How to Use iMovie for Beginners

How to Use iMove for Beginners

iMovie for Mac is a fantastic free tool that allows people of all skill levels to create and share bold, beautiful, custom movies right from the comfort of their home, office, or anywhere they can use a laptop or desktop. In this article, going to show you how to to use iMovie for beginners. You’ll learn:

  • use the essential tools, features, and steps you’ll need to start making eye-catching movies of your very own
  • match colors across clips
  • use the built-in “green screen” feature
  • play, share, and view your finished projects on other devices

Add Media

First, find iMovie in the task bar, or your Applications folder, and open the app. Once the iMovie window opens, you can see three small tabs at the top of the window: “Media,” “Projects,” and “Theater.”

See three main tabs at the top of window



The “Media” tab allows users to upload, sort, and store various media files such as video clips, audio clips, and still images. Before you start making a new movie, you’ll need to collect some media. First, click on “iMovie Library” on the left side of the screen, then right-click and select “New Event” from the menu, and today’s date will appear in the Media Library. An “Event” is essentially a folder where you can store all the various media files you plan to use for a specific movie project. In this example, I’m going to name my new Event folder “Cities.”

Select Library, then New Event

Next, click on “Import Media,” just to the right of the Media Library, and this will show you all the various media files you have saved on your computer. Let’s say that I already have some videos, pictures, and sound files related to urban traffic, and I want to use all of these elements in my new movie. I can select one clip at a time, or I can select multiple clips by holding down the Shift key and clicking on each file I want to select. Once I’ve selected a file I click “Import” to add files to the Cities” folder, or simply click, drag, and drop them into the folder.

Click Import or drag and drop to move media files from computer to Media Library

Take a quick look at the “Theater” tab at the top of the iMovie window. “Theater” is where you can store and view your completed iMovie projects. Once a completed project is in the “Theater” folder you can play it, share it, and even view it with other devices that you have linked to your computer through iCloud. The final tab is “Projects.” This tab is where users go to create and edit movies. It’s essentially the “Work in progress” section of iMovie.



Now that I’ve covered the three main tabs, I‘m going to guide you through the steps of beginning a new movie project. To begin, click on the “Projects” tab, then click on “Create New,” and iMovie will offer two options: “Movie” and “Trailer.” Click on “Movie,” and a new window will open up where you can start making movies like a pro.


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Click Projects, Create New, and Movie to begin new project

Add Clips to Timeline



In the new window, I have the “Project Media” list on the left, then a blank space with an “Import Media” icon in the middle, a “Preview” panel to the right, and finally the “Timeline” at the bottom. Over in the Project Media list, I can see “My Movie 1,” which is the default name that iMovie gives the new movie project I’ve just started. Below that, I can see the “Cities” folders where I’ve collected various sound clips, video clips, and image files.

Click on the “Cities” folder to open it, then drag and drop the media files into the movie Timeline at the bottom of the Projects window. You’ll notice that when you add files to the Timeline, sound files are colored green, and video and image files have a blue line along the bottom. These colors are a handy visual aid that iMovie uses to help you keep track of which files are which.

Drag and drop media files into Timeline



Once there are three or four files in the Timeline, things might start looking a bit crowded, and some of the files will extend way right off the right side of the screen where you can’t even see them. But don’t worry, there’s a tool to help with that! Just look at the top right corner of the Timeline, and there’s a small slider labeled “Settings.” The slider allows you to zoom in and out on the media files in the Timeline window. If you zoom out, you get a wide angle view of all the files. If you zoom in, you get a more detailed, close-up view, which is great for choosing specific moments in a video clip or sound file, like a space in the video where you want to make a cut or fade to a new scene.


Settings slider to zoom in and out

The Timeline has a wonderful range of tools, features, and actions you can use to make your movie something special. First, go up to your Project Media list and click on “My Movie 1.” Now you will see the thumbnails of all the media files that are currently in the Timeline. Just click on one of the thumbnails–let’s say one of the video clip files–and the thumbnail will appear highlighted with a yellow border. Hold down the “R” key and click and drag across that highlighted thumbnail, and that will make the video run back and forth, so you can see the whole video moving and quickly or slowly as you move your mouse. You can also click “Play” on the Preview panel to the right side of the thumbnails, and watch video clips in a larger format. The Preview panel is a great way to find specific moments in a sound or video clip without changing anything in the Timeline.

Play Thumbnail in Preview panel

Editing Clips

Now I’m going to take you through some of the editing options in iMovie. First, Move your cursor back and forth across the Timeline, and you’ll see that there’s a white vertical line that moves along with it. Think of this white line as a marker–a moment in time. As you move the line back and forth, you’re also moving back and forth in the clip. For example, let’s say that I want my movie to show a specific moment when a white car drives by. I can move that white line across that relevant video clip in my Timeline, watch the video in the Preview panel, and–when I find the precise moment that the white car drives by–I click and I see that there’s now a gray vertical line marking that precise moment in the clip. That gray line means “Start.” Now just hit the space bar on your keyboard to begin playing the clip from that exact moment marked by the gray line, and hit the spacebar again to stop playing.

