Jeffery Harrell

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Jun 28

A story as yet untold

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret.

On Sunday, after spending a week on-and-off with Final Cut Pro X and pretty deep in a funk about it, I made a little thing. I did it because I was inspired in a small way, but I also did it because I had a copy of Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 here, and I wanted to try it out.

The next day, yesterday, I wrote up some unstructured first impressions of the program. My overall conclusion: Meh. It was fine. Nothing exciting, but a capable alternative to FCP 7.

None of that is the secret yet. Here’s the secret:

Yesterday I was contacted by no fewer than three Adobe employees, including Steve Forde, Adobe’s senior project manager for After Effects. He sent me a particularly pleasant email, and asked if there was a convenient time when we could chat on the phone for a bit.

Flash-forward to lunchtime today, when my phone rang. It was Steve, and also Al Mooney, Adobe’s product manager for Premiere who blaaaaaghs.

I want to pause here for a moment.

I’m nobody. I’m not a famous personality, I don’t run a large post house, I’m not even a potential Adobe customer, because I already own their software. But just one day after I wrote about my ten-hours-old impressions on a random blog that nobody reads, I was on the phone with the people responsible for both of the products I wrote about.

That’s remarkable. In this day and age, when post production has been increasingly commoditized and, yes, democratized, to get a call from the people who make the product you’ve been trying out is astonishing.

Story isn’t over yet, though.

I talked with Steve and Al — who turned out to be just remarkably nice, funny guys — for just shy of an hour. We talked about some of the technical details of their products, including how Premiere handles rendered timelines and real-time I/O and how the Premiere-After Effects workflow is evolving. They asked me my opinions and, after being reassured that they really did want me to be candid and direct, I offered them.

At one point, I used the phrase “apocalyptically bad.” At another point I told them I’d rather chew off my own foot than use their software for a certain task.

And through it all, they laughed and joked and returned my candidness in kind. It was truly an astonishing conversation.

This afternoon I emailed them both and asked if it would be okay if I spoke publicly about … well, everything I just finished telling you. The way they reached out to me and talked with me, I said, was truly surprising, and I thought it deserved to be acknowledged publicly. I thought, to be blunt, they deserved some good PR for their efforts.

But that’s not really the whole reason why I wanted to talk about this. Don’t get me wrong; it’s true. I appreciated their time — and the time they’ve both committed to spending with me in the near future — and thought they should get something out of it. But really, what I want to talk about here is contrasts.

A few hours ago, visual effects legend Ron Brinkmann went on the record with some thoughts about the whole Apple-Final Cut Pro X debacle of the past week. In his blog post, he told a story about a meeting between Apple execs and Hollywood industry professionals about the recently-acquired Shake. Ron described Steve Jobs, who was at the meeting, as telling the pros, “the relationship between them and Apple wasn’t going to be something where they’d be driving product direction anymore.”

That’s how Apple does business. The company does what the company wants, and damned be anyone who tries to tell them different.

And you know what? That’s fine. That’s great, even! We need that kind of singular vision in the world. And after a decade of great products and jaw-dropping commercial success, Apple’s certainly earned the right to tell everybody to get fucked.

But then again, sometimes it’s good to have a vendor who treats you like a partner, rather than a customer. Sometimes it’s good to work with somebody who listens more than they speak, somebody who gets where you’re coming from and wants to help you get where you want to go, rather than telling you where you should go.

Sometimes you need a leader in the industry to set the tone and show the way. And sometimes you really just kinda need a comrade in arms.

Apple is a visionary company, and they’re in the privileged position of being right nearly all the time. Adobe is, for all its girth in other verticals, hungry in the post industry. They’re not content to fight for third in the NLE market. They’ve got their eyes on first place. And they’re acutely aware that they don’t have what it takes to get there yet.

When Apple wants to do better, they lock a bunch of brilliant people in a room for two years.

Meanwhile, Adobe’s calling up random editors to talk to them one-on-one for an hour about how their products can be better.

It’s just an interesting contrast, is all I’m saying. It’s one worth paying a little attention to, if you ask me.

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