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Apple Store Pro Labs – A Walkthrough of What to Expect

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West 14th Street StoreWhile you are waiting for the iPhone to be released this July, why not head out to an Apple Store and learn something? The stores in New York provide for plenty of opportunities to become familiar with a number of applications. Myself, I want to know as much as possible about Final Cut Pro becausemy production company hooked up with to produce an ongoing show for them. Making the jump from iMovie ’06 to Final Cut is quite a leap. For those who try to make the switch from iMovie ’08 to Final Cut, good luck. Apple stores can help you make the transition to pro applications.

Apple’s Pro Lab Description

“During these free, four-part, eight-hour courses, you’ll meet fellow aspiring creative pros and learn solution-based workflows from our team of expert trainers. Learn how Aperture can revolutionize your photography workflow, how Final Cut Pro can help you edit your first independent feature or Logic can make it easier to write, record or edit your own music. At the end of the series, you’ll be able to share what you’ve learned with friends and family.”

Experience: The Beginning

I took the Final Cut Pro Pro Lab. This was my first experience with the West 14th Street Store. Upon asking where the Pro Labs were held, I was directed to the third floor. I did not know what to expect. The SoHo store houses an auditorium to teach its classes. The West 14th Street facility is completely different. There was a silver and white cardboard sign with the words “Pro Labs” held up by a thin metal pole on top of a table with six 17 inch MacBook Pros. This was the facility for the Pro Labs.

I introduced myself to the instructor, Johnathan. He is a tall, bald, bearded fellow in his twenties. I asked about the contents of the Pro Lab course and he told me everything I wanted to know. It appeared as if I would not learn anything new about Final Cut until several weeks into the course. At first, I was disappointed that we would be working on MacBook Pros instead of Mac Pros and the content of the course would not cover advanced topics for two weeks. This disappointment dissipated over the course of the labs.

The labs are limited to six people per month. Sign up is available at an Apple site. There is also a wait list available. At the lab, I was told that the wait list was pretty much worthless unless a person notifies the Apple Store in advance that they will not be attending. If someone no-shows, then that spot goes unfilled. I was placed on the wait list for several months before getting into the Pro Lab. I even resorted to making the sign up page my home page so I could get into the class.?

The People

My class was started off with five relatively young people. The class went through attendance fluctuations from as much as five to as little as two. Someone even suggested that the store incentive the completion of a Pro Lab with a discount on Final Cut Studio software. The instructor thought it was a good idea. However, I still think there is something odd about incentivizing a free course — though, I would not turn down a discount for some expensive software.

The class was made up of people with varying backgrounds. One individual worked for a local news station and had experience with many other types of video production software, but was interested in learning about Final Cut. Effectively, the course was a bit of remapping of keyboard shortcuts and differently named features standard in many video editing packages. Another was a director who had created several music videos that aired on MTV using iMovie ’06 and wanted to move to the next step. Only one person had no experience with video editing and appeared to be there because she had nothing better to do.

I did not get to know the other student very well, but she appeared to have experience in editing and explained the uses of the tools. When we went over the Trim Edit Window, I asked “When would you use this tool?” she had the answer in real life terms. “You would use this when you were doing quick editing of dialogue between two people.” “Oh.” Myself, I had attended several Final Cut workshops at the SoHo Apple Store and sought to solve problems I had run into in the past. Everyone got along quite well and no one student dominated the lab.


Each student was provided with a 17-inch MacBook Pro attached to a Firewire 800 external drive for each class of the course. At the end of class, the instructor would collect the hardware and place it into a lockable rolling cart. We nicknamed it the “$20,000 Cart” because it contained more than just the laptops. I was told that the computers we used were the latest models. I did not get the specs for the notebooks. I am the owner of a 15-inch Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro, so this was a new experience. Not having to lug around my MacBook Pro was pleasant since it does not handle Final Cut Pro as well as the new machines.

Final Cut Pro

The Classes

How do these pro labs operate? Take your seat at your MacBook Pro. At one end of the table is the instructor, at the other end is an Apple Cinema Display showing a Keynote presentation. We ran through numerous topics over the span of the course: Day 1 – Basics of Video, Project Set-up and Importing; Day 2 – Basic Editing; Day 3 – Filters, Effects and Titling; and Day 4 – Keyframing, Audio & Output.

When I started out at this lab, I thought I would not get any new information for awhile. I was incorrect. Obviously, there was some overlap as to the material covered between the Final Cut Pro Pro Lab and the Final Cut Workshops. Since Final Cut is so dense, I learned some new things starting on Day 1.

Each class started off in a friendly manner. Since the class was so small, our instructor got to know each of us quite well. After an exchange of pleasantries, we would start by turning to view the Keynote presentation. Keynote was used to illustrate abstract concepts easily such as resolutions, aspect ratios, and keyframing. These Keynotes are not given to the students, but you are free to take as many notes as you want.

While the instructor was going over material, you could either follow along by trying to keep up on your MacBook Pro or just take notes. After we were introduced to some material, we would be given an “Activity.” An “Activity” is an assignment to apply the material to footage. We were given access to 1080P HD material from a documentary. We would learn how to put together clips in the Timeline, put in transitions, or effects. Experimenting was encouraged. At one point, I found a feature in Final Cut and asked the instructor about it. The instructor, a guy with considerable experience with Final Cut, did not know about the feature. This just goes to show you that Final Cut is very feature dense.

Comparing a Workshop with the Pro Lab

The SoHo store offers weekly workshops in Final Cut Pro. The workshops are a great way to get a basic handle on Final Cut Pro’s interface and some advanced features. The Pro Labs go well beyond the material covered at the workshops. Additionally, due to the nature of the lab, it was much easier to ask questions and learn hands-on. Workshops last about an hour, but the Pro Labs give you twice that amount of time. There was plenty of time to learn by doing during the Pro Labs.

The workshops are much more rushed and are more like a lecture class. There are few questions by the audience. Real life error messages are dealt with very quickly in the Pro Lab. Should you run into a problem, all you have to do is ask your instructor and he will come over and help you out. However, the workshops cover more of Final Cut Studio’s programs. The Pro Lab was focused on Final Cut Pro and we did not leave that particular application for the eight hours. The workshops also sometimes push the product — “This is why you should buy Final Cut Pro! 6 applications for only $1300. You couldn’t get this kind of suite years ago!” Sometimes it feels like an advertisement. Not so with the Pro Lab.?


Was it worth it? The Pro Labs are definitely worth the time. Final Cut Pro has so many features that it is hard to master without some instruction. Every class, I learned something new. Final Cut training can costs hundreds of dollars. The Pro Lab is free and is a great money saver. The labs are limited in their capacity and subject matter. If you cannot make a workshop or lab, Apple also offers “One to One,” a service of training that costs $99 for a year where you can get trained for one hour per week in whatever application you would like. If you want to learn Final Cut for a bargain and there is an Apple Store offering Pro Labs, definitely check out the course. You’ll learn some very valuable information.

One Response to “Apple Store Pro Labs – A Walkthrough of What to Expect”

  1. Sounds very good indeed! Here in the UK access to apples stores is very limited due to their numbers and locations. my nearest is a 2 hour drive and not possible with work projects going on. I would have loved to have done this but instead I learn’t final cut through I’s not free but the traing from Larry Jordan on the subject is first class and you can learn when the time suits you.

    Just an alternative.