Make a Kick Butt Home Movie- Tips on Content, Music, and Editing

I have a terrible memory.  One of the reasons I take photos of my kids virtually every day is because I use them as ways to recall the moments I don’t want to forget.  If it weren’t for my excessive iPhoto catalog I wouldn’t be able to remember some of our trips and adventures and only by seeing the photo can the memory return.  Medical problem?  Maybe.  I don’t know why this has happened to me when I used to remember everything but this is my new normal.

I really pride myself in being the family historian and think every family should have one.  I make sure we always bring the camera, always video what we should, and utilize both by making video montages of my children for every year of their life to look back.  I have several reasons for doing this:

  • I like to send the DVD’s to my family so that they can relive the year they missed because geographically we are far away.
  • I like to play the DVD at the birthday party (for the same reason)
  • I like reliving those moments while I make the video and it is a way to reminisce each year as I both mourn the fact that my child has grown so much and celebrate the child they are becoming.
  • My biggest motivation is to have a well made, well thought out video that my children will cherish as adults and that they can re-watch with their own children one day.  I have one home movie of myself as a baby.  That’s it.  I want my children to have so much more.

Over the years I have made several family videos using iMovie and their themes, or made my own from scratch.  Here are the ones I have online for your viewing pleasure so you can see my style and what your own could look like:

[box][highlight]Everett’s First Year [/highlight](a very edited and condensed version of the full 30 minute movie on DVD)
[highlight]Fletcher’s Second Year[/highlight]
[highlight]Fletcher’s Third Year[/highlight]
[highlight]Christmas Trailer 2011[/highlight]
[highlight]Christmas Morning Movie  2011[/highlight][/box]

This guide is for mostly people who use Macs and have iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD.  You can use many of these tips if you use a different movie editor including Windows Movie Maker, however the technical aspects will differ.  This post contains helpful images-click them to see their larger version if you need to.  In some cases I have also linked the moment I am referencing in a film so you can skip right to the segment rather than watch the whole thing.

[hr]The Photos

The biggest advice I can give you is to FLAG PICS OR CREATE A FOLDER IN iPHOTO OF YOUR FAVORITE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS ALL YEAR LONG. If you wait until the weeks leading up to the birthday you will be swimming in thousands of clips and photos to wade through (in a 12 month span I have 6,000+ images in my iPhoto library).  Like me, you might recall one particular photo you really wanted to include and search for hours on both computers and your phone only to never find it.

Decide what kind of movie you want to create- Chronological order, Themes, or Tell a Story.  An example of a themed movie would be organizing clips by milestones, holidays, or ideas (Best Friends, Holidays, Things They Said, Messes They Made, Quiet Times, Park Days).  I think themes make a nice video for older kids who aren’t changing by the weeks, whereas chronological order is best for the 0-1 Year olds.  For Fletcher’s 3rd video I was speaking to him and recounting his year.  Clips and photos fit into these lines such as “You learned shapes, numbers, and your ABC’s” and “You make friends wherever you go.”

I’ve recently added photography to my hobby list.  I have a tradition of taking birthday photos of the kids (Ev poses next to Pumpkins in the shape of a number for his age, Fletcher next to leaves making the shape of his age) and I’m excited to see how my studying (I mostly use Clickin’ Moms forums) will affect my photos (and thus, movies) for next year.

Once you have an inkling of what kind of clips and photos you’d like to include then you can start saving these in a folder or flag them to go through.  Lightroom users can also utilize keywords to better catalog photos.

For me I like to include certain types of photos in my videos regardless of the style I’m going for- sleeping pictures, messy pictures (showing kids in the real messes they create), crazy outfits (when kids or dads choose- always funny), sick pictures (when they are sick and pitiful), with family (since we don’t see them often these are cherished and it will be special to look back on for them to see the people who loved them), a photo from each holiday, outdoor fun, bubbles and splashing photos, birthday number photos, and travel.)


Watch Me in Action

I made a 9 minute video showing the very basic features of iMovie and put together a short video.  This should really give you a good idea of the layout inside iMovie.  Also keep reading for more diagrams in the post.

Drag and Drop- Getting started couldn’t be more simple.  In iMovie begin dragging and dropping each item you want in the video onto the timeline.  I have a long video showing this in action but you can see the iMovie interface below.  There are lots more editing tips so keep reading too.

Get Wide– For videos landscape photos (those that are fit the whole screen) are best so keep this in mind when taking photos and choosing.  Even if a portrait photo is best for the situation I always try to throw in a landscape that I might be able to use in the video.

