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FCP X: Is the lack of forward compatibility a deal breaker for editors?

Ashley Kennedy

Final Cut Pro X has a lot going for it with its many exciting new features. However, there’s also much lacking currently — one item of which is the lack of forward software compatibility. This means that editors can’t open projects in FCP X that were started in previous versions of FCP.*

A bit of background on the whole backward/forward compatibility discussion:

  • FCP has always featured forward compatibility before. However, it has never offered backward compatibility (which allows editors to open projects in previous versions of the software).
  • FCP’s chief competitor, Avid Media Composer, features both forward and backward compatibility for all versions, as well as compatibility across multiple platforms (you can open a project created on a PC on a Mac), and even across products (you can open Avid Media Composer projects in Avid Symphony).

So with this latest news, I wondered how important both forward compatibility and backward compatibility are to all different types of editors. Therefore, I contacted many of my editor acquaintances — feature film editors, documentary editors, short-form editors, assistant editors and editing educators — with the following questionnaire:

  1. How important is forward compatibility to the projects you work in, and why? (opening projects in subsequent versions of software)
  2. How important is backward compatibility to the projects you work in, and why? (opening projects in previous versions of software)
  3. Have you ever had a situation where opening a project in a previous or subsequent version of software was vital to the project’s success? Please tell me your story.
  4. Would you delay purchasing a piece of software given your answer to one of the above questions?

Here is a sampling of their answers:

Importance of forward compatibility


Forward compatibility is very important. I don’t particularly want to have two iterations of the same application on my drive, as FCP7 and FCPX users will have to do now.
– Norman Hollyn
Forward compatibility is essential. I’m often working on documentary projects for very long periods and if i can’t open them in a new version, I can’t upgrade. Also, every editor knows that you often need to make versions for different markets, sometimes much later. Lack of forward compatibility makes this very difficult
– Eric Scholl
Extremely important. I have projects from years ago that I use in current projects. The film I did on HIV-positive African children spanned six years and included material that had been edited on older versions of software.
– Sam Kauffmann
Forward compatibility is essential for me at the moment. I’m working on a long-term project (a feature- length documentary) which is at the rough cut stage and won’t be completed until I raise the finishing funds — which could take awhile! Until that happens, I can’t upgrade. This seems like a real issue to me as it is not uncommon for a feature doc to take more than 5 years to complete.
– Kristin Pichaske
It’s not acceptable [to not have forward compatibility], as far as I’m concerned. I don’t get newer versions of programs to lose features and functionality. Just because I’ve finished with a project, doesn’t mean the footage, sequences and edits I’ve made will never be used in any form again. It’s ridiculous.
– Ivan Cespedes

Importance of backward compatibility


Not very important for the same reason. Once I upgrade to a new version I will always stay in that version ASSUMING THAT I HAVEN’T LOST FUNCTIONALITY IN THE NEW VERSION. So, the lack of multicam is problematic for me in FCPx (though, honestly, I never start a project in single cam and then go multicam, but you know what I mean).
– Norman Hollyn
Backward compatibility is nice, but not crucial. As a teacher, it makes it easier for students who may not have upgraded to work at home but still show their work at school. It would be nice if they could simply open it in any version, but I can deal with it
– Eric Scholl
This is not as important to me anymore. It used to be a concern of mine when I was in school, and had to be sure to not get too new a version to accommodate the place I spent most of my time. Not that I’m only at home where I only use my own computer, It’s not so much a concern.
– Ivan Cespedes

Situation recall of compatibility importance:


The two situations where the lack of backward-compatibility has been most frustrating has been moving a project back and forth between myself and another editor or myself and the director when we have different versions of FCP. The other was a situation where I was working at a small production house where their edit stations were divided between an older and newer version of FCP. Generally, I was the sole editor on the projects, but they used an assistant editor to set-up the project initially. There needed to be some pre-planning as to which version to begin the project in and sometimes some desk-shifting as me and the other editors needed to be at the appropriate station for the given project we were working on.
– Stephen Combs
I have had a situation where [lack of] backwards compatibility added three days of work time to a project. I was editing a wedding [for a production studio] and I wanted to edit from home. I had a way better machine at home (iMac 27in 2010 Intel Core i7) compared to a 4-5 year old Mac Pro that was available to me at the office. The problem was that I had FCP 7 at home and [the production studio] was completely FCP 6. So I bit the bullet and decided to update my wedding project file to FCP 7 and I edited the rest of the project on beast of an iMac. Reading all of the info on the new FCPx, I was disappointed to see that it was not forwards compatible. Then I read that there is no exporting XML, EDL etc.! At least with the dilemma of FCP 6 vs. FCP 7 there was a work around with using XML. Good grief!
– Mallory Ryan

Caution/delay of purchase based on above factors:


Well, FCP is so damned cheap that I probably would get it — just not use it for mission critical until the issues have been resolved. If it were more expensive I would definitely hold off on a purchase. But, understand, I’m not a “dot zero” kinda guy. I usually wait until other people have worked out the problems and solutions before jumping into a piece of software.
– Norman Hollyn
I will not only delay indefinitely, but I will recommend that the department not upgrade.
– Eric Scholl
The post production house that I work at now will not be upgrading to FCPx anytime. Hell, this weekend they are finally upgrading to Snow Leopard… And we ship too many things on tape not to have deck control. Also, we have too many projects that are all in various states of completion to chuck them all and start over (which we would have to do to go to FCPx). I have a feeling that like many new technologies the first adopters will be the documentary filmmakers and independent people that are mostly shipping to DVD and/or web which is apparently what Apple thinks all of us only do. In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “It’s a dealbreaker ladies!”
– Mallory Ryan
I would absolutely be inclined to delay purchasing the new version based on the above issue. But once the Television Department upgrades its system, I will want to be in synch so that I can review student projects on my laptop and also go over my lesson plans. (Hard to learn the new version if I don’t have it). So I fear that might be something of a mess.
– Kristin Pichaske
I’m not buying Final Cut X. I may buy a future version if it meets my needs, but this program doesn’t seem to be it.
– Ivan Cespedes
Basically, I won’t buy the latest update too soon or too late. Since most of my projects go back and forth between my home system and the clients’, it’s a matter of knowing which version most of them have and sticking to that. If I update too soon, they won’t be able to open the project when I deliver it to them, if I update too late and they’ve already prepared a project and uploaded footage with a newer version, than I can’t do the job.
– Stephen Combs

The players:

  • Norman Hollyn: Feature film editor and director, editing educator, author, entrepreneur
  • Eric Scholl: Documentary filmmaker and editing educator
  • Ivan Cespedes: Freelance videographer and editor
  • Sam Kauffmann: Documentary filmmaker, editing educator, author
  • Kristin Pichaske: Documentary filmmaker and editing educator
  • Mallory Ryan: Apprentice editor
  • Stephen Combs: Freelance videographer and editor



So, the consensus?

According to my oh-so-not-scientific survey:

  • Everyone believes forward compatibility to be absolutely critical.
  • Backward compatibility is nice, but not vital.
  • There have been instances where having to negotiate between different versions of software has been a pain, but not a show stopper.
  • And, absolutely everyone is wary enough to delay or refuse purchase of a software that doesn’t offer forward compatibility.

What about you? Tell us your thoughts on forward and/or backward compatibility! Have you ever had to unnecessarily juggle software versions to get a project completed? Is the lack of forward compatibility a deal breaker?

*This may change with subsequent updates to FCP X.