Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

It's been a long time since we've done a post that wasn't related to Something, Anything. Back in 2007 (!), I did a post on shareware for filmmakers. That's still the first hit you get if you google the term. So I figured it was time to do an update. Looking over this list, it's kind of remarkable what kind of tools you can assemble for very, very little money.

Happy New Year!

AUDIO/VIDEO EDITORS

Audacity: Free. From the audacity website: "Easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems."

Audio Hijack: $49. Allows you to record any streaming audio. Useful for all sorts of things -- skype interviews, etc. Also, you may want to compare Fission (Rogue Amoeba’s $29 audio editor) against Audacity.

Unknown

Unknown

DaVinci Resolve 12: Free and Paid versions. Resolve would be on this list alone because it’s an industry-standard color grading app. What’s equally amazing is that it’s now a very useable NLE. When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X and abandoned its venerable (but aging) Final Cut Pro 7, there was a seismic shift in the NLE landscape. Some people moved to Premiere Pro, others moved to Avid, and some adopted FCPX. I clung to FCP 7 in hopes that something would come along that was less buggy (and better supported) than Premiere, more intuitive than Avid, and more "traditional" (for lack of a better word) than FCP X. DaVinci Resolve is not perfect, but it’s elegantly designed, and the free version does 90% of what the paid version does. And of course, it's a must have for the grading tools alone.

VIDEO CONVERTERS

Apple Compressor: $50. Apple’s venerable Compressor app (part of its old Final Cut Studio suite) got a make-over when FCP X was introduced a few years ago. Now an affordable standalone app, it’s $50 and works pretty well. Users of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Media Encoder) probably don’t have a use for this, but some people (I’m one) still prefer it. VLC, Handbrake, and MPEG Streamclip (all below) are other alternatives, but I tend to go with Compressor.

MPEG Streamclip: Free. In their own words, MPEG streamclip is a “free video converter, player, editor for Mac and Windows. It can play many movie files, not only MPEGs; it can convert MPEG files between muxed/demuxed formats for authoring; it can encode movies to many formats, including iPod; it can cut, trim and join movies. MPEG Streamclip can also download videos from YouTube and Google by entering the page URL.”

Handbrake: Free. From the Handbrake website: "HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs."

SCREENWRITING, WORD PROCESSING, SPREADSHEETS, etc.

Celtx: Free (for scriptwriting app only; other features are paid). I teach first-time screenwriting students, and this is the app I always send them to because it’s free. There are paid upgrades if you want additional features (scheduling and so on). But I’ve not tried those, and I’d be reluctant to use them over Scenechronize (see below). My favorite screenwriting app is Fade In (see immediately below), but this gets the job done if you have absolutely no money.

Unknown-1.jpeg

Fade In: $50. This isn't shareware, but it's affordably priced, especially considering the competition. The best, and simplest, screenwriting app I’ve ever encountered — and I’ve paid for Adobe Story, Final Draft (vers 6, 7, and 8) Movie Magic Screenwriter, and several other also-rans (plus Celtx). Fade In works with files from other screenwriting apps flawlessly, in my experience. You can import files from Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Adobe Story, Scrivener, PDF, and plain text, among others. The interface is just what I want: It looks good, it puts a focus on the words, and it’s easy to navigate through the script. I actually LIKE using it. There's also an iPad app. Unfortunately it's not nearly as solid.

Scrivener: $45. Like Fade In, this isn't shareware. But it is an awesome tool for keeping notes, research, and drafts in order as you prep a project. The one downside is that the developer has been promising an iPad version for years, and during that time people have been leaving the app for other competitors (like Ulysses).

Libre Office and Open Office: Free. These are essentially open source versions of the applications you find in Microsoft Office. (Do I really need to explain what you'd use these for?) Anyway, some people prefer Libre Office, others prefer Open Office. My day job supplies me with a free copy of MS Office, so I don’t have much of an opinion. They're both free -- download them both and give each a spin. Of course, another option is to work in the cloud using Google Docs (see below).

MISCELLANEA

App Cleaner: Free. If you’re reading this, you probably like trying new apps. The problem is that when you install new software hidden files and folders often get installed all over your computer. App Cleaner the easiest way to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. I use this all the time.

Super Duper: Free / $28 and Carbon Copy Cloner: $40. Backups are essential, and these are two great backup and disk-cloning solutions. I far prefer either to Apple’s Time Machine (which is a different thing altogether). I use SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner is very good too.

Cyberduck: Donationware. As the website states, Cyberduck is a "FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, S3, Azure & OpenStack Swift browser for Mac and Windows." My go-to app for FTP stuff.

screen800x500-300x188.jpeg

Movie Thumbnails: $3.99. This is really one of the best-kept secrets on the list. Movie Thumbnails lets you “create an overview or contact sheet of a movie combined with metadata like resolution, codec details and so forth.” We used this app to create contact sheets for every video file shot on Something, Anything, which helped us check on the wardrobe continuity or lighting for a shot from previous days of filming. Invaluable!

