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Unlocking iMovie '09 & '11

(Warning: If you use this tip, be sure not to use it on clips that have already been added to a project. This tip changes the names of clips, which will break projects that use them. Thanks to Mgarbowski for sharing this in the comments below.)

If you have old analog footage you want to import into iMovie, there are a lot of options for doing so. Most import methods work like MiniDV cameras, where you import the footage directly into iMovie. The problem is that analog footage imported this way doesn't come with timecodes that tell iMovie when the footage was filmed. As a result, iMovie assumes the date of the footage is the current date.

This makes for a confusing Event library. If you view your footage by date, the stuff you really filmed in 1994 actually shows up as being from 2007. iMovie doesn't provide an easy way to change this. But there is a way, and it doesn't require you to change creation dates in the Terminal, or other complicated procedures. It just involves changing some file names. Here is how you change the date of DV event footage.

The Basics
Although MiniDV footage has a timecode embedded in the file, iMovie uses filenames to organize footage by date. (This is because iMovie is creating new files when it imports DV footage, not copying existing files off of a camera. Other cameras' footage is sorted by the creation date of the files stored on the camera. I explain this more at the bottom of this post.) Presumably, when iMovie imports footage it looks for a timecode. If one exists, it names the imported DV clip with the timecode. If an embedded timecode doesn't exist--like with analog footage--it will use the current date to name the footage. Here is a list of some timecode-named clips

Here is where the footage exists in the Event library.

Because iMovie uses the names to evaluate the dates of the footage, this means that if you just change the names of footage to reflect the correct date, iMovie will change the date it uses to display the footage in the Event library.

Here is our list of clips again, but the dates were all changed to 1908.

Here is how they appear now in iMovie.

Everytime your change the names, iMovie will regenerate the thumbnails for the newly named footage. It doesn't delete the old thumbnail files, but you can delete the old ones yourself. They reside in the iMovie Thumbnails folder inside a given event folder. You can delete all of the thumbnails that use the old names you changed.

Other interesting behavior occurs if you have multiple dates in a single event. iMovie will group them into the year of the most recent footage. If I have footage from 1908 and 2006 in the same event, they will be listed under 2006.

Here is the renamed footage.

Here is how it appears in iMovie. Notice the date range listed under the clips.

If you split this event using the "Split Event Before Selected Clip option in the File menu--one event for the 1908 footage and one for the 2006 footage--iMovie will then display them under the proper years, respectively.

The Code
The timecode names are easy to interpret. Here is what a sample filename means:

clip-2006-07-15 19;19;56.dv

The "clip-" is just part of the naming convention, and doesn't effect the name.

The "2006" refers to the year.

The "07" refers to the month.

The "15" refers to the day.

The 19;19;56 refers to the hour, minute, and second of the footage's beginning.

To change the name, just select the file in the Finder and hit enter. The text of the name will be highlighted and ready for your to change to the date you see fit.

The Exception
This entire description works with DV footage, but I can't speak for other video formats as I don't have a wide range of cameras to play with. I do know that iMovie uses the file creation date for clips downloaded from still cameras. Replacing a name like "MVI_0186.AVI" with a timecode name like "clip-2006-07-15 19;19;56.AVI" doesn't change the date of the footage in the Event library. Still, footage like this may not need to have its date changed. I imagine that changing the creation date with some advanced tools would have the desired effect, but that is another topic for another day...

23 comments: to “ How to change the date for DV event footage

  • mgarbowski
    October 10, 2007 at 8:33 PM  

    I think it is important to note that when you do this, two other things happen. The first is minor. iMovie needs to re-create the thumbnails for the clip. It took about 20 minutes for an hour-length clip. Second, and much more important, if your clip is already a part of a project, it will ruin your project. There might be a way to fix it, but when I just tried it, my project based upon this clip had lost everything, with yellow warning !! exclamation marks all over. Fortunately, it was a non-critical test project, but it could have been disastrous.
    Consequently, I recommend renaming the clip before you do anything with it.

