The Apple Matters Interview: Final Cut Master Larry Jordan
I recently had the opportunity to attend a Final Cut Pro seminar hosted by Larry Jordan. His presentation was so interesting that I asked him to do an interview with us. Here are some pearls of wisdom from a true Final Cut Pro guru.
Q: Many of our readers aren’t videographers so they probably don’t know who exactly you are. So, could you tell us a little about yourself? Where you’re from, how you got your start in this business and what you are currently doing?
I grew up in the midwest, mostly in Wisconsin, but got my start in television on the East Coast. This was a while ago, working as a producer/director for a variety of television stations on the East Coast. I worked in Baltimore, Boston, and Washington, DC. All my work has been in video, principally live and multi-camera remote shoots. I’ve directed more than 4,000 newscasts, untold numbers of talk shows, directed dramas and music for PBS and everything in between.
I was nominated for an Emmy for both directing and editing, based on some of that early work. I’ve been a member of the Director’s Guild of America for many years now, and recently had the pleasure to join the Producers Guild of America, as well.
Q: Why did you choose Final Cut instead of Premiere, Avid or some other product?
My first job in television, after graduate school, was for a television station in Missoula, Montana. The day I started was the last day they physically cut video tape with a razor blade and glued it together—similar to film. Since then, I’ve edited linearly, from one video tape machine to another. Then advancing to CMX—an early computer-controlled, tape-to-tape editor. As well, I started working with 2” tape, then 1”, then 3/4”.
So you can see, I’ve been editing for a while.
I left television for a while to work with computers and software marketing - a stint which lasted for about 15 years. Recently, I got back into it and discovered that computers had taken over. So, my first recent editing experience was sitting in a room with an editor working with an Avid. Then, I started editing myself using Adobe Premier. Finally, I made the switch to Final Cut. Most of my work in those days was with Betacam SP, and Final Cut did a better job with that than did Premier.
Q: What features do you think FCP lacks that another product currently has?
I get asked that question all the time and I have a hard time answering it. I spent all my time learning Final Cut. I’ve been using it for six years and teaching it for three and still discover features in there that I either never knew about or never knew how to use properly. So, while I can’t point to features in other software, there are lots of things in Final Cut that I’d like to see improved.
Now, whether Apple agrees with me is an entirely different question.
Q: What do you think about the applications that come with Final Cut Pro in the Final Cut Studio package? Are they adequate for your needs or do you find yourself buying 3rd party software packages as well?
There’s always a need for third-party packages. Apple can’t do everything and they can’t meet the needs of every user. That’s why a vibrant, third-party development community is so essential to Final Cut. They fill the gaps left in Final Cut—from filters to utilities to whole stand-alone packages. Video editing is one piece of a very large puzzle, that of post-production. This includes music creation, compositing, editing, effects, logging, final output, distribution—far more than one single editing package can provide. That’s why Apple created the Final Cut Studio suite of products. And even that doesn’t provide all the tools you need—but it does provide a lot of them.
And the tools themselves are increasingly deep and comprehensive. Still, I wouldn’t begin a project without PhotoShop, or Excel, or, well, lots of other software to help me get my job done.
Q: What does your work station look like? What computers do you use? Are they all Macs?
I have about eight Macs here in the office—because we do more than editing. I spend a lot of my time training editors and teaching classes and seminars. For this, we need all the standard business stuff. However, everything I have is Mac-based, from accounting and word processing through to editing and effects.
My personal workstation is a 2.0 GHz dual-G-5, with 2.5 GB of RAM, a DSR-11 DVCAM deck, Mackie 1402 mixer with mAudio BX-8 speakers, a Sony video monitor and about 1.2 TB of disk storage. Oh, and an APC UPS for those times when power gets flakey.
Q: Do you have any stories or interesting experiences from your long career that you would like to share with us?
Two, one about production and one about post-production.
The production story happened a long time ago when I was working in Baltimore. I had the pleasure to co-produce and direct a live, three-hour, seven camera television special that featured a very young Oprah Winfrey. It was a Kid’s Fair in downtown Baltimore and Oprah hosted it from the deck of the USS Constellation, the last all-sail vessel built by the US Navy.
I had cameras covering the entire downtown Baltimore waterfront, perched on top of roofs, inside museums, all covering multiple performing stages and thousands of people watching. It was a killer program and I am still proud of it. I understand Oprah used it as part of her resume reel when she moved on to bigger and better things. I haven’t see her for years… hope she ended up OK.