Pacifist: $20 shareware. This is one of those apps that you may only use once or twice, but you’ll be so glad it exists when you need it. Basically it allows you to drill down into Mac software packages to extract a single file from an installer. You may think you have no need for it, but like I said, it’s great at what it does.

QuickTime Movie NoteTaker: Free. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is still supported, and I confess I've not needed to use it in years.But this made the list last time and it might help someone out, so I’m listing putting here.

Self-Control: Free. The internet is a factory of distractions. If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on that screenplay, use Self-Control to shut off the internet for a while. It works.

Transcriva: $30. Transcription software for the Mac. I’ve not used this in a while, and some folks are using their NLE's voice recognition software, but it's still useful. While looking at Transcriva again I ran across Express Scribe -- never used it, but it also worth a look if you need something like this.

White Noise Free: Free. I get distracted if I can hear random conversations, music, etc. while doing deep dive work (e.g., writing or editing). Listening to white noise and a pair of good headphones helps me stay focused.

VLC Media Player: Free. From the website: "VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols." Plays almost anything you throw at it. We use this to cue up trailers at Public Cinema screenings.

CLOUD/WEB APPS:

This could be a really long list, but here are a few that I use.

Scenechronize: Free and Paid versions. I used to use a very old academic edition of Movie Magic/EP Scheduling, which is really expensive, to do stripboards and scheduling. Then a few years ago we discovered this. We used the free version of Scenechronize on Something, Anything, and it was amazing. It's so amazing that I've bumped it to the top of this section, out of alphabetical order. The paid version allows teams to collaborate.

Dropbox and Copy: Free and Paid versions. You know what Dropbox is. Copy is pretty much the same thing. There are lots of other web apps out there that do what these two do. When Something, Anything started being invited to festivals, each one would ask for their own set of (sometimes unique) deliverables. Instead of using Dropbox (which I use for tons of other things) I created a new Copy account and created files for each festival. This kept things clean and organized. Again, you could do this with one service (like Dropbox) but with so many players in the free cloud storage area, why not use a few?

Google Apps: Sheets and Forms. Free. I’m ambivalent about cloud computing (as in, it really sucks if you lose internet service), but I use Google’s Spreadsheet and Survey apps quite a bit. We used the spreadsheet app to keep track of everything fromcasting information to festival submissions to publications to approach for reviews or other coverage. Google Surveys are great, too. We used them one, for example, at the beginning of Something, Anything to poll our crew about dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and so on.

Wordpress: Free. Many a great website was built on the back of Wordpress. (In case you're interested, this site is built on WP; Something, Anything's site is SquareSpace. SquareSpace will cost you money, maybe too much money, but it's appealingly no fuss.)

STUFF I DON’T USE, BUT SOME PEOPLE SWEAR BY:

Blender: Free. Blender is used for, as the website says, "3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games." If you've ever seen my films you might suspect I know virtually nothing about this stuff. And you'd be right.

Lightworks: Free and Pro (Paid) Versions Lightworks was one of the first non-linear editors, and it’s been used to edit films like The Wolf of Wall Street, LA Confidential, Pulp Fiction, Heat, and Road to Perdition. You can compare the free and paid versions here. After Apple's FCP debacle in 2011, I was curious about exploring this, but by the time the Mac version of Lightworks was released Resolve had emerged as a NLE candidate.

Evernote: Free and Paid versions. I've never been a convert, but some people -- especially writers -- are almost cultish in their devotion to Evernote.

Hopefully this post introduced you to one or more apps that helps you be more creative and productive. If you like something that I've not listed, or have thoughts on any of the above, let me know in the comments, via email, on Twitter, etc.

Advice to Young Filmmakers

ASHLEY MAYNOR WRITES:

I recently received a request for some advice from a young filmmaker in Kansas City who's conducting informal interviews with people in the industry. As I wrote my reply, I thought I'd publicly share her questions and my answers:

-What advice would you give to young filmmakers, fresh out of school, who are looking to start in the industry?

Don’t wait for permission—from funders, programmers, production companies, etc.—to make your movie. All the tools you need are within your reach. Great stories have been told with Fisher Price cameras. You can make a moving film with nothing more than clear film leader. It’s not about the camera. Or the actors. Or the budget.

Make something people want to watch. Try to tell uncommon stories. Don’t imitate other filmmakers—try to make something the world needs, a story only you can and must tell. As Rainer Maria Rilke told a young writer who looked to him for advice, if you don’t wake up in the middle of the night yearning to make your work, then you should probably consider another vocation.

-Is it difficult to build contacts/connections when you are just starting out?

If you have lots of money or went to a fancy film school, it might not be. But generally speaking, building a network requires a lot of work, a lot of sweat, and a lot of rejection. Ten years into the business, I feel I’m just now getting a foothold on a network of my own. It's very possible, but roll up your sleeves.

-How do you begin to make connections?

Start in your own backyard—meet people with common geography, interests, ideas…Go to as many film festivals as you can afford. Meet other filmmakers who are doing work you respect and admire. Better yet, meet other artists—musicians, writers, visual artists, and so on. They can help to inspire you and, sometimes, help you with your film in a more direct way.

