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Novacut interview: Jason Gerard DeRose talks missed targets, superstars and future plans for the video editor

The innovative idea behind collaborative video editor ‘Novacut’ has been a hot topic of conversation with many members of the open-source and multimedia communities  in the last few weeks.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Jason Gerard DeRose, the lead developer of Novacut, and asked him whether he was disappointed with the failure to meet the crowd-sourced funding target and what this means for the future of the video editor project that has gotten everyone talking….

Hi Jason. First tell me something about yourself and the Novacut team.

Jason: I’ve been using GNU/Linux as my desktop OS for around 10 years. Slackware for a bit, then Debian for a long time, now Ubuntu. I mostly code in Python, and have done a lot of small multimedia apps with GStreamer.

I most recently worked at Red Hat (awesome company). Jeff and Ammon and I have been long time friends. They both have programming and web experience.

Jeff has an economics background and is our business lead plus Creative Commons guru. Ammon has a solid usability and graphic design background, will be leading the UI efforts. Tara is our community manager and resident artist. She is a stills photographer who is branching out into video thanks to HDSLR cameras (like the 5D Mark II).

Tara and I also happen to be married, which is awesome.

10 Years! Wow that’s a long time. Can you name of some apps you worked on?

“A lot of them aren’t maintained anymore, but the first Python/GStreamer app I wrote was a music manager/CD ripper called FUPlayer. Then there was a DVD-ripper called KungFu and an MP3-converter called SnakeBite.

As far as more recent (and currently maintained), there is a time-lapse app un-creatively named TymeLapse (I know, corny).”

How did the idea of Novacut come in your mind?

“We all really like TV and get upset when Joss Whedon’s shows get canceled. And Tara shoots with a 5D Mark II, so we knew first-hand how these cameras have brought truly cinema-quality video down to a very low price.

To put it in geek terms, movie cameras just left their mainframe era, and this has open the door for a big shakeup. And at some point it dawned on me that the distributed workflow used in open-source makes perfect sense in video production… we just need the video equivalent of tools like Bazaar, Mercurial, git.”

Why open source?

“Being a long-time free software user and advocate, it’s the obvious choice for me. But a deeper answer would be that software has become such an important part of story telling, so it’s vital that artists have control of their software destinies. Hollywood productions almost always have software engineers working on custom code for big productions.

We want independent artists to have the same luxury. And they can get it by harnessing the free software community.”

You said you worked at RedHat, so why Ubuntu?

“I no longer work at Red Hat. I recently left for family reasons and during my time between jobs I got this Novacut idea.

Red Hat is a fantastic company and Fedora is a great distro but I have a long love affair with Debian and Ubuntu. Plus Ubuntu has the largest user base, seems to have made the biggest inroads with artists.

[Others] think we’re crazy not developing on OSX.

Trust me, many current video editors think we’re crazy not developing on OSX. We think GNU/Linux is a far superior choice for what we’re doing, but don’t want to overwhelm artists with the Foo vs. Bar distro debate when the idea of using GNU/Linux is already a stretch for them.”

The first distro I ever tried was RedHat at my cousin’s school 8 years ago and instantly fell in love with it.

“Come to think of it, it was the first distro I tried to, but I was playing with it as a webserver, didn’t really use the desktop.”

It sucks to not reach a goal.

Novacut aimed to ‘crowd-source’ $25, 000 in funding by the 2nd of October. It fell someway short of this.

Are you disappointed that you failed to hit your target and are there any factors you attribute this ‘failure’ to?

“We are disappointed in some ways, but surprisingly optimistic in other ways.

Yes, it sucks to not reach a goal. But we never imagined that we would get such a positive response from such superstars… people from CouchOne, Ubuntu One, PioneerOne, the Creative Commons. Lots of “One’s” in there.

We made two mistakes: we didn’t get the word out quickly enough, and we tried to convince too broad an audience, many of whom just didn’t get it or didn’t agree with it. “

But free software and free culture people, once they found out about it, came running in droves. They just didn’t know about it soon enough, which is our fault. Lesson learned.”

Novacut Vs. The rest

How will Novacut compare to Professional video editors like Avid pro, Final Cut, etc?

“The biggest difference will be our focus on distributed collaboration. It will allow artists to work seamlessly from different locations, a workflow we take for granted as free software developers. Another difference is that amazingly Avid and Final Cut still are only 32-bit, whereas we will have a 64-bit app.

Not that we can take any credit for that (of course GStreamer is 64-bit!)”

What user-level is Novacut going to be pitched at? Easy with advanced features like OpenShot or unique but powerful like Cinelerra?

In some ways it will always be more difficult than OpenShot or PiTiVi as we are addressing a harder problem: professional TV production with a big emphasis on multi-camera shots (multiple cameras shoot simultaneously, all audio and cameras are synced during editing).

