FCP X: Find Media Using Keywords

Posted on by Larry

One of the more powerful media management tools built into Final Cut Pro X is the ability to assign keywords to clips, then find media using keywords.

NOTE: A keyword is a short descriptive term, ideally one word, applied to one or more clips that allows us to find all clips that have the same descriptor applied to it. We could also call keywords “metadata,” but that term tends to frighten small children.

For example, here is a collection of clips from Pond5 in a library entitled: “Keyword Library.”

To assign keywords to a clip or a group of clips, first select the clips to which you want to assign keywords,

Then, click the Key icon in the toolbar (or type Cmd+K).

Enter the keyword you want to assign to the selected clips and press Enter. That keyword is instantly assigned to all selected clips. (In this example, I’m adding the keyword “predators.”)

A blue bar appears at the top of each clip indicating the area of the clip to which one or more keywords are applied.

This process of assigning keywords also works when applying keywords to one or more selected clip regions.

NOTE: One of the features of the 10.1 update is greater speed when applying keywords to multiple clips. One obvious indicator of this is that keyword animation only appears when assigning a single keyword to a single clip.


Although the process of assigning keywords is not hard or laborious, it does take time. And, it is very easy to skip this process altogether. Sometimes, skipping keywords is a good thing. For example, small projects with very tight deadlines and very few shots don’t need keywords.

But, increasingly in our all-digital media age, shooting ratios are totally out of control. Instead of coverage consisting of 3-6 shots, we have 30, 60, even 100 variations to choose from. The old adage of “plan your shots” has been replaced by “we’ll figure this out in post.” Sheesh… The only way to stay sane while editing a 4-minute video with a 1,000 to 1 shooting ratio is to get organized and stay organized. Keywords can help.


To see the keywords applied to a single clip, select the clip, then click the Key icon to open the Keyword Editor (or type Cmd+K).

However, if you select multiple clips and look at the Keyword Editor, you will only see the keywords that are common to all selected clips. Checking keywords is more accurate when working just with single clips.


In this project, I have clips of animals, people, scenery and space. (Ah, I’m still trying to figure out the script that would use all of these shots. It, um, probably features space aliens looking like sheep wandering in the mountains.)

When I select the library that contains all this media, clips are sorted alphabetically and grouped by event in the Browser.

I could use Ratings to help organize my clips – here’s an article that explains how Ratings work – however, while Ratings are fast and easy, they don’t allow grouping media by categories or use complex searches.

To open the Filter Search dialog, click the almost-invisible magnifying glass in the top right corner of the Browser, or type Cmd+F.

This opens the Filter search box which, by default, opens to display a text search. Text searches examine file names and the contents of the Notes field associated with each clip.

But, there’s a better way. Click the Plus button in the top right corner of this window and select Keywords.

This lists all keywords associated with all selected clips or events. This window cannot be enlarged, and, without scrolling, only displays 27 keywords.

NOTE: While Final Cut Pro allows creating an unlimited number of keywords, the Filter search window makes working with more than about 30 keywords awkward. For this reason, try to limit the total number of keywords you apply.

Deleting a keyword from a clip, even if is the last use of that keyword, does not delete the keyword from Final Cut. To delete a keyword, right-click the keyword in the Library pane and select Delete Keyword Collection; or type Cmd+Delete. (As far as I can tell, this step is not covered in the Help files.)

Here’s where life gets fun. If you only want to search for clips in one event, select that event. If you want to search clips stored in multiple events, select all the events where you want to search. To search all the clips in an entire library, select the library before opening the Search Filter window.

For this example, I want to search across the entire library.

NOTE: While we can search multiple events at once, we can only search one library at a time. Keep this limitation in mind as you organize your clips.

As part of this search, I don’t want to look for any specific text, so I unchecked the Text search box.

Then, because I only want to look for space footage, I selected Uncheck All from the checkbox drop-down menu. This unchecks (deselects) all keywords.

Out of all these keywords, I only want to find those clips that are from NASA OR are shots of space OR are shots of earth.

NOTE: This is called a Boolean OR – indicated by the drop down menu saying “Include Any,” meaning include all clips that include any one of these keywords.

From all my clips, only five clips meet this search criteria.

However, I want to find only those clips that are BOTH from NASA AND include earth.

NOTE: This is called a Boolean AND – indicated by the ”Include All” menu choice. This includes ONLY those clips that contain BOTH earth and NASA keywords; which is a much more selective group.

Only one clip meets this second, more restrictive, search.

You also have the ability to show all clips that don’t contain any one of the selected keywords – Does Not Contain Any.

Or to show all clips that don’t contain any of the selected keywords – Does Not Contain All.

When a search is in effect, a very small, very dark blue key appears in the search text box in the top right corner of the Browser. To clear a search, click the “X in a circle” to the right of the text search box. Until you clear a search, no other clips will be visible in the Browser.


Searches can be saved. Final Cut calls these “Smart Collections.” However, you can only save a search when you first select only a single event. If multiple events, or an entire library is selected, searches can’t be saved.

To save a search, select a single event and open the Filter dialog (type Cmd+F).

Enter your search criteria and click the New Smart Collection button at the bottom.

The new Smart Collection appears as a purple icon inside the selected event. Whenever the same combination of keywords is added to any clip, it will automatically appear in the Smart Collection. In other words, the Smart Collection dynamically updates as you modify the keywords assigned to your clips.


Keywords allow us to quickly organize, find and collect the shots we need for our projects. Experiment with them on a small project to get comfortable with how they work.

Keep the total number of keywords small, so you don’t overwhelm the search box. And use Smart Collections to help organize your shots automatically. Once you start using keywords, you’ll find all kinds of uses for them.

