Okay, so here's some tips for using Windows Movie Maker for those of you who may be starting out and that's all you've got to work with. WMM is actually deceptively useful, and you can make some really cool videos with it! I started out using WMM, and some of my favorite videos are still the ones I made with it. On the downside, it can be a bit finicky and frustrating at times, but I have figured out a few tricks that help circumvent those trials.
Before we get into the tips, I want to say that I would highly recommend using the Vista or XP version of WMM (simply titled "Windows Movie Maker" instead of the new Windows 7 version (called "Windows Live Movie Maker"). I haven't used the new one much, but from what I've experienced, it's much clunkier and harder to use than the older version, so I would go with that one, and these tips will focus on that one.
1.) Break your Episodes Down into Shorter Clips You Want to Use
I had a lot of struggles with my footage at first while using WMM. It may be because my computer at the time did not have tons of RAM, but I think it's more because WMM isn't built to handle big HD video files. The program gets quite gummed up and laggy if you try to work with whole episodes. It also won't open MP4 files, which are the files I prefer to download and use. So... what to do? Well I found a nifty program called Any Video Converter, which you can find here: http://www.any-video-converter.com/produ...ideo_free/
Now you can dump whole MLP episodes into that program, choose .wmv as your output file type, and then, in the settings options in the lower right region of the program, set the frame size to "original", and then set the start and stop time to about 5-10 seconds before and after the clip you want to use. (you have to watch the episodes beforehand to figure out where the clips are you want to use.) Now you have a nice abbreviated .wmv file to throw into WMM, and it keeps the program running much smoother. It takes more time to convert your clips one at a time like this, but it actually likely saves time in that it's better than having a completely dysfunctional WMM that won't ever let you finish editing your video. If you have a faster computer, you may want to first try just converting the entire episodes into .wmv and see if they gum up the program, but converting shorter clips with Any Video Converter was the method I found that worked the best for me.
2.) The "Minute to Win It" Render Rule
Another thing I discovered about using WMM is that even with your source footage broken down into 10-20 second clips, the program can still get really laggy once you get about a minute's worth of clips compiled. Perhaps that's also due to my lower CPU specs, but chances are that it's just because, again, WMM is really built more for slideshows and simple home videos than detailed, clip-heavy compilations like we're making. Sometimes the program will just crash altogether if you get too far past a minute into your video, especially if you're trying to use a number of effects and transitions.
The way I found to get around this is to render your video (without the music) as soon as you hit about a minute into its total length. Once you render this minute-long video, save your project (named something like "My PMV part 1") and start a NEW project, which you'll name something like "My PMV part 2". Dump your silent, minute-long piece of footage into the new project, put your music back underneath it, and just start editing your second minute of video from there. If you decide to go back and change something in that first chunk of rendered footage, you can reopen your older "part 1" project, make the changes, re-render that minute, and replace the old chunk with the new chunk in your part 2 project. Once you hit minute 2, render BOTH the old chunk and the new footage together into one 2-minute video, save, start a new "part 3" project, and dump your two-minute clip in there. Repeat this process as often as necessary until you're done. It's complicated, but it ended up saving me more headaches than it created, because without this method, WMM becomes essentially useless after you're about 1
0 into your project.
3.) Basic WMM Editing Tips
A lot of the following editing tips may serve you better by just experimenting with the program yourself and figuring out what works for you, but here's a few of my tips for editing with WMM.
A) Use the Timeline.
There are two editing modes in WMM, Timeline mode, and Storyboard mode. Use the Timeline mode. It's infinitely better. (This is the reason I don't recommend using the new Windows Live Movie Maker; it only lets you use Storyboard mode, which sucks). Using the Timeline will allow you to be much more precise with the length of your clips, transitions, etc. It makes it easier to match the footage to the beats of the music, too. You have a different track for your video, your audio, and your text, and each one can be manipulated separately.
B) Effects and transitions
To be blunt, most of the effects in WMM are terrible. But there are a few that you can use to subtle and good effect. The speed up and slow down effects are very useful, especially for lip-syncing. You can split a clip with mouth movements into smaller clips, and then speed up or slow down individual pieces to change the timing of the mouth-movements to better fit the lyrics. Or you can speed up a clip with slower movement to give it a snappier and more energetic feel. The other effects I made a lot of use of are the fade in and out from black/white effects. Doing a quick fade out followed by a cut to a scene can really give your footage a cool rhythmic snap. Pretty much all of the other effects I would recommend avoiding, because most of them are just canned and make your video look more like a cheesy slideshow that your friend's mom put together.
There's a bit more freedom with transitions, but I would mainly stick to the basic dissolve. Again, many of the others just look dumb.
C) Muting or adding extra audio to your video
You may notice that when you add your MLP footage in over your music, the audio from the show still plays. What you need to do is click that little + symbol next to "Video" on the left side of the timeline. This will break up your video track into a video and audio track. Now you can right-click on the audio and choose mute. You can also do an audio fade, or change the audio's volume this way.
But what if you want to add extra audio into your video? It's not too often, but what if you want to add in sound effects or some other audio from the show or elsewhere? WMM only offers one audio track in addition to your conjoined video+audio track. It gets a bit complicated, but what you may have to do is just open a new WMM project, and dump in only that clip that you want to add the audio to. Just drop the extra audio under your clip (without the music, of course), and then render that clip with the extra audio into a new video file. Then go back to your original project and replace the clip with your new one with the audio added in. Now your extra audio will already be a part of your video+audio track, and you can just keep your song on its track, intact.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of little tricks similar to these, and other ways to get around WMM's limitations. Those are the only ones I can remember right now (it has been a while since I've used it myself), but I'd encourage you to experiment and find your own methods and tricks that work. There are a lot of basic WMM tutorials out there, too, that can help you get started and teach you some other tips and tricks.
Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!