Creativity and The Final Cut Pro X Debacle

You may have heard about the controversy now raging among film and video editors over Apple’s launch of the latest version of its flagship editing software, Final Cut Pro.

A debate of this kind, which would normally be confined to the relatively closed world of video professionals, has even made its way to Fortune Magazine and The Conan O’Brian Show.

For those of you who haven’t been in the loop, here’s what’s going on:

Since its introduction in 1998, Apple had developed its Final Cut editing software and the accompanying suite of motion graphics, music and dvd-authoring tools (collectively called Final Cut Studio) to a point where it had become an industry standard, used to edit major Hollywood movies including The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten and The Social Network.

Earlier this year, Apple announced with great fanfare that it was totally re-writing Final Cut Pro to make it an even more powerful creative tool that would take film and video editing into the future.

Most professionals, including myself, were excited.

But when Final Cut Pro X launched last Thursday, a collective roar of disgust, betrayal, fear and even heartbreak swept its way across the web.

Apple had dropped many mission-critical features that professional editors need to meet their clients’ needs.

To make matters worse, Apple took the current version of Final Cut Pro
and Final Cut studio off the market, effectively forcing the professional community to accept its vision of the future or look to other companies
for support.

It appeared that Apple was abandoning the professional market altogether, betting its future on a broader, some say  “dumbed-down” consumer base of amateur filmmakers who make videos for sites like YouTube.

As it stands now, the ongoing debate seems to revolve around the “pros” decrying Apple’s move and the “amateurs” who see Final Cut Pro X as the vanguard of a bright and inevitable future.   A lot of name-calling is  going on and one even senses a generational conflict being played out.

All of this raises some interesting questions about the nature of creativity as well as the difference between professional and amateur creativity.

The fact that more and more people are now offered tools that enable them to be creative can only be viewed as a good thing.   The web itself, along with software tools like Photoshop, GarageBand and Final Cut Pro have opened the door to some brilliant creative work that might otherwise have never happened, or at least would not have had a forum where it could be presented.

What I’ve noticed over the last few years, however, is that software tools are increasingly encouraging what I’ll call “pre-formatted” creativity.
Rather than start from the blank page, we are presented with templates, pre-sets, loops and the like which we then assemble and manipulate to produce our creations.

Pre-formatted creativity indeed makes it easier to create.  It makes it faster to generate creative objects.  The downside, however, is that pre-formatted creativity makes it harder for those objects to be original.  Not impossible, just more difficult.

Final Cut Pro X leans towards this pre-formatted approach.  I’ve spent the weekend exploring the application and have come to the conclusion that it’s a great tool, but only if you’re making a certain kind of movie.   Its much-touted simplicity encourages you to create in a certain way and in a certain direction.   This is not absolute, but Final Cut Pro X does offer a trajectory of sorts which you’re likely to follow as you create.

It is indeed designed for amateurs, and I use the word without prejudice.

But there is a difference between the demands placed upon professional creatives and those placed on non-professionals.

It comes down to this:

Professionals create for others.   Amateurs create for themselves.

This, I believe, is at the heart of the Final Cut Pro X controversy.  In re-writing Final Cut Pro, Apple has made the program easier for lone auteurs, but far more difficult (if not impossible in certain ways) for pros to collaborate with other creatives  and with one’s paying clients.

Flexibility, customization and collaboration are at the center of professional life.  Clients demand solutions on their own terms.  They have their own procedures and standards.  They want what they want, and pros are equipped to deliver it.  Professional filmmaking, in particular, is a highly complicated, collaborative and, most of all, social process.   It’s not something you do alone.

Earlier versions of Final Cut Pro recognized this, and the program was designed to address it.

Final Cut Pro X, however, assumes a different philosophy of creativity altogether.

It is designed for people who work by themselves and whose social contact, with regard to creativity at least, occurs for the most part over the web.

It is a radical vision of the future of the creative process and creative life in general:  solipsistic, isolated, self-absorbed.

But I think it’s accurate.  The genius of Apple has always been its uncanny ability to sense where the market is going and to give people what they want even before they know it.

And there’s no reason to believe they’ve dropped their crystal ball with Final Cut Pro X.

I’m troubled, however, by their vision of things to come.

Sure, more people will be able to create more stuff easier and faster.

But I fear their work might be less original than it could be and that their creative lives will be more lonely.

Maybe someone should make a film about it.

 

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