iLife ‘08—Part 2: iMovie—Flawed Genius

by Chris Howard Aug 23, 2007

iLife ‘08 brought us a completely new iMovie. Totally rewritten, it uses a different interface for building movies. It is a significantly easier interface to use and was a stroke of genius by its creator. However, iMovie ‘08 lacks many standard and necessary features of consumer-level movie editing applications, and as such, could be called flawed genius.

Dealing with the FUD
Some reviewers have described iMovie ‘08 as “dumbed down.” My impression is that it was “smarted up.” How can you describe a smarter, easier to use interface as dumbing down? Does that make OS X a dumbed down operating system? Of course not. Intuitiveness and ease-of-use do not mean aiming for the lowest common denominator. In fact, the Windows approach, with a plethora of pop-ups and wizards, is aiming for the lowest common denominator. iMovie ‘08 has been “smarted up” to be much easier to use without any hand-holding dumbing down.

iMovie ‘08 though, by comparison to iMovie 6’s features, has been neutered somewhat.

I’m not going to criticize Apple for what iMovie ‘08 isn’t. What it is is a version 1.0 application. The installer retains iMovie 6 for those who need a larger feature set, and Apple has provided a download of it for those who require it. If Apple didn’t retain iMovie 6, I’d certainly be bagging Apple.

In time, it’s logical to expect Apple to bring iMovie back up to being a full, consumer-level movie editing application. That said, I will be critical if we are made to wait too long.

I do appreciate, though, those who think iMovie ‘08 would have better been called iClip. In its current form, genius interface and all, it is best used for making clips, not movies. That is echoed by the YouTube export option, which Apple and many reviewers seem excited about.

Although it’s reasonable to think many, many people really do only require an application to quickly cut down all the video footage of an event to a few minutes of the best footage, many other people have been using iMovie to create much longer pieces and will continue to want to.

Hal Cauthen of The “Unofficial” iMovie FAQ is a fan of the new iMovie, and sums it up by saying:
All this is not to say that you cannot create more conventional, longer movies. You can. You can select any or all of any or all of your clips, not just snippets. I’m not sure yet exactly how you could exactly control the length, but I suspect that with a little ingenuity it could be done.

Another bit of FUD doing the rounds is that Apple has trimmed down iMovie ‘08 so as to sell more Final Cut Express. The argument is that it stripped down iMovie to force anyone who wants to make decent movies—not clips—to buy FCE.

On that flawed logic, Apple would be greatly restricted from improving iMovie, as any new features might cannibalize FCE sales. And it would also have to strip features from iPhoto to stop it cannibalizing Aperture.


Apple, of course, will continue to improve iMovie to bring it back on par with the old iMovie.

In reality land, I personally think SJ was too excited by this new way of editing to keep it in the bag for another year. He really wanted to get this out before anyone else.

In use
Let me state straight up: I never liked the old iMovie, I never got the hang of it, I never found it user friendly, I never could get it to do what I wanted, and often it did unexpected things to my edits.

That’s not to imply I’m some sort of video-editing neanderthal. In fact, I bought and learned Final Cut Express, which is a more complex application. I didn’t have any of those problems with it, despite a supposed steeper learning curve. iMovie ‘08, then, was a great and pleasant surprise.

Version one apps are always feature light, although iMovie ‘08 is a bit lighter than most. And it certainly feels like an app knocked up for a specific purpose by some computer geek. But have no doubt at all, this is a superior way of editing. Having used both iMovie and FCE, it is with reluctance that I’d go back to their old way.

With iMovie ‘08 you can whip up a clip in no time. Select, drag, drop. Repeat as necessary, then drag and drop on a music soundtrack if you want, drop in some titles and transitions, and you’re finished. It is very much like—and as simple as—moving text around in a word processor.

Of note, iMovie ‘08 has no save command, with changes automatically saved on the fly. Once your clip is complete, you can then export it to iDVD, YouTube, .Mac Web Gallery, your media browser, and iTunes.

If that’s as far as you want to take it, you’ll be over the moon with iMovie ‘08. You’ll be turning out clips by the bucket load.

On the other hand, if you want to start refining and tweaking, or making a longer piece with more control over audio, you’ll probably find yourself heading back to iMovie 6 or FCE. But even for you, iMovie ‘08 is a great way to import your video from its source and quickly tidy it up, getting rid of what you don’t need.

The video library
Besides the editing, iMovie ‘08’s big strength is its movie library, which automatically scans your iPhoto libraries and movie folder for video. Whereas with iMovie 6 and earlier, you had to manually locate footage, which was then imported into your project, causing duplication if it was already on your hard disk.

iMovie ‘08, on the other hand, works with the original source video but is non-destructive, leaving it untouched. Consequently, you can reuse the same video clips over and over in the same or different projects without duplicating them. Therefore, iMovie ‘08 saves significantly on disk space. For example, for a short movie of mine based on 4GB of footage, the project file is only 5.5MB in size. In iMovie 6, this would have been the full 4GB.

iMovie ‘08 does save your exported movies into the project file, so yes, you might find them growing significantly in size. But iMovie 6 also had to export your movie before it could be used by other applications, so, in terms of disk usage, those two balance each other out.

