Tutorial Review

July 26, 2000

Extreme Editing - Final Cut Pro Advanced Training Video
Two hours and 17 minutes
Reviewed by Charles Roberts

As an instructor of Digital Video and Audio, I look at instructional media as a tool. Some tools are better than others. There's screwdrivers and there's hammers. And not all hammers are alike, either. As such, I have some criteria for evaluating instructional media such as books, videos, interactive applications and CDROMS, tutorials, etc.

My criteria are loosely as follows;

1) How 'learnable' is the piece? Does it actually teach well compared to the time proven standard of having a living, breathing tutor perched on your shoulder?

2) Is it well organized and directed? Does it sleep in Papa Bear, Mama Bear or Baby Bear's bed? Does it deliver on the level of its target audience, or if generally directed, does it deliver anything of general value that the manual can't? Is the delivery itself tight, professional and coherent?

3) Is it cost effective? How does the media justify the cost, especially in view of the fact that much instructional media is disposable (books included!) and of little use after imparting its wisdom a few times? Some media have obvious advantages in this area, all else being equal.

With these criteria in mind, I had the opportunity recently to get up and close with Promax Systems' recent publication of the "Extreme Editing: Advanced Final Cut Pro Training" VHS tape. The tape clocks in at 2 hours and 17 minutes and retails for the street price of 139 smackers. It is directed towards an experienced audience, one who has "finished a few projects and is ready to move on to the next level".

The actual format of the video consists (as many instructional videos do) of an editor/tutor using screen captures and voice over to guide the viewer through various features and editing techniques. It lends some credibility that the tape was edited entirely within FCP, though to a certain degree that's sort of an albatross as well. I'll get into that later in this review.

I was actually quite entertained on my first viewing of the tape and impressed by how similar the tape is to an actual FCP classroom teaching session. I'm very familiar with FCP, but I didn't get bored watching the tape, because he's a good teacher. The presenter has obviously spent some time teaching FCP and his delivery of information is very natural (perhaps a little too natural, about which more later). For those of you who have received bad instruction from a tutor who obviously hates the application and/or knows little about it, you will appreciate this fact probably more than any other. His bedside manner is engaging and he seems to like FCP a lot. That's important.

The question of who the tape is actually for is probably the most critical one in considering its value as a tool. The trouble is that different parts of the tape seem to assume different levels of understanding in the viewer. A colleague of mine remarked that it appeared as if it had been shot on two occasions, one day with a script for beginners and the next with a script for the advanced, the tapes of which were then jumbled together and organized by performance rather than content.

To be fair, FCP is a very deep diversified application, and one's level of experience can vary widely over even different parts of the application itself. But 'advanced' certainly imply that some topics need not be detailed. For those of you who are 2 Pop aficionados, this is very similar to the question of whether basic questions should litter the general or advanced board. HELL NO !!!

For example, the opening comments include a statement that the tape assumes the viewer has, "completed a few projects..." and then in the next breath explains certain settings and features that it would be next to impossible to have completed projects without understanding. Now, there's nothing wrong with setting minimum standards for working, but once again, those belong to basic instruction. There are other examples throughout the tape. When you are paying a dollar a minute for instruction ($139/137 minutes), five minutes of basic preferences maybe could be better spent on a Happy Meal for your kids.

Similarly, there is an issue of repetitiveness. In the classroom, the teacher frequently must repeat information at least three times before it sinks into every forebrain. That's the way it works. I think this is why the teaching seemed so natural on first viewing. But one of the bonuses of instructional media is that nothing needs to be repeated. Miss something? Rewind, play again. Miss it again? Rewind again. I found that in one case, the same technique was displayed five times in repetition, by which time I was so sick of the technique that I don't think I'll ever use it. Twice would be enough. The average repetition for this tape was three. That's a lot of minutes. The tape could have either been a lot shorter/cheaper or covered a lot more ground if there had been fewer examples of the same techniques.

