FCP X User…. or Ex-FCP User? Some thoughts.

June 28th, 2011

For the most part, this is not a review of FCP X. If you must know, I’ve used FCP X a little bit and I like its sleek interface and speed but, even more, I miss a lot of Final Cut Studio’s functionality, particularly Color. If FCP X matures into something more professional (i.e., more robust editor, plus a truly sophisticated color grading tool) I might embrace it. If it doesn’t, I will embrace something else.

The biggest problem for me, and for many others I suspect, is that I don’t know where it’s going and what it will become.

What’s been most puzzling in the aftermath of the FCP X is that so many people outside the professional production community — journalists, software developers, consumer video hobbyists, etc. — have tried to serve as apologists for Apple even though they have little experience editing professionally (i.e., for works that are publicly exhibited in broadcast, theatrical, or home video environments).

So, instead of reviewing the program in depth, I want to add my $0.02 to the ongoing FCP X debate by trying to articulate very clearly why I and others are frustrated with Apple and — yes — why we’re considering switching.

In the Q+A format below I try to address these (sometime maddening) comments.

Let me point out that the comments to which I’m replying are composites or, at times, actual quotes (marked with asterisks) of comments I’ve found in news articles, message boards and elsewhere. And if you don’t believe me, Google them.
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On Plex: National Film Board of Canada and Snag Films

May 23rd, 2011


I’ve been setting up a HTPC on a new MacMini. Nothing fancy, it’s basically a MacMini running Plex, which (if you’re not familiar with it) is a free media server application similar to XBMC and Boxee.

I used Plex about a year and a half ago, when it was in rougher stages. Today, it seems both more robust as an application and also offers more variety in terms of the content available.

In addition to stuff like Netflix, TED, and South Park, there are “channels” from Snag Films and the National Film Board of Canada, which has an amazing library of films online, including works by Michel Brault.

Vimeo’s HD channel looks amazing, too — it looks as good as any HD cable I’ve seen. So far there’s no Mubi support. Hopefully soon.

You don’t need Plex to watch these videos, of course. Click the image below to watch Pour la suite du monde (aka Of Whales, the Moon, and Men).

Of Whales, The Moon, and Men


Prepare to Lose Everything: Use SuperDuper and SMARTReporter

May 16th, 2011

As I mentioned in my last post, hard drive failure is a virtual certainty. It’s going to happen to every drive, eventually. The trick to not having your day (or your life) ruined by such and event lies in a) having an up-to-date backup and, if possible, b) being as prepared for drive’s failure as possible.

To this end, here are two resources to help you and me be prepared for the inevitable:

SuperDuper. If you don’t know of this application, prepare to meet your new best friend. It clones hard drives. Reliably. A limited version is available for free. For under $30 you can buy the fully featured version, which allows you to schedule backups and does smart updates (i.e., it copies even faster). I’ve used SuperDuper for years and see no reason to change as long as it works but, as an FYI, Carbon Copy Cloner does similar things and is donationware.

SMARTReporter.  This nifty application checks on the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) status of your hard drive to see if it has any problems. It is, as the folks at Corecode note, a kind of “early warning system” to notify you (by email, alert, etc.) of a possibly impending hard drive crash. Useful stuff, particularly if you’ve not run a backup recently. The one hitch: SMART technology does not work with USB and FireWire drives. All the more reason to schedule backups so they’re always up-to-date.

In my experience, I have found that a drive’s likelhood to fail is directly proportionate to its need to work on a given day. One example: On the day I was set to drive to 200 miles to a post house to do the final output of Quick Feet Soft Hands for television broadcast my raid, storing all of my Final Cut Pro and Color files failed. Thankfully, I had an exact clone and didn’t skip a beat.

Suggestions for further reading:

How Do You Make a Filmmaker Cry?

What to Do When Your Hard Drive Goes Soft

 


Shopping for Hard Drives? Two helpful resources…

May 9th, 2011

I’ve been setting up a home file server and HTPC with a MacMini and, in the process, I found myself shopping for hard drives. It’s amazing how cheap they are (about $80-100 for 2TB these days) when you consider what they do (i.e., holding all of your precious digital memories).

