5 THINGS: on The Truth About Video Editing Software in Hollywood
NLE – Non linear editing – has been around for over 40 years, but it didn’t become common place in Hollywood – that is, being used for feature film and broadcast television – until the early 90’s. And that’s where we’ll start.
But before I start, I do need to set a disclaimer. I also work for Key Code Media, who sells many of the tech solutions that I talk about on 5 THINGS. And wouldn’t ya know it, we sell a heck of a lot of Avid and things that play with Avid…including Adobe, and Apple, for that matter. I don’t want any of you think I’m a paid shill, so I got clearance
from this guy…ya really gotta watch the video above to see.
1. Avid Media Composer
OK, do you remember a time before Internet connected cell phones? Now, try and remember how our daily lives changed when most everyone had one of these devices.
It was a definite shift in how we consumed media. Now, imagine that, only with the CREATION side of media. This was Hollywood in the early 90’s. Digital video cameras were still very new, and limited to standard definition. There were many companies toying with building digital editing software, but none really took hold. That is, until Avid Media Composer came along in the early 90’s.
By building a digital editing platform, based on the terminology and methodology the experienced film editors knew, Avid was able to make the industry adoption of their technology much easier. Thus, we already have 2 reasons Media Composer was popular: it appealed to the sensibilities of the user base, and it was one of the few solutions out there.
Avid also built around their ecosystem, including not only their own shared storage, but having the top audio editing system in the industry; Pro Tools, by then Digidesign, giving users a complete solution tech partner to work with. We call this the “one throat to choke” paradigm.
By the time other NLE’s were in a useable state for film and TV projects, Avid had a massive head start. This meant a decent sized user base in the Hollywood market, facility infrastructures (and thus lots of money already invested in hardware and software) that were built around Media Composer, in addition to workflows that incorporated both legacy film based material, tape acquisition, and newer digital formats. Avid also had project sharing by the early 00’s, something that only recently are other NLE’s getting right. For all of these reasons, Avid had the Hollywood market cornered. And all of this played in to one of the greatest untold truths about Hollywood technology.
Hollywood is predominantly risk averse.
If something worked last season, why change it for this season? Changing it messes with budgets and timelines and generally upsets the natives.
And that’s why today, Avid is still used on a vast majority of all feature films and broadcast television here in Hollywood. Existing customer investment in infrastructure, experienced talent pool – both available and already on staff, documented workflows with other departments, a complete ecosystem, and a risk averse industry. If you plan on getting a job tomorrow out in Hollywierd, working in broadcast television or feature film, Media Composer needs to be your strongest software tool.
2. Apple Final Cut Pro X
Initially, I was going to share why Final Cut Pro Classic was popular, but then I realized that it now holds little relevance, as the software has been End of Life’d for 6 years now. Let that sink in. In the past 6 years, we’ve had:
Two presidential elections…three Transformers Movies…eleven iPhone Models…and we could have gone to Mars and back three times.
Now there are, of course, some Final Cut Pro Classic holdouts, but why don’t we cut through a little bit of Apple History, and look at Final Cut Pro X.
Final Cut Pro X got out of gates miserably.
Its predecessor, Final Cut Pro, had gained prominence in the industry, and many broadcast TV facilities in Hollywood had switched over to or, had been started as a direct result of the low cost of entry for the software. That being said, although common, Classic was still in the minority in Hollywood compared to Media Composer when Final Cut Pro X was launched. Estimates vary, but to say 15-20% of TV post was cut on Classic would not be a stretch.
X lacked many features of Classic, and many of its features went against the editing methodology that most professional film and TV editors were accustomed to. It also meant many of the workflows, hardware, and technology that made them efficient were now in question.
Apple’s launch of Final Cut Pro X also meant Final Cut Pro Classic was killed, and that caused many facilities to instantly see their investment in infrastructure have a finite shelf life. Facilities now had 2 choices: throw caution into the wind, and gamble on brand new software which lacked the things they knew, or, move to another platform, which could be expensive in terms of hardware, software, and tech infrastructure, as well as re-training the talent they had on staff.
This, uhhh, was slightly upsetting for the industry.…and thus the awesome power that Final Cut Pro X had (and still has) was eclipsed by the product launch. This stalled the adoption considerably.