If other applications, like FCE, could also use the iMovie ‘08 video libraries and their favorites and keywords, iMovie could become not just an editor, but a manager as well.

There is *nothing* wrong with timelines. In fact, timelines are still there in iMovie. What’s missing is an indicator of the time point the playhead is at.

If you go into Trim view, you are essentially seeing your clip in a timeline, just no time indicators. And the project view too is still a timeline of your movie, albeit quite a coarse rather than fine view, but again, all that’s missing is a time indicator.

Of note, you can turn on a time indicator that shows the time the video was recorded. This is too coarse, though, when looking for the spot you lost—which happens often and is why markers would be so useful.

Other features
iMovie ‘08 is so basic it’s hard to know what features it does have. Besides the new editing interface and movie library, here are a few others:
• a color correction tool (which iMovie 6 has too, but as a video filter);
• like iPhoto, video can be grouped by event;
• everything works in real time, no waiting for rendering;
• much improved Ken Burns effect;
• easy to use cropping tool;
• selection marking as rejected, as favorites, and with keywords;
• All projects are always open. Because of the way the project library works, it means all projects are always at your fingertips and effectively open. Thus, you can very quickly swap between projects and easily transfer clips between projects.

iMovie does have a prolific lack of features. Some key ones are:
• No timeline. Yes this is meant to be what makes it more user friendly, but the problem is, for example, when you’re trying to create or find a piece of music, you have to manually calculate how long the segment is. Even if iMovie does away with the timeline, it could at least show you the time point of the playhead.
• No themes. This is quite surprising as one of the great things about the iMovie/iDVD suite was having consistent themes.
• No Chapter markers. Again, quite important for integration with iDVD.
• No bookmarks. These are needed in the project editor to easily identify key points you want to return to in the editing process. For example, the point you want to begin a voiceover.
• Movies posted to iMac Web Gallery cannot be password protected. The rather messy workaround suggested by Apple is to export your movie, import it to iPhoto, put it in a password protected album, and then upload that.
• No control over individual durations of transitions. Therefore if you want a fade at the end that is slower than other transitions in your movie, you’re out of luck.
• No video or audio effects.
• No point-to-point control of audio volume, which is very useful for creating your own fades.
• The help system is for iMovie 6.

I’ll be very surprised if most of these do not make it into iMovie within 12 months, although it will be frustrating waiting for some of these.

Home video editing is back
There’s been a lot of debate about whether iMovie met its target audience’s needs and abilities or not. Truth is, most of us don’t want to make home movies to bore friends and family with. The reason we want to edit videos is to cut down the miles of footage to the best bits, so in the future we can pull them out and reminisce.

iMovie let us do that but there were two reasons we didn’t: time and space.

First, the time taken to upload our video footage and then edit was, well, discouraging. I’ve got dozens of MiniDV tapes I need to edit down to the best stuff, but the time involved, even for one tape, puts me off. And the space. One of those tapes takes up 15GB of disk space. I have 410GB of disk space, and only about 70GB free. And none of that is movies from my tapes. Considering we like to re-use footage, that mean we want to keep the original footage on our hard disks. In the past it has been a chore to edit down that footage to save space.

And we do want to re-use footage. Or think we might. For example, we might like to have a DVD of holidays, but then also a DVD for each of the kids that is specifically of them. That would mean re-using the holiday footage. In the past we couldn’t afford to keep the source footage on our hard disks plus iMovie would duplicate it when we used it.

The new hard disk recorders along with super large hard disks are going to make movie editing much more viable. The technology has finally caught up with our needs. (Granted, those of us with MiniDV cams will still have to get our footage on disk the slow way, but at least the editing will be faster.)

iMovie ‘08 is ideally placed to take advantage of this change because it is a much faster way of editing video. And, significantly, it enables you to upload and very easily delete the footage you won’t ever want without even having to create a project or duplicate original footage in the future!

Personally, despite its shortcomings, which are what’s missing, I’m totally wowed by this new approach. But I will be mighty annoyed if Apple makes us wait until iMovie ‘09 for all the enhancements. Some of them really should be in the works for this year.

It’s fantastic, too, to finally see iMovie get non-destructive editing.

iMovie ‘08, as it stands now, is not for serious consumer-level video editing. It is good - actually ideal - for making YouTube videos, but too limited still to make more complex home - or school - movies.

