love to use in reality is Auditions, where you can skip through multiple versions of a single shot or multiple effects on a single shot and you can very easily swap those out right in the middle of an edit. Some of the audio effects that have been adopted from Logic and that are integrated into Final Cut Pro X are a big improvement.
FCP X's new Auditions feature.
I also think the overall metadata architecture is great. I do have mixed feelings about it because there are certain aspects that are incredibly powerful and easy and will really improve the user experience. At the same time there are other aspects of it that are going to force users to do more work upfront. You know if you don’t enter a lot of metadata: notes, scene information and descriptions then it’s going to be a lot harder to work with your media in Final Cut Pro X, especially on large projects. But if you do enter all that data, things are going to be really nice and smooth.
RS: In my limited time using and testing Final Cut Pro X I see it as a platform upon which Apple are likely to build on for future. Do you feel that FCP X has a bright future for both novice and pro users alike?
MW: I sure hope so. There’s certainly a lot of work that Apple’s going to need to do to bring this up to the feature list and user experience level of FCP 7. That really took up to 15 years (including development time) of refinement, tweaking and getting all the little nuances right and making the user experience unparalleled. FCP X doesn’t have all that yet, and it’s going to need some time to grow into that level.
The new Graphic EQ in FCP X.
To put it another way, FCP X is going to be incredibly useful and is going to be everything you would want for a good 70% of the users out there. For people migrating from iMovie, people new to video editing, people working on simple projects where they need to quickly and easily get their editing done, this is going to be an amazing tool from Day One.
For people doing more serious ‘professional’ projects, it’s still pretty close. You know, it’s not far away. But there are some real obstacles to it being up to the level of Final Cut Pro 7.
RS: Can you outline some of these currently missing features for us?
MW: Well, there’s big and there’s little. There’re huge features like multicam, audio mixing, being able to see the viewer and canvas at the same time, which provides all sorts of benefits to a professional editor. There’re also lots of tiny things that have a big impact. For example, the simple way In and Out points are marked. The fact that they abandoned the term ‘In’ and ‘Out’ point. I think it just fundamentally needs to be fixed. We need to be able to see the marks on the clip and keep those marks when you switch from one clip to another. Another oversight is with organization. Right now, you can’t just make a simple folder of clips. It’s something fundamental. You can make a folder if you use all the keywords and the really nice smart collections and these automatic tools. Those all work really well. But something as simple as making a folder and sticking a bunch of clips in it, you can’t do that.
It’s some little things that I find odd that are missing. They’re not deal breakers as such, but they can impact the day-to-day editing experience. Some of these tiny features are about migrating from FCP 7 and getting used to a new way of working. But others are not, for example some of the keyboard shortcuts they took away and others that they’ve changed will make it harder for people to migrate from FCP 7.
RS: But in FCP X you can customise your keyboard shortcuts. In what way has this feature changed for FCP 7 users?
MW: Yes, you can. But there are some that can’t be customised. For example, the F-keys (function keys) are not available any longer. Also there are keys that do multiple things. For example, the “U” key that toggles between the ripple incoming, rippled outgoing and roll tools is gone. That may sound like a small thing but it’s actually a really nice feature to be able to tap a single key and toggle between those 3 shortcuts. In Final Cut X there are 3 separate keys for those functions and so there’s no way to map that to the old way of working. And there are a number of similar things like that.
Despite these little things, millions of people are going to use this software. And I want to say that FCP X has some really cool features and it really is an amazing piece of software. There are shortcomings, sure. My gut feeling is that identifying those shortcomings doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t use FCP X, but it means we need to be aware that there are currently some limitations.
RS: From my point of view, perhaps Apple is looking at a future far removed from the old situation in the world of video editing. Perhaps a future where large (video) production companies don’t have such a dominant voice as video editing is embraced more and more by the consumer or prosumer market. You know, people putting stuff out on YouTube and creating great independent content for smaller projects.
MW: I absolutely agree. I don’t think professional video editors are going to go away, but I do think that the big bulk of the market is going to be that mid-range space where people are creating high quality (video) but they’re not doing it in a professional environment. As the technology gets simpler and more accessible—literally every iPhone has an HD video camera in it—so everyone is going to be dealing with video which will in turn require a certain amount of editing. You need to organize it and in order to present it there’s work that you need to do. So having a tool which is accessible to this wide range of people, and yet gives enough of the professional tools that can give great results, is a really brilliant idea on Apple’s behalf.
