Windows Movie Maker

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Editing video on your PC is simple. In our last How-To, “How-To: Create Video Using Your Digital Camera“, we started by taking video clips and saving them to our computer.

Sample Movie

Years ago, video editing was costly — if for no other reason than the software (Adobe Premier is still almost $900.). Obviously, our “free” alternatives may not do all that a professional video editing package will do, but I can’t think of any features missing from Microsoft’s Windows Movie Maker, which is already included with Windows XP and Windows ME. (Sorry, Mac users! If pressed, perhaps we’ll review some web-based video editing solutions such as those offered by StashSpace, VideoEgg, Veotag and the like in future posts.)

For the purpose of this exercise, we won’t create a full-length video of a home, but will take a few clips and show you how to put them together. In our next How-To segment, we’ll discuss converting this video into a web-ready product.

Step 1. Open Windows Movie Maker. Click START, then ALL PROGRAMS, then ACCESSORIES, and select Windows Movie Maker. (Again, this is for Windows XP and ME only.)

Let’s familiarize ourselves with Movie Maker before we hit Step 2. There are four sections to the interface:

1. Movie Tasks
2. Collections
3. Preview
4. Storyboard/Timeline

The “Tasks” pane is where you’ll start for each task: importing video, importing audio, etc.

The “Collections” pane is where your movie clips, transitions (effects that “stitch” together your clips), and video effects are displayed.

The “Preview” pane is self-explanatory; here, you can monitor the progress of your video.

Finally, the “Storyboard” and “Timeline” pane provides two views of the video clips:

In “Storyboard” mode, your video clips are displayed as a picture with a transition box between each clip. This mode is easy to use and allows for quick editing, but you’ll likely need to enter the timeline mode in order to add audio and adjust your overlays (we’ll explain these later).

In “Timeline” mode, your video clips are displayed as a bar which represents their playlength on a time scale. The timeline has a number of layers: Video, Transition, Audio, Audio/Music, and Title Overlay. These layers allow you to adjust the start and stop times for your clips, and align the text and audio/music which will accompany the video.

Don’t be discouraged by these panes, modes, and layers — once you begin using the software, you’ll get the hang of it. Let’s proceed.

Step 2. Import your video. In the “Task” pane, ensure that the “Capture Video” option is expanded by clicking the down-arrow that’s just to the right of the text. (If there’s an up-arrow here it’s already expanded. Click it a few times to see how it expands and contracts the menu.)

Under “Capture Video” you’ll find a link titled “Import video”. Click this link. In the window that opens, you’ll find and select (single-click) one of your video clips. But, before clicking the “Import” button, make sure that “Create clips for video files” is UNCHECKED. Once that’s done, click the “Import” button.

You’ll notice that the “Collections” pane now shows your video clip. Before we do anything with it, however, repeat this step until all of your video clips are in the “Collections” pane.

Step 3. Storyboard your video. Remembering that consistency improves efficiency and quality-control, let’s start by writing down the order in which we’ll display most of our homes’ interiors and exteriors in this and subsequent videos. You may choose to storyboard your video like so:

  • Start by panning front of home and front yard
  • Pan rear of home and back yard
  • Pan major exterior amenities: swimming pool, golf course, etc.
  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Living Room
  • Master Bedroom
  • Master Bathroom
  • Remaining Bedroom(s) and Bathroom(s)
  • End with front of home

Of course, this is just an example, but if you set a standard for how you create these videos, you’ll find that not only will the process of videoing the homes get easier, but also the editing process will always be same — including the narration you’ll provide for each home.

In Movie Maker, make sure that the “Storyboard” pane is selected. Just under the “Movie Tasks” and “Collections” panes are a number of small icons followed by an icon labelled “Show Timeline” or “Show Storyboard”. )You can also change this by clicking “View” at the very top of the screen.)

Now, using your written order from above, drag the first video clip into the first storyboard slot. Drag each subsequent clip into it’s slot on the storyboard. If you mess up, you can right-click on any storyboard item and select “Delete” to remove it from the storyboard. (Don’t worry — this won’t delete it from your Collection.) If you have a clip that you want in the video twice, simply drag it to another slot.


When done, let’s pause for the next steb by saving our progress. ALWAYS save your work: Click “File” on the top menu, click “Save Project As…”, select a location, and enter a description of this project (I’d recommend a filename that includes the street address.).

…and everyone likes to take a peek at things before they’re done. On the top menu, select “Play” and click “Play Storyboard”. (This storyboard play button is also a small icon right above the storyboard, itself.) This will show you a preview of your storyboard, without any transitions or the final audio.


Step 4. Apply transitions. Now that we have our video in place, it’s time to make seamless transitions from clip-to-clip by adding effects such as fades on our storyboard.

Expand the “Edit Movie” menu under the “Movie Tasks” pane and select “View video transitions”. You’ll notice the list of transitions are now displayed, just like your video clips were, in the “Collections” pane. For the sake of simplicity, let’s scroll down in the transitions list until we come to the transition titled “Fade”. Drag this transition onto each small slot that exists between two video clip slots. When done, preview your storyboard again by clicking “Play Storyboard” under the “Play” menu up top.