Polish it up- For added drama and a more polished look consider adding the Ken Burns effect which will make the photo slowly pan in or out.  This is a cropping feature.

 The Videos

When I made my first birthday slide-show for Fletcher to document his first year of life I was using Windows Movie Maker.  It was 30 minutes of pictures with no music or videos.  Oh how much I have learned in 3 years!  Videos make the movie.  As much as I love including my favorite photos in my movies the videos give life to the whole thing.

Most of us rely on our smart phones as our camcorders.  I am guilty of this.  The good news is that we can capture special moments anywhere, anytime because we keep our phones on us most of the day.  The bad news is that the quality isn’t so great, especially when you are watching on a 60″ TV.  But we have to embrace what we have!

Make sure you are backing up your iPhone videos to your computer and again on another backup.  If your phone gets lost you lose ALL of your videos and this is something no one wants.  Once your videos are uploaded on your computer you can again organize your videos.  In my iPhoto I have what is called a “Smart Album” that automatically puts all of my videos inside.  This is easier to then go through this album and choose what clips I want to include.

Please use your iPhone to video in landscape!  

Must include- Good types of videos to include would be those that represent milestones, park days, animal interactions, eating food (and making a mess), those “caught in the act” videos, holidays (unwrapping gifts, excited faces!), water play, tender moments with family, and for older kids who talk get them on camera saying their first words or funny phrases.

Be a cut throat editor-  I’m so guilty of thinking everything I caught on film deserves to make the cut.  It is only after realizing that I’ve made a 2 hour long film that I cut it down.  That 5 minute clip of your child crawling?  Cut it down to 30 seconds or even less.  Trust me– those are enough to convey that yes your child learned to crawl.  We live in the YouTube age where more than 5 seconds is too long.  If you are tempted to put an entire clip in because the first part and last part are really good remember you can splice your clips together, cutting out the “fat” and leaving the best parts.  You can still watch the full videos when you want but this video should just be a glimpse of all that your child did in a year.

Polish it up with effects and timing- Fast forward is also a tool you can use (sparingly) when you want to use more footage but it is far too long.  Or add slow motion to add some drama.  I did this to the end of Fletcher’s 3rd Video of him chasing seagulls.  Now I think I may have overdone it (in conjunction with a fade to white effect) and it kinda seems like he died.  Still, it was a nice idea and a lesson learned.

Make it flow- Edit your video to have a few photos in between each clip and organize so that they go with the photos in theme or topic if you can.

To work with some videos you will need to drag the movie clip into an Event in iMovie.  This is the most time consuming drudgery so having all the videos you want to include ready in a folder will make this easier (if they aren’t housed in iPhoto videos).  Choose a time and select all the videos and drop them in or upload them directly from your camera into iMovie.  Watch a show or sleep while this all processes.

The Music

Videos make a movie more interesting but MUSIC is the heart and soul of a good video.  I’ve left music out of videos before and now I kick myself for it.  Last year for Everett and Fletcher’s videos for their 1st and 3rd birthdays I spent more time finding music to match the videos than anything else and it paid off.

Because I make these primarily to be a time capsule for my boys to watch later I like to include popular songs of the year.  Am I a huge fan of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know it?”  Not really.  But it was topping the charts and it did fit a montage of the wacky outfits Fletcher wore so I used it.  In twenty years we are all going to have a good laugh at the song.

Find Good Music- Some resources I used to locate good music included Spotify Playlists and NPR Music’s Best of (insert year here).  I admit that I am not up to date on current music and filling a video with Smashing Pumpkins just won’t do.  I found an amazing song by Jonsi (singer of Sigur Ros) thanks to NPR for the intro to Everett’s first movie and love how it all fit together.  You can add a favorite song you think might work to a playlist in Spotify and re-visit your list later.  I would play a song in Spotify while my video was playing where I thought it would work best.  If it did in fact work I went into iTunes and purchased it.  iTunes is integrated into iMovie and you can easily drag and drop the song into your video.  (see the first and second images for locations of music in iMovie and in your timeline)

Spotify Playlist for Everett's 1st Birthday

Timing, Timing, Timing- Another way to make a more professional video is to match your music’s timing or wording to your video.  This one is tricky and I certainly don’t follow this rule all of the time.  Sometimes I lucked into it.  An example would be a song’s lyric’s saying “I can tell that we are gonna be friends” during a video of Fletcher playing with his best friend.  It makes me teary eyed every time.  Music is such a powerful transporter and can bring out emotions we weren’t expecting.

