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Avid logoFinal Cut Pro logoNote: This post is obsolete.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.