“Life of Crime” to premiere at Toronto International Film Festival

Life of Crime

Nice Dissolve graded director Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime, a prequel to Jackie Brown and adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel The Switch, staring Jennifer Aniston, yasiin bey (better known as Mos Def), Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, Tim Robbins, and John Hawkes.

It’s premiering tonight at Toronto in the massive (2630 seat) Roy Thomson Hall. Check it out if you’re at the festival!

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Restless City is in theaters — see it

Directed by Andrew Dosunmu and shot by Bradford Young (who won Best Cinematographer at Sundance in 2011), Restless City is one of the most visually exciting projects we’ve ever graded, and one of the most impressively stylized films ever shot on Red, which is particularly impressive because it was shot on a pre-MX camera. Anyone who wants to see what a powerful visual tool digital cinematography can be in the right hands should see this film. Find a screening near you.

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Nancy, Please premieres at Tribeca

Small Coup Films

Nancy, Please, directed by Andrew Semans, shot by Eric Lin and graded by Nice Dissolve, is premiering tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress opens theatrically

Sony Pictures Classics

Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress (shot by Doug Emmett and graded by Nice Dissolve) opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles today.

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Gimme the Loot wins Grand Jury Prize at SXSW

Gimme the Loot, directed by Adam Leon, shot by Jonathan Miller and graded by Nice Dissolve, has won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. Congrats!

3/19 update: Gimme the Loot will be distributed by Sundance Selects.

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Arcadia wins Crystal Bear at Berlin

Arcadia, directed by Olivia Silver, shot by Eric Lin and graded by Nice Dissolve, just won a Crystal Bear at Berlin. Congrats, everyone!

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Apple does the iteration thing with FCP X

Apple has released Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3, with multicam, what looks like better chroma keying than FCP 7 ever had, better XML support (including moving primary color grades to third-party apps like Resolve) media relinking, layered PSD support, and beta support for broadcast monitoring via Thunderbolt and PCIe devices. This actually appears to put Apple ahead of schedule, as last year they promised multicam would come “in the next major release”, presumably (with FCP X apparently adopting OS X style versioning) 10.1.

The web is going to be full of comments today about how this new release represents Apple backtracking in the face of industry rejection, but I don’t buy it. The signs that Apple always intended FCP X to be a real “pro app” have been there from the beginning. They were simply doing precisely what I described last summer: shipping as soon as they had something that was useful to some people, with the full intention of iterating until they had something great. The 10.0.3 release is a big step in that direction. I don’t think they’re done yet, but we’re already starting to see the new engine pay significant dividends. For instance, from Gary Adcock’s overview in Macworld:

Apple did not stop there. Because FCP X contains the most powerful metadata engine of any NLE, users now have unprecedented control over multicam events, with the ability to access and sync tracks not only via time code, but with keywords, in or out points, or audio tracks.

Multicam functionality is intelligent enough via the underlying metadata structure to be able to dynamically identify multiple takes from the same camera and drop them sequentially onto a multicam track—something that is utterly amazing. Apple augmented FCP X’s audio syncing capacity by allowing the app to exploit audio metadata to sync multiple cameras with similar audio content when there is no matching timecode on the files.

It does not end there. The biggest surprise is that unlike any other NLE, FCP X allows multicam projects to handle cameras with different codecs, image rasters, and frame rates, without conversion. Think about handling a multicam project that includes footage from DSLRs and DV, HDV, and professional cameras, without having to pre-process the content first. You can change, add, or delete camera angles at any time and work with different codecs, frame sizes, and frame rates without conversion.

The technical foundations of FCP X (its heavily optimized high bit depth rendering engine, its extensive metadata support) were always extreme overkill for the market some people claimed it was targeting. Now we’re starting to see what can really be built on those foundations.

Apple plays a long game. I suppose it’s too much to hope for that people will remember this and not freak out the next time Apple ships an initial release of a new product with missing features?

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Middle of Nowhere wins U.S. Directing Award at Sundance

Middle of Nowhere was directed by Ava DuVernay, shot by Bradford Young and graded by Nice Dissolve. Congratulations, everyone!

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The magnetic timeline and reasonable defaults

Over the last few weeks, I’m sure I’ve seen the magnetic timeline called ‘non-professional’ in hundreds of blog posts, forum messages and tweets. The logic seems to be that it’s designed to make it easier to edit, but in the process it removes control from the editor. Well, I’ve already addressed how this is not really quite accurate with respect to its clip collision behavior. But what about other ‘magnetic’ behaviors?

I’ve been trying to think this through systematically, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the behavioral changes in the magnetic timeline are essentially all about one thing: more reasonable defaults.

