FCPX Hacks is a new third party add-on for Final Cut Pro X that provides features a lot of people have wanted for many years. Want to match frame a multi-cam clip? A scrolling timeline? Drag markers along a clip? All possible with LateNite Film’s FCPX Hacks.
Although Final Cut Pro X users very much appreciate the unique features it offers, in the years since its introduction they haven’t been reticent in asking for more. Every few months Apple release an update, and we open the present to see if our wishes have come true. The wait for an update to 10.2.3 has been the longest ever.
Luckily, while we wait, Chris Hocking of LateNite Films has released a system that adds features that many users have been asking for for years. FCPX Hacks is a donation-ware script that makes Final Cut 10.2.3 do things it has never done before. Even though he only started developing about a month ago, it has grown into a utility many Final Cut users will find very useful.
As with many tools, ‘Necessity is the of invention.’ Chris solved a problem for himself, and realised that many other users would like to use the solution as well.
Q: What was the problem that you wanted to solve?
Back in September Scott Simmons posted a comment on a Final Cut Pro Facebook group about his frustration of using the “Reveal in Browser” feature in Final Cut Pro. The problem is that if you have a lot of clips in your browser, working out where the clip you’ve “revealed” is located can be tricky - there’s no easy way to spot the browser playhead.
What I found really interesting is that this comment caused a huge amount of discussion as to whether or not Apple would actually fix this in the future, and also the relevance of “match framing” in a Final Cut Pro X world.
Q: How did you solve the problem?
Rather than wait for Apple, I thought it should be an easy enough problem to solve and I quickly whipped up an AppleScript that triggers the “Reveal in Browser” function but also moves your mouse to the browser playhead position, so you can more easily see where the playhead is.
Although it technically worked - the idea was fundamentally flawed, because as many people pointed out, no one wants their mouse cursor to move on it’s own! Scott’s original idea was to draw a big red circle around the playhead, which I loved - but I couldn't’ find any way of doing this using AppleScript, so I started searching around for other options.
Eventually I came across an awesome piece of software called Hammerspoon - that allowed me to write a script that could make use of all the AppleScript code I’d already experimented with, but also draw on the screen.
Q: How does Final Cut Pro Hacks show the playhead in the browser?
With FCPX Hacks installed, when you use the “Highlight Browser Playhead”, “Reveal in Browser & Highlight” or “Single Match Frame & Highlight” shortcuts, it will draw a red, blue, green or yellow circle, rectangle or diamond around the playhead allowing you to instantly and easily visually see where the playhead is hiding.
Q: Although editors have been very happy with Final Cut’s multi-camera editing features, they have been asking for many years for match frame features. What other features have you added?
Two of the features I added early on are “Reveal Multicam in Browser & Highlight” and “Reveal Multicam in Angle Editor & Highlight”. What the first shortcut allows you to do is perform a “Reveal in Browser” function on the underlying source of the multi-cam clip. Just like the previously discussed match-framing features, it will also highlight the browser playhead for easily spotting.
The second shortcut allows you to match frame to the source clip of the multi-cam as well, expect as well as match-framing to a clip in the browser, it will also open up the angle editor and move the playhead to the frame you’re match-framing too.
Q: Are you a developer? How can you control Final Cut like this?
No, I’m certainly not a serious developer or programmer by any stretch of the imagination! Although I’ve messed around with some programming languages over the years, it’s always been as a hobby to solve a specific problem (i.e. when I first built a website, I needed to get my head around HTML and PHP just to fix things).
The programming language that Hammerspoon uses is called Lua - which is something I’d never even heard of beforehand. Luckily however, Hammerspoon scripts also have the ability to support AppleScript, so the first couple of versions of FCPX were pretty much all written in AppleScript, with only a few lines of Lua. However, as I continued to play and experiment, I realised that Lua is so much faster and more powerful, so jump forward to October, and pretty much all of FCPX Hack’s 9379 lines of code are Lua.
Essentially all I’m doing is making use of what’s called “GUI Scripting” - which basically allows you to “control” any application on your Mac by telling the operating system to click certain things or perform certain user interface actions.
Q: You didn’t stop with solving your initial problem. What else can Final Cut Pro Hacks do?
What started out as a simple little script has definitely grown into a bit of a beast! FCPX Hacks is now basically almost a fully fledged application with it’s own menu-bar and a whole heap of features!
From the menubar there’s a bunch of shortcuts that allow you to turn on and off import settings (such as ‘Create Optimised Media”, “Create Proxy Media”, etc.) without having to open Final Cut Pro’s preferences - which can save you a few mouse clicks. It also is a really quick and easy way to see what your inputs settings are.