Be good, gracious, and kind to the people who find their way into your life. One of the best connections that has helped me to date was with my college study abroad advisor. I sent him postcards from all the countries I visited in college. Years later, he was repping a musician whose work I wanted to license for my first documentary.

Get a producer—they are excellent network builders. Consider following really great blogs. Try starting here or here or here. Read. A lot. The internet provides opportunities for learning and developing a network well beyond where you might live or be able to travel.

-How important/vital do you think these connections are in the industry?

Filmmaking is a collaborative venture, so by the very nature of the art and business, you need other people. Particularly, filmmakers rely on programmers to lend a stamp of legitimacy to their work and to get it in front of bigger audiences than one can get without them.  I believe the most influential network a filmmaker can have is among programmers and critics.

-What are some common mistakes you see young/new filmmakers making?

Derivative work. Work without soul. Pretty but vapid pictures. Unabashedly and unnecessarily violent films. Films that only make us more asleep, less in touch with the world and people and concerns around us.

Doing it for the money. If you’re in it for the money, there are much better, faster, and more reliable ways of getting rich. So don’t do it for the money. In fact, you're probably going to need a day job.

I make films to wake people up, to change lives—that is where I set the bar for whether or not a film should be made.

-What are some of the most difficult challenges you face when working on a film?

Every film is a tiny miracle. It is harder to do than you will probably ever be able to explain to anyone who wasn’t there. We all have our war stories for every film we make. I think it’s actually better to not know what those challenges will be or just how damn hard it’s going to be, otherwise you might not do it. So, this is one area of life where naiveté is actually a blessing. Hang onto it for as long as you can.

I once heard Jonathan Demme say, it doesn't matter if you're 19 or 91, with each film you're a first-time filmmaker. So, with each film, let yourself be a newborn.

Should I Get An MFA? : Pros & Cons from Someone Who Did

ASHLEY MAYNOR WRITES:

I recently got a request from a filmmaker for advice on whether or not he should go back to school to get a master's degree. As someone who did get an MFA and has both teaching and non-teaching work experience (that is, life making a living as a full-time maker) under my belt, I  thought I'd reply to the blog-o-sphere for others who are pondering the same decision: I think the first question to ask yourself is this: why do you want a degree? If you just want to learn more about filmmaking or film studies, you could do yourself much better with a library card, a Netflix subscription, some free classes on iTunesU, and slaving away as a PA on a few productions. Better yet, take the amount you'd spend on tuition and spend that time in NYC and LA working--as a PA or in an agency mailroom--cultivating your network…or buy your own DSLR and make mistakes for free in your own proverbial backyard.

To my mind, there are two strong justifications to pursue a higher degree in Film:

1) It's already paid for (i.e. you've gotten a fellowship or assistantship) and you can learn with the wonderful safety net that graduate school provides. (I do *not* recommend anyone go into debt more than the cost of an old, used car--no matter what the reputation of the school--for a film degree.)

2) It allows you to teach, which is a respectable way to support yourself as an artist, especially as someone who wants to make independent films, experimental work, or films with less-than-great commercial prospects.

If it's the latter, then you must also consider that there are beaucoups of people out there who are unemployed holders of MFAs in film. Film teaching jobs are few and far between--just take a look at the listings on the Chronicle of Higher Education or the University Film and Video Association website to get sense of the scarcity. But, if you're willing to live somewhere fairly off the grid (i.e. not in a big or even medium size city, relatively isolated from the industry and other filmmakers), then there are more positions that may have less competition. This can be a workable situation for the self-reliant or DIY type, especially if you make sure to travel several times a year to keep your inspiration levels up and industry ties strong. But, it can also be, well, depressing and frustrating. My requirements are that a job is too far off the grid if there's not a post-production or equipment rental house within a 3-hour radius. For each person, that threshold is different.

More importantly, I think the best teachers are those who also make--people who are really doing it and have a lot to offer their students in terms of work experience, connections to your industry/field, and a real-world perspective. Anything less poses an ethical dilemma for me: if you can't provide the above, why should students pay tuition to learn from you?

Another consideration for any would-be teacher is that teaching is more than a clock-in/clock-out commitment. While teaching, I more often than not put in above and beyond the 40 hours/week in terms of committee meetings, university and community service, advising, endless emails, etc., on top of my course teaching load. It's work that follows you home, unlike, say, a kind of survival job where you can punch your time card. On the other hand, summers are free for making your own work and the flexible schedule is tough to beat!

Teaching at a research-oriented institution is the ideal job, as it carries the smallest teaching load and encourages (expects, actually!) a high degree of research productivity, which for you translates into filmmaking. And some of your best students may actually be people you want to have collaborate with you on your work. These full-time positions, however, are also the rarest and most competitive. It will be expected that you have made one or more films with a certain level of success (e.g. strong festival run, distribution, critical praise, etc.), have a positive reputation in the industry (e.g. demonstrated by awards, grants, professional organizations, or other acknowledgement), and previous teaching experience. Of course, there are all kinds of schools: liberal arts colleges, typically with a strong emphasis on teaching and student relationships; community colleges, who usually emphasis both teaching and community service; for-profit schools and film programs (which I don't have any first-hand experience with); and part-time teaching positions.

