iMovie 09 – Source clip is missing

OK, so Apple messed this one up. In Final Cut, when a clip is missing FCS has a sufficiently sophisticated method of finding the files. iMovie? Not so much. In fact, it doesn’t even ask for help!

Background: I don’t like using iPhoto Library for my video files so I moved them out of iPhoto (using Finder, not iMovie) and into a separate iMovie Events folder. iMovie found these files no problem and can even help me maintain them (moves, adds, changes). BUT, it wouldn’t scan this folder for missing clips!

What to do?

On the Apple forum, there is a LONG thread about this problem:

It points out two things:

  1. The Project file in the iMovie project, contains the path to the links to the media. Fix the path and the iMovie project will be fine.
  2. It also notes that the iMovie Events folder is actually called iMovie Events.localized so if you are using this folder, include the “.localized”

That didn’t work for me. When I made those two changes, my iMovie project wouldn’t open. Things were getting worse!

This link provides the missing link (couldn’t resist!):

It points to another link, that describes the Project file as a binary file and it must remain binary for iMovie to work . THANK YOU, CHRIS!

Finally, for extra credit, I found this link, that helped me believe, I was on the right track:

There is a utility that changes property list files (iMovie Project file) from binary to XML and back again.

So what does all this mean?

If you decide to move your iMovie clips outside of iMovie’s way of doing things:

Then you must do three things:

1) Change the path in the Project file to point to the proper location

2) Ensure the Project file remains binary

3) Include “.localized” on the iMovie Events folder

If you’re clever enough to understand how to do this from the links above and the three clues, great! If not, I put a lengthy tutorial together so I would remember how to do it. Have fun.


Based on the OS X Hint above about creating a function called pledit that would convert to XML then back to binary with a edit sandwiched in the middle, I decided to do just that. It works great! Be sure to use the -w flag so that the Terminal waits until the file is written before continuing.

Last thing… I also added Open Terminal Here from Marc Liyanage’s excellent site to my Finder toolbar.

27 Replies to “iMovie 09 – Source clip is missing”

  1. After updating ilife 08 -> 09 all of my video clips where missing (yellow triangles). Apple couldn’t help me. But I was able to repair it with your great pdf instruction. Thank you very much!!! I guess the iphoto 09 media center uses a different system to arrange media files as in iphoto 08. Don’t import your videos into iphoto!!! With a new release (ilife 10), you’ll have problems :).

  2. This technique worked very well on unlinked video clips as well as some Apple iLife sound effects that had changed from “*.gif” to “*.caf”

  3. Hello-

    I too had the yellow triangles after moving my source footage. Following the great tutorial worked perfectly… until…

    Let me explain what I’m doing. Whenever I do my editing, I use a portable drive with all my source clips. I’ll work on a project, always pointing to the portable drive, and eventually publish it. Then, to free up space on the portable drive, but still keep copies of my source footage, I move the source clips to a Drobo. This of course produces the yellow triangles in my project files, but they can easily be removed by moving the source clips from the Drobo back to the portable drive. When iMovie opens, everything is back to normal. This works perfectly well when you keep the exact same folder/file names as when you created the project. However, in a few cases, I didn’t do this, which is what brought me to this site and this tutorial.

    In these cases, I copied the source clips used in the project back to the portable drive, used the technique described in the tutorial, and as promised, all the yellow triangles disappeared. Then, I deleted the source files from the portable drive, and next time I opened iMovie, in addition to the expected yellow triangles, the thumbnails in the project were all gray. When you scrub over them, you see the video, but as soon as you move the cursor off, they go back to gray. So, it seems that simply changing the project file to point to a different file location isn’t all that needs to be updated, at least in the case of a project that has already been published.

    Here’s why this is weird: in another project that I had published, but didn’t use the tutorial to change the project file, I also deleted the source clips from the portable drive (to which the project points), and the project thumbnails are fine, though the yellow triangles reappear, as expected.

    In looking around the Apple forums, people suggested closing iMovie, moving the source footage back onto the portable drive, deleting the thumbnail and the Cache.plist files, re-opening iMovie and letting it rebuild the thumbnails. I did this, but with the same result: gray previews.

    Does anyone have any idea why this is happening, or how to prevent/fix it?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  4. Dave,
    Did you upgrade to the latest version of iMovie (last weeks mild change for iFrame)?

    I have tested this process with the new version…

    Let’s start there.

  5. Hi Lief-

    Yes, this is on the most current versions of Snow Leopard and iMovie 09. I posted my issue to the Apple Forums today, but so far there are no responses.

    I can sum up my problem this way:

    * Projects point to a portable drive for their source footage
    * Projects have been rendered and published
    * Source footage deleted from portable drive
    * If the project was manually fixed to update source clip locations, gray thumbnails appear throughout the project
    * If the project was not manually fixed, project thumbnails look fine
    * Both situations produce yellow triangles, which are expected

    Thanks for thinking about this,

  6. Mmmmm. I can do some testing over the weekend and see if something changed in the latest version…

    It would be a bummer if this were “fixed” in the latest version!

  7. Maybe there’s an easier way to think about it. We know it’s possible to regenerate the thumbnails for EVENTS, but can you do so for PROJECTS?

  8. Another method to fix the source that seems to work for me every time.
    I open the Project in iMovie find the new location in the Event Library. I drag the clip over the top of the broken clip in the Project and it asks me if i want to replace it. I say yes and done. 🙂 Sorry but i thought that using iMovie to fix it would be easier. (Using OS X and iMovie ’09)

  9. About 2 years ago I had started a project and in between then and now, I had converted most of the clips from .dv to .mp4. I could not figure out how to easily relink the files. You would think that imovie would let you at least reselect the files, but no.
    Well, your PDF instructions saved the day. I used TextEdit to do a find an replace from .dv to .mp4 and boom…fixed. Thanks for the great tutorial.