This just isn’t something people do in their vacation movies, but is the bread and butter of modern story telling in TV and movies. Also, in terms of features, we initially aren’t focusing at all on special effects/transitions/any of that… because, that stuff just isn’t used in much TV.

We didn’t decide on our initial feature priorities by looking at existing editors… we decided by watching tons of TV (mostly comedies like 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and dissecting how they shot these shows. We want to focus on what editors are spending 90% of their time on, and the multi-camera shot is it.

What kind of software is Novacut to be: Desktop App, “Software as a service” (SaaS), Web App?

“Novacut is built around a simple client server using CouchDB as a communication bus. Novacut will run just fine on a single machine, but will also be able to utilize the cloud or a local cluster to distribute storage and rendering workloads. These would all be very hard problems, but CouchDB makes it sort of silly easy.”

Are you going to use any existing frameworks? If so, Which ones?

“Absolutely! I mean, this sounds ambitious, but we aren’t crazy! We are using GStreamer and GnonLin as our multimedia backend. I’m very comfortable with GStreamer and I think it has the architecture we need for the long term. I also think it’s important that GStreamer has made ARM support a big priority, as obviously ARM has a bright future.

CouchDB is providing an amazing solution to our ambitious distributed features.

Like I said, CouchDB is providing an amazing solution to our ambitious distributed features. We’re pretty much just writing glue code and working on the user interface. And that glue code will be written in Python, my personal favorite.”

What toolkit will Novacut be using?

“Initially GTK, simply because it’s what I know. But where possible, we’re using WebKit, which will make it pretty easy to move between toolkits if needed. We like using web technologies where we can, as it makes it easy for us to make a video edit web-accessible.

We don’t think it will be easy to deliver a good user experience for actually editing video over the web, but we want to at least make the video “source code” browse-able over the web… like the way Loggerhead lets you browse a bzr branch over the web.”

Aah, I love launchpad.

“Me too!”

Will you integrate with existing video editors that have a Plugin API or will you have a Plugin API?

“Yes, we really hope some good shared libraries will come out of this project that other video/photo/audio apps can utilize. At the same time, we aren’t trying to integrate with other apps from the start.

This is some new territory and will take a lot of trial and error to get it right. So we don’t want to drag a bunch of perfectly good apps through our messy R&D process. :) And yes, we will certainly have a plugin API.”

Speaking of GStreamer: Do you think a lot of free software frameworks like GStreamer, GEGL etc, are under-utilised?

Somewhat, but that’s gotten better these days.

There was a time when far too many apps rolled their own backend functionality (multimedia or otherwise). I think free software is getting it right these days, for the most part, and we have an amazing set of libraries that do the hard work for us. In this respect, I think we’re in much better shape than proprietary software. We can write about any app imaginable with some UI work and some glue code. That’s pretty amazing.

Do you aim to monetize Novacut?

“After the initial editor development, we’ll be building an online marketplace though which artists can distribute their work to their fans, and through which fans can support the artists they love.

Our business model is for artists to make money, and when they do, we take a cut to cover the costs of the infrastructure we provide. As we won’t require exclusivity and artists will retain ownership of their work, artists will always be free to seek other venues. This puts good pressure on us to truly take care of artists, to constantly earn their business. The marketplace will allow us to fund the video editor’s long-term development.”

How does Creative Commons fit in?
”We are really excited about this part. So to use our marketplace, there is a catch: the content must be under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. We don’t think Creative Commons content has yet reached the synergistic state that free software has. We think this is partly because there are too many variations of the license, and they aren’t compatible with each other. And partly because there just isn’t a large, super convenient repository of CC content.

Our dream is for artists to be able to browse through CC content right from the editor, remix it how they want, and publish it to the marketplace.”

So we better make the experience just as good as pirating it, but legally.

What advantage does the consumer have in all this?
”We’re giving fans what they want: great content, without DRM, without commercials, for free. That’s what fans can already get through Bittorrent, etc. So we better make the experience just as good as pirating it, but legally.

Our business model relies on the fact that fans do want to support the artists they love when they are able to (just read Techdirt for success story after success story).

What are thebest way for users to help contribute to Novacut?

“There is lots of code to write, although some architecture stuff is still being sorted out. After I spend time with the CouchDB experts who will be at UDS, things should be ready to divide and conquer. And of course the ever important translation, and testing, and UI work. I apologize that we don’t yet have teams formed, an easy way for people to learn how to contribute.

We’ve been too busy with Kickstarter. But now we’re back to doing actual work, so this should get clearer quickly.”

The Novacut Team are currently fund-raising to attend UDS in October. If they manage to make it they will be shooting lots of UDS action in HD and releasing it under creative commons.

Official site: novacut.com