Adjuncting is fairly common for new MFAs, but the pay is rarely great and usually does not carry any fringe benefits, such as health care. That said, I know many a freelance film producer and writer/director who use adjunct classes and part-time lecturing as a way to have some sort of stable income while spending the bulk of their time as makers.

It's also worth saying that there are folks who do teach without an MFA. Guest lectureships, artist visits, workshops both at universities and community organizations often pay successful filmmakers to share their knowledge in short or long-term capacities. I've had a few of these gigs and they are usually a lot of fun but were never enough to sustain me in and of themselves. After a certain level of success, though, it's not unheard of for a filmmaker to become a professor without an MFA at all…but we all can imagine those odds.

So, to sum up:

 Why Getting an MFA/Teaching is a Good Idea: 

  • Stable income without selling your soul.

  • Great schedule.

  • Intellectual and creative freedom for the kind of work you make without as much commercial pressure as full-time filmmaking or freelancing.

  • Helping shape the future of the industry.

 Why Getting an MFA/Teaching is a Not-So-Good Idea: 

  • Highly competitive, especially for desirable cities/schools.

  • Lots of responsibilities beyond teaching for full-time positions.

  • You need to be a maker before you become a teacher. And teaching will take time away from making.

If after all this, you want to take the back-to-school plunge, then I recommend you check out these previous posts from the blog. They will give you a good start on the advice we'd give about looking for a film program:

So You Wanna Go to Film School Part I 

So You Wanna Go to Film School Part II

15 Essential (and Inexpensive) Tools for Wardrobe, Hair, & Make-Up

Filmmakers love to talk about tools. The blog-o-sphere is rampant with posts about cameras, lights, and cinematography accessories, but despite all the attention on achieving great looking films from an equipment/technology standpoint, there is far less discussion about low-fi ways to make your film look like a million bucks via attention to wardrobe, hair, and make-up. I've recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, catching up on the last four seasons. Whether you love or hate this show (a quick look at the Mad Men Wikipedia page will give a sense of the heated debates this show has provoked among critics), it's hard not to be in awe of its production values, in general, and art direction, in particular. While probably no one reading this post has the budget that Mad Men does, it doesn't mean we shouldn't attend to art direction with the same care.

Both as a film festival programmer and as a university instructor, I have seen how, all too often, art direction (much like sound design!) is neglected in first films and student films. It's easy to spot an amateur effort when gangsters are wearing Converse One-Stars (yep, I've actually seen this) or an MRI machine is made out of cardboard (After Last Season, anyone?).

A single post can't address the complex and time-consuming process of art direction--how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it on a budget--but assuming art direction is receiving at least some of the attention it needs in your production, here are fifteen of my favorite inexpensive tools--none of them should run you more than $25--to help get you through the inevitable wardrobe, hair, and make-up emergencies:

  1. Fanny Pack -- While these might conjure memories of bad '80s fashion or annoying tourists, a good art director has essential tools on her at all times (without needing to run to find her tool bag) and needs her hands free. And, unlike decades past, you can find cute and functional fanny packs these days. Try Natural Life for styles with flair or Mountain Smith lumbar packs for a more muted look. All of the supplies/tools below should fit into your pack.
  2. Downy Wrinkle Releaser -- Wrinkles are a continuity nightmare, and on a DIY set, lugging and plugging in a clothing steamer or iron isn't practical. This spray works best on cotton or cotton blends; avoid using it on delicate fabrics (e.g. silk, satin).
  3. Mini Lint Roller -- Keep hair, link, and other fuzzies off of clothing to help preserve continuity.
  4. Mini Sewing Kit, with needle/safety pins and mini scissors. -- Fix rips, tears, or buttons right on set. In a pinch, borrow some gaffer's tape to repair a seam--I've created makeshift curtains on set with fabric and gaff tape alone.
  5. Seam Ripper -- If you have never used one of these before, prepare to be amazed! Seam rippers are specialized tools--something between a razor blade and scissors--with a very pointed tip and sharp base. Unlike scissors, the tiny point can be easily threaded under a stitch for easily cutting out seams without hurting the surrounding fabric or causing holes. Remove an annoying clothing tag, lengthen a hem, or deconstruct a garment in seconds!
  6. Flexible Body Measuring Tape-- You'd be surprised how often you can use this, either for wardrobe measurements or on loan to the camera department for focus pulling and actor marks when they've forgotten or misplaced their measuring tape.
  7. Instant Stain Remover (such as Tide To-Go mini) -- This really works on stains caused by foundation, lipstick, and coffee -- three common art emergencies. I prefer the stain remover pens to the wipes, as they don't rub the stain into the fabric.
  8. Clear Medical Tape (and/or double-sided Fashion Tape) -- Medical tape is sweat-proof and nearly invisible on skin--great for taping lavs to bare skin or securing clothing straps. Fashion tape comes in pre-cut double-sided strips and is great for invisibly holding clothing in place.
  9. Mini First Aid Kit with Blister Cushions and assortment of travel size packs of Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Pepto Bismol/Bug Repellant/Sunscreen -- The producer should have a full-blown first aid kit on set at all times, but I like to have supplies of my own for the unexpected emergency situation or when that kit is out of reach. Blister blocker band-aids are amazing for stopping blisters but can also be used to protect skin from irritation from mic packs or other costume nuisances. Having pain killers and stomach ache cures on hand is essential for keeping talent and crew happy. I also like to keep Hot Hands available for cold mornings on set.
  10. Assorted Bobby Pins -- Having a few sizes and colors (gold for blonds, black for brunettes) will help hold stray hair in place, pin back clothing, etc.
  11. Sharpies -- I use black to cover scuff marks, silver for writing on black gaffer tape, and red for when I need what I'm writing to be seen! You might want to get the mini sharpies that can be tied to lanyards for instant access around your neck.
  12. Concealer, such as Max Factor Pan Stick , to cover blemishes. This pan stick will also cover tattoos fairly well (if airbrushing isn't in your budget--ha!) and the price is right. A shine reducing, translucent powder is also make-up's best friend.
  13. Hand Sanitizer -- Alcohol based ones double as stain removers and can take out ink stains fairly well.
  14. Breath Mints or Gum -- Again, the talent will love you for this.
  15. Super Glue -- I recommend a few of the mini tubes for situations where tape won't do.