By contrast, the most valuable assets of the tape, which are less obvious and not-in-the-book features (even how to make that stupid moose appear), are shown once, quickly and in the manner in which ALL the content should have been presented. Other fantastic techniques presented include explanations of thumbnail scrubbing (which always blows away the non-FCP editor), multi-layer trimming, waveform/vectorscope use in clips, the secret of getting all 4 channels of 32K 12 bit audio from DV tape to FCP and some nice timeline techniques. Hell, I even learned a few things in spite of my egotism. If there is a reason to purchase the tape, it is because it imparts a few nice secrets to advanced editors who know how to use them. The trouble is that such a tape would only be about a half hour long max.

Next topic would be what I referred to earlier as both credibility and an albatross. The tape was cut using FCP entirely, never once really straying from easily identified FCP keying, wipes, effects, etc. As for credibility, that's pretty great because you can really see some of the discussed techniques in action. As for albatross, well, the chroma keys in the establishing and end shots are a little shaky, there's some inconsistency in a few shots where it appears the keying was left completely out for some reason. At some points, editing could have easily removed a few moments of lag time here and there, bum attempts at FCP actions could have been edited out, a better scan doubler could have been used to afford higher resolution for the murky screen captures, the tele-prompter or whatever seemed to be about 3 feet from the camera lens, you get the picture...

In short, there seem to be quite a few little rookie mistakes, both in shooting and editing, for an instructional video directed towards video editors, especially advanced ones. An advanced FCP editor already knows FCP is capable of producing broadcast video. Slip-ups for this crowd are more embarrassing than anything, because it's obvious that the tutor knows his app. It seems like a rush job, and though the data is good, you're left wondering why they didn't fix some of the problems with the powerful tool they were teaching.

Ultimately, rookie editing and shooting mistakes and repetitiousness themselves aren't the problem. One can learn a lot from this tape. And learning is worth quite a bit. Remember that your skills as an editor are in direct proportion to how much you can make in the industry (its not just who you know), so who cares where you learned the tricks? Hell, many of us learned our FCP chops on 2 Pop, where there's NO video interface, only other interested users.

But the crucial difference is in the price tag. 2 Pop is free. This tape costs nearly 140 dollars. I've now watched the tape 3 times and I don't think I could watch it again for reasons I've mentioned above. I've learned some great stuff, but three viewings is all I could manage. That's roughly 50 bucks a viewing. Admittedly a dinner date that ends up at a movie theater can run a bill this high, but I want a good night kiss for all that. My experience with teaching many new, intermediate and advanced users of FCP would suggest that this tape will have the following effect on the following user-types:

1) Totally newbie basic users might be a little confused by some of the stuff, but if they've mastered Imovie and/or worked with the Mac OS, they could make use of it fairly quickly.

2) Intermediate users who know zero about PRODUCTION editing or shooting could get a better understanding of FCP's tools, though they might have easily already mastered them through experimentation. This is the real target group and the one who may be unhappy that there is too much basic and/or repetitive info for an expensive VHS tape. While you see the word 'advanced' in the title, the tape really imparts more basic information about using tools other than the razor blade. I don't consider Logging or Capture Now, the subject of almost twenty minutes of painfully thorough description, advanced features.

3) Advanced users and anyone looking for information about systems using anything but DV/Firewire capture will be dismayed that Promax accepts no returns on the tape. 140 bucks could have gone towards a new drive. A pity that the cool secrets that would benefit them comprise a sum total of almost five minutes of 2 hours seventeen minutes."

Charles Roberts   (AKA Chawla) teaches Digital Video and Audio Production at Fitchburg State College in Fitchburg, MA. He uses his long tedious rendering times to generate content and tackle hard hitting issues on the discussion boards of 2 Pop (www.2-pop.com). His house seems to shrink with every passing day...

copyright © Charles Roberts 2001

All screen captures, images, and textual references are the property and trademark of their creators/owners/publishers.

Promax Systems, Inc
To order call 1-800-977-6629 or 949-727-2977


(This article was originally published at LAFCPUG and is reprinted here with permission.)