When you cut a clip and insert another in iMovie, its audio is cut at the same time. But if you watch any movie, you’ll notice that this isn’t what usually happens: a scene between two people takes place, the action cuts between a shot of one to another before the first person has finished speaking, yet you can still hear them.
Look at any movie or television show, from any period, and you’ll see that the editing never stays on the same shot for too long. In fact, you may feel that some do overstay their welcome and you get impatient for the camera to move on to something else. Changing shots doesn’t mean changing scenes: when done right, cutting to different angles keeps the story interesting and the pace flowing. It also makes it easier to use a better take, or to cut to the scenery that is being described in the current shot, while still hearing the narrator talk about the location.
Modern camcorders can automatically focus, white balance, and color correct for you. As a result, most of your clips will look fine and be ready to be included into a project the moment you import them. But machines being what they are, they do sometimes get it wrong, which is why iMovie’s various video tools can come in handy. With them, you can alter the brightness, contrast, and color of any shot. You can obviously use them to also distort the image, giving it an unnatural appearance to simulate unusual weather conditions or to create that alien planet feel you were after.
There’s one element that makes it obvious you’re watching an amateur movie: the audio. Although nearly all camcorders or video recording devices capture sound as well as images, the quality is often very poor. Even HD camcorders that produce vibrant, high-quality clips are often let down by the low quality of the on-board mic.
The Shining is probably the best example of the use of steadicams, as the camera glides through the hotel’s corridors and its maze. Usually, to get a steady moving shot, you’d put your camera on a dolly-- essentially a set of tracks--but there’s obviously huge limitations to this technique: one is that you mustn’t show the ground because otherwise you reveal the tracks; another is the difficulty in going up or down stairs. With a steadicam, you can follow your subject wherever it may go.
The dolly zoom effect is very recognizable: the subject in the foreground stays motionless, but the background appears to change and zoom out so you can see more of it. To create this effect, you need to move the camera back as you zoom into your subject. The speed of the tracking back and zooming in must be the same for the subject’s size to remain the same. The effect works very well, but is very difficult to replicate with a consumer camera since the zoom controls on such devices are far from precise.
Being able to fly, walk on an alien world, or survive a disastrous accident is par for the course in most blockbuster Hollywood movies. But obviously none of it is real-- it’s all done with smoke and mirrors, or more precisely, chroma keying. The idea behind the process is that it’s easy to cut out a single color, rendering it transparent and allowing you to put something else in its place. Green or blue is used because both colors are the farthest away from all human skin tones. One of iMovie’s Advanced Tools lets you automatically remove a green or blue background from a clip. But how do you get such a background in the first place?
The reason iMovie caused furor back in 2007 (which in computing times is considered ancient history), was because it dared to challenge the basic concept of editing video. Prior to this metamorphosis, every video editing application looked pretty much the same: a section, usually at the bottom, showing all your chosen clips added together in a sequence, the first one appearing on the left, and all the others added to its right.
Like any other video editing program, iMovie is focused primarily on the visuals: you can see your clips broken down into a series of thumbnails, apply visual effects to them, alter saturation, brightness, contrast, and so on. But what would your favorite movie be without the musical score? Music is what makes your audience engage with the scene emotionally and without it, your movie can lead to a very bland experience.
Making a successful film, whether it’s a big Hollywood blockbuster or a home movie, is all about timing. For action sequences with a lot of energy, you need quick, short clips. Longer shots are usually better suited for emotional scenes.
Even though iMovie is aimed at the casual filmmaker, you still have in your hands a powerful tool that is designed to offer you everything you need to edit fast and with precision. The fact that Apple has adopted the general interface for its new version of Final Cut Pro speaks volumes as to its belief that editing this way is easier than any other method invented, until now.