If you've got other art tools you can't live without, please let me know in the comments!

Attending to wardrobe, hair, and make-up comes with less glory (and, perhaps, on the positive side, ego) than that of Cinematographer or Director, but it's no less responsible for making the difference between a successful film and an unsuccessful one. It can make the story world credible or incredible, real or surreal. What's more essential than that?

Adobe, Avid and FCP X: Resources for Switching

If you currently use Final Cut Studio you're going to have to switch to something different at some point. That might mean "upgrading" to FCP X, or moving to a competitor's product, like Adobe Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer. To aid this, I've included links to demo versions and free/paid tutorials.

Demo Software
Final Cut Pro X Demo download link: No demo version available. A 30-day demo version is now available here. Cost of full application: $299, plus $49 for Compressor and $49 for Motion.

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5: Production Premium Demo download link:Adobe CS 5.5 Production Premium 30-day Trial Version Includes Premiere Pro, Photoshop, After Effects, Encore, Audition, Illustrator, On Location and more. Cost of full application: 50% off ($849.50) thanks to a limited time "switch" promotion! Regularly $1650 for the suite of applications; $440 for the same suite in its "student/teacher" edition. (PremierePro can also be bought separately, but this is not nearly the same value as the bundle, which includes After Effects, Audition, Encore, etc.)

Avid Media Composer Demo download link:Avid Media Composer 5 Free 30-day Trial Cost of full application: $995 thanks to a limited time "switch" promotion. Regularly $2295; $295 for educational edition.

Lightworks Finally, it should be noted that Lightworks -- a professional editing application used to cut such films as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, and The King's Speech -- has gone open source for Windows and is slated for a late-2011 release on the Mac. If you currently have a dual-boot Mac, this is definitely a no-risk option to consider.

 

Tutorials
Final Cut Pro X

IzzyVideo: Final Cut Pro X Tutorial Cost: Free! Notes: Over 2.5 hours of training videos, plus project files. I don't expect this to go into a ton of detail, but what I've watched so far seems pretty good, and you can't beat the price.

Ripple Training: FCP X Cost: $40 Notes: I've used Ripple Training tutorials for earlier editions of Final Cut Pro, and I find them very efficient ways of getting up to speed on the application. These download to your iPad or computer through the iTunes store.

Larry Jordan: FCP X Cost: $99 for the entire set of tutorials. Or chapters for $15 each. Notes: Larry Jordan's previous FCP tutorials have been very good, but I can't say whether these are worth the extra cost over the Ripple tutorials. Jordan's tutorials have a little more personality than Ripple's, which is a pro or con depending on your taste.

 

***
Adobe Premiere Pro

Adobe: Editing With Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 If You're an Final Cut Pro user Cost: Free! Notes: A PDF that lays it all out -- straight from Adobe. Clearly they are in it to win it.

Adobe: Switching to Adobe Premiere Pro 5 Cost: Free! Notes: Covers same info as above, but in video form. About 80 minutes of tutorials to help you make the switch from FCP to Premiere Pro. Probably not enough to train you completely, but enough to let you reassure you that switching to Adobe would be a simple transition.

Adobe: Adobe TV - Learn Premiere Pro CS5 Cost: Free! Notes: Excerpts from the Lynda.com training listed below. Probably not a solution for advanced training.

Adobe: Learn Premiere Pro CS5 and CS 5.5 Cost: Free! Notes: Mostly text-based tutorials.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS5 Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 5 hours of training videos on Premiere Pro.

