Tag Archives: iMovie

A Bad Day in Phoenix is a Good Day to Test the iPhone

Friday was a state furlough day. While the school were still operating, the entire machinery of the state of Arizona was closed (and unpaid, of course, that was the whole point.) With nothing to do and no family around, I was going to attend to miscellaneous tasks around the house – until the air conditioning died late Thursday night. Summer is running long this year and it’s still well over 100 every day. Air conditioning repair companies are swamped and it’s nearly impossible to get a good technician to look at a dodgy unit on short notice. We have a reliable company that we use and they were able to get someone out towards the end of the day Friday.

The practical upstart of the whole situation is that I needed to abandon the house for the entire day and could not retreat to the office.

I decided I was going to try two things:

  • First, make a movie with the iPhone and the iPhone version of iMovie. I had tried this on the day I got the phone, but made a horrible mess of it. I was unable to cut and assemble the scenes as needed and learned I needed to adjust my shooting style, and
  • Go to as many Apple Stores as necessary to get an iPad Camera Connection Kit, which is never in stock. I figured I’d probably have to go to all of them and still not get one. Of course, I could have called, but how would that kill an entire day?

With nothing more than that in mind, I headed off on my trek.

I did vaguely attempt to make a few different types of shots, such as close-ups, using both the front and back camera, using the video light, moving shots, walking talking shots, etc. From my first attempt I also knew not to cut the shots too close. You want plenty of pre-roll and post-roll footage, as I didn’t have much luck with frame accurate editing.

After spending the day taking a series of mostly extemporaneous shots as the mood hit me, I came back home – and while suffering still without A/C, I set about editing it with the iPhone iMovie app.

A lot of people have remarked how wonderful it is, but to me, it’s extremely restrictive and difficult, suitable for 5 or 6 shot, “cuts only” editing. Trying to string together 15-20 shots from a collection of 25-30 is tough. Let’s start with the work flow. Let’s assume we’ve already shot the footage and it is (obviously) on the phone.

You start by creating a project. Currently there are four themes and you cannot choose “none” although if you don’t use any theme elements, you essentially have chosen none. You cannot combine elements from one theme with elements from another (exception: the music) As far as I can tell the theme dictates only three things – the titles, the transitions and the music.

Once you have a new project, you can start dropping things in. Select new video media and your library of video is shown, as film strips, in reverse order. If you’ve shot your program linearly as I did, you scroll to the bottom, find your clip and tap it – it’s tossed into the project at the end of the clip that’s currently on the “playhead”. Note: it doesn’t place the clip AT the playhead, it skips to the end of that clip and places the new clip. There is no insert/overwrite editing.

There is no way to inspect the clip in the bin before placing it, and there’s no information, not even the name, provided, meaning you have to guess what clip you want based on the opening frames. In “Bad Day in Phoenix” I shot mostly in order and deleted outtakes before editing. if it had been many shots with similar locations, a slate would have been essential. Just the ability to preview the clip before inserting it would be very helpful.

Clips are automatically placed with a .5 second crossfade. You can double click the transition placed between the clips and change the duration or change to a simple cut or the “theme’s” transition.

Trimming the clip is achieved by taping the clip once, then grabbing the pin at either end and sliding in or out. It’s not very precise and doesn’t play audio so it’s hard to line up shots. I found it difficult to trim the shots the way I wanted.

The program is not without bugs, too. Sometimes clips wouldn’t play their audio. On the next pass they would. Since everything was shot on the phone, it shouldn’t be an incompatibility with the clips. Nonetheless, one clip never played audio and didn’t even render with audio and I had to delete it from the movie. The clip plays just fine, with audio, in the phone’s photo application.

Titles are placed over a single clip, and seem to run the entire duration of the clip (minus transitions). You have three kinds, opening, middle and closing. Essentially opening and closing are title cards and middle is roughly a lower third. You cannot position them to start at any location than the start of a clip. Nor can I find any way to “split” a clip that’s in the timeline (this would allow you to trick the title to appear on just the segment of the clip you wanted and would also be handy for attempting to simulate an insert edit.)

Considering the type camera, and the prominence it was given in iMovie HD for the Mac, I’m surprised you do a simple 90 degree rotation of a clip. It’s fairly common that people using digital cameras to record video forget that it’s landscape only and shoot in portrait mode. iMovie HD “fixes” that easily. iPhone iMovie does not. I made that mistake twice while shooting this movie, luckily, you might think it was as artistic choice. It wasn’t.

The clips audio can be turned on an off. There is no way to adjust the volume so you cannot normalize the audio between one clip and the next.

You can law down some audio, which can be either any of the themes’ music selections or anything from your iPod. You cannot place the music where you want it, it simply starts at the beginning of the project and moves towards the end.

You also cannot insert audio from you voice note recorder and so cannot record narration and lay it down over the video, nor can you overlay audio from another movie clip. This means I had to narrate each shot as it was recorded, which is a very inflexible and inelegant solution.

Rendering the video was also a problem. The 15 minute video is 1.2GB, the various clips used to make the video were closer to 2GB. With 6 GB free on the phone, I was unable to render the video. My phone ran out of space. I had to change my sync options and put far less of my music collection on the phone to get enough room to process the video.

The quality of most of the video was really good and I have no complaints about the finished output (no complaints that couldn’t be explained by the lack of choices in the editing and shooting process.) For short, quick features, iPhone iMovie can produce a remarkably polished, but it is not suitable for much more. You can do much, much better by loading the footage into iMovie on a Mac and editing it there. You can’t do that in the field, though.

Next, I might try editing it on the iPad.

Oh, and here’s the movie:

Bad Day in Phoenix from Lone Locust Productions on Vimeo.

What to do when it’s 109Âș outside, you’re off work for the day with nothing to do and you air conditioning goes out at home and won’t be fixed until the evening?

That was my dilemma today. See how the Apple Store solved my problem of what to do!

This video was shot, edited and rendered entirely on an iPhone 4 using iMovie. My intent was nothing more than experiment with the onboard features to see how robust they were.