Let’s say you’ve got clips A, B and C on a timeline (in that order, on one track), and you drag C so its head is lined up with B’s head. Do you really want to overwrite B with C? The vast majority of the time, you don’t. You want to swap their positions.

In Final Cut Pro 7, overwriting is the default action taken in response to this command. Rearranging requires you to use a modifier key. Worse, you have to start dragging and then hit the option key. If you hit option before you start dragging, you’ll just overwrite B with a duplicate of C. How often have you ever wanted to do that?

In FCP X, swapping is the default behavior. For that one time in a hundred that you really want to overwrite, move C using the Position tool.

Another example of the magnetic timeline’s more reasonable default behavior is how it handles audio. Sometimes, you entirely discard clip audio. Sometimes, you deliberately slide it out of sync. But in the most common case, you leave clip audio linked to the clip it came with, in its default sync.

In FCP 7, audio tracks are always displayed separately from video tracks. Worse, there’s no particular visual indication of a link. Worse still, linked selection is a global mode; once you toggle it off, nothing prevents you from breaking audio and video apart for any clip in the sequence, even for clips where you’d never want to do this.

In FCP X, audio and video are combined into a single clip on the timeline by default. You can perform J and L cuts without having to separate them at all. Audio is only broken away from video if you explicitly ask for it to be; it’s not something that can happen because you moved the wrong thing with a global mode activated. Moreover, links between audio and video clips are shown explicitly, even after they’ve been separated.

It is true, in general, that these new FCP X behaviors are probably much easier for new users to grasp. But that’s not because they’re less “professional” — because they remove the user’s control. OS X is easier for new users to users than MS-DOS. Does that mean it’s less powerful? Obviously not. FCP X’s enhanced usability comes not from removing control, but from simply having more obvious default behavior.

Performing more reasonable default actions in response to commands doesn’t just make software more accessible for new users — it also makes it more efficient for experienced users.

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Why Apple is worth defending

In various forum discussions over the last two weeks, I’ve been asked how I can defend Apple. People can’t understand how someone can simultaneously admit that Final Cut Pro X is, at present, largely useless to the market segment his own company works in, but still support what Apple is doing with it. I’ve been called a “fanboy” more times that I can count, and accused of defending Apple essentially out of blind loyalty, even against my own interests.

This is not the case. I’m defending Apple because I legitimately believe in what they’re attempting here, even if I disagree with some of their specific actions. I’ve tried a bit, but I haven’t been able to articulate very well why I feel this way. Yesterday, however, a reader sent me a link to this article, which has solved that problem for me… with the words of Mike Bernardo, a former Avid employee:

Even though the FCPX rollout seemingly exposes Apple’s hubris, I’m glad they did it. They seem to be the only company capable of pushing boundaries. I have no doubt FCPX will eventually catch up to where FCP7 was in terms of features and capability.

When I was at Avid, I worked on a few internal projects trying to solve this exact problem – we saw Apple coming after us from the low end and knew it was only a matter of time before they reached Avid’s capabilities.

We worked on building “next generation” editor software. New UI, new technical foundation that would take advantage of multiple CPUs and GPUs. Unfortunately these efforts ultimately went nowhere, since the company as a whole was too timid and worried about disenfranchising the existing customer base – exactly the problem Apple is facing now.

This is it precisely. For all that they’ve done wrong with this launch (canceling FCS3 way too early, failing to effectively communicate about future plans, shipping before working out the details of volume/education sales, etc.), Apple seems to be the only company capable of pushing boundaries. Avid saw the future, saw what they had to do… and didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, even with a safer, more gradual transition plan.

And honestly, it’s hard to blame them. Ever since Ron Brinkmann’s X vs. Pro post made the rounds, people have been arguing that the reason Apple has been able to so act unilaterally with the FCP X launch is that Apple just doesn’t need its pro video customers enough. That Apple is so successful in general, it can afford to alienate users in this market. This is absolutely true.

I ran some rough numbers the other day. Avid’s quarterly revenue (almost entirely from pro audio and video products) is equivalent to about three days of iPad sales, based on the projected iPad numbers for this quarter. Avid absolutely cannot afford to alienate its existing user base, or even a small fraction of it. The company is teetering on the edge of profitability as it is. Commonly on the wrong side of it. Meanwhile, Final Cut Pro revenue is probably close to being a rounding error for Apple.

Yes, this means Avid is never going to ship a release that doesn’t have EDL or OMF exporting. It means Avid is never going to ship a release that discards backwards compatibility. It means Avid is never going to ship a release that eliminates a major feature like multicam.

But it also means the future will not be invented by Avid.

Apple is worth defending because, if any progress is to be made, this industry needs a company that is willing to do what, it seems, only Apple is willing to do.

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