Lynda.com: Premiere Pro CS 5.5 New Features Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 27min of tutorials about new features in PP 5.5. You would want to watch this after the tutorials listed above.

Lynda.com: Encore CS 5 - Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 4hrs of tutorials on Adobe's DVD authoring application.

Lynda.com: Audition 3 Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: 6.5 hrs on Adobe's audio editing application. Doesn't appear to be fully up-to-date for CS5.5 version of the application.

Lynda.com: After Effects (various) Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: Hours upon hours of tutorials for Adobe's acclaimed effects and post-production application. Newcomers should start with After Effects Apprentice, which is 14 hours over 7 lessons.

 

***
Avid Media Composer

Avid: Avid Media Composer 5: Getting Started Cost: Free! Notes: 3 hours of tutorials from Avid to get you started on Media Composer.

Lynda.com: Avid Media Composer 5 - Essential Training Cost: $25/month gives you access to all Lynda.com training videos. Notes: Nearly 6 hours of tutorials on Avid. This appears to replicate some of the free training Avid provides, but at twice the length, one assumes it also goes into more depth.

Avid: Avid for FCP Users Cost: $50 Notes: DVD-based tutorial. Does not appear to be available online.

Apple's FCP X FAQ: Reading Between the Lines

Apple today posted a FCP X Answers To Common Questions page in attempts to address some pro editors concerns (read: "do damage control") about the new application. While it brings some much-needed clarity to some questions (about sharing projects, etc.) many of the answers (to their own carefully phrased) questions talk around the issues. Below I've offered my highly-subjective and quite likely wrong translations of some of the more curious Q+A sections of Apple's FAQ. I'm no fortune teller, and if I'm wrong I will be happy to be wrong. But this is a very carefully worded document and, as is often the case with PR statements, what's not said is as important as what is.

Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X? Their answer: Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. In addition, Final Cut Pro X features new and redesigned audio effects, video effects, and color grading tools. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so after installing Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 7 will work with Mac OS X Lion. You can also import your media files from previous versions into Final Cut Pro X. My translation: "No. And do not get your hopes up about this ever working. But it might -- we said might -- be something that works in limited fashion via XML, possibly through a 3rd party plugin, in the future.

Can Final Cut Pro X export XML? Apple's answer: Not yet, but we know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X. My translation: "We're going to enable XML export. And, who knows, maybe XML import... Wait and see." Hey, your guess is as good as mine (probably even better), but it sounds as if they will add the ability to export XML, though the wording is vague enough that one could interpret it to mean that they're going to rely on third parties to develop an XML export plugin. Also, curious is the fact that they say nothing of XML import, particularly since some detective work by others has shown that Apple appears to have been developing XML import capabilities in the program's code. Maybe I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt. (That's something I've not said many times in the last few days.) 

Does Final Cut Pro X support OMF, AAF, and EDLs? Apple's answer: Not yet. When the APIs for XML export are available, third-party developers will be able to create tools to support OMF, AAF, EDL, and other exchange formats. We have already worked with Automatic Duck to allow you to export OMF and AAF from Final Cut Pro X using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/. My translation: "We're outsourcing some of the pro features you used to find in Final Cut Studio. This is one reason we've lowered FCP X's price tag to $299. So we don't have to develop this stuff. So get out your checkbook, but remember that FCP X, Compressor and Motion are under $400. You can spend the money you used to spend on Final Cut Studio to add back the functionality to which you're accustomed. This a la carte approach is a way for us to get advanced hobbyists on board and to try to keep pros."

Can I send my project to a sound editing application such as Pro Tools? Apple's Answer: Yes; you can export your project in OMF or AAF format using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp My translation: "Um, yeah, if it wasn't clear from above, we're outsourcing those pro features."

As I said, I'm quite possibly wrong about these things -- and maybe way off the mark. I'm speculating, but that's because Apple is -- even after releasing a FAQ -- still asking us to speculate.

If I am right, and the new approach is a la carte features, well, I'm not sure that's actually a bad move. Other vendors developing these tools means that things might be better and more quickly developed than they would if Apple was doing them. They are, after all, a consumer electronics company now. Again, assuming this is the case, the big questions are:

What will be the final cost of adding in these various plug-ins, etc.?

Will Final Cut Pro X remain the bargain that Apple's touting it to be?

And, perhaps most importantly, if FCP X lacks professional features without the use of plug-ins, does using plug-ins on a somewhat less-than-fully-pro application trump using something like Avid, Premiere Pro, or Lightworks?

We shall see. Later this week I'll be posting some switching resources... because if you use FCP 7 you're switching, one way or another, to an entirely new edit suite.

EDIT (6.29.11 12:14pm): Made some changes to the XML-related Q+A -- one typo had changed the entire meaning, so I revised my interpretive paragraph.

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

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.

