For those working in the film industry that come across Final Cut issues, there's one man to call: Ben Balser. As well as being an experienced Certified Final Cut Trainer and having taught classes across the U.S. for editors from CNN, Discovery, Getty Images to State and Federal government institutions, Ben is also a Final Cut consultants' consultant!
We're thrilled to welcome Ben to macProVideo.com as a trainer, bringing his years of experience, knowledge and passion for Final Cut. It's a perfect fit! In this interview I caught up with the man from Louisiana to talk about his passion for video, his film-making background, Final Cut Pro X and its future, why media management matters and much more.
Rounik Sethi: Hi Ben it’s great to meet you!
Ben Balser: Good to talk to you.
RS: Tell us about your background and how you got into the video editing world.
BB: Well, I was about 14 years old and a huge Bruce Lee fan. We all were back then. I’m dating myself! (This was the early 70s). I have always been a visual person. I loved music and had been playing flute since I was in 3rd grade and at that age was getting into rock 'n’ roll and wanting to learn guitar...just being a typical teenager. But I always saw movies in my head when I heard music. Even then I was actually writing compositions and would always see a movie. It was always about a story for me.
Eventually, while digging around in an old closet, I found an old silent 8mm wind-up Brownie camera. The spools of film were something like 2-3 minutes long and when you would wind it up you’d only have a minute or so to shoot. It wasn’t much. So some friends and I did our own Kung-Fu movie. It was silent and trying to cut that stuff up and edit it together was a nightmare. We pretty much lost all that footage because you know, scotch tape only goes through the projector a couple of times before it degrades and burns up!
Well I didn’t touch video for a while after that, but I continued doing music. To cut a long story short, I ended up being an IT engineer and a project manager and was always doing music, sound and had friends who did video as hobbies. Two friends were extremely talented musicians that I loved to play with, who also did their own little short films that they shot and edited on VHS tape. It was amazing how accurate they were able to cut this stuff from camera to VCR! In one of those projects I acted and had a great time. I remember thinking I wish knew more about this as I wanted to do this stuff, but figured that was something other people did.
These friends felt my music was cool, soundtrack-style music. They asked me to do music for some scenes in their latest film about a WWII comedy and I did it and I got hooked. Then I thought, I don’t just want to do music. I want to do the visuals that go on in my head with this music and do it all professionally. But I still never considered myself a filmmaker.
RS: So when did that change for you?
BB: Well about 14 years ago the opportunity presented itself where I made the transition from being an IT Engineer to doing professional media production full-time. Then I thought, "Ah ha! I’m doing what I love to do and I’ll never have to do IT work again." Wrong! Little did I know that I’m going to do even more IT work and even more specialised than before. The good thing was [it was] on a Mac! You know throughout my IT career no matter what machine I had to be working on I always came home to a Mac. I didn’t want to be fixing a computer like many of my PC friends, I wanted to use my computer!
Ben Balser teaching a live class.
RS: Thank Steve for Macs! So when did you start doing features and Indie shorts?
BB: I’ve done a lot of Indies for other people. In fact I should say in the beginning I did a lot of wedding and event videography. It’s a fantastic way to learn, and is physically and mentally very demanding. Anyone who thinks wedding videographers are second-rate should take a hike! That’s a lot of work and it burnt me out, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for people that do that 24/7 as a living as it is demanding and stressful work. They definitely are underpaid for what they do. For example: the wedding videos the ‘kids’ are coming out with today are literally short, cinematic films.
RS: What came after working as a wedding videographer?
BB: I branched off into doing corporate videos. I kind of found a niche in educational videos probably because I had studied educational psychology in college and I come from a long line of professional educators. I grew up listening to school teachers talk about education at the dinner table. It’s in my blood. Every job I’ve ever had I end up being asked to teach something. So of course when I got into videography, I eventually became a trainer.
I found out I could become a Final Cut-certified end-user which I thought would help my business. Then literally the day after I got that certification I accidentally stumbled across a web page about being an Apple Trainer and I knew that was what I wanted and what fate had brought me to do: my destiny. I love teaching and consulting with a passion.
Ben Balser on set.
RS: Can we talk about recent films you’ve worked on and what your role was with them?
BB: Sure. Well, Flood Streets is one of the latest I’ve helped out with. I did some technical consulting for their post-production process and color grading. Harry Shears was onboard with that and he plays a part on it and I think he’s actually co-producer, too. It’s doing very well on the film festival circuit. It’s getting awards all over the place. The woman and her husband who did this film...she took a Final Cut class from me years ago when I first began teaching in New Orleans. Then all of a sudden she and her husband are calling me up as they have all these drives worth of stuff that they need to manage. And you know 90% of the problems I solve all come down to media management. Which is why I was so keen to do the Media Management in Final Cut Pro X tutorial for macProVideo because so many problems arise from not doing it or doing it poorly. And if you do proper media management you’ll avoid so many problems and life just gets so much easier.
