Windows Movie MakerI tend to bash on Microsoft products quite a bit. This year I’ve become a Mac convert and just yesterday I was touting the virtues of giving Internet Explorer the boot. Most of my ire comes from the fact I’ve become fed up with the typical bloated, unsecured, buggy products that come out of Redmond. I’m tired of having to patch software on a daily basis and wade through features for the one simple feature that I’m looking for. I’ve got a pretty bad taste in my mouth regarding Microsoft products, so you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon one that I actually like – Windows Movie Maker.

Holly Needs A Video
Holly wanted to submit a video audition to the producers of Nashville Star. My past video editing experience consisted of using the pause button on our old VHS deck as I played captured video on our Hi-8 analog camcorder. I knew there had to be a better way, so I figured I would explore how hard it would be to edit the video on my computer. After a few conversations with Dan, it was clear that I needed a camera with Firewire. This would allow me to import the video directly into the computer.

I was lucky enough to find a friend in my church choir who had a new Samsung SCD23 MiniDV Camcorder. He let me borrow it, so I shot a few seconds of video just to see how the camera worked and what features it had. I then plugged in the Firewire cable that I purchased (the camera didn’t come with one) and sat back in total awe as Windows XP found the camera and installed a few drivers without a hitch. Next a little application launched called Windows Movie Maker. I didn’t even know that this program was on my laptop, much less what it did. I was thinking that I was going to have to purchase $200 – $500 worth of software to do the actual editing, would WMM be all that I needed?

The Rundown On WMM
Importing – The first thing that I did was import the video from the camera into WMM. This can be done manually, so that you can import just a clip here and a clip there, or you can import the entire tape. You also have a ton of options regarding the format you’d like to save the clip in. It really just depends on what the final result of your work is going to be. If you plan exporting your video to the Internet, then you can get away with smaller files. If you’re going to export it back to tape, then a larger format is best.

However, make sure you have plenty of hard drive space before you begin. Video eats up A LOT of hard drive space in a hurry. For my project, I ended up with two 8 minute videos, but I had about 30 minutes worth content. With the project files and raw video, I easily ate up 2.5 GB on my laptop. If you’re doing this from a desktop, then you probably have plenty of hard drive space, so it’s not an issue, but it’s something to keep in mind as you’re working.

If I were to keep doing this kind of work and do it on a desktop, I’d probably add a dedicated 80-120GB hard drive just for video work. However, if you’re like me, then you’ll probably only do these videos every once and awhile and a few GBs on any drive will do.

Creating A Storyline – Once your video is imported, you can then begin sorting your clips into the order that you’d like them. I ended up running the import wizard dozens of times to capture all the clips that I needed, but that allowed me to drag and drop the clips as I needed. There’s two views and I opted for the more detailed one so that I could exercise more control.

For example, I could boost the audio of a clip if I felt that it was a little soft. If I was planning on adding a voiceover, then I could mute the audio all together and just use the video. The biggest feature that I used was the ability to trim a video clip. By simply grabbing the side of a clip, I could pull it in to trim up the end, or the beginning so that I had only the video that I needed.

Inserting Titles and Transitions – With all my video clips in place, I then explored the titles and transition features of WMM. If you’re familiar with PowerPoint, then you already know how to do this.

Titles can occur before, after, or overlay on top of your video. If you choose an overlay, then the tile is added to it’s own channel. If you choose to use titles before or after a clip, then they are inserted in the main video timeline. There’s a wealth of options in choosing your titles. From simple fades, to complex overlays, you can choose from over 30 different styles. Transitions are just as varied and again if you’re familiar with PowerPoint, you’ll find using transitions a cinch to use.

Adding Audio
The next step is to add a little music to your work. You can easily drag and drop in mp3, or wav files to your video. There’s more audio format that you can import, but those are the most common for Windows users. Once you’ve added an audio track to your file, a separate timeline, or channel is added below your video. You can trim the length of the track, fade in and out, but that’s about it with audio. This can be a little tricky timing your video and audio together since there’s no ability to sync the two, but with the right fade out, you can really tie it all together nicely.