"Editors are stupid if they upgraded on day one. I don’t know any pro I’d hire who jumps into something brand new and gets rid of their old stuff immediately." * I know of no one who threw out FCP 7 and assumed they'd jump straight to FCP X. Indeed, no pro worth her/his salt would ever migrate from one FCP version to a new one in the middle of a project. Final Cut 7 was an aging application that lacked many well-integrated features found in Premiere Pro and Avid. Editors have been begging for a new release of Final Cut for years. It's logical for editors to be excited to try it. If anything, the number of pros that downloaded it on its release date shows a lot of passion for the Final Cut brand!

"How can you expect a brand new product to be fully functioning and have all its features included on Day One?"* Actually, for two reasons: First, because no previous version of Final Cut Pro reduced functionality of its predecessor when it was released. And, secondly, because Final Cut Studio 3 was pulled on the same day, suggesting that the old Final Cut was indeed replaced by FCP X.

Apple can't have it both ways -- FCP X is either:

a) an update -- and hence it can carry the name "Final Cut Pro", and should be reasonably expected to carry over the same feature set, or

b) not an update -- and so can be forgiven for not having the same features as Final Cut Pro, but it should not be named as such.

By using X instead of "10" Apple may be trying to have it both ways… but they can't. It's wrong to claim the "Final Cut" name for marketing purposes, but not own the legacy of expectations associated with the application -- particularly when doing so casts the new version in a bad light.

"Your Final Cut Studio 3 suite of applications still work." "No one is forcing you to upgrade." "I was unaware that we lived in a world where software upgrades were mandatory."* Because FCS3 has been declared end-of-life, at some point -- perhaps soon, maybe in years -- it will no longer work, either because of an OS upgrade, changes in hardware, failure to support a new camera, etc. Transitioning to SOMETHING new is inevitable.

Since FCP X doesn't allow one to open Final Cut Pro 7 projects, FCP7's usefulness is today greatly reduced for the future, assuming one plans to adopt FCP X. As a point of comparison, Adobe Premiere Pro, for example, can open FCP 7 projects. (For an explanation of why opening legacy projects matters, see below.)

Finally, the issue for those of us in the educational community who teach editing is a pressing one. For us, Apple has forced a moment of decision. Beginning in August, when classes begin for most of us, we must decide whether to:

a) teach a "dead" application, which students cannot even purchase for themselves; b) switch to an unfinished application that does not yet include features that are important in any professional's skill set; c) switch to another company's application (e.g., Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, etc.).

In such a scenario, option "C" begins to look like the most logical solution.

"I haven’t seen a negative review of FCP yet from someone who took 10 minutes to learn about how it was new and then gave it a fair shot. All the bashing I’ve seen has been dishonest, by people who presume that, because something works differently in FCPX than FCP7, it is simply impossible to do."* Clearly, if anyone knows what's possible and what's not possible to do in the application, it is Larry Jordan, one of the leading teachers of Final Cut Pro. Jordan had access to a pre-release version and has been selling FCP X tutorials since Day One. Here is a quote from his blog:

In FCP X, Apple got some things amazingly right. But they also got key features amazingly wrong. And if they don’t change course, this software, which has significant potential, is going to spin further and further out of control. At which point, its feature set is irrelevant, its reputation will be set. We’ll be looking at another Mac Cube.

"The nay-sayers of this application fear change." First, this argument contradicts the earlier argument that "editors are stupid to try to adopt this on Day One." (See above.)

The people that I know that are the most pissed off are, in fact, longtime FCP users who were looking forward to FCP X's release. They were looking forward to the release because they had been waiting for an update to the application for several years. Several features announced in April by Apple about the new FCP X were exciting -- 64 bit support, support for H264 footage, renders being a thing of the past… If these things had been delivered without "taking away" features that many editors use in their day-to-day work, most editors would have raced to adopt and embrace the other, less familiar aspects of the new application (say, the new user interface).

"The FUD from “pros” are not pros at all – they are competitors from Avid, Adobe, and every little editing software maker who are literally QUAKING in their boots at the incredible bargain that FCPX brings. Period."* To account for the backlash against FCP X with this kind of explanation is paranoid. I'm reminded of the quote, sometimes attributed to Twain, "Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."

"Why the hell should a 7 project open in FCPX? That makes no sense. The entire flippin program has been redesigned. Finish your project in 7 and shut up."* The ability to open old project files is essential to any pro or semi-pro editor. Whether working for clients or for oneself, motion picture project files are often re-opened and tinkered with for years after their initial completion. Reasons for this can include such things as revising a corporate video with a client's new logo, updating a stereo project for surround sound, creating a Blu-ray project for a project that was once released on DVD or even VHS, creating a closed-captioned version to meet new accessibility guidelines, and so on. I could go on for pages about such changes, but I think I've made my point.

"Only a tiny segment of pros actually have a need for OMF, XML, EDL, tape output, etc." You're probably right -- most of us don't use these things on a daily basis. But that's like saying "Most drivers, on a daily basis, don't need airbags."

OMF, XML, EDL and other features pros are lamenting are professional, which is to say that many of the programs you see on television, in theaters, at film festivals on on DVD run across the need for these specialized tools at critical junctures in their projects. Not all projects need these tools, and not all projects that need them use them daily. But they are critical.