Click white line to mark moment in clip

iMovie also provides several ways for users to edit and adjust the sound within clips. Let’s say there’s a video clip of traffic driving by on a busy city street, and you’d like to remove the background traffic noise and replace it with some dramatic music. If you look at the video clip in the Timeline, you’ll see that there’s a blue line running horizontally across the bottom of the clip. That blue line is the audio data within that clip. Now simply right-click on that clip, then choose “Detach Audio” from the menu, and the audio will instantly get taken out of the video clip and appear as a separate file, down below with the green audio files in the Timeline, as well as up above as a thumbnail in the Media files. Now you can delete that removed sound file, or save to use later in another project.



Detach Audio to remove sound from video clip

You can also adjust the audio directly inside of each video clip. For example, perhaps you love the ambient background noise in your city traffic clip, but you’d like to add a voiceover, and the ambient sound is just a bit too loud. To adjust the volume, just click on that clip in the Timeline, then click on and drag the little horizontal white line inside of the blue strip running along the bottom of the clip. That line is actually the volume adjustment for that specific clip. The green audio clips also have that same horizontal adjustment line for making the volume exactly as loud or soft as you want.

slide horizontal line to adjust volume

Another feature to be aware of in the Timeline is the small “connector” line between clips. Click on an audio clip in the Timeline, drag it just under a video clip, and when the audio clip gets close enough to the video clip, a small green line will appear at the top left corner of the audio clip. As soon as that little green line touches the video clip above it, those clips are now connected. Now when you click and drag the video clip around the Timeline, the audio clip will get dragged along with it. You can do the same thing with any of the clips in the Timeline. Just drag a clip next to the main clip, move it until that tiny line appears at the top or bottom corner, and then drop that clip and it will stay connected to the main clip. If you decide that you want to change the exact location where the sound clip connects to the video clip, just click and drag the sound clip to the new location, and move it until the green line appears and connects it to the video clip again.

connector bar connects clips together

iMovie also allows users to change the length, or duration, of a clip. Let’s say I have an image file in my Timeline. Click on that image file’s thumbnail, and it will display a number. This number is the number of seconds that this image will appear onscreen when the movie plays. In this case, I can see that my chosen image will appear on the screen for 2.7 seconds, but I want that image to stay on the screen for 5.5 seconds. All I need to do is hold down the “R” key, then click and drag the right edge of the image, and I can see the number of seconds increasing and decreasing as I drag back and forth, left to right. It’s important to remember that when you make a clip shorter, you’re actually removing, or deleting, information from that clip. But no worries! If you make a mistake and remove information you didn’t mean to remove, just click “Edit” from the main menu at the top of the screen, then click “Undo,” or hold down “Command” and hit the “Z” key to undo that last action.

hold "R" and drag to adjust clip length

Another fun tool allows users to adjust how quickly or slowly a clip plays in the movie. For example, perhaps your movie needs a dramatic slow-motion scene. Just click on that video clip in the Timeline, right-click, and choose “Show Speed Editor” from the menu. Now a black horizontal line will appear at the top of that clip. Click and drag that black line to the left to speed up the action, and a little icon of a rabbit appears to let you know that you’re in “faster” mode. Drag to the right to slow down the action, and a little icon of a turtle appears, indicating “slower.” This way you can easily create slow-motion and fast-motion clips or scenes in the Timeline with just a simple click and drag. And if you don’t like the look, just use Cmd + Z to undo.



Speed Editor and drag for faster and slower

Cutting and editing scenes and clips has always been an essential part of making movies. The “Split Clip” tool allows users to split a clip into sections so that they can delete, move, and rearrange sections of video and sound as much as they like. For example, I’d like to add a still image in the middle of a clip of urban traffic, and I need to make a space for that image to fit into. All I do is go to the Timeline, move that white vertical line to the correct moment in my traffic clip, right-click, and choose “Split Clip” from the menu. Splitting clips doesn’t remove any information from the clip, it simply breaks the clip into separate pieces. Now just click and drag the still image around the timeline and center it over the split in the video.

Split Clip to cut sections from clips

Transitions

Sometimes you’d love to add just a bit more interest and complexity to a movie to make it really pop, so now I’d like to introduce you to the “Transitions” options in iMovie. A transition is like that moment in a film when one scene fades to another scene, or when the soundtrack fades from exciting music to spooky music to match the action. There are two main ways to perform a Transition in iMovie, and I’ll start with the method you perform inside of the Timeline itself. 

Let’s say that I have an urban traffic video clip that I want to fade into an image of the Statue of Liberty, and then fade into a new scene in the video. I simply find the statue image file in the Timeline, then drag and place it right above the split between the two scenes that I just created with the “Split Clip” tool. When the image file is highlighted, I can see that there’s a little circle in the top right and top left corners of that thumbnail. Just hold down the “R” key, then use the mouse to click and drag the circles toward the middle. As you drag, you can look at the Preview panel above and see that the main video clip fades to the image, and then the image fades back to the next video clip. You can also use these exact same steps to fade sound clips in and out.

