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Handheld Moviemaking: iMovie on the iPhone

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Joanna Silber hated using iMovie from the first minute she opened it on her iPhone. Then she started working with it, and the app pretty rapidly changed her mind. Read what this iMovie convert says about it now.

I've been a professional video editor for over a decade. I first met iMovie for the iPhone on the subway, and I was horrified by the app—just horrified. Who could make such a clumsy tool?! How annoying not to have frame accuracy! Why are all the preset transitions so long? Why don't I know where I am on the timeline? Can I move the font? Did my audio just slip? I worked myself into a righteous rage.

Then I looked up and realized that I was editing video. Video I shot on the very same camera. Video shot and stored in a format that only barely played on my computer drives five years ago. I was totally absorbed in editing cute, compelling, funny, fun videos—which were, incidentally, the reason editing for a living sounded so nice 12 years ago. (But then I started getting clients, and now I regularly forget that making little videos is fun.)

And in a 10-frame dissolve, my thoughts cut from: "My kingdom for a razor blade tool!" to "%&*$#^!! I'm editing video on the subway!" I mean, I was getting text messages and cutting video at the same time! Isn't 2012 a grand time to be alive?

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Video 1 shows a fun little 60 seconds I shot and edited entirely on the phone.

So here's the deal. iMovie isn't a power-editing tool, as editing tools go. If you start off thinking that the iMovie for iPhone app is like Final Cut Pro, the desktop version of iMovie, or any other desktop non-linear editor, a world of hurt is coming your way. It doesn't compare. But what I temporarily forgot is that the iMovie app wasn't designed to compare to fancy software programs. It was designed as a fun and nifty method to showcase video pieces that will make your kids look cuter, your meals tastier, your car shinier, and your Facebook posts much more fun. When you get to know the tools and some tricks, the app excels at what it does.

iMovie's Opening Screen

The opening screen of the iMovie app is quite powerful (see Figure 1). From here you can open an existing project by tapping its "poster" (in this case, "Coffee Cocktail"). Swipe to the right and left to see all your projects.

Left to right, the icons along the bottom of the screen present iMovie's basic functions:

  • iMovie help
  • Start a new project
  • Play a video
  • Share
  • Copy from iTunes
  • Delete a project

A few things to understand about project management in the iMovie app:

  • You never save the project. iMovie constantly saves for you, and your last edit is reflected the next time you open a project.
  • Because you can't manually save a project, you also can't perform a "Save As" command, which might allow for creating different versions—say, one version with titles and another without them. The iMovie workaround for this missing feature? Send your project to iTunes at any time (via the Share menu), and then reopen that received project as a new project, using the "Copy from iTunes" option.
  • Using iTunes as an intermediate step also lets you share one movie between two editing devices; for example, if you want to capture video on your iPhone, but edit on your iPad.
  • Sharing a project via the Share icon is incredibly robust, allowing you to upload your video to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, or CNN iReport. You can also upload your video to your own camera roll, or upload the editable project to iTunes, as I mentioned earlier.

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