We Must Go Pro!

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Nacho Libre is one of all-time favorite movies. Fortunately, it is also a favorite of my younger brother Jared, and has so many quotable moments that apply to nearly every conceivable life situation that we are rarely at a loss for riffing on the most profound or most banal moment of existence with the aplomb of a barely famous celibate luchador.

In one of my favorite scenes, Nacho and Esqueleto have just lost another fight, and Nacho is tired of ‘getting paid to lose.’ In a moment of profundity, he realizes that his natural skills (even augmented by magical eagle powers) are not sufficient to bring him his glory day in the hot sun. Rather, he must get in with the pros and ‘learn their ways.’

Nacho: I need professional help. I need Ramses!. He’s the best. I must get in with him and his buddies. I must learn their ways.

Esqueleto: But they are pros. They only hang out with each other.

Nacho: Then we must go pro!

Esqueleto: But going pro’s not that easy. It’s political, obviously.

++

Earlier today I was reading an excellent post/rant by Philip Hodgetts regarding statements that some have been content to make regarding Final Cut Pro X’s ‘professional’ status. Granted, these statements have been made without knowledge of Final Cut pro X’s feature set. Nevertheless, some have been as bold as to say that from the Sneak Peek alone they have already decided to go back to Avid. In numerous com-boxes (those bastions of critical thinking) I have seen a high number of people stating that FCPX is ‘not professional.’ (The lack of seriousness or critical thinking is generally underscored by a pejorative reference to iMovie ’11.)

Again, these statements come without knowledge of FCPX’s final feature set. Nevertheless, Philip makes a good point in some of his comments on previous posts: As FCPX is essentially a re-write, for all intents and purposes it is going to be a version 1 product. As such, it is extremely unlikely that it will have a feature set that is going to satisfy 100% of video professionals.

That being said, Philip’s rant is an important one, one that touches on what is probably the crux of the matter, and that is the definition of ‘professional.’

That is my point exactly. To say that anything “isn’t for pros” is making an assumption about what a “pro” is, and that’s rarely reasonable. What those people who are making that statement are really trying to do is to make sure their niche in the production world gets some kind of special treatment, or at least they believe they are in some way “special”.

Naturally, there is a large difference between someone editing major motion pictures or weekly television broadcasts and someone who creates promotional productions for corporations or someone who creates videos for weddings. However, these differences are often a matter of scale rather than of substance. Talent and skill in production, shooting and editing is rarely the result of merely having the professional equipment, but is found in the artistry and vision of the people making them. Film-making, which ultimately boils down to story-telling, cannot be limited to multi-million dollar budgets. A brief perusal of Vimeo should be enough to convince anyone that creativity and good story-telling can be done with just as much artistry and sophistication with a fraction of the budget.

Philip mentions that the film making industry has ‘broadened.’ I would say that it is gotten larger and gotten smaller. It has gotten larger (broadened, as Philip puts it) in that far more people are involved in it today that ever before. Within this broadening or enlarging has come a simultaneous ‘getting smaller.’ What I mean by this is that the bar to entering the field has shrunk to within the reach of far more people. In the past, it was the provence of large production facilities with insanely expensive equipment, both for shooting and for editing. These days, however, someone with a $900 DSLR and editing software that is similarly priced can create compelling stories and capture equally compelling imagery, so much so that a traditional video camera which costs 4 times as much captures images that pale in comparison. Here’s how Philip describes it:

The concept of a professional video editor has broadened. The editors that fill the 17-18 edit bays at TV Week are working professional editors. Similarly, those that edit movies for the majors studios are working professional editors? Both are professional. The thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of Event Videographers satisfy some demanding customers. I’ll rather get notes from a Studio Exec than an unhappy Mother of the Bride any day! All professional editors serve demanding customers, although the demands may not be the same.

These days, far more professional film-making is being done by much smaller teams, and sometimes by a lone individual, than ever before. As I mentioned in a previous post, within this dynamic people are looking for tools that are going to allow production to exist in this kind of smaller environment, and the advent of DSLR film-making along with the lowering of prices on software has certainly propelled this forward.

Creative industries tend to go through this type of broadening. It has happened fairly recently in the graphic design field. In the past, graphic design was, to a large extent, the domain of design firms and printing houses. The tools didn’t really exist to do otherwise. With the advent of digital printing and digital graphics, all that has radically changed. Today, anybody with a decent laptop and Photoshop can have at their disposal most, if not all of the tools they might need to create compelling graphics and even make a living at it. All of this for an entry point of less than $2500.

Yet despite this shift, graphic design isn’t dead, nor is everyone who has Photoshop automatically amazing at graphic design. In some cases, a powerful tool in the wrong hands can make things worse. Someone who makes terrible flyers in Word is going to make similarly terrible flyers in Photoshop, except with the option of adding a bevel or an outer glow because they don’t know any better. In short, Photoshop does not a graphic designer make. Rather, it becomes very clear in short order if the user actually has the skills to use the software to its fullest to bring about an artistic vision.

FCPX being $299 (and perhaps in the same vein Premiere being available to rent) may have a similar effect on film-making. Philip believes that some professionals are concerned about their niche being lost to everyone and their proverbial uncle who are supposedly going to rush out and get into film-making because of FCPX being $299:

It kind of goes with the attitude that says “the world is over, anyone can buy a professional NLE for just $299″. As if the price of the tools somehow affects the quality of the work. If you have that attitude you’ve already lost your credibility and you should go find another occupation!

Philip is right- the tools one uses are one of the least important aspects of one’s work. Rather, the quality of work is directly related to one’s skills and talents and artistic vision.

A final note regarding the price: Philip is correct concerning those who are nay-saying FCPX because of its low price. For Apple, this kind of aggressive pricing is a no-brainer. At the Sneak Peek, it was mentioned that Final Cut Pro (I am guessing over all it’s iterations) has over 2 million unique installs. Of that base, one can probably expect a significantly high percentage to purchase FCPX, as well as a significant number of others in the creative fields for whom $299 is a very doable price. I have seen several predictions regarding the number of units Apple will move; I wouldn’t be shocked if it easily doubled the original 2 million number. For someone wanting more functionality than something like iMovie provides, $299 is a very attractive price. For the person who already uses Final Cut Pro, it is less than previous upgrades and allows them to preserve the functionality of whatever version of Final Cut they may have. For those who are kind of on the fence between Adobe’s production tools and Apple’s, $299 could be the deal-maker.

Let’s not forget that, as profitable as selling 2-4 million copies of FCPX would be, (even after taking into account the overhead of developing it) Apple also stands to move a lot of hardware. There are newly refreshed lines of MacBook Pros and iMacs just waiting to be bought and edited on. (Philip even mentioned in his recent web-inar that it has been reported that FCPX performs brilliantly on a MacBook Air!) With this kind of aggressive pricing, Apple clearly wants as many people as possible buying FCPX, and probably even more wants them buying Macs to use it on. With this kind of aggressive pricing Apple wants the current and rising generation of film-makers to grow up using Final Cut, which represents a life-time of hardware upgrades and purchases.

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  • Yes! Nacho Libre’s one of my favorites, too. I’m sad this quote wasn’t on imdb.com but fortunately, my Google search of snippets of the dialogue got me here. Thank you!

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Jason Watson

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