When iMovie Isn’t Enough, Amateur Video Producers Can Go Pro

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multiple audio tracks for the voiceover (provided by Xconomy’s resident radio star, Greg Huang) and the music. And it would all have to fit together tightly, with subtle touches such as Ken Burns animations to keep the momentum going.

In other words, using iMovie—whether on the iPad or the Mac—was pretty much out of the question. But that meant I’d need to give myself a crash course in Final Cut Pro X. So I took a deep breath, downloaded the program from the Mac App Store, and plunged in.

My method was to shoot to the script, plug the newest footage into FCPX, and figure things out as I went. I could tell right away that FCPX was far easier to use than Final Cut Pro 7—New York Times tech columnist David Pogue has accurately called it “infinitely more powerful than iMovie, yet infinitely less intimidating than the old Final Cut.” In particular, I liked the way Apple has idiot-proofed the timeline, the area where you assemble individual clips into a narrative. No longer can you accidentally delete part of your video or bump the audio track out of sync by inserting something new in the wrong place. That’s an innovation stolen from iMovie.

But there were still a lot of things that I had a hard time grasping, such as the procedures for keyframing. (That’s telling the program how you want some element to change over time—for example, making text move from coordinates x, y to coordinates x+200, y+200.) And my two-year-old MacBook Pro, the same machine I use for all of my other Xconomy work, was unhappy about all the video rendering I was asking it to do. FCPX froze up on me at least hourly, forcing me to restart.

Fortunately, I had Graham on speed-dial, and he talked me through the most traumatic parts—and gave me some suggestions that saved huge amounts of time. Still, there were moments when my frustration was palpable. At one point I said I wanted to write something nasty about how Apple’s desktop apps are so far behind its mobile apps in terms of usability. That’s when Graham sent this very sensible note:

Before you get it in your mind to write a scathing piece about FCPX, it is important to remember just how much more serious this piece of software is compared to iMovie. When you start introducing software that is that powerful, it is bound to be more demanding on memory and resources. It is fundamentally a different beast, and although the interface looks kind of hip and sexy and similar to what you get with iMovie, the presentation is deceptive. FCPX is less stodgy than the older versions of FCP, but it is essentially the same high-end professional tool.

He’s right, and once the video started to approach its final form, I felt less resentful about all the effort I was putting in. Also, once I developed some better practices for managing my video files and hard drives, the program stopped crashing and I was able to work faster.

Whenever there was something I couldn’t figure out, I just called Graham or Googled it—it turns out there’s a huge array of free Final Cut Pro tutorials on YouTube. I also picked up some great tips by watching a course on Final Cut Pro at the software training site Lynda.com. If I’d watched more of the Lynda.com courses before starting the project, it would have been a very good use of my time.

So here’s the finished video:

Some of the stuff in the video could have been accomplished in iMovie, but much of it would have been impossible. In the end, I’m glad I learned FCPX, and I’m looking forward to my next project.

If you do choose to teach yourself a professional program like FCPX as you go, the way I did, be aware that the learning part is going to slow you down. I probably put about 50 hours into that 1-minute video. But now that I have a better understanding of the process, I could make something similar (or, one would hope, better) in a fraction of the time. I wouldn’t have sunk $1,000 or hundreds of hours into Final Cut Pro 7—but with the consumerized Final Cut Pro X, I had a fighting chance, and that’s a good sign for amateur videographers everywhere.

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8 responses to “When iMovie Isn’t Enough, Amateur Video Producers Can Go Pro”

  1. Uncle Bug Music says:

    Great article! While I am very proficient in IMovie, I upgraded to FCPX in the fall. Initially I didn’t have many issues with the software until I left it for awhile –
    Having no need for either program for a few months – but when I went back to FCPX recently I couldn’t do anything. For some reason the whole thing confounded me and I couldn’t grasp the timeline, add special effects or finish a project. Let me add that this is NOT the fault of the software, but rather, with my brain apparently. I have had to go back to using iMovie. I’m like the Charly from Flowers For Algernon of movie editing software!

  2. Interestingly enough you missed out on Lightworks video editing package the one thats free at basic entry and powerful enough to handle a range of tasks.

  3. Max Mishler says:

    Initially, I was hugely skeptical when Apple went with the new iMovie. I hated it! I eventually forced myself to learn it and was pleasantly surprised at how easy most things are. For small projects that need a quick turnaround, I feel like nothing beats it! However, I feel like I’m in the same position with Final Cut Pro X now. I edit video for my church, preparing sermons for both television and the web. It’s been all FCP 7 up to this point as we do some multicam ingest & editing. Now that FCP X has included this feature, I feel it is time to make the switch.

  4. BruceyK says:

    Nice piece.
    I’ve come to fcpx (and now love it) from a different, an slightly odd way. I bought fcp studio for my business purely to get my hands on Motion. I self taught myself basic animation with help from a bunch of online tuts (special mention to ripple training). I opened fcp7 a few times but was immediately intimidated. But was able to make several professional (ie paid for) short videos using motion – it’s very open, versatile and easy to use if you come from a photoshop layer-based creative background as I do.

    Ironically you can now get Motion for just £30 from the App Store which is insane for such a powerful app. I would say you could have easily made your video here using motion – even though its not really a video editing app, it’s fine for shortform (let’s say up to 3 mins) work.

    Meanwhile, for more ambitious, less graphics-based pieces I gave final cut a second look when fcpx came out – and I found it amazing. I’m still in the ‘learning’ stage, but I’ve made several finished pieces with it and I’m blown away but it’s speed, power and intuitiveness. I’d recommend it to anyone remotely interested in editing and film making – from the hobbyist up to professional.

  5. Donald Willie says:

    Yes, nice piece on FCPX. It was concise, and informative. Also, your video was nice.