If I was to rate it based only on what it does do, and not comparing it to its predecessor, I’d probably give it a 10/10. It is a stroke of genius, but yes it does have some flaws. However, it is a must see app that will have you drooling at the thought of the future of home-movie editing.

Finally, let me finish with a few tips I’ve discovered that make the transition to iMovie ‘08 a bit easier.
• Hold the control key down when you want to move the mouse without it moving the play head position.
• In the video library, shift-clicking is a more efficient and intuitive way of setting the start and end points of a clip selection. (Note: you do have to click first to get a selection frame.)
• Get to know the marking system (favorites, keywords, and rejections). Using these will also improve your efficiency.
• Rejected sections of video can be hidden, which means less skimming through junk. If they are really bad, rejected selections can also be deleted from the library.
• Process your footage. Delete the bits you don’t need, thus enabling you to keep a lot more original footage on your hard disk.
• Clip selections used in your project are marked with an orange bar in the video library, favorites with a green bar, rejected selections with a red bar, and keyworded selections with a blue bar. Clicking on any of these bars automatically selects that selection.
• In the project editor, from the right-click context menu, you can split clips at the start point of a selection, or join them at the end point, provided the two clips to join are contiguous.
• iMovie ‘08 has three audio tracks. One belonging to the video clip, the second for the music soundtrack, and the third for any other audio. The second is indicated by a green background to your project but only for the duration of the song. Multiple songs can be added end to end; however, you can’t control the point in your video at which the songs start. If you want to do that, use the third audio track. This third track is called the Voiceover and is indicated by a green bar below the clips for the duration of the audio. It is for recording voiceovers, adding sound effects, and adding music you want greater control over.
• Music tracks can be arranged, though there’s no help on this feature. It is available from the right-click menu.
• Despite what the manual says, the “Share with other applications” command is accessible only by right clicking on the project’s name. I do believe, though, this is the same as the “Share with media browser” menu option.
• To transfer clips between projects, go to the project with the clip you want to re-use. Select it in the video library by clicking its orange, green, or blue bar, or by setting its start and end points. Next select the project you wish to transfer the clip to. You’ll notice the selection box is still around your selection in the video library, but it is now grey. Click on it and then drop it into your new project.
• Don’t be pedantic about your start and end points when selecting clips in the video library. You can refine them in the project editor with the Trim command, by clicking the clock icon on the clip or right-clicking.


  • Well, most of my movies are short ones..  but from the description of this, I’ll stick with iMovie 6.  No timeline really is bad, even for creating short clips..  not having control enough to have varying length for transitions is bad as well.  iMovie 6 was non-destructive as well, but did have the disadvantage of not being able to share clips with other projects without copying them.  That said, so, how many times do you really do that??  For me, it’s quite rare.  The idea of seeing it before rendering would be nice, but I imagine on slower machines, this is painful.  Having all that footage (even if I took the time to clip the “bad” parts, is still a lot..)  I typically work on a project, and then when I am done, I create a DVD image of it, and then backup that.  My physical tape is the original should I ever need it again.  To me, it does sound dumbed-down to a lower denominator.  iMovie 6 did much of what you praise iMovie 8 for.  And for you to sayt that you could use FCE and not iMovie…  sounds like this whole review is flawed.  Just my two cents.

    sabshire had this to say on Aug 23, 2007 Posts: 5
  • iMovie 6 did much of what you praise iMovie 8 for.

    I thought I was really only praising iMovie ‘08 for it’s super fast editing, its video library, and its vastly superior non-destructive editing. Which is none of what iMovie 6 did.

    iMovie 6 did themes, chapter markings, bookmarks, timelines, and fine audio editing, to name a few. None of which iMovie ‘08 does.

    BTW I stand corrected on the previous iMovie being destructive, However, it certainly feels destructive. You work with the footage, chopping it up, deleting bits you don’t want, and duplicating bits if necessary.  Also, if you happen to delete a bit you then want back, you have to recreate the clip in the clip viewer.

    iMovie ‘08 doesn’t affect the footage in the video library at all.

    And for you to say that you could use FCE and not iMovie… sounds like this whole review is flawed.

    IMovie ‘08 is vastly better at some things than iMovie 6, and inferior in other areas. That’s all I’m really saying. Not sure why me not liking iMovie 6 and preferring FCE, then makes this review flawed.

    Interestingly, whereas iMovie 6’s shortcomings drove me away from it, despite its strengths, iMovie ‘08’s strengths draw me to it, despite its shortcomings. It really is such a superior way to edit.

    I had a look at some of the clips on your site, and iMovie ‘08 might be worth a look -provided you’ve got a G5 or above, which is the minimum requirement.

    I have a iMac Core 2 Duo and I’d be interested to hear if people with G5s are also finding the skimming, editing/drag&drop;, and playback to be lightening fast. Or if they feel the G5 is slowing, or stuttering those operations.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 23, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Woohoo! I’ve just discovered you *can* control duration of transitions individually.

