iMovie ’11–maybe the best 15 bucks you’ll ever spend!

Avid logoFinal Cut Pro logoNote: This post is obsolete. iMovie is now free and better than ever. I’ve edited video with Avid and Final Cut Pro, and you can, too. But these are complex, multi-layered, nuanced applications. Not only do you (or somebody who’s hiring you) have to fork over a fair number of shekels, the learning curve is crampon-worthy, especially if you’re not by training or instinct an editor.

Then there’s iMovie ’11. For years, evolving and devolving versions of iMovie came with every Mac I bought. After using it a few times I grew to hate it, because it was so mean-spirited. For one thing—and it’s a real deal-breaker—anybody who’s edited professionally can’t live without frame-accurate editing, especially audio editing. But trying to edit a simple conversation in old versions of iMovie would have made even Job say this is too much to bear.

Then I heard that the latest version, iMovie ’11, is way different. I read that a newbie can learn enough quickly to make a pretty slick vacation movie, while the journeyman can unlock some pretty cool advanced features. I went to Apple’s iMovie webpage and started exploring, and was bowled over … especially when I found out I could download it for a mere 15 bucks!

I’d been meaning to learn iMovie for a couple of months, mostly because a guy like me who purports to know something about making online videos ought to be familiar with this common app. The opportunity came when my daughter, Lily, who is an actress and writer, wanted to make a new demo reel. Before she arrived with her footage, I played with the app, checking out basic and advanced features.

The features are impressive–too many to go into here–but one of the very best seems utterly boring yet is worth mentioning here: Help. That’s right, Help. Just choose Help from the menu and you get two buttons:iMovie Help buttons

cover of "iMovie '11 The Missing Manual"If you click on “Get Started,”  you access a bunch of lessons that have lots of advice, videos, etc. If you click on “Browse Help,” you access a treasure trove of tutorials. They start out with basic clues, but you can tap a flock of disclose triangles to reveal deeper levels of information. As I tried figuring out how to do things I was used to from Final Cut Pro, the Help feature was invaluable. (If you want to steep yourself in a myriad of iMovie details, including a ton of stuff that’s not available through Help, you can always shell out a few dollars for iMovie ’11 and iDVD: The Missing Manual, which is terrific. Ironically, the book costs more than the app itself!)

frame from "Instructions Not Included"Full disclosure: Lily–that’s my daughter’s name–and I resorted to Final Cut Pro to edit  one of the elements of her demo, “Instructions Not Included.” That was really complex, requiring lip-syncing audio from one take to video from another take, etc., etc., etc.

frame from "The Scene"But we put all the clips together in iMovie ’11. Not only did we edit clips down, we also added music and tweaked the audio and video. For example, the only version of a clip called “The Scene” we had was very, very low resolution. Not only that, the exposures were all over the place, and the audio levels (because the mike was attached to the camera, which you should avoid whenever you can) varied from thunderous to almost inaudible.

Pic of "black label" burger at Crow Bar in Corona del MarNow, of course iMovie’s video and audio correcting tools aren’t as sophisticated as Avid’s or Final Cut Pro’s, but they’re pretty impressive. And I was pretty impressed, having paid (as I keep saying in different ways) less than the $19. cost of a “black label” burger at The Crow Bar. (Then again, that burger may have the same reward-to-cost ratio as iMovie ’11.)

I could go into more detail about all the goodies iMovie ’11 offers, but you’ll have more fun if you slide over to Apple’s website and watch their iMovie ’11 pitch video. After all, what is more beguiling than an Apple pitch video?

Finally, if you’d like to see Lily’s demo, just click on the player below. As always, your comments on this post are welcome.

It’s gotta sound like a story. Audio is the key to your online video.

When we were kids, “Once upon a time …” cued us to settle down for a nice story. With online video, it isn’t that simple. People don’t settle down; they stay poised to click the Stop button if you don’t deliver the goods … and fast. Audio is the quickest way to grab them.

Though they’re called “videos,” a well-conceived audio track is nearly always more important than the images. Especially if you’re trying to make a point to your audience. We’re conceptual critters, and the words you hear convey those concepts. Images are more impressionistic.

So let’s settle down–take your hand off that mouse!–and talk about sound for a couple of minutes. Not technical stuff, like the inverse square law, but storytelling stuff.

Let’s start with an example. Here’s a video with no words. Watch a bit of it, then read on …

There’s something compelling about this little show, because the guy is obviously in great shape and pulls off some pretty amazing feats barefoot–ouch! In terms of persuasion, though, I don’t know what to do with it. I need to read the accompanying text to find out that I’m seeing the results of the Natural Movement Coaching System®, and maybe I should get trained and go to Corsica and jump from rock to rock–still ouch! Video alone seldom makes coherent arguments.

Sure, you should think of eyeball-searing images when you script and shoot your next online video. But first, think of the audio. If the verbal script (narration and sound bites) joggles the mind, the heart, the soul, you’ve got something. But to do this, the verbal track usually must be coherent.

Yes, coherent. To demo this, I just made a quickie experimental video. I excerpted 30 seconds from a TED talk. The audio was clearly recorded and made sense. Then I laid totally unrelated video over the sound. If you can follow what the speaker is saying, then that argues for the primacy of sound over video. I think your brain will choose to follow the audio. Try it:

Could you follow what the speaker was saying? Sure you could. By the way, the TED talker is Julian Treasure, an expert in sound. He studies this medium and advises businesses on how best to use it. At the end of this post, I’ll link to the full 6-minute talk. It’s totally relevant … and you’ll like it.

Since audio trumps video, when you “see your story” before telling it, make sure you have the elements to craft a powerful story even without pictures. Embrace your script, even if it’s not a written script.

Of course, sound, when it’s not done right, gets in the way of good storytelling. This is a clear and present danger in the era of flip cams, most of which only have built-in mikes. If the camera is far away, so is the microphone. (The famous exception is the Kodak Zi8, which has a mike input.) Noisy environments are deadly when you can’t put a mike close to your subject. Here’s an example from the innovative travel advice site with a sexist name Man on the Go:

Why didn’t Robin Mallery–who surely was free to move around the airport–bother to find a less noisy spot to deliver her truly worthwhile spiel? (For that matter, why didn’t she plunk herself down where there was more light on her face than on the background?) I’m not trying to make a technical point here. I’m saying that you won’t be able to tell a good story if your listeners can’t hear the words effortlessly.

That’s enough of my thoughts for today. I’ll say goodbye and leave you in the very competent hands of Julian Treasure. As always, I welcome your comments and questions.