Among editors and post-production professionals, the release of Final Cut Pro X in 2011 was a seismic event, with aftershocks that thundered throughout the community. Some people loved it. A lot of people hated it. Everyone had an opinion on it. It represented one of the largest controversies Apple has faced, and produced the kind of drama within the editing community that, well, would be right at home in a movie. Which is exactly what has now happened.
Off the Tracks is a new documentary produced by longtime editor Bradley Olsen that takes viewers behind the scenes of the creation and controversy around Final Cut Pro X. We spoke with the filmmaker about how his movie came about, and how it changed along the way.
Love at First Sight
When Final Cut Pro X was released, Olsen had been editing for over a decade. He’d come to master Adobe Premiere, Avid, and earlier versions of Apple’s Final Cut Pro — but this was something different. Very different. From the moment Olsen saw a sneak peek video of the program leak out of the 2011 Las Vegas SuperMeet, he thought “Yep, this is the future.”
That’s not to say he wasn’t nervous about the drastic changes a major re-writing of the program had produced. Olsen knew adapting would mean having to learn a lot, but he was game. What he didn’t know right away was how many others weren’t game at all. Final Cut Pro’s drastic overhaul caused shock and outrage throughout the editing community. Articles with titles like “Did Apple Just Walk Away From the Professional Video Editing Market?” weren’t uncommon.
Off the Tracks filmmaker Bradley Olsen
Olsen found sentiments like that easily. “When I started Google searching, that’s when I saw all the negative feedback. It was overwhelming how much hate there was,” he says. The backlash was so extreme, some worried that Apple would back away from the program. “It felt like a real possibility that Apple would just say, ‘You know what? We screwed up. We hate this. We’re just going to pull it off the market. Sorry. We’re out of the editing game.’ That was a depressing anxiety for me.”
How the Backlash Led to a Movie Idea
Nonetheless, Olsen was in love with the program – its magnetic timeline, its keywords and smart collection – and devoted himself to Final Cut Pro X undeterred. It wasn’t easy for him professionally. “For the first two or three years, I felt like I was totally alone in using the software and having to defend it to people,” he explains. “Clients would be sitting over my shoulder watching me edit. They loved the videos I was making for them. But then they would say, ‘What about that Final Cut thing? No one’s using it.’ I’d say, ‘It’s right here. I’m using it right in front of you.’” In 2015, a co-producer of a project even recommended against hiring Olsen because he used Final Cut Pro X.
That marked something of a turning point for the editor that led him to seek solidarity and discover a thriving online community of Final Cut Pro X editors who shared his embrace of the program. Among them, he found something unexpected: there were loyalists who had begun as detractors. Once Olsen discovered that, he realized there was a story to tell. “You’ve got an arc where it starts out horrible for people, and then it ends up being something that they can’t live without,” he says. “That’s a good story.”
Collecting Interviews with Experts and Devotees
Among the Final Cut Pro X users in the community was Sam Mestman, president of LumaForge (and an eventual producer on Off the Tracks). Mestman became a helpful sounding board and partner for Olsen in determining how to proceed. Olsen ran his interview wish list and questions past Mestman, who offered a key suggestion: Olsen should go to the Final Cut Pro X Creative Summit, because many of those on his list would likely be there.
With an outline and his list of questions at the ready, Olsen spoke to editors including Peter Wiggins, Alex Gollner, Wes Plate, and others. He also went to Los Angeles specifically to speak with editor Michael Cioni, then used the occasion to interview Glenn Ficarra, Kevin Bailey and Esther Sokolow. “I was trying to get the stories that I had been following already,” he explains. “I was just trying to get those recorded.” After interviews were completed, he assembled a 93-minute rough cut, mostly made up of talking heads, aligned into six thematic clusters. He was encouraged. “I thought, ‘This is going to be great. Maybe this’ll be six different episodes that I put on Vimeo.’” But then something unexpected happened.
How One Interview Changed the Entire Project
One day, in a private Final Cut Facebook group, Noah Kadner, a marketing director at FCPWORKS, asked Olsen if he’d interviewed anyone from Apple. Olsen explained that, given Apple’s insular nature, he hadn’t had success. “Well, what about Randy?” Kadner asked, referring to Randy Ubillos, the retired creator of Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro X. Kadner tagged Ubillos, who ended up seeing the message as he was waiting for a flight at an airport. Reading over the Facebook post, he was intrigued by the idea of a Final Cut Pro X documentary and emailed Olsen. He went on to agree to do an interview for the film.
Final Cut Pro X designer Randy Ubillos
The trajectory of the film changed. “That’s when the documentary went from just being about this community to me thinking, ‘This is going to be the quintessential story. This is it. This is the Final Cut documentary,” says Olsen. He leaned into that and made some changes. “I started breaking apart my story and changing the structure to facilitate centering it more around having an actual behind-the-scenes look.”
Being able to meld outsider perspectives with insider perspectives allowed him to further massage the story and theme of his film to be something more. “There’s a bigger thing that happens with technological disruptions and changes, and how people react to those changes,” he says. He could now make a film about how Final Cut Pro X was made, how it was responded to, and how it has lived on since. And that was what he’d wanted all along. “If it was just making a documentary about software, I don’t think I would bother with it.”
Crowdfunding for the Win
Up until June 2017, when the Off the Tracks campaign launched, Olsen had been paying for the project out of pocket, as he was shooting and editing himself. Eventually, Noah Kadner suggested a Kickstarter not just to raise funds, but to help raise awareness. Olsen agreed, and asked for $10,000 to use for a film score, post-production costs, and the purchasing of stock media (including materials from Pond5). The response proved there was a sizable audience that wanted to hear this story. “Within 24 hours, we had that 10 grand,” Olsen recalls. “In a week, we had $20,000. By the end of it, we had $26,000 in our Kickstarter.”
A Love Letter to Change Some Minds
Over a year later, Olsen is finally ready to share the film with the world and looks forward to the response. He expects lingering dissenters will have their complaints. “I know for a fact there’s going to be a bunch of people out there who probably won’t even watch the movie, who are going to tell me that this is just an Apple fanboy thing and Final Cut sucks,” he says. But he’s been most interested to hear from a particular group of viewers: those who he believes are “fence sitters” on the Final Cut Pro X debate, some of whom have already shared their thoughts with him.
“In early showings of this documentary, it’s been very interesting to talk to people who were very against Final Cut, but have watched the film and said, ‘This answered all the questions and concerns I had. I definitely want to give Final Cut a shot now.’ I’m hoping that some of those people who had turned away, but are willing to change and learn things, will take a second look.”
Editor Ben Brodbeck in his Final Cut Pro X Editing Bay
Off the Tracks is available to rent or purchase via Amazon in the US and UK, and to purchase worldwide at VHX.tv. Use the promo code OTTP5 to save $1 off the regular edition of the film or $5 off the bonus feature edition at VHX.tv. Further release information will be available on the film’s official site.
All images courtesy of Bradley Olsen/Off The Tracks
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