    You go into the Project Properties and change Transition Duration to “Applies when added to project.”

    Not only does this set a new default time for all future transitions, it also enables an extra right-click-menu option for transitions, “Set duration”.

    You can then go back and individually edit each of your transitions durations.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 23, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • My main worry is the comment that it’s good for a version 1 product… Although this version is a new build, that doesn’t mean it’s a version 1 product. iMovie was quite mature and has now been slammed significantly.

    I do hope they rebuild what they’ve lost…but can not excuse that loss on a mature product.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Aug 23, 2007 Posts: 228
  • My copy of iLife 08 (family) is still on order.. hope they get it in soon!

    You say that the new iMovie uses less hard disk space - but that the video has to be loaded on your system somewhere. This means it’s the same space right - how does this help you with your limited hard disk space example?

    Also, can you tell me how easy it is to move locally stored footage onto a network or external drive?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Aug 24, 2007 Posts: 228
  • The bottom line for me (YMMV) is that iMovie went from being an unusable piece of crap to actually usable.  For me, that makes the missing “features” everyone is wailing about moot.  The themes were cool, and I hope those come back, but in every other way iMovie was junk-tastic.

    With iMovie 08, it’s like the developer was reading my mind.  I use iMovie for what iMovie was kind of intended for, quick and painless editing of home videos (why do you think every iMovie theme was travel related).  The previous version was neither quick nor painless.

    Now you can string together clips, add music, and upload them to Youtube in minutes.  MINUTES!  And you can now reference video clips instead of having them embedded in your project file that no other app (including a different iMovie file) can see.

    I agree with Chris.  If you want a REAL editing program, then just get FCE.  It’s cheap and is a lot more powerful than even the old iMovie (which sucked giant donkey balls, did I mention that?).  And if you want even more power than THAT, get FCS - which is amazingly expensive but you absolutely get what you pay for.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 24, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Greg,

    iMovie 6 imports video into its project files - even if it already exists on your disk. I’d like to have one huge disk full of all my footage, but with iMovie 6. I’d need another for my projects.

    Now, although iMovie ‘08 has to import your footage and store it in its video library, you don’t have to duplicate it into your projects, and it’s still accessible by other apps. (And if it was already on your disk, you can elect to move it into your video library, or can also copy it if you want, but I can’t see the point.)

    Also, can you tell me how easy it is to move locally stored footage onto a network or external drive?

    iMovie can’t read or write its video library to network drives from my testing. They show but have a yellow exclamation.  This will be an issue for you, I imagine, as a family pack buyer who’d want a single disk of footage that everyone on the LAN could access. Hopefully Apple will fix it fast.

    When you import your footage, iMovie ‘08 asks you which disk you want to store it on, which does include external disks.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 24, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • It’s funny, Beeb, coz back in 2003 when I switched, iMovie was my justification, as I’d heard how good it was. Boy was I disappointed.

    Fortunately FCE was half the price at the time, so I got it and was much happier.

    But iMovie ‘08, like you’ve found too, brings me back to editing with iMovie, despite its limitations.

    Especially since discovering some of its secrets as I listed in my tips.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 24, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • There’d be less griping if Apple had called it iTube or iVideo or something other than iMovie. Regardless, it will introduce more folks to video editing.

    Neil Anderson had this to say on Aug 24, 2007 Posts: 23
  • I just finished my first movie in iMovie 08 and it took me just as long to create a 15 minute movie as it did in iMovie 06. Of course the time included the learning curve required to figure out how to do something in the new version that I had figured out long ago in the old one.

    I am currently sending the movie to the Media Browser which seems to take as long as it did to render in iMovie 06. I am planning to open it up in Garageband to add chapter markers, and to see if I can fade in and out the background music before sending it to iDVD. I have turned the volume down to zero on the clips that have background music, so I hope to be able to fade the background music in and out in Garageband. I think it should work.
    Except for the audio implementation limitations and the lack of directional control of the transitions, I like the new iMovie. If you think in terms of storyboard instead of timeline it makes some sense. Once I learn how to create a movie quickly it will make my wife happier since I can spend less time playing Steven Spielberg and more time playing with the family.

    flyboy had this to say on Sep 30, 2007 Posts: 30
  • I just learned to my chagrin this week that iMovie 08 will not install on PPC Macs, only Intel.  Wuttup wid dat?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 30, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I would like to save all of my movies to my external hard drive.  Since there is no “save to” command in iMovie 8, the only way I can figure out how to do this is to physically move the files.  The problem is that I can’t find them.  Does anyone know where the iMovie 8 library is physically located on the hard drive?



    UnaM had this to say on Dec 09, 2007 Posts: 1
  • It should be in your Movies folder under iMovie Projects.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Dec 09, 2007 Posts: 2220
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