Tips on how to make a simple home movie (beginner)

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by edavt04, May 15, 2016.

  1. edavt04 macrumors member

    May 12, 2016
    Hey guys!

    I am planning on making a simple home movie about baby's first year in iMovie.
    Are there any websites that you would recommend me to check out?
    Or any other tips such as how long the movie should be, what to include, how long one picture/video clip should last (like 5-7 seconds) before moving to the next one.

    Any advise is much appreciated!
  2. LiveM macrumors 65816


    Oct 30, 2015
    Start by making a trailer. It has everything fixed in place and you can turn it into a movie I believe but you would be best to learn to get your edits down tight.
  3. victor66 Suspended

    Apr 25, 2016
    try multiple times in iMovie and get multiple outputs
    choose the one you like best
  4. ColdCase, May 16, 2016
    Last edited: May 22, 2016

    ColdCase macrumors 68030

    Feb 10, 2008
    I think iMovie has a default slide show timing thats OK. The appropriate clip length will vary by topic and clip. You will have to experiment to get it right. You will want to use music in the background, low volume. Keep transitions simple, cross dissolve between like clips, fade to color (black default) on more unrelated clips or for a more hard transition. Keep it simple, its tempting to add in a lot of effects just because you can. About an hour is a good length to shoot for, but there are no set rules. If you are anything like me, you will have way too much material. A nice lead in tittle screen is usually good, but that often gets trimmed because of overall length. An occasional subtitle, don't over do it. If you have a good voice, add some voice over. I used to use my daughter. All these extras takes time to do right, it is amazing how much time one can spend on it.

    I usually start out adding the clips and photos I want to the time line and see what I got, then trim to length, smooth out the rough areas, add music to the time line, songs from my iTunes library and transitions and other production values. Experiment a bit then watch from end to end at least twice for QC.
  5. kohlson, May 17, 2016
    Last edited: May 17, 2016

    kohlson macrumors 68000

    Apr 23, 2010
    I suggest understanding your target market first. For the most part, when we fire up our home movies, my wife and I sit through the entire thing and enjoy every minute of it, and also wondering who those young people are (us). As you move closer away from parents and to a lesser extent grandparents, such interest falls off rapidly. But if you're going to post something to a wider circle, in my experience people start wondering how long this thing goes on for about the 3 minute mark. Sometimes sooner. Also, adding a music track can allow a longer run time, with jump cuts match to the beat.
  6. Madmic23 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 21, 2004
    Here's how I approached this with my kids. For the first one, I made a DVD around 30 - 40 minutes long, and it was broken up into different sections of his life. It started with the ultrasound and maternity photo shoot (the belly pictures). From there, it went through the various stages of his first year. I'd do one section to music, and then a quiet section of video. My favorite montage was him learning to walk set to "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky, because why not?

    The video ended with a slideshow of his month to month photos set to music.

    As kohlson said above, the interest in a long video totally depends on the audience.

    For my second baby, I tried a different approach. Instead of making one long video, I made several short videos. They're all around 3 to 5 minutes in length but they still total up to around 30 minutes. The difference is, I put these videos on an unlisted YouTube channel and organized them in a playlist. That way, if someone wants to watch the whole video, they just start the playlist. If they only want to watch that funny summer video, they can just watch that one. And the video is available on all of my devices, no need for a DVD.
  7. Dave Braine macrumors 68040

    Dave Braine

    Mar 19, 2008
    Warrington, UK
    As long as you want it to be.
    Whatever you want.
    As long as you want it.
  8. an-other macrumors 6502

    Aug 12, 2011
    Take the time you're willing to spend on the project, and multiply it by 8. You'll find you will become obsessed and want to make a change here or there, and each change will be a time sink.

    Accept you'll never be happy with the final product as you'll "just want to tweak one more thing." Even George Lucas put out multiple edits of the original Star Wars movie!
  9. redsnapper macrumors newbie

    Sep 29, 2009
    I try and do a video for each birthday looking back at the previous year. I'll cut it to a 3 minute pop song and include about 90 shots from the 600 or so video clips I've shot. I tend to make then all slow motion but use not other effects or transitions and only a little audio SOT / sync.