By 2017, the price point for powerful, standalone NLE systems – both hardware and software – were around the same price; give or take. This was not the case 10-15 years prior, when Media Composer was tens of thousands of dollars more expensive – and one of the main reasons users flocked to Final Cut Pro Classic in the first place. Now, cost is not as much of an issue.
It’s only been recently that Hollywood has dipped its toe in the Final Cut Pro X water. Only a few feature films, including Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, have been cut on it.
In stark contrast to Avid, Apple seems to enjoy adoption success into markets outside of Hollywood. And from a purely financial perspective, this makes sense. There are many more editors and hobbyists outside the Hollywood market than professional editors in it.
Thus, Final Cut Pro X, in Hollywood broadcast television and feature film projects is in the extreme minority, with little upwards momentum in the industry.
3. Adobe Premiere Pro
Adobe Premiere has been around almost as long as Avid Media Composer, but it wasn’t until a rewrite around 2003, that Adobe renamed it “Premiere Pro”, and Adobe simultaneously expanded their reach from the consumer market to a more professional one. And when I say “professional”, I mean professional markets outside of Hollywood. It wasn’t until the next decade that Premiere Pro finally made inroads into the Hollywood market. And what was that event?
It’s what I call the “Final Cut Pro Fog”.
Apple killed Final Cut Pro Classic.
…and it left those facilities and users entrenched in it lost and wondering what to do and where to go. Do they go back to Avid? Or, do they look at what is the most similar to Final Cut Pro Classic, in terms of editing paradigm, hardware requirements, and talent pool?
Enter Premiere Pro.
Adobe pushed hard during the early days of Final Cut Pro X to grab the user base that felt abandoned by Apple. But it wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. Adobe added more and more features to the product to further convey to the market that they were innovating. It also helped that After Effects and Photoshop were already a staple in the Post community, and thus most facilities already owned – or should I say rented – Premiere Pro software. The rental model Adobe adopted also gave Adobe a way to push updates more often, without waiting for quarter’s end or tradeshows like NAB. This kept Adobe relevant and industry news worthy.
Lastly, Premiere Pro could run on the same systems that ran Final Cut Pro Classic, or even Media Composer.
Which brings us up to present day, where Adobe continues to add features like Team Projects and shared projects to make collaboration seamless for those who have worked in Avid environments.
Despite all of this momentum and development on the part of Adobe, adoption for feature film and broadcast television has been slow. Only a few TV shows – mostly cable- and a handful of feature films have been cut on Premiere Pro. Premiere has still has not reached a Hollywood adoption rate of Final Cut Pro Classic, so we’re looking at somewhere around 10% – but the gap is closing. By stark contrast, alternative professional markets, and a massive chunk of indie films have moved to Premiere Pro.
Premiere, while not nearly as relevant in feature film and broadcast television as Media Composer, is the 2nd most utilized NLE in Hollywood, and you’d be wise to learn it as it becomes more widely adopted.
4. Everything Else (Lightworks, Edius, Pinnacle Studio, Hitfilm, Blackmagic Resolve)
There are many other alternatives that can edit a piece of video just fine. I’ll address them here briefly, but to expect to get a job by concentrating on these is pretty foolish.
First is Lightworks, which has been around as long as Avid. In that time it’s cut several huge films, including “Pulp Fiction”, “Moulin Rouge”, “28 Days Layer”, “The Kings Speech” and the more recent “Wolf of Wall Street”. It’s got a free version and a paid version. While fantastic for the price point, it’s still not making many new waves in the Hollywood market, and I’m not aware of any current broadcast TV shows utilizing it.
Edius, which had a decent footprint in the broadcast and TV news industry, has drastically lost marketshare over the past decade or so, mainly due to a lackluster marketing, and the proliferation of other tools – like Avid Media Composer – that are geared specifically towards that sector of the industry. As you can guess, it has virtually zero presence in Hollywood.
Sony recently sold their consumer based Vegas software, so now the trajectory of the software is in flux, in addition to not being used for much in the professional Hollywood realm.
The one unique tool that I get asked often about is DaVinci Resolve, now owned by Blackmagic. Resolve has made massive strides in the TV and film industry thanks to a tremendously powerful and very inexpensive grading tool. The price point of free or $1000, now down to $300, is downright astonishing. Plus, unlike other professional NLE companies, there is not a “rental” fee.
