How to use Windows Movie Maker

Master Microsoft's most popular video editor

How to use Windows Movie Maker

Microsoft is apparently working on a new version of Windows Movie Maker for release in 2017. That’s great: it’s a brilliant program that hasn’t been updated in four years. It remains one of the easiest ways to edit video on a PC, and unlike many other free apps it doesn’t blast you with ads or otherwise annoy you.

As we’ll discover in this tutorial, Windows Movie Maker is fun and surprisingly powerful. If you think you might be the next Steven Spielberg or just want to get rid of the embarrassing bits from your home movies, here’s how to get started.

Download here: Windows Movie Maker

Unlike some video editors, Windows Movie Maker doesn't confuse you with a complex multi-track editor. Things are kept as simple as possible with an intuitive interface

1. Start it up

The Windows Movie Maker interface is very simple, as you can see here. The big black box is where you preview your images or video clips, the wide panel at the bottom is where you create your masterpiece by adding media, special effects, transition effects and titles, and the blank space in the middle is where you’ll see any media files that you’ve imported. We’re starting with a blank Windows Movie Maker project here so the first step is to click on Videos in the Import section. You can choose between videos, pictures or audio files, or you can connect a video camera.

Windows Movie Maker supports most common video file formats, but not all. If you need to convert a file before you import it, try Freemake Video Converter

2. Prepare your videos

One area where Windows Movie Maker hasn’t kept up with the crowd is in its support for popular video file formats. If like us you use an iPhone as a video camera, you’ll find that Windows Movie Maker doesn’t like the MOV files Apple devices create. Not to worry: free apps such as Freemake Video Converter can do the conversion to AVI for you, although free products tend to add watermarks or splash screens to the converted video. Freemake does the latter, but that’s okay – we can take the splash screen off again very easily.

Windows Movie Maker lets you preview your imported clips before using them

3. Add clips

You can add your video clips individually or in batches, and when they’ve been added you’ll see them in the media library in the middle of the Movie Maker screen. Click on a clip and then press the play button to preview it. You can choose between the default playback resolution of 640 x 480, a smaller 320 x 240, or full screen mode. You’ll notice that immediately above the progress bar Windows Movie Maker tells you exactly what position you are in the clip, and how long the clip is. The format is hours: minutes: seconds: hundredths of seconds.

Windows Movie Maker's Split function is perfect if you need to trim the beginning or end of a clip

4. Split the clips

Windows Movie Maker’s clipping tools make it easy to get rid of splash screens or to trim any unwanted bits. If you move the preview to the moment after the splash screen or unwanted bit finishes, you can then click on Split (to the right of the playback buttons). This splits the clip at the current point, so the original clip stops at that point and a new clip is created which starts at that point. The new clip is given a number in brackets, so if it’s the first split it’ll be (1), the second (2) and so on. 

Once your clips are imported, just drag and drop them onto the timeline in your preferred order

5. Start your storyboard

The strip running along the bottom is the Storyboard, and you add your clips by dragging them to the appropriate place on it. You’ll see two kinds of spaces: ones that look like pieces of film, and smaller ones with an arrow inside. The big ones are where you drag your media files, and the smaller ones are for telling Windows Movie Maker what to do when one clip ends and a new one begins. Drag your clips onto the storyboard in the order you want them in. Incidentally, our clip is upside down deliberately – we did turn the camera around again.

Windows Movie Maker offers a great choice of transitions, including fun geometric wipes

6. Add transitions

Abruptly switching between clips can look rubbish, so Windows Movie Maker offers transitions. These are special effects that occur as your video moves from one clip to another, and you can see the available ones by clicking Edit > Transitions. You can make clips appear from the middle, make one fade out and the next fade in, or apply all kinds of clever effects. Each one appears in the Preview section when you click on it, and when you find the one you want to use it’s just a matter of dragging it onto the little rectangle between the two clips. 

You can also apply special effects and filters to your clips to liven them up

7. Add special effects

You can also add special effects to individual clips by clicking Edit > Effects. Once again you’ll see a preview of any effect you click on, and the available options include old-style crackly film, film that’s been exposed to the sun and a whole bunch of movement effects. As with transitions it’s just a matter of choosing the effect you want and then dragging it onto the Storyboard, but this time you drag the effect onto the clip you want to use it on. Try not to get carried away with effects: too many can make videos tiring to watch.

Windows Movie Maker supports fully customizable titles to give your film a professional touch

8. Add your titles

If you click on Edit > Titles and Credits you can now add some text to your video. You have four options here: a title at the beginning, a title before the currently selected clip, a title overlaid on the currently selected clip, or credits at the end of your video. Once you’ve chosen the kind of title you want you’ll be able to add your text, change the font and colour and choose the animation style. Now all that’s left to do is publish. Click Publish Movie and choose the destination: PC, CD, email or a connected digital video camera.

The best free video editor 2016

Today's best free video editors are packed with professional level features and are astonishingly easy to use, and all the software we've rated here does a brilliant job of balancing power, flexibility and convenience.

For more details, see our complete guide to the best free video editors

1. Lightworks

Lightworks puts professional-quality video editing within the reach of everyone, and has been used to create real big-name movies. It's amazing that it's available free.

2. VideoPad Video Editor

With VideoPad Video Editor, creating stunning movies is easy. Its interface is intuitive, and its tools are easy to master even if you've never used similar software.

3. Shotcut

Shotcut is a powerful editor that delivers great results if you're willing to stick with it and master its unusual interface.