Music isn’t the only audio though. You could add sound effects, or voice overs if you like. Simply grab, or create the audio that’s needed and import just like you would a music file. I used voice overs in my video, so I recorded Holly speaking directly into a .wav file using the built-in Windows Sound Recorder. Once I had the file, I imported it and placed it in the project file. All I had to do was trim the video to fit the voice over and it all came together.

Exporting Your Finished Work
At this point you should be all done with your masterpiece. You’ve put all your video files together, you’ve added titles and transitions to make it look more professional and you’ve put some music to certain sections just like a Hollywood director would. Now that you’re all done now what? Well, the next step is to export your finished work.

You have a ton of options in how you want to export your video, but the three most common are
   1. Export back to your DV camera
   2. Export to a DVD or CD burner
   3. Export to a streaming server
   4. Export to a file on your computer.

Exporting to your camera is pretty self explanatory; you put in a fresh tape and your finished project is sent back over Firewire or USB 2.0 back to your camera. With burning a disc, it’s much the same thing except that you burn a disc. If you plan to put your video on the web, then more than likely you’re going to save it to a file on your hard drive. Exporting to a streaming server is only if you actually have a web server capable of streaming your video. There’s a wizard to help you sign up with a company, but I doubt most people are interested in purchasing space and bandwidth in order to show a home movie.

If you’re exporting to a file on your hard drive, then you’ll want to choose how large of a file you want to create. In my experience it’s best to create a large file for broadband users and a smaller file size for dial-up users. If you do a smaller file, you may find that you’ll want to tweak the settings a good bit. My final dial-up file was only 2MB, versus 40MB for the broadband file, but the quality of the video suffered greatly.

Regardless of what your exporting option, the software goes through what I call a “compiling routine”. To put it another way, you’re going to wait a long time while your file is being created. For example, I had an 8 minute project that I was going to export back to the DV camera. It took around 45 minutes for WMM to compile the project and create the file. From there it then started the camera and recorded the video back on the device. So when you begin your export, plan on doing something else for awhile and come back later. When you do it will all be done.

A Quick Note About DV Cameras
The coolest part about this whole process was how, through Firewire, WMM was able to take control of the Samsung DV camera I was borrowing. Once the OS recognized the camera and knew it was there, I didn’t have to refer to it at all. Through WMM, I could see the video and fast forward, rewind, etc. That is especially important when you’re exporting because it takes so long for the file to compile and it’s great when the camera just begins recording when it needs to after you’ve been waiting 40 minutes.

If you’re considering a new camcorder, I would strongly recommend that you purchase a DV camera that has Firewire capability so that you can take advantage of computer editing. Without it, you’ll be hard pressed to do it any other way.

It’s Not Perfect
I do wish that the editing controls were a bit more precise. I found trimming a clip to sometimes be a bit painstaking to get it trimmed just right. Also, if I inserted a new element, it would push all the other elements out of whack. For example, if I entered a new title in the video stream, then the audio and overlay channels would stay in their same place while the video channel would push back to accommodate the new video clip. That meant that I had to go back and re-place each audio and title cue to make sure that they synched up. That was a major PITA. The program also crashed a few times, but not enough that I found WMM to be buggy, or unstable.

In spite of all these shortcomings, WMM is a great little program. It allowed me to do just about everything that I needed to do and the end result was more professional that I thought was possible. The fact that it’s built in to Windows XP and is thus free was a great bonus. If you have a video camera with a Firewire, or USB connection, you need to hook it up to your Windows XP box and give WMM a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can do to add a little pizzazz to your home movies.

Show Off Your Work
Done any home movies with Windows Movie Maker, or Quicktime? Why not post a comment to this entry and link to your work! Not everyone who reads this weblog is tech savvy, so seeing examples of what can be done on your computer is always fun and exciting. Besides, I’d love to see your work too! Simply post a comment with the full URL (aka to your video

In case you missed Holly’s video that we did, you can find links to the large and small video files at the bottom of this entry. Please be sure to let me know what you think of the finished product too!