Adobe Premiere - When the tool is the skill

Sometimes a tool is so good, it's possible to build high-value courses around it.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Regular readers will know that, while there are certain applications that I like a lot, I generally prefer a conceptual approach to teaching technology skills. I'd rather see a class on written communication or desktop publishing than a class on Microsoft Word, for example. A class on web design is, I think, more useful than one on Dreamweaver, even if Dreamweaver is the tool of choice for the class. And, whenever possible, schools can save money by teaching principles and concepts using open source software, the outcomes of which are broadly applicable to a variety of real-world situations and any number of software applications.

However, I recently had a chance to produce some training videos and a DVD of a community theater project using Adobe Premiere. Previously, I'd been an iMovie sort of guy. I'd given up on finding a decent open source video editor, despite having a tweaked out Linux laptop that was ideally suited for video work (at least from a hardware perspective) and iMovie always did everything I wanted it to. As my day job pulled me further and further to the dark side of sales and marketing, though, iMovie was, well, lacking. And I just happened to have this trial copy of Premiere Pro CS5.5 floating around. Full 64-bit support, GPU acceleration, an updated graphics engine that could happily leverage as much horsepower as I threw at it, and native support for the video files from the DSLR I used to shoot the footage...How could I resist?

So I set that Linux laptop up to dual boot 64-bit Windows 7 alongside an HP Z210 workstation and I went to town. I'd dabbled with Premiere when I tested CS5, but never had occasion to really force myself to learn it. No time like the present, though, right? While Adobe Premiere isn't for the faint of heart, it didn't take me long to master the basics, nor did it take me much longer to be using nested timelines, manage multiple audio tracks, adjust lighting, and otherwise produce video that was vastly more polished and professional than any I'd managed to crank out before.

I won't be winning any Oscars here, but this wasn't home movie fluff either.

And it was fast. Really fast.

Unfortunately, Premiere CS5.5 has ruined me from iMovie forever. I say unfortunately because iMovie is free when you buy a Mac (which I tend to do a bit too often) and it's incredibly easy. It doesn't exactly beg you to extend your creative limits or move from home movies to the sorts of video you wouldn't mind using for marketing or training with someone other than your mom, oggling over your baby's first steps or something else so cute that the production quality and creativity was irrelevant.

There's a reason that most television studios and an increasing number of filmmakers have moved to Premiere. It's just so incredibly robust, particularly when combined with Illustrator, Photoshop and other Adobe tools (like Adobe Story, which, if you haven't heard of it, is absolutely worth checking out here) that even mediocre creative types like me (I'm far better suited to writing than visual media) can make something professional and the truly creative can do everything from 3D to full-blown, Hollywood film production.

So here's the thing. An increasing number of schools (particular trade schools at the secondary level and communications-oriented schools in higher ed) are adopting Premiere and effectively using it to teach those concepts I was talking about at the beginning of this post. I rail against those Microsoft PowerPoint classes that tend to pervade high school course catalogs. How about a public speaking or visual communication course that teaches students to use presentations for effective extemporaneous speech? But Premiere is a bit different. It's not only ubiquitous in TV and video production but contains a rich enough feature set that I'd be pretty happy to see "Filmmaking with Adobe Premiere" or "Introduction to Marketing with Adobe Premiere" in a course catalog. There aren't many concepts that you couldn't effectively teach by just starting at the top with the application.

Of course, you could teach filmmaking or whatever else with Kino, Avidemux, or iMovie. But you could teach it a lot better with Premiere. I hate sounding like an Adobe shill, but all it took was an afternoon with the product for me to understand many aspects of video production than I ever did with iMovie, which, understandably, shields users from a lot of the nitty gritty. That nitty gritty, though, encourages creativity and experimentation which, quite frankly, are some of the most valuable 21st Century Skills we could impart to our students. And Premiere CS5.5 exposes the nitty in all its gritty glory without being overly complicated or clunky.

Premiere isn't for everyone or every situation. It's too expensive and the learning curve isn't exactly shallow, despite a fairly intuitive toolset. But if a high-end media lab is headed into your school or you have students focused on visual arts and communications, it absolutely has a place in your software stack (and your course catalog).

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