Unfortunately, other than relying on your own good and bad experiences, making informed decisions about purchasing new hard drives is next to impossible. The most important factor in a drive is reliability, but there’s no way to know if the drive you’re shipped is going to fail in 6 hours, 6 months, or 6 years. Compounding this is the fact that almost all reviews — particularly those from customers on retailer websites — are anecdotal by nature. Read the 1-star reviews on Newegg or Amazon for any hard drive and you’ll soon be looking for another model. And then another. And then… they all start looking equally awful.

Two websites to break through this logjam were Storage Review and Mac Performance Guide.

Storage Review takes hard drive reviews seriously. In searching for some reliable, large, and quiet drives, I followed their recommendations. I particularly found their “Leaderboard” of best drives useful and, after a little cross-checking, followed their recommendations.

Mac Performance Guide, on the other hand, is home to a motherlode of tips on optimizing a system. The site, authored by photographer Lloyd Chambers, bills itself as “offer[ing] the web’s clearest advice on selecting and configuring a Mac, especially for photographers.” That’s quite a claim, but I can’t refute it. The Articles and Guides section — which has multiple articles on backup, data safety, and optimizing Mac performance — is outstanding.

By the way, I ended up purchasing three different drives: a Western Digital Caviar Green, a Seagate Barracuda Green, and a Samsung Spinpoint F4. I bought none of them in confidence, which, I suppose, is the way you should always buy a drive. That’s why you have backups.

 


Adobe Story

May 2nd, 2011

 

I believe I’ve lamented my gripes with later versions of Final Draft (e.g., software bloat, etc.) elsewhere on this blog, but for what it’s worth, a few years ago I abandoned Final Draft as a screenwriting application. Yes, I know, it’s the “Industry Standard.”  That recognition didn’t make using it any easier. After one too many bugs, I dropped it and figured I could always convert my script to .fdr format after getting a draft out if I really needed such a thing.

Adobe Story

The problem is, I’ve struggled to find an application to replace it. Those applications have included Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, and Montage. For my last script I bounced between Screenwriter and Celtx. But as I’ve dug into a new project for the last few months I’ve been trying out Adobe Story.

And I’m here to say I’m impressed.

I’m not going to go into a full review of the application, but the thing that really has me hooked is the elegantly-designed interface. The serious, deep-grey look of the application might not be for everyone, but it really helps me stay focused on writing without distractions, especially when engaging the full screen mode. Also, the scene navigator features a color coded interface that simply illuminates at a glance which characters appear in which scenes.

Adobe Story's Interface

Some other things Story has going for it:

It saves your files to the cloud and can be used via a web browser, but it also has a downloadable application for use when working off-line and you can export your files for safekeeping on your own storage devices.

Its collaboration functions are fairly straightforward.

It imports scripts fairly seamlessly and exports in the all-imporant Final Draft format, as well as PDF, TXT, etc.

Finally, for those using the Adobe Production Suite, it interfaces with those applications. This last feature has me thinking about giving Premiere Pro a test run.

Oh, and the price is right. It’s free, at least through April 2012.

Aside from some minor, occasional bugginess (it’s still officially in beta), the major gripe I have with Story is that I can’t use it on my iPad because it uses Flash. At least not yet (see addendum below).

If you’re currently unsatisfied with the screenwriting application you’re using, even if it’s the “Industry Standard”, give it a look.

UPDATE 5/3/11: Literally a day after posting this, Adobe released the Story iPhone app. The app does not allow actual editing of scripts, only the reading of them and adding comments. Also, it’s an iPhone app, which means you have to use it on an iPad in windowed mode (or in the blurry 2x mode). While disappointing overall, it’s still a step in the right direction, particularly when one considers that the feud between Adobe and Apple over Flash might have meant no development at all for Apple’s mobile platforms.