On Another Topic Entirely...

Hey, so here's a post that has absolutely nothing to do with operating systems whatsoever. I'm so psyched.

(And yes, this will be a rant.)

First off, let me say, I'm a huge Final Cut Pro fan. I use it in my work, I teach a class in it, and I use it for personal projects. I've been using and loving it since version 1. In the school where I've worked for five years, I've managed to evangelize so effectively on the part of Final Cut, that when I started working in my department, Media 100 was the dominant editing software in my department, and now it's Final Cut across the board. I love it like an old friend. I feel that level familiarity with it. And I'm proud to be a Final Cut user.

That said, there's a feature I've been longing for in Final Cut Pro for quite some time now. I know I'm not the only one: I took a survey at some online FCP forum, god-knows-how-long ago, and it was among the top feature requests. I also spoke to someone who is a beta tester for FCP, and he also said it was a very popular feature request, and that, "It's coming." I was pretty sure that version 5 would include my feature. But after downloading a crack of the latest version (my department still has not received any software, which will be a perennial theme on this blog) I found that this feature had again managed to be excluded. What's the feature, you ask? Simple: Per-project scratch disks.

I'll explain.

When you first open Final Cut, you are prompted to choose the location of your scratch disk. The scratch disk, in case you don't know, is the place where, most importantly, all your captured media, among other things, goes. Anytime you capture from tape and digitize footage into Quicktime movie files, they go into the folder you've chosen as your scratch disk, into a subfolder named after your project. Now this is all fine and good, but file management in Final Cut -- and in video projects in general -- can be a real bitch. You've got all your project files, and you've got all these media files, and they're all over the place. This is actually true in all sorts of workflows -- graphics, web, audio, you name it. And many applications include utilities for managing media. Quark's "Collect for Output" is a good example: It takes all the media needed for a given project and puts it all into one folder for easy transport to a printer or client or wherever you may need to take it. Final Cut itself has a similar feature, the Media Manager, that allows you to do much the same thing. In fact, most programs that rely on multiple media files spread across the hard drive have some sort of media management tool. Great. I like this.

Now back to my feature request, again: per-project scratch disks. This seems to me an obvious solution to at least part of the media management problem. I tend to keep all my projects in seperate locations. Makes sense, right? You want to look at items that have something to do with your "Great Big Humongous Boil" project, say, so you go to the folder "Great Big Humongous Boil," and there it all is. But if you're using Final Cut, it's not. In fact, a significant portion of it -- perhaps the main ingredient, the video clips -- are not there. They're in the scratch folder. Now for some people this is fine. I understand the desire to keep this media seperate from the projects themselves. There's a logic to that, and it's justified. But there's also a logic to wanting to keep the media together with the project. This is clearly something Apple is aware of, that's why they give you the option to consolidate all your media using the Media Manager. But if you know you want all your media and project files stored together before you even start a project -- and I know a lot of people who do -- it would be much simpler and smarter if we had the option to decide this at the outset of any new project, and it would save a whole lot of error-prone media management after the fact. Seems to me like managing your media from the get-go is usually the best way to go if you can swing it. And, by the way, Media 100 had this option.

So Final Cut 5 is out now, and still no per-project scratch disk setting. We've got all the new, admittedly great, productivity features. The real-time capabilties alone are simply phenomenal. But it's this one, tiny, little feature that would really mean the world to me. And I can't, for the life of me, figure why, after all this time, it's been ignored. As a user I would consider it a huge boon, and as a teacher of the software it would dramatically simplify explaining the scratch disk concept. (Do you have any idea the sort of confused-puppy stares I get when I tell students, "Your Quicktime movies will get stored in this arbitrarily determined folder on such-and-such a drive, but you should store all your projects in another place?") I suppose the obvious solution is to keep your projects all in the same Final Cut Pro Documents folder that the scratch disk is set to. But what if you have projects on multiple drives? Or what if you just plain want to organize things in a way that makes sense to you, rather than in the way that Apple has deemed it best you do? Since FCP 4, I could set the key command for wiggling my big toe, but I still can't set scratch disks on a per-project basis. This level of customizability just seems so basic that I'm left scratching my head over its exclusion.

I'm no programmer, but this seems like a very simple thing to implement on Apple's part. Way easier than multiple angles and intgrated LiveType. A ten minute job. And yet, it continues to fall by the wayside.

I'm bummed.