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Question: What's Easier Than Using iMovie? Answer: Not Much!

At the risk of repeating myself, I’d like to start this off by saying I LOVE APPLE PRODUCTS. I just think that Apple’s completely figured out the whole user experience aspect of software. Consider iMovie (part of the iLife package that comes with new macs). I really think of myself as a technical hack of sorts. I can figure stuff out for the most part, but I definitely DO NOT take the time to read the manual of anything, which is precisely why I love iMovie. Not only is Apple renowned for not creating any sort of manual to speak of to go with their products, the fact is, you don’t need one. iMovie is so intuitive, so easy to operate, that you can fumble your way through it, and still make something great. Part of it is the synergy between the different products – iMovie allows you to easily sync up to iTunes and GarageBand – but it does come down to Apple creating software that a non-technical person like myself can use and feel like I’ve actually accomplished something. And the fact that my friends are into what I end up making is an added bonus. You may be thinking that musicians don’t have time to waste learning some wild-ass video editing software, but in the age of YouTube, streaming video, and super-fast Internet connections, musicians that don’t take advantage of the promotional benefits that a homemade video offer are going to be a step behind. So suck it up, and take some time to learn how to work iMovie. Here’s a primer to get you started:

1. The Goods You probably know this already, but before you record any video you are going to need a camera. A good digital video camera is going to run between $400 and $1500. Like any other piece of hardware, you can spend more if you want. But for someone just starting out, it’s really not necessary. Some key features you want to look for are:

A) Zoom – 10x or above

B) A FireWire port, a microphone terminal; a headphone terminal

C) Memory card slot for photo capture; MPEG-1 or MPEG-4 video for Web and e-mail

D) Effects – there are a lot of options for digital effects depending on what you are looking to do. Another benefit to iMovie is the fact that you can edit QuickTime in it. QuickTime is the standard format that digital cameras (not digital video, SLR cameras) use.

2. Computer Specs One of the tricky parts of getting into digital video is being sure you have the minimum system requirements to effectively operate the editing software. You’re often going to see minimum requirements from video editing software manufacturers that are, simply put, not realistic. Video editing is a hard-drive intensive task, and you are going to want to have AT LEAST 512 MB (1 GB is even better!) of memory to work with. Also you can easily go through 60 GB of memory on just one project. The good news is that external hard drives are getting cheaper all the time (you should be able to get a 300 GB drive for less than $200), and it’s an easy task to add an extra drive to your Mac. Other things you should have:

A) A DVD burner

B) FireWire Cable

C) Firewire port (standard fare on Macs)

3. Capturing and Editing the Video in iMovie Here’s where the genius Apple user interface kicks in. Once you’ve captured video in your camera, and connected your camera to your Mac with a firewire cable, iMovie automatically recognizes the fact that there is a camera attached and asks you if it can download the footage into the editor. It’s that easy. It is also at this point in the process where you edit down all your footage and think about titles, music and narration. You are going to want to consider how you want to ‘market’ your video as well. The whole point of digital video is to create something interesting for your viewers and to use it as an effective promotional vehicle, but it’s sometimes REALLY hard to decide what to edit out of the final piece. As an example, I did a video interview with Steve Vai when he was in Boston for the Zappa Plays Zappa concert a few months back. We shot about 35 minutes of video, which we had to trim down to about 5 minutes for our presentation. Steve was an excellent conversationalist, and it was really difficult to edit down what we wanted to keep. For me, it all came down to what I thought would be the most entertaining pieces of the interview for our viewers, and putting the interview into context by editing in some b-roll footage we had taken backstage and from the front of the venue. We ended up focusing on what I thought was the funniest stuff Steve talked about – his audition for Zappa’s band, where Zappa told Steve Vai that perhaps he should be auditioning for Linda Ronstadt band instead of his! We added some somewhat humorous titles for the intro and outro, and the piece came out great. Anyway, this is a long-winded way of stating the obvious (but often overlooked) fact: you should always consider the folks that are actually going to be watching your video when you are in the midst of the editing process.

4. Adding Music, and Finishing Touches Once you’ve edited your raw footage down and added your titles and transitions, you may want to add music to your video. As we talked about before, because iMovie is tied into iTunes and GarageBand, the process of adding music couldn’t be easier. Simply click on the ‘Media’ tab, and you will be directed to a library of existing sound effects, as well as to your iTunes library. Simply choose a track, import it into iMovie, adjust the volumes as necessary, and drag the clip to wherever you want it to be in your movie. If you use this for promotional use, please be aware of copyright restrictions! Once you’re done, you have the option of saving the file in a number of different ways, depending on your intended usage. Good luck! Mike

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Published: 11/02/2006