Final Cut Pro Makes The Grade

Isn't it great to see a kid grow up? When on April 19, 1999 Apple first released Final Cut Pro, the nonlinear editing software that they had acquired from Macromedia the year before, there were many raised eyebrows among post production pros at the audacity of a desktop software package trying to approach the features of six-figure turnkey NLEs.

But the kitten has learned to roar and increasingly professional editors are appreciating the cost-savings they can enjoy by coupling the new Final Cut Pro (latest Version 3.0.2 for $999) with the impressive operating system power of Apple's OS X. Add in a PowerMac computer (although even a used G3 iMac or PowerBook can perform basic editing with this software) with some connection hardware and for less than $5,000 you can produce EDLs for even the most demanding productions with Apple's little editing powerhouse. If you step up to a dual processor Power Macintosh G4 computer with a high-resolution monitor and high-definition capture card, throw in some extra storage, you can complete those productions for an investment that costs less than the car the editor drives to location.

"One of the most eagerly awaited new features of Final Cut Pro 3 on a Mac G4 is its real-time YUV primary and secondary color correction capabilities," says Brian Meeney, Product Designer of Final Cut Pro at Apple. "Now that we can tie into HD-capable video boards like Pinnacle's CinéWave or AJA Video System's Kona-HD, we are convinced Final Cut Pro is ready for primetime finishing."

This April Apple released Cinema Tools ($999), a software package that complements Final Cut Pro by providing the ability to match a 24 fps EDL's timecode back to the edge numbers or Key Code bar codes that are burned into the margins of film stock. That means with Cinema Tools, a project edited with Final Cut Pro can produce a cut list that negative cutters use to conform film negative to the video master as well as spit out a 24P EDL for high definition online. Cinema Tools completes the loop to enable Final Cut Pro to take a show from offline through either HD finishing or film conform, and that's pretty impressive for software that can even run most of its features on a laptop.


Daniel A. Fort has gained somewhat of a reputation among the Hollywood post community as a Final Cut Pro guru, even teaching classes on Cinema Tools at L.A.'s Digital Film Tree. For many editors just getting used to this new software, Dan is the man to call with FCP questions or if something doesn't perform as predicted. Having been an assistant editor on such titles as "Stuart Little" (1999) and "Bang, Bang, You're Dead" (2002), as well as having edited independent productions including "El Grito" (2000) and "Tango Flush" (1998), Dan is currently using Final Cut Pro to cut the feature documentary "Special Thanks to Roy London" being produced by Karen Montgomery and Julie Warner about the legendary acting instructor.

Dan has been pushing the editing envelope for some time. Back in 1994 when he learned digital editing on a mainstream NLE, it struck him that he was using a pretty big and expensive machine to do what he had done before on a Moviola. So he came up with the concept of a "Digiola" by replacing the viewer head with an image-capturing device, and he found he could feed the results into a digital edit system without the cost of telecine.

"Basically I figured I'd ignore the needs of video since I was really editing film," Dan recalls. "We referenced to the edge numbers on the film negative so we didn't need timecode. It really worked, and the idea keeps popping up even now. One of the filmmakers I worked with, Roger Avary, just finished editing 'Rules of Attraction' with Final Cut Pro and he is investigating using my Digiola concept on his next feature."

Long-form docs like the "Roy London" tribute need to cut on a shoestring to accommodate limited finances, so Dan's prowess with Final Cut Pro helped him land the gig in the first place. He's actually started editing right at home, on the same iMac he uses to compile his taxes - with the additional boost of 600 GB of hard drive space. "I figure that extra storage investment cost me about the same as a week's rental on a turnkey NLE," he reflects.

But since the production was shot with a combination of 24P high-definition material, interlaced HD footage and DV tape, he will be calling upon the power of the Cinema Tools software's list manipulation capabilities to help prepare his online sessions. "I'll be editing everything at 30 fps, but will then need to create three different EDLs to accommodate finishing each of the formats we shot with," Dan explains. "That way we can save the expense of up-rezzing all our source material and just convert the shots we actually use into the final 24P master."

Dan's familiarity with Cinema Tools goes all the way back to its original incarnation in the mid-90s as FilmLogic software written by Loran Kary for Kary's own company, Focal Point Software. "From the very beginning, FilmLogic was the only QuickTime-compliant software that could keep track of an edit list at 24 fps," he tells us. "But Apple didn't seem aware of what a gold mine this could be. So in 2000, after Final Cut Pro had been introduced to the industry, I sent out a mass e-mail to everyone on the Editors Guild list to petition Apple management to give 24P EDL match-back capabilities along with the ability to create a film cut list to their editing software. And it worked."

Loran Kary now works for the Cinema Tools development team at Apple Computer.


As an example of the inroads Final Cut Pro and Cinema Tools have made into Hollywood professional post, all nine of the productions currently being edited for Showtime Cable Network at the ipostini post house are being cut with Apple's editing software. One of the post-production supervisors at ipostini, Robert Rodriguez, is impressed with the cost-savings this has afforded. "We've set up nine PowerMac editing workstations on FCP for what we previously would have spent on one mainstream turnkey NLE," he tells us. "That really helps our bottom line."

All the Showtime features are shot on 35 mm film, edited in video and delivered with a film cut list conformed from Cinema Tools, whether the negative is actually going to be cut and prints struck or the project will be finished either in video or HD. But one of the advantages Robert has found editing with Final Cut Pro is its ability to run on an Apple PowerBook.

"The directors we work with move from one production to another, he recalls, "and we often have to follow them around to get notes and approval. So we often load up our FireWire drives with Final Cut Pro's native Photo JPEG offline format - what the company calls OfflineRT - which gives us more than 40 minutes of video per gigabyte. That lets us take a version in-progress to wherever it can be approved. Then we take the footage back to our office, re-link to the full resolution media on dual processor G4 PowerMacs, and produce the final review version of the production."

Despite the fact Final Cut Pro is a relatively new editing software, Robert has found that a knowledgeable editor can learn the system with a bit of initiative and self-training. "We give them the basics and provide some footage to play with and after a couple of hours they usually present us with a list of questions," he says. "After about three days, most editors who embrace the system are up to speed."

Robert has found Cinema Tools a reliable match-back database manipulation utility to finish their projects. "We do give the negative cutters a 'lock box' tape with burned timecode that they can use as a reference," he explains, "and so far the process has worked flawlessly."

It has been almost two decades since video engineering pioneer Jack Calaway introduced his first editing board-and-software set at NAB84, the Calaway CED system, designed for the then top-end IBM XT computer. Today there are several software packages for desktop platforms and this kind of competition with the turnkey NLEs can only benefit the progress of post production.