RS: So, was the color grading and consultancy for Flood Streets Final Cut Pro 7 or FCP X based?
BB: Well, it was version 7 because it was all done before FCP X came out. In fact, I did the color grading a few weeks before FCP X arrived.
RS: So, have you had the opportunity to use FCP X on any commercial projects yet?
BB: Yes. On a couple of lower scale TV commercials. I’ve done a corporate training video with FCP X, too. I haven’t done any features yet, nothing big. I’m actually re-editing two 48-hour film projects in FCP X. I’m polishing them up and although I was not happy with FCP X in the beginning, now that I’ve used it and learned it, I cannot believe how fast I’m getting through my work. It’s amazing.
RS: So, much has been said about the missing features in the dot zero version of FCP X. So what are your thoughts on the recent FCP X update, 10.01?
BB: I think it’s a fantastic update. It solidifies that Apple is very committed to the pro market. Everything this update brought to the table is of absolutely no use to what we’d typically consider the "iMovie user". So, anybody who calls it "iMovie Pro" really needs to sit down and learn it. I mean, it’s a fantastic application. In the Final Cut user group I run here I’ve heard people say it’s not a version 1, it’s a version 10. But that’s not how Apple works. This is version 1, just like from OS 9 to OS X, where OS X was version 1 of a completely new system. But version 1 of anything always misses features, has growing pains and a few bugs. This isn’t any different.
What is different is FCP X treats digital media like digital media and not like celluloid negatives we have to cut and glue together. This is a paradigm shift I’m more than happy someone finally did. My biggest gripe has been, when teaching FCP, that we’re following procedures that are followed by a negative cutter on celluloid film, but we’re not cutting on celluloid film. Why does every project have to start at one hour? That was from the days of celluloid film edit decision lists [where timecode] had to start at one hour so they could backtime things and not shift all those timecodes down for the negative cutter. If you’re working with digital files there’s no need for that anymore.
Then there’s Bins. Having physical folders that I have to drag stuff into and if I want in another folder needs to be duplicated and dragged into other folders, that is based on physical reels of film having to go into physical metal bins and putting gaffers tape on stuff and writing on this stuff. You know, why do we still use that if we’re dealing with digital files that have metadata that we can just click on to organize? I love that Apple is finally treating digital media as digital media.
That’s what the Media Management tutorial is all about: The huge paradigm shift that everybody needs to make and how we need to do it. We don’t need to do things based on the negative cutting paradigm which was all done to make it easier for people to adapt to a digital world: making it what they were used to. But now, very few of us using NLEs have really touched celluloid film so there’s no need to work according to their rules. And now that Apple have made this paradigm shift, I’ll bet 12 months from now you’ll see Adobe and Avid using metadata in a similar way to how Apple has done it.
RS: Well, you’ve mentioned your Managing Media in Final Cut Pro X tutorial-video with macProVideo.com. Can you tell us more about who it’s aimed at and why it’ll be useful for them?
BB: It is aimed at everybody! Now we have a new way of dealing with digital media with Apple breaking down old barriers and telling the industry as a whole to grow up and admit we’re digital. Physical folders are meaningless things. There are a lot of tasks we used to do that a computer should do for us. And in my experience as a trainer and consultant over the past 12 years, the majority of problems I come across boils down to bad media management or a lack of any type of media management. Many people say they’re figuring it out on the fly as they go along, but then they pay me to come and fix the problems as a result!
You know, they might have half a dozen hard drives and they can’t find anything because they didn’t think about media management. Often they’ll spend money on the equipment, like 6 hard drives when they could’ve spent the same money on a small RAID with all the data organized in one place using Final Cut Server.
RS: Right. So, seeing as media management is crucial for all computer users, would this tutorial help non-Final Cut users?
BB: Well, the concepts apply to every digital media workflow. Anyone who is creating digital media products will find the concept the same. The actual processes of how we apply good media management in Final Cut Pro X is specific to FCP X. That’s because of its new and groundbreaking way of dealing with this which is based on a metadata/database approach that almost nobody else is using now.
But the concepts of media management are there for Premiere or Media Composer users, too. We need to learn proper and good media management housekeeping and apply it to the project from the beginning.
RS: Thanks! So, I’m concerned that you’re giving away all your trade secrets and you’ll lose your regular customers? (laughs)
BB: Ha! That’s a good point, I [very] well might. But that’s OK. When I do my consulting work I often see clients for a short period of time. They get it, they apply it and they move on. That’s what I want. My goal is basically to put myself out of a job. I think that is the goal of any educator. It’s not just about giving people information but teaching them how to think about things, giving them the concepts how to approach these issues so that they’re independent and they become more empowered and control more of their work and life, which frees them up to be more creative and have more fun.