In the beginning of Fletcher’s 3rd Birthday video I used the beat as a marker for a new photo.  Each time the the guitar string was plucked I timed a photo to begin.  When the entire section was finished I was amazed at what a difference this little technique had on the overall feel and look of the video.

Another fun way to add a lot of depth to the video is to tie in a video or photo with a particular moment of a song.  My favorite use of this in my own videos was the very last note of “Shut up and let me go.”  I just happened to have a 5 second clip of Fletcher blowing a pouch of food out of his mouth.  I added this to the last note so that the “HEY” matched this moment and it worked out awesome.

I can’t emphasize enough how these little touches make an OK video into an AMAZING one.  I spent many extra hours rearranging, cutting, and finding a photo or clip to match a song, or a song to match a clip.  I have been editing videos in iMovie for years so I know I’m a little more advanced than most users but the interface is simple to use and with enough practice you can learn your way around iMovie enough to start getting more advanced too.

Themes, Transitions, and Text

iMovie comes with a small number of Themes.  I can’t take credit for the cool effects often found in my personal videos of my family.  I’ve used many of the default themes included and this makes compiling a polished home movie much easier.  Do I care that a million others have a videos that look similar?  Not really when they are for my own personal use.

Above you see the themes in my version of iMovie.  My biggest complaint with this software is that they do not have any options for getting more themes, something found in an older version of iMovie.  You can recycle through these but if you want more you need to upgrade to Final Cut Pro.  I have only once found a good use for the other option, Move Trailers, and while I think it turned out adorable I don’t see myself using it for many other projects.

Themes will automatically insert transitions and title pages into your project as you drag and drop your photos and videos into your timeline.  It isn’t perfect so don’t be afraid to change out these with others.  If you don’t like the theme’s transitions consider using the ever popular “cross dissolve” effect or play around with the myriad of other transitions like page turning, mosaic, swipe in/out, etc.

Titles and Text- iMovie comes with limited (in my opinion) ways of adding fun text to movies.  The themes have a few more styles but overall you get simple Centered, Upper, and Lower text options and a few “fancy” onces that are pretty corny.  I’ve started using Motion to get more custom titles and text but that is nothing you need to bother with, however it is a cool program!  FYI- I used a combination of Motion and Final Cut Pro to edit some minor segments of my movies to achieve a desired look not possible in iMovie.

Use Title Pages with blank colored backgrounds or add the title onto video or photos to start a new segment in the film.  Add captions to the movie to describe an event.  One feature in the title options I do use and love is the Date/Time stamp– a classier looking option than the old school red stamp of traditional camcorders.  Utilizing your phone/camera’s internal exif data this will automatically put in the time and date for you (so make sure your settings are accurate).  I found this useful in my Christmas videos I made in 2010 and 2011 because I liked documenting how insanely long it took to open presents.  If my kids ever complain about not having a great Christmas mornings I have evidence to the contrary.  This would also be rad (and useful) in a birth video.

Burn, Baby, Burn- I mentioned before that I do these videos to share my children’s lives with the family that doesn’t get to be an active part of it.  Grandma and Grandpa aren’t hip to YouTube but they are alright with inserting and playing a DVD.  I use iDVD to burn copies for the family and a hard copy for our own library.  iDVD is even easier than iMovie and takes just minutes to make a cute Menu.  You can include multiple videos in one DVD and just like a real DVD you can add chapters.  I add a song from my movie and a favorite photo to the menu.

[hr]I absolutely cherish my children’s videos.  I may have made Fletcher’s 2nd and 3rd videos the same month (hey- the month before Fletcher turned 2 I had just given birth to my second baby, I have a good excuse) but they got done.  I don’t scrapbook, I rarely print my photos, and the kids have bare-bones baby books but they both have kick butt videos full of the best memories of each year of their lives.  Video editing is a hobby for me and iMovie is a supremely easy and intuitive movie editing software.  It may seem overwhelming now, especially if you have never used it before, but using this guide and finding others will help you navigate the waters.  You’ll find your first movie to be good, but your second better, and your third, fourth, fifth, etc even better.  Try not to beat yourself up over that first video because it was a stepping stone and a learning experience.  Your kids will love them regardless of how good or bad the editing is.  I know Fletcher LOVES watching his movies!

If you found this guide helpful please share it!  If you have specific questions ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.  

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