The post-production story is much more recent. I had the pleasure of working with The DVD Group to edit a series of behind-the-scenes documentaries for the commercial release of the last two seasons of X-Files and Alias on DVD. In one of them, and I can’t remember which, the camera operator shot a series of interviews with cast and crew to reflect on the season. This camera op was responsible for shooting and lighting the interviews—with people flown in from all over the world. It was two-days of non-stop shooting and it was impossible to repeat.
When we got the tapes, they were heart-stoppingly dark. So much so that everything looked like mud moving on mud. To say I was deeply worried was an understatement. We had to make these look good and there was precious little time to figure out how to fix it. (It goes without saying that both budgets and time were very tight.)
Here’s where the color corrector in Final Cut came to the rescue. We were able to resuscitate all the interviews and turn out a 45 minute documentary that the client was delighted with. It looked dicey there for a bit, but everyone managed to stay employed.
Q: Would you like to offer any advice to high school or college students who are considering a career in the video industry?
My best advice is to get out there and learn by doing. The more you know, about everyone’s jobs, the better you’ll do at yours. It is not possible to learn everything—don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. The worst people I’ve ever worked with are convinced they have all the answers and are too proud to admit they don’t know something.
Also, don’t expect it to be easy. There are hundreds of people competing for each position. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t give up.
Finally, set your goals high, but take every job that comes along. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, you’ll miss a great chance to learn and practice in the meantime.
Q: Some of our readers might want to become professional videographers themselves, so to help them out could you give us a basic list of inexpensive components that they would need to start their own business. Things like the computer setup, video cameras, software, microphones, tripods or anything else you feel a beginner would need.
This is way too complex for a simple interview. However, at a minimum, if they are serious about editing, they should have:
1) A fast Macintosh computer with a minimum of 2 hard drives and 2 GB of RAM
2) A 20” computer monitor
3) A video tape deck—which one depends upon what format video they are shooting
4) Final Cut Studio
5) A video monitor, because the computer does not display video accurately
6) A good set of audio monitors - not cheap computer speakers
7) An audio mixer
8) A UPS to guard against power failure
What they need for production depends upon the kind of production they are doing. Documentaries require different gear from commercials or sports.
And access to:
* A good accountant. to help them understand how to track their money
* A good lawyer, to help draft and review agreements
* A mentor they can turn to to get questions answered
* Money. Starting a business takes money—not millions, but more than $1.98.
Q: I highly recommend your books and seminars for anyone seeking a better understanding of Final Cut. So, could you tell everyone about your website, newsletters, books and speaking engagements?
My website is:LarryJordan.biz. On it you’ll find over 100 tutorials on how to use Final Cut Pro.
As well, I publish a free, monthly, newsletter on Final Cut Pro and the other Studio applications. This is anywhere from 30-45 pages in length and is read by thousands of editors around the world. I’m delighted with the response this has gotten, and each month I have articles, tips and techniques that can benefit both the new and experienced user.
I’ve also written two books on Final Cut, published by Lynda.com and Peachpit Press: Hands-on Training for Final Cut Pro 5, and Hands-on Training for Final Cut Pro HD. You can buy them in Borders, Walden books, Amazon.com or my website.
Finally, I’m conducting a series of seminars around the US because I’ve discovered there are a lot of Final Cut editors out there that are self-taught and don’t have access to the resources we have here in LA. I’m offering two seminars: one for the beginning, or self-taught, user helping them learn how to get their computer systems organized and optimized, editing and trimming power tips and ways to improve output. You can learn more by going to: seminars.
Q: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me and sharing your wisdom with our readers. Before we wrap this up is there one last amusing tale or witty quotation you would like to leave us with?
Thank you for your interest. Here’s a saying that I saw on the wall of KTLA-TV, here in LA, when I was working there as an editor. I think is sums up an editor’s job perfectly:
“What is Editing?
“Editing is the process that transforms a miscellaneous collection of badly-focused, poorly-exposed and horribly-framed shots containing reversed screen direction, unmatched action, disappearing props, flair, and hair in the aperture (but not containing any close-ups, cut-ins, or cut-aways), into a smooth, coherent, and effective visual statement of the original script… for which the director gets the credit.”