    I look for anything that makes me smile and slowly cut the material down to get the best of the best. It's harsh discarding so much stuff but the end video will get watched over and over again as its short and entertaining.
  10. filmbufs macrumors 6502


    Sep 8, 2012
    • Start with a plan and organize accordingly.
    • If you want a chronological progression of images to highlight the first year, you can always organize and rename your photos (eg: hospital1, baby1, baby2, mom1, etc, etc.) Otherwise you'll have to piece the puzzle of images together in the timeline. Or you can create random pictures at random times. It's all up to you.
    • Insert all of the photos you want to include into the project. You can always edit some out or add more later.
    • Add about three seconds of black at the beginning. Follow that with a nice, subtle title and then fade into the first image.
    • Add music. Select carefully, as the tempo and genre will create a mood.
    • Consider using the Ken Burns effect for added interest. Static pictures can get a little tiresome (for others) but can be nice to show an entire frame. Use good judgement.
    • Use various durations for your photos. 3 seconds works well for a lot of images, while you might want to linger on other images. 10 seconds doesn't seem like a long time but it is if the image isn't as compelling as you think it is.
    • I typically use a cross dissolve between most shots but a hard cut is nice too. Don't get fancy with the transitions. Use good judgement.
    • When possible, try to edit to the music beats. In your case, you might add a second or two to the duration of an image if it cuts to the beat. It's not necessary, of course, but when done right, it's seamless and polished.
    • If your video is longer than the first track of music, add a second track. This gives you an opportunity to change the mood again, etc, if needed. I typically fade out of the first and fade into the second unless the abrupt change is desired.
    • If you have any short video clips, feel free to insert them in a few places.
    • If necessary, or helpful, consider adding titles in a few places to help identify certain events. They might be clear to you but not to others. Don't overload the video with titles or special effects. Keep it simple, as it's all about the subject matter.
    • At the end of the video, fade out the music and fade to black on the image.
    • You have the option to create several shorter films or one long one. Or both. I burn my movies to dvd and have two different copies, the director's cut (ahem, the longer version) or a dvd with all the shorter movies that can be played either separately or in Play All mode, depending on the reception (or appreciation) of the viewers.
    • If you create a dvd, and you have short video clips, consider adding 'easter eggs' with the navigation, allowing a user to 'discover' the bonus video clips.
    • All of this is a fun process and the differences are in the details. Enjoy it!
  11. ChrisA, May 21, 2016
    Last edited: May 21, 2016

    ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California

    First take the time to learn film making. Just the very basics of how to edit. No, I don't mean how to use iMovie but how to select and assemble shots to make a scene. There are simple rules about "establishing shots" and "continuity of motion", the uses of "b-roll" footage and a few others. Like all rules you can violate them but you need a good artistic reason to do so. In other words learn just the basics of the craft.

    I'm in the exact same boat you are. My parents both passed away recently. I found in their house what must have been a wedding gift: A 16mm movie camera and also some few thousands of feet of processed film. Being the oldest child, born about a year after the marriage, guess who is the star in the found footage. Me. I get to make a movie (using FCP X) showing the first year or two of MY life. My dad apparently stopped using this camera when I was about 2 years old.

    Here is what I found so far: Any footage of YOUR kid is "great" and you will watch it even if the quality is poor and the child is not doing anything. This same footage is full-on boring to anyone else who is not related to the child as all babies basically look and act alike, but of course yours is special but only you see that.

    I'm half way there, I's not my kid and I can be more objective. I actually tend to like looking at the relatives who in the footage look younger than I could imagine. I can watch this because of my interest in the people. But to others it is just some very poorly shot old 16mm film with exposure errors, massive film grain, focus issues. But worse than poorly shot to others is that it is just "random" there is no story, no plot. It is a sports car race, someone throwing snow balls and then a baby playing with a dog. Just random events.

    So how to make my movie (and yours) interesting to others? Go back to 8th grade Language Arts class and remember what you were taught about writing fiction. You need to tell a story and all stories (until you become a really good writer) need to follow a formula: The character is put in a setting, The character has some problem and the reader (or viewer) does not know the outcome so the reader keeps reading to find out what happens. You have to create a story line or all you have is a collection of baby pictures that move that ONLY the parents and grandparents can stand to watch.

    My preliminary plan is to have a series of little stories. I also have LOTS of still photos and slides and negatives so I can mix these in with the motion pictures. My movie will tell a series of mini-stories but it will also tell a longer story about my parents. I will make it about them, a 1950's couple who happened to have a baby. It is a very classic story that just does not happen today, early 20's age working class couple marries and then two months later buys house in suburban Los Angeles complete with bright green lawn and red car in driveway. They attempt to do some other things, did it work? what happened. I'll make it their story and maybe ask why people can't do this any more by including the young couples grand kids (my kids) who today happen to be in the early 20's,

    But to tell any kind of story at all, first you have to learn the craft. I took a few film classes but it was just a hobby. I need to lean a lot to make this movie "work". A story that skips a generation is hard to pull off. and I will NOT allow myself to use dialog, only moving pictures as the old film is 16mm silent. OK, I might edit this to look like my kids are watching the movie you intend to make but my dad never did (he only shoot the footage). My kids can watch this movie like they do all movies, on the big 80" flat screen and then do tuff at the same time with this iPhones and tablets and push "pause" top walk away to do other things then watch some more later. I might allow incidental dialog to make the new footage seem modern but I will now push the story with dialog. Actually I've still got to figure out what story to tell and how and THAT is why I said I'm in the exact same boat you are.

