Importing Source Files Into Windows Live Movie Maker

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With classic versions of Movie Maker, it was a two step process to make a project. First you imported source files… pictures, video clips, and music into collections and then you copied items from the collections to the project storyboard or timeline.

The alternate of a storyboard or timeline view of a project confused many newcomers and the purpose of collections was unclear.

In an attempt to make things easier, the new Windows Live Movie Maker doesn’t use collections and the timeline is integrated with the storyboard. The simple choice of opening Windows Live Movie Maker means you’re in a project, in a storyboard view with somewhat of a timeline twist. I’ll get into that in other articles. This one focuses on the source files you can use in a project.

Types of Source Material

In XP Movie Maker was the main interface with your mini-DV camcorder. In Vista you had the option of using a capture wizard or Movie Maker. In the Windows Live version of Movie Maker, the interface is handled by other software. There are no features to capture video from a camcorder or audio from a microphone or sound card.

Check what you can use to import camcorder footage by connecting your camera with firewire or a USB cable and seeing what choices pop-up. Pick one. Try each of your options and settle on the one that works best. If one of them is a Windows Live Wizard, it’ll tie you into the rest of the Windows Live software.

Once into the computer, you can add an impressive assortment of video clips to your movie project…. including dvr-ms, mpg, mod, vob, 3gp, 3g2, mp4, mpeg, mpv2 and others. I can use the video files on a DVD without copying them from the disc.

It won’t accept everything or use them as you expect… such as animated GIF’s not being animated. Of course files protected by DRM (digital rights management) won’t import.

As you add pictures and video clips, they go directly to the project’s storyboard and used in the sequence shown. There are no more collections as in earlier versions of Windows Movie Maker, and the timeline is integrated in a subtle way with the storyboard view of the project.

Are You Seeing File Extensions?

When we talk about file types, we often mean file extensions… something hidden by default in a newly installed operating system. I guess it’s considered visual clutter for most computer users. But in the multimedia areas, talking about a BMP or AVI file implies you can see such extensions. If yours are still hidden, it’s easy to ‘unhide’ them. Here’s how to do it in Windows 7.

Open ‘Computer’ > Organize > Folder and Search Options > View tab > Advanced settings > uncheck the line item ‘Hide extensions for known file types’.

Which Ones Work in a Movie Project?

When you can see the file extensions, which ones work in Windows Live Movie Maker? Make a mental note of two items before reading about specific types.

You can rename a file, including the extension… sort of like changing your last name. The file doesn’t change simply because you renamed it. But software that looks at the last name will try harder to use the file if the last name is familiar to it. An example is a .vob file on a DVD…. it’s an MPEG2 file so copying it to a computer and renaming it to .mpg will often result in a player or video editor trying harder to use it.

All video files are compressed and the compression is done by a codec. There are lots of different codecs so an .mpg file made with one codec might work and another one made with a different codec might not. When the help file says an MP4 file will work in Movie Maker, it probably won’t tell you that some MP4 files won’t. The world of codecs can be difficult and frustrating. Each computer has and uses different codecs.

Here’s what I found when testing Windows Live Movie Maker with my set of test files. There are many different file types, so this list isn’t exhaustive.


Most pictures are not distorted… black borders are automatically added to preserve the aspect ratio.

The default duration is 5 seconds… use the Edit tab to change the duration of the selected pictures, even after they are in the project. The minimum of .03 seconds equates to a frame rate of about 30 per second… the maximum of 86,400 seconds is 24 hours, maybe for a picture hosting 24 hours of background music.

BMP, JPG, PNG, TIF open in the Windows Live Photo Gallery viewer, and import/preview fine into WLMM. Others…

  • Animated GIF’s open and play as animations in Internet Explorer, but are handled as still pictures in WLMM, with no animation. They are resized without distortion to fit the frame.
  • EMF files open in Paint but don’t import into WLMM
  • GIF files open in Internet Explorer and work fine in WLMM
  • ICO (Icons) are stretched
  • NEF Nikon’s RAW files, with the downloaded codec, open full sized in Windows Photo Viewer, and import somewhat cropped.
  • PCX files can’t be imported
  • TGA files open in a QuickTime Picture Viewer but don’t import into WLMM


Files protected by digital rights management (DRM) can’t be used.

3g2, AVI (compressed with many different codecs), DV-AVI (most), M2v, MP4, some MOV, MPG, VOB, and WMV files open in the Windows Media Player, and import/preview fine in WLMM. Others…

  • ASF files may or may not work in WMP, but import and preview in WLMM.
  • DV-AVI files compressed with the Canopus DV codec don’t play in WMP or work in WLMM.
  • DVR-MS files open in Windows Media Center (or WMP on Vista Home Basic). They import and preview in WLMM… the visual is fine and I hear the audio from DVR-MS files saved by XP’s Media Center, but don’t hear those saved by Vista’s Media Center.
  • FLV files need other software/codecs to play, and don’t work in WLMM.
  • GVI files don’t play in WMP or import to WLMM.
  • Some MOV files open in the Quick Time player and work in WLMM.
  • RM files don’t play in WMP or import to WLMM.

Music and Audio…

Files protected by digital rights management (DRM) can’t be used.

An audio file can’t be imported until there’s at least one picture or video clip in the project. To be ‘background music’ there must first be foreground visual’.

AIF, AIFF, MP3, WAV and WMA files open in the Windows Media Player, and import/preview fine in WLMM. Others…

  • AC3 files open in the Quick Time player with a note about needing additional software to play it. It doesn’t import into WLMM
  • AIFC files open and play fine in WMP, but don’t import into WLMM
  • AU files open and play fine in WMP, but don’t import into WLMM
  • MIDI files play fine in WMP but don’t import into WLMM
  • MP2 files play fine in WMP but don’t import into WLMM
  • OGG files are interesting… Windows 7 suggests opening them with WLMM, and they import. But they have a red x on them and don’t preview.
  • SND files open in WMP but with a popup message saying it can’t play the file… suggesting a codec issue. They don’t import into WLMM.

Once in a project, can the Source Files be Edited …

As a rule, the clips in a project file are just pointers or links to the files themselves. Movie Maker checks for their existence but doesn’t mind you changing them.

If you delete or move a file after you’ve added it to a project, you get a red X indicating a missing file. But it also means you can edit the source files with other software and expect them to still work in the project. Enhance a picture in Photoshop. Add audio effects with audio software.

Splitting and trimming video clips in a project requires Movie Maker to work well with the codecs used for the clips. If you can’t easily and effectively edit a clip in a project, it’s a good sign the file should be converted to something else such as a DV-AVI or high quality WMV before you get overly anxious or frustrated.

This post is part of the series: Windows Live Movie Maker

The Windows Live version of Movie Maker is the biggest change to come to Movie Maker since it was first released in Windows Me 8 years ago. It promises to be better yet smaller. Join us in looking at the evolution of this new version.

  1. The Future of Windows Movie Maker… in Windows Live
  2. Windows Live Movie Maker - Source Files
  3. Windows Live Movie Maker - Editing
  4. Windows Live Movie Maker - Publish to an Internet Host
  5. Windows Live Movie Maker - Save Movie to Your Hard Drive
  6. Windows Live Movie Maker Meets YouTube