Speaking personally, I often edit my own projects and my projects often stay on one computer, but even then I will use OMF or XML to share these projects with collaborators (e.g., a sound editor using ProTools or a color grader using a Da Vinci suite). These are essential steps to completing a project.

Ironically, the fact that FCP X has sound editing and color grading features far less robust than Final Cut Studio only heightens the need to be able to share your project with other applications!

"It's released from the app store, so improvements will arrive faster." First, improvements will not arrive faster because of the app store; the speed of the improvements -- if and when they are offered -- will be dictated by the software developers.

Regarding the App Store as a delivery method, I don't understand why the App Store is different from, say, Software Update. But I'm not a programmer, and perhaps there is a good reason for this.

I do find exclusively using the App Store for such a massive piece of software cumbersome and the App Store creates problems for companies and universities that deal with issues like volume licensing and educational sales.

"Be patient. A lot of the features that are missing, like multicam, are on their way." Are they? If they are on their way, when will they arrive? What will be included? What features will never be "restored" to the application? And finally, share with us the source of your information. Please only cite actual quotes from Apple.

In all of my reading on FCP X, I have yet to encounter official statements made directly by Apple regarding what features will or won't be continued. A week after its release, the two closest things we have had to an official communication (as of this writing) are:

a) a few private email exchanges between pro users and Randy Ubillos, the lead software designer on FCP X. In one of these emails Ubillos verified that legacy FCP projects will never open in FCP X;

and

b) a response to a handful of criticisms in a hastily blogged response by David Pogue, a consumer tech journalist for the New York Times. Despite his attempts at helpfulness, Mr. Pogue is not an appropriate or even necessarily a capable messenger for any information that needs to be relayed by Apple to its current user base of Final Cut Studio users. His initial review and subsequent defense -- which showed special access to Apple developers that pro users don't have -- sadly did damage to my respect for him. Though perhaps unintentional, his special access makes him look like Apple's "embedded" reporter at the New York Times.

Final thoughts:

For many of its earliest years, Final Cut Pro was considered non-pro by many in the editing community. Avid reigned supreme, and many editors stuck out their necks by committing to Final Cut Pro. Though it's largely an emotional, not a rational, connection, many editors feel a deep loyalty to Apple for the journey they've taken together as FCP ascended in reputation and market share. Now, to feel as if their needs have been ignored and, worse, replaced by the need to woo a consumer market… well, for many it is a very bitter pill to swallow.

Like any misunderstanding, the way to mend things is via openness and communication. But Apple's lack of communication -- and the other signals it has sent regarding professional applications and tools -- accounts for much of the anger and anxiety many editors are feeling. Unless Apple lets us know otherwise, can we be blamed for interpreting that the "Pro" in Final Cut Pro X may actually mean "pro Consumer", and that the "X" may stand for ex-Pro?

If, as Ubillos suggests, FCP 7 projects will never open in FCP X, then I -- and thousands of others -- will be switching to something new. Here are our options:

FCP X Adobe Premiere Pro Avid Media Composer Lightworks Media 100 Sony Vegas

For nearly a dozen years, I have never considered, or needed to consider another suite of software to edit video. Now, entirely thanks to Apple, I must.

I'm not Steve Jobs, but I must say, it's a curious way to run a business.

Prepare to Lose Everything: Use SuperDuper and SMARTReporter

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

 

My Two Favorite Resources on DSLR Filmmaking

My absence for the past few months has been due to the fact that I've been woodshedding, as folks in the Jazz world would say. One of the things I've been doing is writing. When I'm writing, I find this blog takes a back seat. Sorry, dear readers. That's the way it goes. As for what I've been writing, well, maybe one day you'll see…

In my spare time, though, I've spent a lot of time playing with these newfangled DSLR cameras. Though I've bought one (a Canon 7D), I'm not sold on them. I know I'm late to the party in discussing them, but better late than never. I'll post my thoughts in a few days.

In the meantime, there have been several resources for DSLR filmmaking that, time and time again, I've consulted as I've been experimenting with these cameras. I want to give a special shout out to two of them:

The first is Ryan Koo's fantastic DSLR Cinematography Guide. I always enjoyed Ryan's writings on the now-defunct DVGuru blog, and this reminded me of that. Ryan has done the legwork for novices, compiling information from all over the 'net. If you are new to DSLR filmmaking and have time to read only one thing, read this. It's free, but if you send him a donation you'll get a PDF of the whole thing. I did.

The second resource is Shane Hurlbut, ASC's invaluable blog. I knew Hurlbut was a champion of the Canon DSLR cameras since at least last summer. What I didn't know until recently, though, was how generous of blogger this guy is. How does a guy in the ASC have time to write as much as he does while I'm making my first post in, what, three months?

Both Ryan's and Shane's willingness to share their knowledge and mistakes so freely (as in "openly" and as in "without compensation") has rekindled my love of internet.

But for now, it's back to the writing room.

By the way, for more on woodshedding, check this out.