If I have a student that comes to my classes year after year, I’m going to get real worried about that. (Laughs)
Ben teaches a wide variety of live classes to all levels.
Media production is the new literacy, I think someone at Apple once said that. YouTube, Vimeo, all these outlets are the new literacy. There was a time people were just starting to read and write and as more people learned we got more and more bad writers, mediocre writers and great writers. Then the desktop publishing phase came along and we had artists doing some incredible things. And now we have video/audio production which will become common. Everybody will be able to take photos, record audio and video and edit it on their smart phones and do something experimental. There’s going to a portion of the population who wants to take it to the next level and really pursue it professionally. Those are the people I’m trying to help. If you want to step up to a whole new level and learn it, right? Well, here’s one of the most important things that’ll make your life a whole lot better and easier: Media Management and learning the new paradigms.
RS: Thanks, Ben. This is such a fascinating subject. I’m looking forward to the release of this tutorial and I know you have a couple of other FCP X tutorials for MPV in production right now... so we can’t really give too much away right now...
BB: Right! And these are all titles and topics that nobody else is doing. They’ll be unique to macProVideo.com and there’s some really great information in there. I’m so proud to be part of macProVideo to bring this unique and much needed training to a whole new crop of editors that are coming up.
RS: And we’re honored to have you on board too, Ben. Thank you. Since the new update for FCP X 10.0.1 what features, in your opinion, are still missing or could be added to make it even better and more suitable for professional video editors?
BB: The first thing that’s missing is education. People simply don’t get it. It’s very easy to learn and I’ve done a couple of independent seminars but as people get it they really take off with it.
Now to be more professional... well, we’ve got XML now but it’s still a 1.0 feature. When we see that turn into a 2.0 or 3.0 we’re going to see a monstrous powerhouse of XML. Even in legacy FCP there are five different versions of XML. It evolves and I think version 2.0 will surprise a lot of people.
Multicam editing. Although the truth is it’s not used by the majority of people in the industry, for those who need it, it’s important. I can’t wait to see what happens when it comes out. I’m confident the development team for Final Cut will give us something that’ll blow us away. In fact, I have these fantasies of the multi-takes system (Take Folders) in Logic being in FCP X. The first time I used it in Logic, I immediately envisioned multiple tracks of video synced and how we could use the same paradigm and layout for video editing. Whatever happens, I’m confident we’re going to see a much more usable, easier, more flexible multicam.
RS: That’s an intriguing thought. So, you mean being able to comp video tracks just like you can with takes in Logic. I like that idea.
BB: Right. Let me see those stacked up just like in Logic, make my comp selections and just click on the ones I want and boom they're done. They’re put together. That would be amazing.
The other thing is output to broadcast monitors which is absolutely necessary. Both multitrack and professional broadcast quality output have been promised for early 2012, so it is coming and those are the two most sorely missing features.
Oh, and I think once we see a 1.5/2.0 version of XML we’ll see a version of OMF because those OMF outputs were always based on XML data anyway. FCP legacy projects were always just XML files and the OMF output to go to Logic or Pro Tools or whatever read that data. So, once XML matures then I think OMF is a given. We’re going to have that.
Once these features are in FCP X, I think Media Composer and Premiere Pro will be playing catch-up.
RS: Interesting. I agree that the future of FCP X looks very bright. OK. So, I know you’re doing a lot of Apple Authorized Training for FCP X, FCP consultancy, and of course FCP tutorials for macProVideo.com!.. Tell us about the Ben Balser outside of the Editing Suite and Training center.
BB: You mean aside from enjoying very expensive whiskeys? Well, I love my stunt kites. Living in South Louisiana I’m not close to beaches, so I take any opportunity to get to see family in Florida and hit the beaches with the kites. I love music. I’m a semi-pro, semi-amateur musician. I love to compose and record music. I also love working in my yard. I’m a gardener and just love being outside.
People ask if I love going to movies all the time. You know what? When it comes to movies even though I am in the industry, I am so picky and judgmental about movies. I’m not the guy you want to see movies with!! It’s not about the technical editing or anything. I just take it in and feel like I’ve seen this story before. Give me something original! I think there’s something to be said about how the Indie movie market is giving Hollywood a run for its money. I think that’s a wonderful thing. I love indie movies, stunt kites, working in the yard and my grill. I am married to my grill.
Outdoors and flying stunt kites makes for a happy Ben!
When I meet a girl and I want to date her, one of my first questions is how she feels about food being done on a grill. If they hate barbecues I’m going to turn and walk the other way! No, so really, I love to cook. Growing up in South Louisiana, if you reach 17 and you don’t know how to cook I think there’s actually a state law and we kick you out. (laughs!) We love our food and our music.
RS: Ha! Ben, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Can’t wait to check out your FCP X tutorials for MPV. Thank you!
Discover all about Media Management in Final Cut Pro X with Ben Balser in Final Cut Pro X 204: Managing Media.