There’s a bigger picture behind all this also. The tool is not the point. The point is the storytelling and using the tool to communicate the contents of your video. You can do great storytelling with 2 tape decks and a switcher. You don’t need the hottest, coolest technology to tell good stories. When you’ve got that cool technology it does make it easier, but I think people can get caught up in the bells and whistles of the software and lose track of the bigger picture.
RS: Well, talking about storytelling, I want to talk to you about teaching. I think there’s a lot of very dry video training for Final Cut out there. And your training style is very far from that! It’s very engaging, passionate and involving for the viewer. What is your process for creating highly informative and entertaining video tutorials?
MW: Thanks. I teach at UCLA and have been teaching seminars for a dozen years or more and I’m a pretty passionate teacher in general. I’m always very enthusiastic about what I’m interested in and whenever I’m describing something I always try to communicate it in a way that I think will stick. To me that means the technical details and names of commands, while very important, isn’t the most important thing for a learner. Really what you need is to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. You need to get a sense of the goals underneath the task. The truth is you can always come back and review the step by step instructions again.
If you’ve sat through 6 or 8 hours of training and gotten all that information, it’s going to be tough to remember every detail from that first viewing. So what I try to do is make sure I’m communicating enough of those key elements that are the ‘why you’re doing this’. So when you go off to your own system to go and make your own movie you may not remember the exact name of the control or the step, but, you’ll remember there’s a way to do that... and it had something to do with ‘this’. That’ll help you find your way in the software or you can review the video to get back to that one spot. But, if I just give you a list of 3000 commands and what they do and how they do it like a lot of other training videos out there, I feel so much of it will just go in one ear and out the other.
RS: Very interesting! I’m looking forward to digging into more of your FCP X tutorials at macProVideo.com. Can you give us any info on what we can expect to see in the titles?
MW: Of course. We begin with a Free 1-hour long Overview that covers the whole software from beginning to end: from getting started to outputting a movie and that’s a free module that anyone can watch at any time. It’s not just a demo, it’s really designed to give you a sense of a lot of what you need to know in order to get started. But of course, there’s not room to go into all the depth and all the rich elements of FCP X in that first intro.
Then I go into an extensive description of getting your footage into the software and organizing it. This is one of the big pluses of FCP X: Media Management and the metadata organizational-based features that’s built right in.
Next up is Editing in the Magnetic Timeline which really covers all the fundamentals of editing footage, getting it into your projects and moving stuff around to help you build your projects and make your rough cuts.
In Advanced Editing Techniques, it’s much more about fine-tuning and trimming and that’s where we’re also going to cover some of the cool new features like Auditions, Compound clips and related tips. Working with Audio is the next module and that’s really going to cover all the audio editing features—and there are quite a few excellent audio enhancements in FCP X. Then we go on to Titles, Effects and Compositing. From cropping, adjusting images, key framing them and moving them around the screen to using all the filters that are built-in and all the titles that come with the software and generators, etc.
Then, I’ve separated Color Correction Techniques into its own module. That’s going to be a little bit shorter than some of the others, but it’s very rich because those color correction features are really cool and powerful. And finally we’ll end up with Exporting and Sharing Your Work which includes some media management tips and tricks, too.
RS: That’s awesome. I can’t wait to finish watching this FCP X series! Thanks for that in depth walk through of your tutorial videos.
It sounds like you’re really busy producing training videos for macProVideo.com, running a production company, doing lots of filming work, writing, directing, editing, authoring courseware books for Apple... Do you get any free time? And if you do how do you like to spend it?
MW: (laughs) Well the truth is my work is very sporadic. I go through periods where I’m super, super busy and periods where I have lots of free time. When I do have down time I certainly like to travel. I really enjoy international travel and try to do that when I can. I have all sorts of other hobbies and stuff, you know, I paint and love cooking and I bake bread. Cool stuff like that. (laughs) All sorts of other outdoor activities, too.
RS: Thanks so much for your time, Michael. It’s been a real pleasure to talk with you.
MW: Thank you!
Join FCP X Expert, Michael Wohl, and learn Final Cut Pro X inside out with these tutorials.