Saturday, June 28, 2008

2007 Equipment Survey Results

by Harry B. Miller III, A.C.E.

Significant trends can be spotted in the 2007 Equipment Survey of ACE members: Final Cut Pro (FCP) is on the rise, the mini-series has all but disappeared, DI’s (Digital Intermediate: printing film for release from digital files) are taking over, and editing tools have a long way to go in reliability and speed.

The participation in this year’s survey has been the highest of any. ACE thanks all who returned surveys. Although it would be best if everyone had sent in one, we at least have a large enough sample from ACE members to make some reasonable assumptions about what our members are doing.

The value of this survey, perhaps, is to show trends in the Hollywood feature and television industry, amongst the highest skilled and creative editors in that industry.

Additionally, each member can utilize this information to inform their own careers - which technologies are becoming important, which areas do we need more training, etc..

One caveat: a number of the questions were poorly phrased, misunderstood, and thus the results need to be taken with some skepticism. Like all surveys, how the question is written is just as important as the answer, but some misunderstanding does not invalidate all the results.

The Numbers

105 surveys were returned. We have about 350 active members, so that is a pretty good response. Apple computers have only about 6% of the US PC market, but they represent 73% of the ACE editors market. Avid’s attempt to dump Apple has been a dismal mis-step.
Avid continues to dominate the offline world (79% to 21%). The other trend of note is the increase in Final Cut: up to 18%. Expect that trend to increase.
This is a difficult category to glean a trend, other than MOW’s and mini-series are going away.
Digital formats have risen from 10% in 2004 to around 32% in ’07. In 2007 for the first time recording to drives appears. The numbers do include shows that shoot multiple camera formats.
If 47% of the responses are from features and 46% of the responses in Delivery Format are DI’s, it seems that DI’s are dominating the feature film area.

Why? It is much more expensive to make a DI. Are the benefits monetary? Unlikely. Much like the change from editing with film to electronic editing: the creative and practical benefits are enormous, while the cost is much higher. Is it the director who is making this happen?

The push to use Final Cut Pro is to some extent economic. Universal Studios has been making a strong push for FCP in its television post. Fox Features seems to be making a push toward a FCP workflow.
This is always the most problematic area of the survey each year. Less than half of the editors choose the editing system they work on. The editor is the one person who should choose. Whomever is pushing the studios toward DI’s needs to help the editor choose the system he / she prefers.

Nearly 10% of the post was cut in HD. Look for this trend to grow.
33% of respondents categorize themselves as competent, or less than. As much as it may be comfortable to ignore the technical aspects of the editing room, those who do so will find employment opportunities shrinking as the world gets more technical rather than less. It is possible to be both a good editor and an expert in the software and hardware you work with. Knowing the technical side will never lessen as a desirable quality.

A new section of questions was added this year, to see what editors felt about different modules within the software.

Basic Titles: 63 respondents like the basic title tool. 18 don’t. 15 are neutral or have no opinion. That seems to be a rather positive overall view.

Color Correction: Not all versions of software have a color correction module. 28 respondents liked theirs. 33 didn’t. 34 were neutral or didn’t have an opinion.

Advanced Titles: 21 liked Marquee or Motion (or Live Type). 37 didn’t. 9 were neutral. 25 didn’t respond. The Advanced title tools are not well liked.

ScriptSync: only Avid has this, and only the newer systems. 10 respondents liked it. 33 did not. 5 were neutral. ScriptSync seems to have a very long way to go to be broadly useful. Those who like it are, in general, passionate supporters. It is probable others don’t understand it well, or have not been able to usefully apply it to their own situation.

Effects: 60 respondents liked the Effects module. Only 13 did not. Pretty favorable for Effects.

Other Software

Members reported using the following software in their workflow: Quickeys, X Keys, Photoshop, iTunes, Filemaker, Boris, Cinematize, Quicktime Pro, Toast, CuteFTP, Final Draft, ProTools, Elgato Turbo, After Effects, DVD Studio Pro, and Stage Tools.


In order of greatest mention, the following things caused the most frustration: system crashes, system speed, interface design, director / producer interference, and lack of knowledge of the editing tools. (Our lives would be soooo much easier without those pesky directors.)

Feature Improvements

There were a lot of suggestions for improvements in the editing systems. They include, in order of importance, simple mobility, macro ability, a more intuitive interface, and more / better audio tools. (It is surprising to see how many editors want to take their work home.)

New Technology

The ideas for integrating new technology include voice activation, touch screens, an easier help system, inexpensive media sharing, and transcriptions.

The complete survey and some additional detail will be published on our ACE Tech web site.

Is Anyone Listening?

Hopefully, the annual survey’s results will have some impact with those who make the tools that our editors use. Avid? Apple? Adobe? (Is anyone still making) Lightworks? Will they simply keep adding features, or will they make the editor’s world more creative, convenient, and friendly.

One feature an editor mentioned was to be able to update title text in an easy way other than opening and changing each title. On a subtitled movie, this would be a great help. Will any edit system add this function?

With any luck, editors will start having more say in the tools they use, just as other production crewmembers now have. DP’s always have a big say in the camera and light equipment to be used because the perception is that they need it to achieve the “look” they have been chosen for. But several times I have been forced to use an editing system I would not have otherwise chosen. An editor is chosen for the same creative reason to do a project and likewise he or she should be able to choose the equipment that best services his or her creative needs.


Anonymous Todd Smelser said...

"One feature an editor mentioned was to be able to update title text in an easy way other than opening and changing each title. On a subtitled movie, this would be a great help. Will any edit system add this function?"

Avid added this functionality with its subcap effect in the 3.0 release of the MC/Symphony software.

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