  • Owen
    December 10, 2007 at 5:29 PM  

    Changing for DV works fine, however, I have found that this approach does not work for MOV files. Specifically, years ago I consolidated old video footage to DVD format via a Panasonic DVD-R, but now I want to edit these videos, so I brought the video into iMovie 08 by means of a Canopus ADVC110. I set up the capture to correspond to the year the video was taken, but it the "event date" seems to fix at "clip-135-05-02.....MOV". Nothing changes (except new thumbnails) when I change the dates manually to the format suggested for DV. Any advice appreciated, otherwise I can live with it. Thanks.

  • tbosworth
    January 18, 2008 at 5:18 PM  

    Check the case on the files names. When I import HI-8MM tapes without date/time stamps the file names are "Clip 01.dv" with a capital "C". When renaming these to add the date and time to the file name, iMovie does not pick up the date with a Cap-C in Clip. By changing to lower case, iMovie classified the clip under the correct year:

    Clip 01.dv renamed to
    Clip-1998-04-29 12;00;00.dv
    is listed in iMovie under year 2008

    Clip 01.dv renamed to
    clip-1998-04-29 12;00;00.dv (lower case c)
    is listed in iMovie under year 1998

  • DisneyFans.com Allen
    January 27, 2008 at 4:09 PM  

    I spent a few months importing tons of old DV tapes to iMovie HD, only to have iMovie '08 come out with a superior method of cataloging DV clips. I now have terrabytes of DV footage I can't import in to iMovie '08 without losing all the dates.

    What I'd like is a utility to rename a .dv file to the clip- format used be '08. I have ExIfRenamer for doing similar things for JPEGs, and it would be useful to have a DV version (using DV datecode).

    Anyone seen something like this?

  • bobby
    February 20, 2008 at 11:48 AM  

    just a note...once you find the folder for an event you want to change the dates for, you can use Automator's "Rename Finder Items" action to make a bunch of changes really fast. For example, one of my events imported as footage from a few days in March 2005. It should have been during March 2006:

    1) Drag the "iMovie Thumbnails" folder out to my desktop (these can go in the trash)
    2) Select all the .dv clips you need to change
    3) Ctrl-click (right-click) and choose Automator > Create Workflow...
    4) In the Automator window, drag the "Rename Finder Items" action into the workspace and choose the "Don't Add" button if a warning shows (its in the Finder library)
    5) Choose the "Replace Text" option
    6) Enter "2005" in the Find field and "2006" in the Replace field
    7) Run it! Next time you open iMovie it will recreate the thumbnails folder.

    WARNING: If you need to change the month or days, don't use something like just "20" and "21" in the Find and Replace fields. That will change any instance of the number "20", including the first two digits of the year 20XX and anything in the HH;MM;SS portion of the file name. However, you can use something like "-20-" and "-21-" or "-20" and "-21"

  • Anonymous
    March 24, 2008 at 5:54 AM  

    I had the same challenge as Owen
    - have found that this approach does not work for MOV files. -
    I was able to get the date change to work by also modifying the plist files. including the one names iMovie data. There is only one place in each file where a change is needed. By digging down in each plist I found a copy of the file name (I only had one clip). I changed the file name to match in each case to match the new clip name and when I opened up iMovie the clip was sorted by date where I wanted. By doing this for the cache and thumbnail sub-directories too iMovie did not regenerate the thumbnails. Thanks for the original tip.

  • Anonymous
    March 25, 2008 at 4:21 PM  

    I'm writing a program to move DV Clips from iMovie HD into IMovie '08 while automatically renaming the files to the name format that IMovie '08 expects. This will be a one step process where *all* DV clips in IMovie '06 will be moved over to IMovie '08 along with the name changes to individual files.

    I'm looking for 1-2 volunteers who can act as additional testers.

