Mastering iMovie trailers

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When you figure the amount of work required to make your own movie trailer from scratch, the new movie trailers feature in iMovie ’11 is amazing. In just a few minutes, you can create a short film with production values that rival what you see on the big screen.

But is that all there is to iMovie’s movie trailers? Did Apple put in what is obviously a lot of work—many of the soundtracks were recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, for heaven’s sake—for a feature that takes a few minutes to use and creates a movie only a minute or two in length?

Fortunately, the answer is no. From fine-tuning edits to customizing cast members, movie trailers offer more than what appears on the surface, including a way to use the trailer as a starting point for a larger project. The following sequence assumes that you already know the basics of creating a movie trailer. If not, consult the iMovie Help before embarking on the project below. To start with Step 1, you need to have already created a project and chosen a trailer template.

Step One: Fine-tune edits

When you’re choosing footage for a scene, don’t worry about highlighting the precise 1.3 seconds (or whatever the duration is) you want to appear—just select a rough range of frames within your desired clip. To change which frames are included, do the following:

First, in the Storyboard tab of the Project browser, position your mouse pointer over the scene you want to edit.

Then, click the lower-left blue button that appears. The Clip Trimmer drops into view over the Event Library and Event browser. (Two other buttons in the scene icon also become visible: one that mutes or un-mutes the clip’s audio at upper left, and a curved arrow at upper right that removes the footage and displays the placeholder animatic.)

Finally, drag the active area to a new position within the overall clip. The scene’s duration doesn’t change, so all you can do is slide the highlighted area within the clip. (Here’s a tip: To quickly preview that footage, press the forward-slash [/] key.) Click Done to make the change.

Step Two: Apply clip adjustments

Double-click a clip in the Storyboard interface to bring up iMovie’s familiar Inspector, which facilitates clip adjustments such as applying video or audio effects, enabling image stabilization, and tweaking colors and audio. For example, you can set all clips to be black and white in a Film Noir themed movie trailer.

Similarly, select a clip in the Storyboard and then click the Crop button in the toolbar to crop, rotate, or apply the Ken Burns Effect to the footage.

Step Three: Move or duplicate clips

Would a clip you already placed work better in another spot in the Storyboard? Just click and drag the clip to another location. If that new destination already had a clip, the new one replaces it.

When you hold the Option key while dragging, iMovie creates a duplicate—helpful if you want to use a separate section of the same scene.

Step Four: Change cast members

Every movie trailer type includes cast members, but a few let you add or subtract characters; multiple soundtracks were created to accommodate the different possible numbers. In the Blockbuster, Friendship, and Travel trailers, go to the Cast list in the Outline view and click the add (+) or subtract (–) button to the right of a cast member’s name. There can be as few as two and as many as six identified characters.

In the Pets trailer, use the Pet Type field to specify Dog, Cat, Horse, or even Monster. The animal tracks that appear in the text screens change to reflect the choice.

Step Five: Convert trailer to project

A studio movie trailer is just a taste of what’s to come, and an iMovie trailer can be the same. To use the trailer as a jumping-off point for editing the full version of your movie, choose File -> Convert to Project. (I recommend first duplicating the trailer project—choose File -> Duplicate Project in the Project Library—so you don’t lose the trailer.)

The trailer becomes a regular iMovie project with all edits appearing in the Project browser—as if you had spent a lot of time building them manually.

[Jeff Carlson is the author of The iMovie '11 Project Book (Peachpit Press; 2011) and is a senior editor of TidBits .]

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Improved audio editing
    • Fun Movie Trailers, which can be converted to projects
    • Support for 24p footage
    • One-Step Effects automate repetitive edits
    • Side-by-Side and Blue Screen edit options
    • Rolling Shutter fix (results vary depending on footage)
    • Single-Row View brings back traditional timeline


    • Interlaced video still hampered by single-field processing
    • No native AVCHD editing or direct import
    • Pre-processing and import transcoding can be time-consuming
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