  10. I used this tutorial a year ago and today again…. the PDF saved the day!! Thanks a lot .
    I wonder if someone has simplified this process (by applescript?)

  11. You, sir, completely saved my ass. God BLESS YOU! 🙂

    BTW this also works if you happen to move or rename your iTunes library!

  12. iTunes library, meaning iMovie projects that lose where any music added to it might be if you move or rename your iTunes library folder.

  13. I know nothing about programming and I followed your pdf blindly and skeptically. Not skeptical about your knowledge, more about my competence to make it work. It worked first time. Thanks so much.

  14. Your instructions were great. THANK YOU!
    I also made a copy of the “Project” file before I converted it.

    It’s very bad that the problem of “Source clip is missing” can also happen if you:
    1) Change the name of the hard drive containing the “iMovie Events” – So DON’T CHANGE the hard drive’s name.
    2) In the Finder, change name of for the iMovie Events” folder or any of the folders or files inside.

    This behavior of iMovie 9 (part of iLife 11) seems like it wasn’t well thought out by Apple. iMovie doesn’t even give you the option to choose the new folder or any options to fix the broken links to the media files. How did Apple overlook this?

    Anyway, thanks again for the instructions.

  15. By the way, the problem I had was the following render error: “Unable to prepare project for publishing. The project could not be prepared for publishing because an error occurred (-108).”

    I did some research and found out that a common cause of that error is when you have more than one clip in iMovie o9 with the same file name (for instance 041.avi and Another symptom besides the render error is audio problems where audio that’s supposed to be ducked (and from another part of the video) is still heard.

    Anyways, the way to fix the problem, is to rename your media clips so that they all have unique names, which of course leads to a lot of missing clips. Instead of having to reimport the clips with their new file names and edit everything again, your tutorial allowed me to swap them out without that hassle.

    Sorry for the long story, just wanted to document it in case others are searching for a solution. Thanks again for the excellent tutorial!

  16. Another happy customer! Very clear tutorial. Excellent “under the hood” navigation. Thanks for taking the time to post.

  17. Excellent description in the pdf-file. Worked like a charm.

    Somehow iMovie changed the filenames (added a 1 to the end) of some sourcefiles. Most likely instigated by me not knowing what I’m doing. Managed to fix the projects with this description, thank you!

  18. Thank you for this excellent tutorial – I have used it on more than one occasion to help extremely distraught students rescue their semester-long iMovie projects.

    Currently, I’m trying to solve a new problem, and I haven’t been able to find any useful suggestions, much less solutions, online.

    iMovie crashed while the students were editing, and the computer had to be restarted. After re-opening iMovie, the project was no longer listed in the Project library, though the .rcproject file was still in the correct place. I opened the package to inspect the contents, and found that the “Project” file cannot be converted by plutil (or several other converters/plist editors that I tried). It generates an error of “Conversion of string failed. The string is empty.” I believe that iMovie was in the process of writing to this file when it crashed and thus the file became corrupted.

    I’m trying find if there is any way to convert the corrupted “Project” file from binary to text – my hope is that some of the text would still be well-formed XML, and I could find the place(s) where the data is bad and delete/edit those, and in that way at least recover some of the students’ work (even if some is lost). But I haven’t been able to find any conversion program that will do it – all of the binary plist utilities I’ve found generate the same error listed above. (The file is not empty – it is 45KB, and if I open as plain text, it contains a lot of binary jumble but also a lot of readable text showing the titles, transitions, etc. from the project, so it seems there is still some good data in there.)

    Any suggestions or help would be very much appreciated!

  19. Yeah, this is one of those, hack away until something works (or you give up).

    My suggestions would be:
    first backup the plist file then
    – then try to delete the offending entry and/or (as I wrote this I realized you are unable to open it in order to delete a line, so this won’t work)
    – look closely at the plain text entries and see if there is a file reference that doesn’t look right or make sense and/or
    – if you are running Snow Leopard or Leopard, take a look at AppleJack to fix the disk overall
    – or try fixing permissions in Disk Utility

  20. Hi Leif,

    Thanks much for the suggestions. Yes, I’m sure if I can get the file converted into plain-text XML, I’ll be able to edit and salvage something out of the project. But I haven’t found a way to do that – every conversion utility I’ve tried fails.

    I have tried your other suggestions, and unfortunately, no luck with those either. I appreciate the help, though!

  21. Thank you for creating that PDF. This is exactly what I was looking for – fixed my issue perfectly! I have no experience with using terminal, so the step by step tutorial was very helpful. Saved me from redoing many hours of work!

  22. I know this is an old thread, but wow, that PDF did the trick. Must have moved iTunes files when local drive was getting full and forgot that I was using some of those in iMovie. Opened up the the mostly done project that had been sitting for awhile and, uh oh the lovely yellow triangles appeared on all my music imports. I know this was made for iMovie 9 but it worked just as well with iMovie 11. Your succinct tutorial worked perfectly, just had to remember to add /Volumes/ in front of the path to the portable HD that I had moved my iTunes to. Of course it would had been easier (and a no brainer in my opinion) that Apple would build into iMovie the ability to reconnect to lost files because thats what 90% of what a iMovie project is made of. Photos, clips, audio in all different places, at sometime or other will be transferred to other drives because of need for more space, and need to be relinked. I don’t know maybe adding this much needed function is harder than I think, I’m no programer. Just had become to accustom to using such features in adobe, and quark etc.

    Anyway your tutorial is a life saver thank you very much for posting it!

    (ps. to others dealing with audio files, I found that one missing audio file (yellow Triangle) would cause the other ones not to work, once they were all corrected and all the yellow triangles were gone, all the audio worked.)

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