Recently, Blackmagic incorporated traditional creative editorial tools into Resolve, as well as a powerful audio engine via the acquisition of Fairlight. The latest version also has the ability for shared projects, considered by many to be the killer feature for professional film and TV post production.
However, as of now, the editorial side is so new, that many folks are holding their breath to see what happens elsewhere…and will the superior grading of Resolve be enough to force editorial’s hand to switch over…or, will Resolve remain a grading tool, and only be used for editorial on smaller independent projects. When you start with nothing, it’s easy to make great strides, so it will be interesting to see how Blackmagic can innovate once the Resolve editorial features reach parity with the industry leaders.
5. The Future
Ahh yes, the question I get asked the most.
As for Media Composer, Avid needs to walk the line between overhauls and refreshes without alienating their current user base, who is traditionally less accepting of change, given that their livelihood depends on it. This stalls newer, younger users who can’t identify with the user interface or operation.
Yes, they dominate the film and TV space in Hollywood, but is that niche of the industry as a whole enough to sustain the company?
Even if Avid as a company went away, it would make zero sense for the new owner to kill Media Composer, and with how risk averse Hollywood is, there would be Media Composer systems running for many years to come. If your goal is to get a job in Hollywood in the next few years, there is zero reason to not get your Avid chops in order.
As for Apple, they seem to be content for Final Cut Pro X to be used everywhere else but Hollywood. Ease of access via the App store, a relatively low price point, and some really bad ass editing tools for the novice editor makes it a great tool in your editing toolkit. Do I see it ascending to the level that Final Cut Pro Classic had in Hollywood? No. The industry landscape is different from the early 00’s – the cost of entry across the board has become commodity priced.
It wouldn’t hurt to learn it, but it won’t get you much work in feature film or broadcast television. Aside from bragging rights, I don’t think Apple minds this – there is much more money to be had outside of Hollywood than in it…and they’re already making money by selling most of Hollywood overpriced computers, anyway.
Adobe Premiere Pro, however, seems to be trending upward as an editorial tool more than anyone else in the industry. Updates are fast and furious, it runs on Mac or PC, and follows the common and comfortable editing paradigms the industry was founded on. Its entire suite of tools also adds added functionality that you just don’t find with other editorial solutions, and it’s already installed on most machines due to their complete suite of tools.
Now, in the process of writing this episode, I took the opportunity to consult some fine colleagues in the industry to ensure I was on the right path. As Avid, Adobe, and Apple either don’t release exact sales numbers, or don’t filter out by geography or industry, I’ve had to get a little creative.
Quick FYI for this next part to make sense: A vast majority of broadcast TV and feature film production facilities in Hollywood get their editing gear from one of two places: Resellers, who can sell all of the gear, integrate it, and make it all work together, or, rental facilities who own the equipment, but rent it out to productions and support it.
I contacted several other resellers in the Hollywood area, as well as several rental facilities, and asked them to give me some insight as to what THEY were seeing.
No surprise, across the board, Media Composer was the dominant player in broadcast television and feature film, by a wide margin, encompassing 80-90% of the market. However, once you move out of this niche market, Adobe became much more common, with Final Cut Pro X bringing up the rear. Also, out of the aforementioned Final Cut Pro Classic Fog, Adobe seems to have won the switcher award, as more folks in Hollywood moved from Final Cut Pro Classic to Adobe Premiere Pro, rather than to Media Composer or Final Cut Pro X.
This is this probably the most important thing I came across: is that a vast majority of facilities who have Media Composer are not adding new seats. They plug along with what they have, and only buying updates when it’s absolutely necessary…and often they’ll sit on older versions because upgrading doesn’t give them enough new tools to warrant the change.
Now, these same facilities, while not buying many new seats of Media Composer, are adding seats of Creative Cloud at a rate must faster than that of Avid.
Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough. Hollywood is NOT the only place to work, and broadcast television or feature films are not the “end all, be all” of creative visual storytelling. Hone your storytelling skills using whatever you can get your hands on – and I mean everything – and then find what sector of the industry satisfies you creatively. And then focus your technical chops on the tools found in that area. But be open to learning more tools, because the days of basing your editing career on one software solution are long gone. The video editing realm is only widening, and learning more is the only way to remain employable
Until the next episode: learn more, do more.
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Special Thanks: Resellers and Rental facilities (you know who you are).