R key and drag for clip transition

The second method is to use the “Transitions” tool. At the top of the window, above the thumbnails of all the media files, there’s a horizontal menu that shows options like “My Media,” “Audio,” “Titles,” “Backgrounds,” and “Transitions.” Just click the “Transitions” tab to open a menu of various preset transition effects such as “Fade to Black,” “Slide Left,” and “Ripple.” Now select a Transition from the menu, whichever looks the most interesting, and drag and drop it in between two video clips, or at the beginning or end of a clip, to add it to your movie.

Transitions tool, drag and drop

At this point, you should have a good selection of video clips, sound clips, and images in your Media Library and in your Timeline. I’ve gone over the basics of cutting and editing, as well as how to use Transitions, so now I’ll demonstrate how to add some extra little touches to make the movie look even more professional and unique.

Enhancements

First, click on a clip in the Timeline, and that clip will appear in the Preview panel. Above the Preview, a menu of tool icons will appear.

Visual Edit Menu

One great tool is the “Match Color” tool, which allows users to create a harmonious look throughout the entire movie. For example, my main video clip of urban traffic is filled with rich, natural sunlight and colors, but I also have a clip of streetcars that I’d like to use, and that clip looks just faded and dull. The first step is to click on the streetcars clip in my Timeline so that the clip appears in the Preview panel. Next, I click on the black and white circle icon at the left side of the tools, then select “Match Color” from the menu. Now I move down to the Timeline, click on the urban traffic clip that has the sunny, natural colors that I want, and that clip will appear next to the streetcar clip in the Preview panel, and iMovie will make a subtle adjustment to the colors and tones in the streetcar clip so that it more closely matches the colors and tones in the main clip. If the results look good, I simply click the checkmark at the top right corner.

Match color between scenes

There are several more tools in the visual editing menu that allow users to adjust the look of clips in the Preview panel, like the Crop tool that lets you zoom in and get a closer shot, and the “Shaky camera” icon that lets you stabilize a shaky handheld video. You can even add filters to video clips to create a certain mood, turn a color movie into a black and white film, or make the movie look like it was filmed on a spooky, alien planet. I recommend taking time to play around, experiment with each tool, and explore all the wonderful ways iMovie helps users tailor and customize their movies.

 iMovie also offers a “green screen” effect, much like the effect professionals use to insert backgrounds into various film scenes. For example, let’s say there’s a little 10-second clip of a street view looking up at two skyscrapers in the foreground, with a bright, clear blue sky in the background. Now just click on that clip in the Timeline, it appears in the Preview panel, and up above a new icon appears in the editing tools menu. This icon looks like a little double box, or a square with a shadow. That little icon is the “Cutaway” tool. It’s important to remember that when you’re editing the main video, the clip that all these other sound and video and images get added to make a finished movie, you will not see the “Cutaway” icon. This particular icon only appears when you’re working on the other clips, the extra pieces of video that you plan to add to the main video.

 Now, click on the Cutaway icon and a drop-down menu option, named “Cutaway,” appears. Just click on the Cutaway menu to reveal all the options, then select “Green/Blue Screen.” This tool essentially takes all the parts of the video that are colored solid blue or solid green and makes them invisible. So now, once you click “Green/Blue Screen,” you can still see those two skyscrapers in the foreground, but instead of a blue sky in the background, you now see the main video clip in the background.

Green/Blue Screen tool for extra clips

One more feature I want to talk about is the “Titles” tab. “Titles” give users a whole range of extras like opening and closing credits, movie titles, and even subtitles. Simply click the Titles tab, located above the media thumbnails, and a full menu of various preset effects will appear. Now click on a thumbnail, and it will show up over in the Preview panel so you can get a closer look. Some of the titles even incorporate motion. For example, click the thumbnail named “Scrolling Credits,” then move the cursor back and forth across the thumbnail, and you can see credits moving up and down on the screen in the Preview panel. When you find a Title you like, just click, drag, and drop it where you want it in the Timeline.

Preview titles

Once the Title thumbnail is in the correct spot in the Timeline, that title will appear in the Preview panel, neatly laid over the video clip. Now you can start playing with the editing tools to add new text, select from a range of fonts, and change the text color and size.

 At last, you’ve completed your very first movie, and you’re dying to share it with friends! Just a few simple steps are all you need! Just go up to the top-right corner of the iMovie window and click the “Upload” icon. This will open a menu of options, such as Facebook, Vimeo, and Youtube. Let’s say I have a YouTube account, and I want to upload my movie so I can share the link. Just Select “YouTube” from the menu, and a window will open where I can choose whether to upload my movie in HD or not, whether or not I want this movie to be Private, and add any tags that might make it easier for people to find my movie with a keyword search. I also want to make sure to click the “Add To Theater” checkbox at the bottom of the upload window to add the new movie to the “Theater” tab for easy access. iMovie also offers options like “File” in the upload menu, which saves the movie directly to my computer.



Save and share

Now that I’ve gone over some of the essential tools and features that iMovie has to offer, you have an almost endless range of options to help you make fun, amazing, fully customized movies for any event or occasion, from weddings and birthdays to work presentations and school projects. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to explore your own creative potential!

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