FCPX Hacks also offers a bunch of automation features such as a scrolling timeline (something that’s been on a popular top request list for some time now!), five customisable shortcut keys for specific effects (for example, you could assign a specific blur effect to a shortcut for easy access), “Select Clip at Lane 1-10” which allows you to easily selects clips that aren’t on the primary storyline, up to nine Keyword Presets which can be saved and recalled between Final Cut Pro Libraries, a shortcut key to increase and decrease the timeline clip height, as well as a “Batch Export from Browser” feature, which is really handy!
We’ve also built a Clipboard History, allowing FCPX Hacks to remember the last five items you copied in Final Cut Pro - even after a computer restart!
And with keeping to the name, we’ve also built in some unsupported “hacks” that enable things like native timecode overlays, the ability to move markers with your mouse (something you actually discovered!), Enable Rendering During Playback (great if you’re using a top-of-the-line MacPro!), the ability to change Final Cut Pro’s internal backup interval, as well as the ability to change the default Smart Collections label.
There’s also a bunch of other really handy features such as the ability to get Prowl notifications on you iOS devices when Final Cut Pro renders complete, as well as the ability to automatically close the annoying Final Cut Pro “Media Import” window when you insert a camera card into your computer!
Q: Have you added features helping people working with colour and applying effects?
Absolutely - I’ve added a HUGE amount of handy shortcuts to make the Color Board more useful. I’ve added custom keyboard shortcuts for all of the individual pucks (including the ability to select a puck and move it in a certain direction), as well as the ability to assign an individual Color Puck shortcut that when held down will move the puck in whatever direction you move your mouse.
This feature is still a work-in-progress, as I’m not really happy with the speed at which the pucks move as the mouse moves - but it’s still really cool, and really handy for those doing a lot of grading using the Color Board.
Q: In regards to the keyboard shortcuts for these new features, if users have already customised their command keyboard shortcuts, could theirs clash with the ones you chose for Final Cut Pro Hacks?
When you first install FCPX Hacks, it will use a bunch default shortcut keys, which I specifically choose to not clash with the default Final Cut Pro shortcut keys - however, if you’ve customised your keyboard layout, and have something already assigned to “CONTROL+OPTION+COMMAND+H” for example - then you might run into some issues.
However, one of the coolest things I’ve done with FCPX Hacks is added the optional ability to allow you to customise your FCPX Hacks shortcuts directly within the Final Cut Pro Command Editor. This means that you can easily switch things around, without any conflicts! Because we’re doing some really tricky stuff behind the scenes to make this work, you will need to enter your Administrator password to activate this feature, so use with care.
Q: As well as keyboard shortcuts, does FCPX Hacks add commands to Final Cut’s menus?
Currently we don’t actually mess with the Final Cut Pro interface at all - however, I have considered adding my own buttons and menus in a future release. At the moment though, the only ways you interact with FCPX Hacks is via the menubar, shortcuts and the Final Cut Pro Command Editor.
Q: Can you add any feature people ask for? What are the limits of what you can do?
There are some limitations, but to be honest, not many. The biggest limitation is really time, as it takes so long to code all these features. The biggest issue I’ve had is that there’s so many different people testing out FCPX Hacks on so many different systems and configurations! Whilst it’s easy for me to “hack” something together and have it work perfectly on my laptop every time - it’s a completely different story once you realise that people are using Final Cut Pro in languages other than English, using different Keyboard Layouts, using older or newer operating systems, etc. Everything starts to get way more complicated and confusing. Essentially, if there’s a task that can be done manually in Final Cut Pro by clicking and using the mouse - then it can be automated.
Q: What features are you hoping to add to Final Cut Pro Hacks next?
The number one feature I’d love to implement is a shortcut to “Add Audio Fade Handle”. This is something I’d use every day - but it’s very hard to implement, because the only way you can select an audio fade handle currently is with the mouse, which makes things really tricky. Other features that people have told me they’ve love to have include:
…and a whole bunch more. Basically, whenever I get a free night or weekend, I’ve just been adding features that people have suggested, or things I really need, and as soon as they’re working, I throw them up on the blog.
Q: Do you think you will make this into a commercial product?
I don’t think so. Like I said, I’m certainly not a programmer or developer - so I’m really just doing this to help out the Final Cut Pro community and also to speed up my own editing tasks. However, coding these things does take a huge amount of time, so if there’s a specific feature you’d love to see that I haven’t already got to, there is a donation button on the blog, which helps me convince my wife and business partner that I’m not completely wasting my time coding away in the middle of the night!
Thanks to Chris Hocking for talking to us, and for creating and working on FCPX Hacks. If you find any of the features it adds to Final Cut useful, don’t forget to donate on LateNite Films page. It will help justify the very many hours Chris has spent on this, and encourage him to do more.
One final note- Install at your own risk! - Editor