But when some of these NLEs did not even exist, there was a piece of software helping to define the non-linear editing space; it's an editing system know as Lightworks. Until around the mid 1990's, Lightworks competed in the NLE arena with many top editors world wide using it as their tool of choice in the edit room.
In this ever-expanding world of digital non-linear editing, I had to wonder why Lightworks still had die hard users who had never (or had never wanted to) convert to any of the other major edit offerings over the years.
In the United Kingdom, an editor named Chris Gill -- with credits like "28 Weeks Later" and the Ricky Gervais directed, "The Invention of Lying" to his name -- was gleefully, whenever possible, sitting in front of a Lightworks editing station, his preferred editing tool.
Chris Gill: "The last seven or eight years, it's been mainly Lightworks for me, even though I am a rare event in the UK. Most projects are on AVID. I would say 90 percent work on AVID, but the best editors seem to work on Lightworks. I say watch the work and you'll see. I mean, Thelma Schoonmaker can't be wrong, Martin Scorcese can't be wrong."
Indeed, one of the most famous users of the Lightworks editing system has been legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker. She used it as recently as the Paramount Pictures film SHUTTER ISLAND. I caught up with Scott Brock ( BLUE ROAD ), an accomplished editor and Thelma Schoonmaker's first assistant on ( CASINO, THE DEPARTED and GANGS of NEW YORK ) and many other projects. Scott has a deep history with Lightworks. He was employed there for a time in the early days and also trained editors how to use the system.
Scott Brock: "The most important tools an editor has are his or her eyes and ears. The Lightworks editing surface facilitates using these better than any other system."
Back around 1990, when digital non linear editing was making its move with the first systems like EditDroid and others there was a small company in England, put together by a team of editors, who were developing a computerized editing system for editors, designed by editors.
In fact, that was one of the early slogans of Lightworks as they tried to compete with a Boston company called Avid, who was also making huge inroads in Hollywood with their digital editing tool, Avid Media Composer.
As was the case with many early systems, Lightworks was designed with a software and hardware component in mind. It deployed a controller which emulated a KEM or Steenbeck film editor. They wanted to take all of the "non linearity" of film, and the ease and control of screening footage back and forth from film editing, and place it squarely in a computer environment.
A lot has -- and has not -- happened in non-linear editing since then. Avid attained world dominance for a time, until Apple purchased a piece of software from a company called Macromedia and released a "semi-professional" DV editing software system called Final Cut Pro.
At a cost of about five percent of a full blown Avid system, users could quickly import DV camera footage, edit, title, output and distribute motion images like never before. The tide shifted, Apple's Final Cut Pro became more refined, and soon it was making inroads in educational environments, TV series. Film makers like the Cohen brothers became fans and users, and Avid persisted -- but had to make changes to their business model to compete and survive.
The big news here, though, is that Lightworks, a tool that many people have found to be the best editor in the category, is going open source. That means Windows, Linux and Mac versions will be available for free -- a little bit of trivia that some editors might be ecstatic about.
I've often maintained that while FCP and Avid are capable tools, it seems that they require many keystrokes with a deep knowledge of the software, and while both have expanded their "capabilities", neither has ever improved the basic way we, as editors, put shots together. Chris Gill agrees:
Chris Gill: "Other systems have never improved the art of editing, whilst Lightworks always had it nailed from the start."
While somewhat cautious about what open source can bring, Scott Brock describes why editors will gravitate toward this tool, not because it is free, but because he feels it really is the best.
Scott Brock: "It's hands down the best editing surface. To me Lightworks means creative freedom. Where Lightworks frees you up is in terms of editing, is that the interface is 'loose'. In Lightworks you customize it completely. It does get back to how editors think about what they are doing -- what they cut."
Chris Gill doesn't make any apologies when he talks about how great the system is.
Chris Gill: "I've always liked that simplicity of it, as well. Nothing ever gets in the way of Lightworks, you edit as your brain is thinking, which is fantastic to have that instant access to your editing knowledge. It's amazingly quick and easy to use -- and I know people say it's a bit quirky, but once you get to know it, the more you realize it's just a direct route of getting something from your head onto the screen in a very simple, organic, speedy way."