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23 Responses to FCP X: Find Media Using Keywords

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  1. NC says:

    Hi Larry,

    Is there any same function or feature help us can do the same thing in adobe premiere?


  2. Thank you for this basics of keywords.

  3. Jim Goodman says:

    Hi Larry,

    You are exactly right that using more than 30 keywords is awkward. Unfortunately, in the documentary I’m doing, I have more than 30 interviewees, many more than 30 topics, and consequently, quite a few keywords. The ability to use keywords was critical in my decision to use FCP over Premiere, but now I find myself frustrated over FCP’s keyword implementation.

    To me, it seems absurd that you can’t resize the Filter Window. Is there any reason you can think of for this oversight? And I’m curious about why there haven’t been more complaints. Am I missing something?



  4. Michael says:

    HI Larry,

    Thanks for referring us to this great article. Is it possible to use Keywords to create a group of clips in the browser that all happened within a certain time range (based on created time/start time or other time range)

    I have clips from 7 different cameras (clips in different events according to camera), and want to find all the clips that overlapped, to apply the “sync clips” command. It appears that the starting time for some of the clips is slightly off, so was hoping that grouping by keywords (either manually applied or applied automatically based on start time) would create a group of clips that the sync clips command would accept.


    • Larry Jordan says:


      Even easier. Click the “gear” icon under the Library List and sort your cilps by creation date. This groups clips the way you want without even requiring keywords.


      • Hans Douma says:

        Hi Larry,

        Thanks for your article. Personally I find the keyword implementation in FCPX quite limited. I am used to using keywords in Aperture (which has a far better implementation) and was hoping FCPX would be (preferably) the same or similar, but it isn’t. It is hopelessly basic. E.g. I have not been able to find a way to list all keywords used so far, typing the beginning of an existing keyword does not auto complete it (so you’ll never know if it already exists), the shortcuts are funny bot nothing more than that and only the first 9 ever used will appear there, only 30 keywords are displayed in the search window, and so on. All these limitations ultimately render the use of keywords in FCPX pretty useless. It is amazing that a so called PRO app has such a crappy implementation of vital functionality.
        Ideally OSX would have one single centrally managed set of keywords which you could use in the same way in all apps, but that is wishful thinking.

        When it comes to the limitations I summarised, do I misinterpret things and is it better than I think ?

        • LarryJ says:


          Um, nope. I think you pretty much described all the major limitations.

          Keywords, as they are, are still useful. But Apple could definitely improve the implementation.


  5. alex says:

    Hi Larry,

    Is there any way to type out the keywords you want to filter? I have around 60 keywords by location. I also have keyworded the footage with a few general tags (e.g. live, backstage, rehearsal).

    Ideally, I would be able to click a keyword by location and then add an additional filter such as “live” to display the filtered results. Currently FCPx requires me to manually click the keyword checkboxes, which as you point out, is very awkward.

    Is there any way to type in keywords to filter, similar to the text box filter? What a pain! Something that should take 2 seconds instead takes 30.

  6. Keith Brooks says:

    1. We don’t keyword very often. But we do multicam assemblies for an hour program. Every once in a while during the edit of the multicam we find a clip portion that we want to isolate as a blooper or highlight. What’s the best way to keyword that clip portion?
    2. That clip portion is assigned to a specific library. If i have 30 episodes and want to do a blooper reel or highlight reel, how can i search the keyword and get all the clip portions out of each of the episode libraries?

  7. Larry Jordan says:


    You can’t apply keywords to clip ranges in the Timeline. So:

    * Put your playhead at the start of the range you want to keyword in the Timeline
    * Type Shift+F – this selects the source clip in the Browser and positions the playhead at the same spot.
    * Type I to set an In, in the Browser clip, then set an Out (this probably needs to be done manually)
    * Apply the keyword, i.e. “blooper”

    FCP X can’t search across libraries, but Final Cut Library Manager from Arctic Brightness can.


  8. Christopher Martin says:

    It appears that by version 10.2.3 that Smart Collections can be saved for an entire library, not just for a single event as described when this article was composed. Thank goodness!

    • Larry says:


      You are correct, searches and Smart Collections can now encompass an entire Library.


      • Ulli Jossner says:

        How do you do this? I moved the keywords from various events into a single keyword folder. However I don’t get the same results, i. e. not all clips!, in this folder. Why is this?
        Thanx Ulli

        • Larry Jordan says:


          You don’t move keywords, instead, you select the Library and create a new Smart Collection.

          Also, you need to be running the latest version of FCP X for this to work.


  9. Ulli says:

    Hi Larry,
    thanks for this very helpful article. AND I’ve got good news.
    the 30 items rule does not exist (maybe anymore) on my FCPX 10.2.3
    I was so desparate that I was dragging the lower end of the keyword collection window and it displayed all my keywords in three colunms (<50).
    However the "rule of 30" somehow still exists as each column has 30 keywords in alphabetical order.
    It even displays all the keywords in my generic hyper smart collection Simon Ubsdell recommended https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjuCfJFhdo0.

  10. Hans Douma says:

    After all these years keyword support in FCPX is still very basic. Staying consistent in using keywords is next to impossible, because FCPX is sadly missing a central keyword repository for defining and assigning keywords. Although when adding keyword to a clip the keyword window is showing existing keywords as you start typing, it is then only looking for existing keywords in clips of events that have been open since you started FCPX.It is therefor very easy and most likely to end up with similar keywords where you actually mean the same thing. I find this very confusing and it makes the search on keywords very unreliable. It is about time Apple brings FCPX up to speed in the area of metadata management

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