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Saving and Moving iMovie ‘09 Projects

March 21, 2011 by David Macasaet

iconIn today’s world, the concept and practice of saving and moving digital documents is commonplace and simple. For many, “Save” is second nature. However, when it comes to working with video, the notion of portability is not as simple, and quite the contrary, it’s complexities can sidetrack or hobble video assignments.

An Orchestra Does Not Fit in Your Pocket

Indeed, digital video is a prime example of a technology that’s difficult to move around. Digital video projects in particular may refer to dozens if not hundreds of discrete files. Videos, images, graphics, music, audio effects, transitions, and filters--they are all arranged by the user to make a coherent whole. And the project-file is the heart of the matter. To illustrate, video project-files and their source material have been compared to the relationship between sheet music and an orchestra. Sheet music is a set of instructions, physically very small, light, and portable. But without the orchestra, a piece of sheet music is simply a piece of paper. The orchestra *makes* the music, just as the digital video *makes* the film. And the orchestra does *not* fit in your pocket. 

Obscene File Sizes

Video files are truly enormous when compared to a typical computer file, so having appropriate storage is essential. Digital video editors have long followed a prescribed approach when it comes to saving and working with video--they use dedicated, fast external hard drives. Yet today’s video landscape is confusing because shoot-and-share cameras (like the popular Filpcam) have become much better at capturing video that is relatively small in file size, but still looks pretty good. Novices may have a misconception that one can “just email” a video project or “just burn it to a cd”. At the same time, real high definition video cameras are capable of creating stunning imagery that can result in massive file sizes, in some instances more than 40GB per hour!

These two converging factors make it even more important for students or instructors who are working (possibly for the first time) on video assignments to assess and understand the technology and select the appropriate tools for the assignment. There are resources on campus that address video storage. External hard drives are available for extended check out at the College Library InfoLab. There are several additional drives available at the Van Hise Infolab. Drives may also be purchased at the DoIT techstore. And suitable drives are very often less than $100.00 (even less online at places like, and they have a utility beyond the assignment. A USB 2.0 or Firewire drive, 250 GB and up would be more than suitable for a typical student video assignment. More demanding projects benefit from higher transfer speeds (Firewire 800, eSATA, USB 3.0 and so forth).

Note: USB Flash/Thumbdrives are not suitable for editing video in iMovie, but may be suitable for projects restricted to audio and still images.

iMovie: The Devil's in the Details

In post-production, Apple’s iMovie is a popular digital video editing software. It has many strengths and is incredibly useful. However, its ability to save and move projects from computer to computer has not been consistent across recent versions.

The good news is that at present iMovie makes the process easy and reliable. It’s only a matter of dragging and dropping the chosen project to a supported external hard drive. Apple outlines the process clearly in their online support document. In addition, there are very good resources on campus for learning more about iMovie. Software Training for Students provides face-to-face instruction for students, Just-in-Time training on behalf of instructors, one-on-one coaching via their Ask-a-Trainer program, and no-charge access to online training videos.

What is MS-DOS FAT 32?

Although iMovie is ready to do the job, there are several cases where the process of using iMovie to copy and save projects may be hampered. Students who check-out hard drives from campus Infolabs will likely find that external hard drives will be formatted to MS-DOS FAT 32, a disk format that works with both Macs and PCs. However, this type of format does not work well with video files, largely because it doesn’t support writing files larger than 4GB. The best way deal with this challenge is to reformat the drive to the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format using Mac’s built-in Disk Utility. The process is relatively straightforward and outlined in the following video.

Warning: reformatting completely erases the disk. Only reformat if there’s nothing on it or if you’re absolutely sure that critical data is saved, backed up and secure on another disk.

iMovie’s complex simplicity

In the event that a student does not or cannot reformat an external drive to take advantage of iMovie’s capabilities, files can be manually copied from one machine to another. To begin, the student must understand that iMovie consolidates most of the files associated with any given project in the Mac’s “Movies” folder. All projects are located by default in a folder called “iMovie Projects”. Video files (called events) are located in a folder called “iMovie Events”. Audio imported via iTunes (or from another location) will have to be moved and placed in the same location relative to the new machine, or replaced in the iMovie project. Stills and voice-over audio recorded within the iMovie interface are “packaged” inside of their respective project file.

Don't Delete Grandma’s Birthday Videos

The general approach, and most stable way, to manually move iMovie projects from computer to computer is to copy the “iMovie Projects” folder and the “iMovie Events” folder on one computer to an external drive, and then drag the two folders into the “Movies” folder in the main user directory on the other computer. The computer will ask whether or not the user wants to replace the existing folders. This approach works well on computers that are re-imaged after each use, like campus Infolab computers. However, if the computer already has iMovie content, then this method becomes highly problematic because overwriting folders would delete whatever’s inside. Moving only selected projects and events is possible, but not universally repeatable (can be buggy). The process of moving only selected projects is outlined in the following video tutorial.

iMovie Inequity

Ideally, the whole process off working with video would be less complex. The reality, however, is that these relatively minor technological issues may build up and compound, and hence affect the ability of students do scholarly work with multimedia tools. Because some of these issues effect students who don’t have their own computers more than those who do, all the more reason to outline steps to make working with video a little closer to being as easy as “Save”.

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