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 The old adage of “plan your shots” has been replaced by “we’ll figure this out in post.”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. Dennis says:

    Keywords are very powerful when they are implemented correctly by the application. One huge huge huge improvement in FCPX would be to search via the search textbox where FCPX refines the result while typing.

    Because this is not implemented, creating a lot of keywords is mostly waisting time, because searching requires too much mouse clicks.

    Creating a smart collection is only a nice option to save search results.

    I also noticed a bug in FCPX 10.4. When adding keywords in the Keyword popup box (CMD+K). After hitting ENTER after typing the text, FCPX sorts the keywords. When you continue typing directly after hitting ENTER and during the sorting process, FCPX screws up the entered keyword. This results in new partial keywords or splits the entered keyword. to prevent this, wait a second or so after hitting ENTER.

    • Brandon VanBeek says:

      I noticed this as well Dennis. The solution, like you said, is to work slower. Ironically, the reason I was using keywords in the first place was to work faster. Wish you could search keywords by typing in the search box! I just keyworded several hours of footage with about 80 keywords and now I’m left searching for them visually in an alphabetical list.

  2. Terry Kelley says:

    That toggle in the upper left corner, “all” or “any”. What does it do?

    • Larry says:


      It’s a Boolean operation. “ANY” means any clip that has even one of these keywords will be included in the search. “ALL” means a clip must contain all selected keywords in order to included in the search.


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