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Quick Tip: Move Your iMovie Events and Projects to an External Drive

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iMovie makes it easy to create and edit movies on a Mac, but with HD video becoming increasingly popular, it’s taking up space - fast! Here’s a great trick to prevent your Mac from running out of space by moving iMovie projects and events to an external hard drive.


Why Move?

Unlike music and photos, videos take up a lot more space. How much? Here’s a comparison of a photo and video taken on an iPhone 5:

  • Photo taken at full size: 2Mb
  • 45 Second video: 95Mb

That’s a big difference! If you record around 20 minutes, then that size can approach almost 2.5Gb. Like many devices, the iPhone 5 is capable of recording HD video at 1080p. This makes for excellent quality video, but means that space is quickly used.

After using iMovie a few times, you’ll find that your hard drive space is quickly disappearing. I don’t record video often but I do create and edit screencasts using iMovie all the time. As I’ve got an 11” MacBook Air with 128GB SSD, I can’t afford to save video to my Mac all the time. Instead I use an external hard drive.


Events and Projects

iMovie stores all imported (unedited) video as Events. It’s similar to how iPhoto and Aperture import photos. When you want to create a new movie, you do so by creating a Project. The thing to remember is that a project doesn’t actually move or copy existing video, it just makes a note of which video footage from a specific event you used (this is called referencing). That’s why iMovie Projects are quite small in terms of their size in comparison to the amount of video that they contain, before they’re finalized.

Moving Existing Projects and Events

Thankfully, iMovie ’11 has the option to move projects and events between hard drives, and although it’s not particularly well documented, it’s quite simple to do. All you’ll need is an external hard drive plugged in to your Mac before continuing.

Tip: Although you can easily use a USB 2.0 hard drive, I’d highly recommend either a FireWire or USB 3.0 drive if your Mac allows.

Step 1: Open iMovie

Launch iMovie and if it opens a project you’re currently working on, click Project Library.

When you see your project library, you’ll notice that your projects are actually organized by the drive they reside on.

iMovie ’11 displays projects on the top-left of the screen
iMovie ’11 displays projects on the top-left of the screen

Step 2: Command-Drag the Project

To move a project, hold down the Command key on your keyboard and drag the project you want to move to the desired external hard drive within iMovie.

iMovie will prompt if you’d like to just move the project file or if you’d like to move the events related to it as well. Select Move projects and events and iMovie will move the project and any related events to the external hard drive.

iMovie ’11 will prompt if you’d like to just move the project or the events associated with it
iMovie ’11 will prompt if you’d like to just move the project or the events associated with it

Move Just Events

iMovie looks at any attached storage device when launched for projects and events so it doesn’t matter if you move an event and not the project, the project will still be able to access the events it used.

If you’d rather just move the events and not the projects, you can do so as well.

Step 1: Show Event Groups

Unlike the Project Library where the connected hard drives are always displayed (whether or not they have a project), the Event Library only shows connected drives that actually contain events. To view all connected drives (including those that are empty or have no iMovie content), click the Group Events by Disk icon. It will highlight blue when it’s enabled.

iMovie ’11 can be toggled to show all hard drives or only those with events stored on them by clicking the HD icon
iMovie ’11 can be toggled to show all hard drives or only those with events stored on them by clicking the HD icon

Once enabled, you will then see any connected hard drive.

iMovie ’11 will then show all available and connected drives
iMovie ’11 will then show all available and connected drives

Step 2: Command-Drag the Event

Just like moving a project, simply hold down the Command key and drag the event to the desired drive. iMovie will spend a few moments moving the data and that’s it. Again, any existing projects won’t be affected as iMovie knows where all the events are.

Hold down the Command key whilst dragging to move the event
Hold down the Command key whilst dragging to move the event

Tip: Holding down the Command key is necessary or else iMovie will just copy the content.


Importing New Events to an External Drive

Once you’ve moved all your events and projects to an external drive, it would make sense to store future imported video on an external drive. That’s easy too! Simply import video as normal but make sure the external drive is selected as the destination - events will then be created on the external drive.

You can import footage directly to iMovie but store it on an external drive without needing to move it
You can import footage directly to iMovie but store it on an external drive without needing to move it

Wrapping Up

Similar to how you can store your iTunes, iPhoto and Aperture libraries on an external drive - you can also store your iMovie content on an external drive. If you’re using a Mac with an SSD, then the benefits of the above will mean a lot of precious drive space is freed up.

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