Unlocking Your Inner Movie Director (and Editor)

Home movies are increasingly being filmed on the smart phone. Here is how to do it using iMovie, from Apple.

Making and showing home movies used to require clunky cameras and film projectors, or at least a VCR. Wrangling friends and family to sit down on the couch and watch them was often the easy part.

Increasingly, home movies are being shot with smartphones instead of video cameras or point-and-shoot and D.S.L.R. cameras. And the sharing can happen in many ways, including social media sites and YouTube, as well as televisions.

Shooting video with a smartphone is usually a breeze, as is displaying it for others. But editing all that raw video remains crucial, a key to creating something that people want to watch.

“It’s chaos. We capture so much but there’s very little self-organization,” says Mok Oh, an app developer in Silicon Valley whose company, Moju Labs, is building an app that uses machine intelligence to edit your photos and video for you.

Here are a few suggestions for how to begin making good home movies on your smartphone.

Getting Started

The difference between good video and poor video often comes down to stability and lighting. While hand-held video on your smartphone is fine for many situations, often it is too shaky, which can lead to distracting, unusable footage.

Since full-size tripods are often too large to lug around, consider a pocket tripod instead.

One good option is the GorillaPod by Joby. It is lightweight and extremely flexible, and it fits nicely into a pocket or camera bag and can be mounted almost anywhere. The GorillaPod’s three spider-like legs can even wrap around a pole or a rail, allowing for a stable shot.

Keep your subject facing toward the available light to avoid the person appearing as a shadow. And make use of natural light. In a room, move the subject close to the window and use natural light on the subject.

Audio and More

Once you have set up your shot, be sure the subject is close enough to the camera to be heard.

If you want to get serious about good audio, consider using the Rode smart-
Lav ($60), a small clip-on microphone that is compatible with most iPhones as well as Android phones like the Nexus and Galaxy.

After shooting the interview or main focus of the video, take some time to film scenes or objects around you. In the TV world, this footage is called b-roll, and is used to illustrate a scene. Don’t forget the 10-second rule: try to capture the scene or object for at least 10 seconds. That will give you plenty of material that can be used later in your movie.

There are generally four types of shots: wide, medium, close-up and extreme close-up. The type of shot you choose will depend on the scene you are filming, but wide shots are typically used to capture scenes or landscapes and close-ups are for interviews or to capture specific details like objects or faces.

A good rule of thumb is to shoot a scene wide and then find the most interesting element of the scene and home in on it.


Also, vary your angles. Shoot from above or below a subject, keeping in mind that most people look better when shot from above than below.

Shooting good video is only one step in the making of a good home movie. The editing of the video can be just as important — if not more important.

The Video Apps

While there is a good selection of new video apps for smartphones, keep in mind that even the best of them lack the functionality of a robust editing suite like Final Cut Pro or Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

Among the simplest apps to use, Viddy allows you to string together a series of clips and then apply a dozen or so retro filters and add preselected music. The results can be fine if you accept the free app’s limitations (you are limited to 30 seconds), but it can be restrictive if you are more ambitious about your movie.

YouTube recently released Capture, a free app that allows you to film as long as you like and to assemble the pieces into a single video. You can upload the video directly to YouTube or to social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

You can shoot directly into the Capture app or select from your clip library, but the editing functionality is limited. The app lets you add music and even provides some songs inside the app. But if you want to use anything from the iTunes store, you are most likely out of luck because most music bought there is copy-protected.

If you want to get a more ambitious app, Directr, also free, comes with a nifty storyboarding feature — a way to organize a movie — that walks you through the creation of shots as you assemble your movie, suggesting scenes and angles. The built-in timer tells you exactly how long each shot should be, which can be a blessing or a pain. The interface is easy to follow. You can add preset music or delve into your iTunes library for a song that fits your mood.

But few apps beat Apple’s iMovie 2.0 for smartphone editing. Recently revamped for iOS 7 and bundled into the iLife suite of apps, it is also free with a new iPhone or iPad. (It is not available for Android devices.) The simplified interface of the new iMovie is a significant improvement over its predecessor, which could at times be unwieldy and confusing.

With iMovie you can choose clips you already have or shoot video directly into the app. A selection of 14 movie genre templates, including Bollywood, indie and romance themes, lets you turn your project into a film trailer of about a minute in length. While these can be cheesy at times, they can also be addicting.

Aligning clips on the timeline and editing them down is easy, but it takes some practice, especially for those with big fingers.

Options for basic transitions help smooth jumps from clip to clip. You can stack clips so that the lovely b-roll you filmed can go over someone’s narration of a moment, or you can put together two shots as a picture-in-picture or split screen. You can also add your own voice-over to narrate a shot.

The moviemaking capabilities of iMovie are impressive, but it does have its limitations.

You can only select from the theme templates offered, which can feel restricting. Like Capture, there are several preselected tunes that come with each theme. Again, it would be great if you could instead use music from your iTunes library.

Once you’re done, you can save the movie to your camera roll or upload to sites like YouTube, Vimeo or Facebook.

Whatever app you choose, remember to keep the audience in mind. But half the fun is practicing and trying new things to create your home movie masterpiece.

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