September 13, 2003

iMovie: Too Cool For Words

The pressure of having three kids in the house finally caused my brain to snap the other day, and I bought me a camcorder.

Actually, it was only partly the kids' fault; some of the blame rests on Steve Jobs, and that computer company of his--the one that ships digital video editing software with every computer they sell. I suddenly realized that not only can I shoot video footage of my winsome young'uns, I can edit out the dull bits, keep the cute bits, and put it all on DVD for my extended family to roundfile expeditiously.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I've bought a camcorder, as if I had time for yet another expensive time-consuming hobby, and so clearly I've gone stark staring mad. Remember that as you read on.

The camcorder is a low-end Sony digital camcorder that uses MiniDV tapes and connects to my PowerBook via Firewire. It's a nice little unit, about the size of a mass-market paperback of Gone With The Wind. Or perhaps Les Miserables; we'll see. So far it appears to work quite nicely.

But the real star is iMovie, which as I say comes shipped with every Macintosh. iMovie knows how to talk to my camcorder; all I did was connect the camcorder with the PowerBook using a Firewire cable, and iMovie announced detected it immediately. I installed nary a driver, nor did OS X offer to install for me; it was true plug-n-play, right out of the box.

And then, iMovie effortlessly imports the video I've recorded, breaks it up into scenes automatically, and then allows me to view it, stretch it, chop it in pieces, run it through filters, add soundtracks and titles, and then export it back to tape, to a Quicktime Movie, or to DVD. I cannot express how much better even the goofiest home movie sounds with some decent music backing it up.

The iMovie interface, like most of Apple's recent software, is deceptively simple. There's definitely more there than meets the eye. Usually I like this, but in a few cases, they've made it a little too simple. For example, I added a title to a clip; later I wanted to get rid of it. I simply could not figure out how to do it! Finally I looked up the answer--you highlight the clip and press Delete. Silly me; I'd never have guessed that in a million years. I'd have thought--how stupid of me--that pressing delete would delete the clip altogether.

The book that came to my rescue is iMovie 3 and iDVD, by David Pogue; it's one of the generally excellent "Missing Manuals" series, and it's excellent. The book begins with three chapters on shooting digital video: what to look for in a camcorder; basic videography, including lighting and sound; and how to shoot specific kinds of things, including interviews, weddings, and so forth. How to use iMovie doesn't come in until the fourth chapter; and then the book ends with several chapters on how to use Apple's DVD authoring software, iDVD.

Now that I've got the camera and the software, I'm embarked on a special project that involves shooting video of the kids, turning various camera features on and off, and all the other things one does at a time like this; I'm calling it "The Usual Foolishness". It's sure to be the next big thing in home video.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 13, 2003 07:19 PM