Commentary: MacWorld 2006

Posted on by Larry

There were two highlights, for me, of MacWorld 2006. The first was listening to Walter Murch give a clinic on editing for the Final Cut Pro User Group meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006. The second was the initial release of Apple’s new Intel-based hardware.

MacWorld has always been a consumer-oriented show and this year was no exception. I’ve always enjoyed walking the aisles, seeing what’s new, or just visiting with long-time friends and developers. There’s nothing like a long chat with a software engineer to turn my fuzzy thinking into a clear idea that I can explain to others.

And thinking about turning ideas into reality brings me to one of my two highlights: the release of Apple’s Intel-based computers. This is exciting because now our discussions can focus on actual hardware, rather than fantasizing about possibilities.

However, and this is very important, keep in mind that if you buy a new Intel iMac today, Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Studio will NOT run on it. Apple has announced an upgrade program to provide versions of Final Cut and Final Cut Studio that will support these new Macs, but they won’t be available until the end of March, 2006.

Click here for details on the upgrade and pricing:

Again, I urge caution in upgrading or buying new hardware. I am as excited as anyone about these new releases. I’m looking forward to playing with it. However, if your principal job is editing projects to deliver on deadline, I would urge you to wait until the initial dust settles before investing in the new hardware.

Everything may work great. On the other hand, they may not.

Let’s see what the new few months bring, how well the new hardware works, the reliability of the new operating system and the stability of the new version of Final Cut before deciding to upgrade.

In any case, there’s nothing we can do until the upgrade ships in March.

– – –

The second highlight of MacWorld was listening to Walter Murch speak. For those who don’t know, Mr. Murch is a legendary Oscar-winning film and sound editor who is known both for his skill as an editor (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Godfather II & III, Cold Mountain, and Jarhead) and for his use of Final Cut in his editing of Cold Mountain and Jarhead.)

In past venues, Mr. Murch has talked about how he uses Final Cut in his editing. This MacWorld speech was about editing itself. His presentation was recorded and will be offered for sale when the user groups get the DVD done. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of his thoughts with you.

Unlike acting, makeup or costumes, the craft of film editing is fairly new. The first film that used editing to tell it’s story was produced in England in 1900.

One of the challenges editors face is that there is an almost unlimited number of ways of editing a single sequence. For instance, if you have 3 different shots of the same scene, there are 15 different ways that scene can be put together. If you have 25 shots of the same scene, the number of different assemblies (sequences) that can be created exceed, as Mr. Murch put it, the number of sub-atomic particles in the universe.

Then, he shifted into a discussion of cutting dialog. Mr. Murch felt that a good general rule when editing dialog is that four different setups (locations) per minute is about the most you can use while still making the conversation appear natural.

“There is an explosive chemistry in where an actor looks.” Mr. Murch used this statement to launch an analysis of a scene from Raging Bull. He said that Martin Scorcese puts a lot of emphasis on where an actor looks.

A member of the audience asked Mr. Murch how he decides whether to work on a film. He replied, “There are three criteria I use in deciding what to do:

1) Whether the script is good
2) Whether the people are interesting to work with
3) Whether there is enough time and money

“For me, the key is whether I respond to the script. Is this project going to take me into an area in which I am interested? Can I learn something new?”

My favorite quote of the evening was, “I have to admit that every time I start a film, I feel that ‘I can’t do this.’ It takes me about three weeks to get under the skin of a film to understand it’s own internal language and to learn how to work with it.”

He continued, “Using technology does not change the style of editing. I was restoring a film a couple years ago for DVD release that I had edited twenty years ago. This was long before the advent of editing using computers. In watching the film, I was struck by how similar the editing I did then was to how I edit now. Every film has a language in which it tells itself. Find that language and the editing technology becomes irrelevant.”

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