    You should learn how to cut film, how to edit, BEFORE to shoot the first shot because an editor knows what shots he will need to make a believable scene. An editor will want establishing shots, maybe some subjective ones? and cut-ins unless he plans to make this a pure documentary. Shooting with an eye to the editing process is the way to go. But first you have to learn to edit. Make some really simple school project type 2 or 3 minute films first. Plot might be "my dog is lost and then I find it in unexpected place" Do that with no dialog. Make one film like that every couple weeks and you learn fast.

    If we both don't figure this out we will each have just a collection of footage that less then a half dozen people could stand to watch.
  12. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68040

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts
    Ah, the recommendations always get more detailed as the thread evolves...

    The thing is, there is not a "right" length for a clip. Our hearts beat at different rates at different times, based on our emotional and physical state - that will effect how each viewer perceives things. The pace of the action has its own effect, and music has tempo as well, so all these factors (and more) affect your perception of time. What seems right at one moment will seem wrong the next. What seems perfect when you're deeply, emotionally enmeshed in the creative process may seem "off" to a casual observer.

    An experienced editor/producer can approach this all as a fluid process, "feeling" duration, rather than rigidly measuring it. They're consciously aware of how music interacts with picture; how cutting to the downbeats feels differently than cutting to an off-beat, how being a bit ahead of the beat or behind the beat changes the impact of a transition (I was involved in film scoring for a fair number of years, so I'm particularly sensitive to that aspect of editorial technique). Then there are matters like the time it takes the eye to register a change of scene before the real action begins... a simple, bold image will establish more quickly than a complicated one. And so on. This is all advanced stuff, not the basics - but perhaps gives you a sense of how sophisticated this all can get.

    The real point is, when you get it "right" the technique fades into the background. When you get it wrong, it distracts the viewers' attention. If something "pulls" the eye or ear, it better be something that's deserving of that attention. That's a key difference between a beginner's effort and an expert's.

    Beginners are probably better off using tools like slideshows, where you can select all the images, and then select the fixed time for each shot. It may be a rigid tempo, but if the overall show seems to drag a bit, all you have to do is dial up the overall speed.

    Eventually, you may notice that, even though each shot/scene is on for the same length of time, some shots seem to deserve more time on screen, others less. Learn how to adjust this, because nothing is worse than an impatient viewer. Save time where you can, so that they're willing to spend time with you for the really good stuff.

    A good editor (of any kind) has to be a bit ruthless. You may wish a particular shot turned out better than it did, and may choose to leave it in because, subconsciously, you can imagine how it should have turned out. However, nobody else will have that perspective. If it doesn't "cut it," cut it!
  13. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California

    The above is spot-on. There are sound psychological reasons for this.

    Interestingly (to me at least) is when the movie camera was invented no one thought cuts would look good at all. So they made movies like a play and placed the camera in the audience location in a fixed tripod and shot the entire movie in one take. "Everyone" though that if you moved the camera and cut between say a wide shot and a close up it would totally confuse the viewer and make him feel as if he was being teleported around the stage which is totally unnatural and would be disorienting. They were correct. It would look horrible and be confusing if you did it wrong. But later film editors discovered some simple rules and if followed you don't even notice that the camera has jumped across the room between cuts. It has to do with the way human perception works. It turns out our eyes don't scan, they jump. We only see details in a small central part of the eye and it jumps to inspect points of interest. See the above quote about duration. Our eyes and brain needs time to process and if you get this wrong the movie is either boring or impossible to understand and the view loses interest in watching. Get it right and the viewer never takes his eyes off your movie as the cut simulate what his eye and brain could have done. I'm not an expert at this but I know the way to learn is to cut lots of film and then watch it over and over see check that is "flows" and if not re-cut it. Any decent beginner level editing book will cover this is detail. If you even skim such a book quickly you will know more than 99% of those who make home movies. Of if you don't like reading buy a $25/month subscription to

    The neat thing about iMovie and FCPX is that they are non-destructive. They don't change the input video files so you can move the cuts (in points and out points) around as many times as you like. This is MUCH better than when we had to make cement spices in the black frame lines of real film.

    Anyone here remember the "Moviola" machine for editing real film? I do and also remember writing software using punched cards. Glad those old days are gone.
  14. v3rlon macrumors 6502a

    Sep 19, 2014
    Earth (usually)
    How long should it be? 20 minutes or less. A few smaller movies will be better than one long one unless you have something really exceptional. Odds are, if your child is doing something interesting enough to warrant more than 20 minutes straight, it is something that will get people calling CPS on you. :/

    Try not to hover on any one shot (be it image or video) for more than 7 seconds. There will be exceptions, but try to cut to something before you get to 7. You can always come back to it. Less is okay, probably down to 3-4.