If you like, you can use different transitions between clips — but remember that a professional-looking video will only have one or two types (and they’ll typically just fade between clips). In my opinion, some of the transitions are tacky, and many of them are designed for fun, personal videos…

(Don’t forget to save, again!)

At this point, your video is lacking overlays and a narration. Overlays are simply a text flourish that, in our case, will show the house address and price. Since I prefer to add narration to finished video, we’ll add this text now.

Step 5. Add accompanying text. There are a lot of neat “titles and credits” options that you can add to your video. For our example, we’re going to stick with a simple professional-looking banner for our text. You can play with others and find one that suits you.

Although text can’t be inserted into a slot on the storyboard, you can easily place it where you like without having to switch to the timeline view. (In the timeline view you can place text at any time-location that you want, for as long as you want.)

To add a simple text banner that displays during the first clip (e.g. the front of the house), let’s start by highlighting (left-click) the first clip in the storyboard. Now, select “Make titles or credits” from the “Edit Movie” menu under the “Movie Tasks” pane.

Here you’re presented with the options to add your text to the beginning or end of the movie, in front of or after the selected clip, or on the selected clip. In our case, we’ll select “Add title on the selected clip on the storyboard.”

Next, let’s choose the actual type of “title” by selecting “Change the title animation”. In this list, scroll to, and select “News Banner — Banner fades in and out (overlay)” near the top of the list. The preview will show what the banner looks like over an example picture.

Finally, we’ll edit the text. Click “Edit the title text”, and you’ll see a blank box with a flashing cursor. For our home, we’ll enter:

123 Brook Ln – $1,300,000

(There are character limitations with some of the title types! Make sure you check the preview to see if yours fits. If it doesn’t, shorten your text or choose another title animation, such as a two-line animation.)

If you want, select “Change the text font and color” to customize it a bit.

Save and preview; we’re almost done!


Step 6. Narrate. Before you actually narrate the video, grab a pen and paper and, using your storyboard notes from Step 3, write and speak your intended message while watching the video several times. This will prepare you for the length of the message you’ll be able to speak in the given time for each clip/transition so that you’re not fumbling about while recording.

A single-take recording will save you a heck-of-a-lot of time! It’s not necessary, however. You can have multiple audio “clips” inside of Movie Maker, but it will require that you record and align them in timeline view.
Once you’re sure that your speach will fit with the video transitions and overall length, let’s finalize this video! (Oh, we’re assuming you have a microphone and know where to plug it in and set the volume. Movie Maker has a few options to assit with the volume settings, but nothing fancy. If you have a laptop, its almost guaranteed to have a built-in, hidden microphone.)

Since its best to narrate the video and not use audio that may have been recorded by our camera, we’ll first tell Movie Maker to only use audio from our narration by clicking “Tools” on the top menu and choosing “Audio Levels”. A small pop-up window with a slider is displayed; drag this to the far right, “Audio/Music”, and our audio source will only be the narration. (Click the small “x” in the top-right corner of this popup for it to go away.)

Click “Tools” on the top menu, again, and choose “Narrate Timeline…”. (Both of these audio options are also displayed as small icons right above the storyboard window.) Expect to see an alert pop-up that tells us that the view has been switched to “Timeline” from “Storyboard”. Click OK.

You will see a “Input Level” meter that should fluctuate if you speak into your microphone. If it doesn’t, you likely have sound-setting issues with your computer and will need to resolve this before starting. Look under “Show more options” to be sure that your “Audio input source” is “Microphone”. While you’re here, check “Mute speakers” so we don’t get feedback.

After a sip of water and a relaxed breath, you can click the “Start Narration” button. The system records you and simultaneously plays the video, enabling you to make sure you’re on cue.

When you’re done, click “Stop Narration”. Movie Maker will want to save your audio — name it a similar filename to the video project and hit “Save”.

Your audio is saved and placed on the Audio/Music layer of the Timeline view.

Preview and save your project. You’re done!

Step 7. Save your movie. There are two types of files created by Movie Maker: Project Files, and Video Files. All along, we’ve been saving our project file, which contains all of the video clips, audio, and narration. This file is useful because it’s the “raw data” of the final product; we can always go back to it and modify a piece of our video without re-creating the entire thing. (Such as changing the price, for example.) Now that your project is complete, however, we need to save the video in a format that’s readable by other computers’ Windows Media Player program. To do this, simply click “File” from the top menu and select “Save Movie File…”. Select “My computer “. Enter a filename and select the folder you wish to save to, then click “Next”.
Now, click “Show more choices…”. Select the radio button beside “Other settings”. Where is this movie going? The destination will determine what size/compression you want to pick. For videos destined for your web site, I’d start with the “Video for LAN (768kbps)” setting, which is 640×480. For videos destined for a CD, choose “High-quality video (NTSC)” which is 720×480.

Did I miss anything? Drop me a comment, if so… I hope this helps!