Yesterday, Apple updated the iLife suite to ’08.’ It looks like a significant update all round, but most dramatically for iMovie. I’m a big fan of iMovie – while there are some parts of it that are less than obvious, training kids to use it takes all of five minutes, and in another five minutes they’re completely ignoring the software and concentrating on telling stories. Which, in my world, is what film-making is all about.

But you know, what I can see of iMovie ’08 worries me. The new interface and editing method looks, frankly, amazing. So what’s the problem?

The focus is on throwing movies together quickly, polishing them a little, then bunging them online. So iMovie now makes it easier than ever to find the bits of your rushes you like, shove them together, and export. Great. It looks like trimming (ie. adjusting an edit) is also more obvious than it was before. This is a distinctly good thing.

…and that’s about it.

See, the biggest limitation I find with what’s suddenly ‘old’ iMovie is that it’s hard to separate audio from video. ‘J’ and ‘L’ cuts – where an audio edit precedes or trails a picture edit – are extremely hard to pull off, and when you do, it’s frighteningly easy to lose lip-sync subsequently. The result is that it’s nigh-on impossible, in old iMovie, to edit dialogue and fix the pictures later. Which is what one normally does in… oooh, you know, films that tell stories.

Want to take dialogue somebody’s said and cut in a close-up? Not trivial in iMovie. Want to cut to a reverse for cover while you fix up a fluffed line in an otherwise good take? Not trivial in iMovie.

So the way SciCast workshops have gone is: students shoot, we pull the video into iMovie, and they lash together a rough-cut for viewing that afternoon. Great. But even from a standing start, by the end of the day they’re all asking how to use that bit of audio there, and trim that bit, and put that clip – minus its sound – there, and and and. But we’re out of time, so I take their notes and I finish off the film for them.

…which typically takes me about three hours in Final Cut Pro, often recreating the rough-cut from scratch before polishing it up. I am not, I should add, a slow Final Cut editor – I’m not a professional editor, but my standards for such things are extremely high, and I’m faster than some Avid pros I’ve worked with. I’d love to be able to fix stuff up in iMovie, but if there are more than a couple of edits to tweak it’s less infuriating to start again and have all the tools to hand in Final Cut.

What does iMovie ’08, then, have to offer the budding film-maker in this regard?

On the face of it, in my world… nothing.


Er… yeah. I’ve watched Jobs’ demo, and I’ve seen all the training videos, and from what I see there’s no split-track video/audio view. So the only way to do what I want – what my budding young film-makers want – will be to extract audio, delete pictures, and try to make identical-length buffer clips to keep everything in sync. Or something. Basically, impossible. It’s not even apparent if ‘skimming’ [cough‘scrubbing’cough] clips scrubs audio too.

At first glance, it looks to me as if iMovie 08 is highly optimised for cutting together a short, elegant clipsreel. But film-making? Not so much. In fact, anything that’s dialogue-led (except for voice-over), or anything that’s using multiple passes and takes, or anything with multiple cameras – from what I can see we’d be better off sticking with iMovie HD 6.

I can’t quite believe this can be right. This is Apple, right? They’re all about the creatives, about subtly training their users to become more professional so they graduate up the product lines. This is why some people think they’re patronising – iMovie has relatively few cheesy wipe transitions, because they make your video look awful, so Apple heavy-handedly protect you from that.

Can they really have made it harder to tell a story with video? Didn’t we go through all this with desktop publishing, when we had InDesign and that Quackers thing at the high end and basically nothing that mortals could use, and then eventually Pages came out and suddenly the rest of us could again make documents that looked good? What are 14 year-old directors supposed to use? Final Cut Express?

Or Premiere Elements on a Dell?

I’ll be buying iLife 08 as soon as I can, in the full hope that my worries are a product of Apple’s marketing focus rather than limitations in the new iMovie.

Of course, the next problem is that iMovie 08 won’t actually run on my old Power Mac. Gaaaaaaah!

[update Thursday morning: iMovie HD 6 has been made available as a free download for owners of iMovie ’08. Implication? ‘We know it’s not done yet.’ Also, lots of discussions in Apple’s boards about ’08’s partially lacking audio tools. Sounds like it’s not as bad as it might be, but still not a step forward except for clipsreel-type cutting.]