Everything Everywhere All at Once dominated the Academy Awards night, including winning the Best Film Editing award for Paul Rogers. The team used Adobe Premiere Pro as their NLE of choice. By extension this becomes the first editing Oscar win for Premiere. Of course, it’s the team and editor that won the award, not the software that they used. Top editors could cut with any application and get the same result.
The Academy Awards started as a small celebratory dinner for insiders to recognize each other’s achievements in film. Over the decades this has become a major cultural event. Winning or even being nominated is a huge feather in the cap for any film. This can be heavily leveraged by the marketing teams of not only the film distributors and talent agents, but also the various products used in the process – be that cameras or software.
When it comes to editing, Avid has been the 800-pound gorilla in the modern digital era. Ever since Walter Murch won for editing The English Patient using Media Composer, the specific NLE on an Oscar-winning film has become a hot topic among editors. This was never the case when the only options were Moviola, KEM, or Steenbeck.
Even this year nine out of the ten nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture and four out of the five nominees for Best Film Editing used Media Composer. Yet, Avid’s dominance in the winner’s circle has seen some occasional cracks from competitors, like Apple’s Final Cut Pro (legacy version) and Lightworks. Nevertheless, Media Composer is still a safe bet. And let’s not forget sound, where Pro Tools has even less competition from other DAWs among film and TV sound editors and mixers. All of the nominees for the Oscar for Best Sound at this year’s Academy Awards used Pro Tools.
There are, of course, many awards competitions around the world, including the ACE Eddie Awards, BAFTA, Golden Globes, and others, including various film festivals. Many of these don’t give out specific craft awards for editors or editing; however, a lot of these winning films have been edited with other tools. For example, many award-worthy indie films, especially documentaries, have been edited with Premiere Pro. Even Final Cut Pro (the current “X” version) has had wins in such categories. This includes wins for the short films, The Silent Child and Skin at the 2018 and 2019 Academy Awards.
Stacking up the NLE competitors
The truth of the matter is that today, there are seven viable applications that might be used to cut a professional feature film or documentary: Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Lightworks, Edius X, and Vegas Pro. You could probably also factor in others, such Final Cut Pro 7 (now zombie-ware) and Media 100 (yes, still alive), not to mention consumer-oriented NLEs like iMovie or Movie Maker. Realistically, most experienced film editors are likely to only use one of the first five on the list.
Of those five, Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is the app that most editors have their eyes on. Aside from its widespread use in color correction, Resolve is also a perfectly capable editing application. Although it has yet to pull off an Oscar win for editing, Resolve has been widely used in many aspects of the production and post workflow of top films. Owing to its nature as a “Swiss Army Knife” application, Resolve fits into various on-set, editing, and visual effects niches. It’s only a matter of time before Resolve gets an Oscar win for editing. But other Blackmagic Design products also shouldn’t be overlooked. In the 2023 Academy Awards, more than 20 films across the technical, documentary, short film, international feature film, and animated categories used some Blackmagic Design product.
When an application is used on an award-winning film, I’d bet that the manufacturer’s marketing department is doing high-fives. But does this really move the sales needle? Maybe. It’s all aspirational marketing. They want you to feel that if you use the same software as an Oscar-winning film editor used, then you, too, could be in that league. Talent is always the key factor, but we can all dream. Right? That’s what marketing plays upon, but it also impacts the development of the application itself.
Both Avid and Adobe have been fine-tuning their tools with professional users in mind for years. They’ve added features based on the needs of a small, but influential (or at least vocal) market sector. This results in applications that tick most of the professional boxes, but which are also harder to learn and eventually master.
That’s a route Apple also chose to pursue with Final Cut Pro 1 through 7. Despite a heralded introduction with Cold Mountain in 2003, it took until 2010 before Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter nailed down an Oscar with The Social Network. They then reprised that in 2011 with a win for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Even as late as 2020, the discontinued FCP 7 was represented by Parasite, winning Best Picture and nominated for Best Film Editing.
Apple and Final Cut Pro’s trajectory unexpectedly changed course with the introduction of Final Cut Pro X. This shift coincided with the growth of social media and a new market of many non-traditional video editors. Final Cut Pro in its current iteration is the ideal application for this market and has experienced a huge growth in users. But, it still gets labelled as being not ready for professional users, even though a ton of professional content is posted using the app. Apple took the platform approach – opting to leave out many advanced features and letting third party developers fill in the gaps where needed. This is the core of much of the criticism.
How advanced/complex does a professional NLE really need to be?
In the case of FCP, it’s certainly capable of Hollywood-level films along with a range of high-end, international dramas. Witness the many examples I’ve written about, like Focus, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Voice from the Stone, The Banker, Jezebel, and Blood Red Sky. However, a wide range of professional editors would like to see more.
The internal corporate discussion goes like this. Marketing asks, “What do we have to do to get broader adoption among professional film editors?” Engineering answers, “It will take X dollars and X amount of time.” Top management asks, “What’s the return if we do that?” And that’s usually where the cycle stops, until the next year or awards season.
The truth is that the traditional high-end post market is extremely small for a company like Apple. The company is already selling hardware, which is their bread and butter. Will a more advanced version of FCP sell more hardware? Probably not. Avid, Adobe, and Blackmagic Design are already doing that for them. On the other hand, what is more influential for sales in today’s market – Oscar-winning professional editors or a bevy of YouTube influencers touting your product?
I’m not privy to sales numbers, so I have no idea whether or not going after the very small professional post market makes financial sense for either Blackmagic Design or Adobe. In the case of Avid, their dominance pays off through their ecosystem. Avid-based facilities are also likely to have Avid storage and Pro Tools audio facilities. Hardware most likely covers the development costs. Plus, both Avid and Adobe have shifted to subscription models (Adobe fully, Avid as an option). This seems to be good for both companies.
Blackmagic Design is also a hardware developer and manufacturer. Selling cameras and a wide range of other products enables them to offer DaVinci Resolve for as little as free. You’d be hard-pressed to find a production company that wasn’t using one or more Blackmagic products. Only time will tell which company has taken the approach that a) ensures their long term survival, and b) benefits professional film editors in the best way. In the case of Apple, it’s pretty clear that adding new feature to Final Cut Pro will generate more revenue in an amount that many competitors would envy. Yet, it would be small by Apple’s measurement.
In the end, awards are good for a developer’s marketing buzz, but don’t forget the real team that won the award itself. It’s wonderful for Paul Rogers and Adobe that Everything Everywhere All at Once was tapped for the Oscar for Best Film Editing. It’s an interesting milestone, but when it comes to software, it’s little more than bragging rights. Great to have, but remember, it’s Rogers that earned it, regardless of the tools he used.
©2023 Oliver Peters
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