    Your video is not stable enough unless it is on a tripod. I can't tell you how many times I have looked at home movies and said "Would it kill you to move the camera a LITTLE slower, @#$%@#%!?" (knowing I was the camera man). If it is on a tripod, it is probably too stable and boring, so don't stay there long. Pan shots (SLOWLY - no, slower than that). Don't show zoom. Cut to something, then cut back, or just cut out the zoom if possible.

    If you plan on sharing or youtubing said video, consider carefully before using commercial music and exactly what music to use. The RIAA has proven to be real picky sometimes, and they don't care how cute your baby is (see dancing baby to Prince music lawsuit). Definitely use music though.

    What previous poster said about establishing shots (baby shower stuff, gender reveal shots maybe, outside, hospital - baby's first day... shots in hospital follow, "interview" family members about new baby (if baby not here yet), pictures of new baby in hospital, shot of home - baby at home (first bath, naked babies are always a smash success). and just build from there.

    Cut on music beats where possible.

    Match color where possible. It looks weird when the same person is multiple colors in adjacent shots. Find something neutral grey and use it. A grey card is cheap and easy.

    Stay mostly with cross dissolve and hard cuts for most work. The rest of those transitions should be used less than 1% of the time.

    For the first 3-5 months, there won't be a lot of action, assuming you're a decent parent. Babies spend a lot of this time just learning to sit up. Once they start moving, things get more entertaining. Pace accordingly.

    Realize that all the above is subjective, and that someone has won an Oscar breaking every one of the above rules.
  15. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    I edited out some words to place all your time suggestions together. Most of what you wrote is good but think about watching 20 minutes of random 3 to 7 second images. It would be like being blasted by a visual machine gun.

    3 to 7 second cuts work only if you are telling a story and the cuts flow together into a scene. Many viewers don't even notice this kind of editing. For example a scene of a baby playing with a dog might show the two in the same room then a close up of the baby's face looking at the dog and then the dog looking at the baby followed by a dozen other cuts and the viewers like the result as it tells a story. But 20 random quick cuts of dog and baby is torture.

    It might take a few hours to shoot those 20 shots. For example you catch them playing by accident and get what you can but later have to stage the close up shots of faces.

    About music copyrights. There are plenty of artists willing to share for free. google "
    Creative Commons Music" no quote.
    Or try your hand at creating something in Garage Band. You don't have to play, just assemble Apple Loops and use some generic chord progression like I-IV-V. It's just music-like sounds to fill in the space.
  16. v3rlon macrumors 6502a

    Sep 19, 2014
    Earth (usually)

    Completely random images maybe, but would watching 20 minutes of completely random images of any duration be a pleasant experience? At 10 seconds, they would be dragging long very soon. So even then you would need to compose a 'story' of sorts.

    20 minutes on a tripod will rob the life from your creation faster than a studio agent looking to make a quick buck.

    So you need some kind of story either way.

    Creative Commons is good as are your other music suggestions.
  17. smacrumon macrumors 68030


    Jan 15, 2016
    Congrats on using your Mac to do something really creative! Good luck with it all!
  18. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68040

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts


    Oh, yeah! Once you learn to drive a Moviola, there's no forgetting it. That lovely, green enamel finish, the noise, the potential violence it could do to the film stock, the loud thwack from dropping the audio head onto a mag stripe... My first coding efforts were written to punched paper tape, but by my Moviola days I'd graduated to mag cards (HP 41C programmable pocket calculator with a mag card reader) - I wrote a number of routines for converting things like 35mm feet and frames to SMTPE time code, and other bits useful for film scoring during the transition from film to video.
  19. edavt04 thread starter macrumors member

    May 12, 2016
    Great, thank you!! Any suggestions on a name of a video shooting course? Something on My goal is to know what scenes to include (and how to shoot them) so the viewer stays engaged.
    --- Post Merged, May 26, 2016 ---
    Thank you for ALL THESE AMAZING TIPS!!
  20. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68040

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts
    Sorry, I don't have a particular course(s) to recommend. Viewer engagement is mostly about storytelling. How to shoot is more about mechanics. I'd suggest looking for several courses - the chances that you'll find one really great course that does justice to both the specifics of working in iMovie and storytelling seem relatively small to me.

    I'm the kind of person who can apply lessons from one field to another - while there are plenty of specifics to telling stories in various media (literature, spoken word, dance, film/video, sound, painting/photography...), there are universal truths. You may do well to find a fabulous lecture or two on the art of storytelling - those kinds of lessons can be applied to whatever medium you work with. The exercise of, "How do I translate this lesson to that medium" is a great learning experience in its own right.

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19 May 15, 2016