    This will be a great opportunity for someone who has a lot of iMovie '06 DV footage and wants to move it to iMovie '08 (and wants IMovie'08 to recognize the correct dates).



  • DisneyFans.com Allen
    March 25, 2008 at 4:32 PM  

    Dave -- I'd be glad to help out. I have hundreds of hour of DV footage sitting on my drives right now needing this.

  • Anonymous
    March 26, 2008 at 10:54 AM  

    Hi Allen,

    I've gotten my program to work!!

    There are some minor glitches I need to fix. Will take 2 more weeks to get this cleaned up and ready to be tested. I'll contact you then.


  • Allen
    March 26, 2008 at 12:16 PM  

    Dave - please drop me an e-mail. Mac.com address of allenhuffman - thanks! I'd like to ask you some questions.

  • Franckysson
    March 26, 2008 at 3:30 PM  


    I would be glad to be one of your testers too. Please drop me an email when you are ready.



  • Anonymous
    April 15, 2008 at 9:51 PM  

    I would like to know if the program for DV creation dates to be preserved as filenames works.

    The only glitch I see is that in QT creation date is an annotation. An additional script or program to embed the creation date there would be ideal for long term archiving so this does not happen again.

  • Anonymous
    April 21, 2008 at 11:20 AM  

    I would love to be a tester for the program that takes the iMovie HD and puts into a iMovie 08 format. I would like to get to that utility today, if possible. Please send to my gmail account (radster360). Since iMovie 08 keeps crashing I have to do to step imports and I could use this program.


  • Anonymous
    August 12, 2008 at 12:29 PM  

    thanks a bunch for this, i was freaking not being able to edit dates

  • Berni B
    September 7, 2008 at 3:12 PM  

    Changing the date for .AVI or .MOV clips, so it will be correctly shown in the event browser, can be done by this special workaround.
    Before importing:
    - Change your system time to the moment the video in shot.
    - make an archive from the folder containing the video files. (folder.zip)
    - Move it so it wont give a conflict with the original files when unpacking
    - Double-click this archive to unpack
    Al the creation dates en times are changed to the system time now !

    DON'T FORGET to set the system time back afterwards.

    Also works fine to reset system permissions.

    Have Fun !

  • Xavier
    November 17, 2008 at 6:04 PM  

    If you are familiar with Unix commands, it's quite easy to change the timestamp of a given file from the MacOS X terminal:

    - Open MacOS X terminal
    - Go to the folder where your movies are located (cd to that directory)
    - To change the timestamp of file clip-whatever.mov to something like Jul 27th 2006, 2:28:30pm, just type the following command:

    $ touch -t 200607271428.30 clip-whatever.mov


  • Anonymous
    December 21, 2008 at 7:01 PM  

    One important tip is to QUIT iMovie before looking for the file! When iMovie is open write down the filenames you want to edit, then quit iMovie08 and the proper files will appear. (It seems this was what was preventing me following your very helpful instructions above).

  • Brett
    December 26, 2008 at 9:54 PM  

    I've used a great Applescript that I save in the ScriptEditor that was created by Daniel Shockley. Great results with lots of .mov iMovie date modifications...


  • Douglas
    January 23, 2009 at 11:55 AM  

    Big super thanks for this tip.

  • Anonymous
    June 13, 2010 at 8:25 AM  

    What if you want to change the existing time code to something else? My Sony DCR-HC32's LCD screen is dead, so I can't set the time on it, so I'm hoping I can change it to a new date once it's imported.

  • Anonymous
    July 2, 2010 at 10:06 AM  

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  • curiostrip
    January 9, 2011 at 12:32 PM  

    Interesting how 11 years later the Y2K "bug" is showing up. I noticed that the DV file names for pre 1999 files just uses two digits (93 instead of 1993). So the 1999 files are sorted into the right event folder ("1999"), but the 1993 files are in 2011.

  • Ross Huggett
    September 24, 2011 at 8:21 AM  

    Just what I was looking for. Thanks.