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The case of the iMovie export to USB

Today I had a case with iMovie with exporting to a USB stick, Apple’s Movie editing software. Now and then I find interesting cases that might make a good blog post! While I am always going to make sure that I avoid giving any personal information about the clients I will explain what happened and how I fixed the issue.

Imovie Not exporting To a USB stick

I used to be part of the AppleCare department that dealt with iMovie issues. I also taught how to use iMovie at the Bondi Apple Store. So I can happily say there is not a lot about iMovie that I do know (Or know where to find a solution)

The Customer came in with an iMovie project they wanted to be exported to a USB stick. The idea was to have the movie ready to be displayed on a projector for a big party later on today.

The Problem was that the movie never seemed to export the movie onto the stick.

Movies will always take a long time to export

One of the problems with being in an instant world is that when something is not instant we assume there is something wrong. iMovie (Or any Movie editing software) is one of those programs that will always take a long time to do its job.

When you watch an iMovie project in the editor it is important to know that what you are looking at is the references to the parts of the video that iMovie has imported. This means that the movie you edited has not actually been chopped up yet. The video is just plays the timecodes of the video That you have selected and instantly skips the rest of the movie to reach the next clip.

So when you export iMovie, What you are doing is telling iMovie to take all those clips and stitch them together into one file. This is going to take time.

The Higher the Quality the longer it will take.

Movies are the Blue whale of files.. They are HUGE!! This means that if you have a high-quality movie it will use more data. The longer the video and the higher the quality the longer it will take the software to stitch everything together.

Moving files

Moving files to any form of storage will take time. Something to consider is that USB sticks are not known for their speed when moving large files. Most of the time people are moving tiny Word documents and images on a USB stick. Moving a movie is a whole different beast … and I mean a beast

iMovie Export,
Photo by Martin Lopez on

When Moving a file to a USB stick it will always take time.. but when you mix that with trying to export iMovie Directly to the USB stick …. WOW you have some time on your hands.

So what was the problem with iMovie?

The problem with iMovie is that the only indication that there was any activity at all was this tiny circle that would slowly fill up in the top right hand corner of the iMovie window.

Anyone who does not use imovie very often would assume that the Movie was not exporting. Combined with the fact that the exporting directly to the USB would increase the time (By a lot) It is very understandable to think there was something wrong with the export process.

What a lot of people do not know is that iMoive is good at letting you know if there is something wrong. Not very good at letting yoiu know that it is still working on its processes.

Imovie Export solution

The solution was to break the process into two steps. Not so much for the software but so it was eaiser to undestand where it was in the process. Honestly without testing I can’t tell if it would be any faster.

  1. Export the movie to the desktop. We chose this because It would be obvious of when it was finished because the file could be seen. Exporting to the desktop also means we can easly find the file and throw it away (Imovie still has the master copy)
  2. Move to the USB stick. The point of this was the file transfer has a better way of displaying the progress.

I don’t blame them for thinking it did not work

To be very clear I do not think that the client was wrong in thinking there was something wrong with iMovie. I would do the same. I think that the folks at Apple should consider a better way of letting people know the status of the process.

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