‘I Can’t Save a Movie... or a Story’
It’s a pretty common issue when using Movie Maker 2. I’m sure you’ve experienced or at
least heard about it in. If you haven’t seen it yet when using Photo Story 3, it’ll be there
as you make your stories more complex.
Sometimes the message is right on target, sometimes it’s partially right, and other times it’s
totally off-base... the Problem Solving > Can’t Save a Movie page of my site is devoted to the topic.
It seems that the number of daily posts about the topic is increasing, so it’s a good time to
go over what we know about it... I’ll start by forcing error messages in both apps, and then look
closer at what’s happening to cause them.
As with all computer software, there are constraints. If we know what they are, we can work with
or around them. My laptop has been working fine with both Movie Maker and Photo Story. It has about
21 GB of free hard drive space and is defragged... I’ll push the limits of MM2 and PS3 to get the
error messages and see what I can learn...
... what I saw confirmed something I knew. Increasing ‘project complexity’
increases the need for memory. When the needs exceed what’s available, you get the classic error
message about not being able to save the movie or story. What I learned was an easy way to meter
it as the rendering happens... to watch the memory filling up and the project needs hitting the
I’ll start with an extremely simple Movie Maker 2 project with just 5 clips - 2 video
clips (WMV) and 3 still images (JPG) from the Microsoft Fun Pack. I added a different transition
to each, making a 35 second timeline, and rendered it to a High Quality 1.5 Mbps NTSC (720x480)
WMV file... it rendered and played fine.
I doubled the project size by copying and pasting all the clips on the timeline and rendered
again. As each doubling rendered fine, I kept raising the ante until it wouldn’t render.
Projects with 5 clips, 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, and 320 rendered fine. Then, early in the attempt
to render the next doubling to 640 clips, I got the classic error message I was looking for.
The source files were there, the saving location hadn’t changed, and there was over 20 GB of
free disk space. .... the error message is wrong, and it’s time to dig
a bit deeper into the reason(s).
did Photo Story 3 from the other direction, starting with a story that I knew from experience
wouldn’t render. It wouldn’t do it when I first tried. It had only 4 pictures and no narrations
or background music, but it had plenty of complexity as you’ll see.
It wouldn’t do the last step of rendering the story. Here’s the error message I got when I tried...
What kind of storage? Disk space? My laptop has 21 GB free and is
working fine. There’s really nothing wrong.
As I tested and watched the rendering process some more, I bumped into another error message,
one similar to the message in Movie Maker 2.
At least this one brought up the subject of ‘... not enough memory...’ as a possible reason,
something missing from the MM2 message. It’s the real reason for both of my test projects.
That’s what I wanted!! - Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 projects that consistently give me error
messages about not being able to save on a healthy well-tuned laptop with lots of free hard drive
Now I can explore the two projects to see what’s happening up to and through the error messages...
and learn from what I see.
... before getting into the two projects, a few notes
about things going on...
Maximum PC’s quarterly Winter Edition is on the newsstands. Look for it with the 6
page tutorial ‘Making a Killer Movie with Movie Maker 2’. The first reported sighting was at a local
Walgreen’s store, and I saw it on the magazine rack at Meijer’s.
We went to Chicago on Tuesday
and I made my usual visit to the Apple store on Michigan Avenue. I checked my website and online movies/stories
on a new Mac G5 with twin 30 inch high definition++ LCD monitors. Great system!!!
($11,000 for the computer and 2 monitors).
The movies on my website played fine, with the Mac using its special Windows Media Player. But
it can’t play a Photo Story.
I also checked my videos on the Neptune and found they don’t
play on a Mac; I got a message saying something like ‘... sorry, the Windows Media 9 movies won’t
play on a Mac...’. even though I had just
played them using links to WMV files on my server. I checked with Neptune about that issue and found their service doesn’t support playing WMV files on Macs...
gotta use Quick Time or Flash files... maybe some day.
Speaking of Neptune, I’m working with them to roll
out a new page on my site, one devoted to their service. It’s the only online hosting service listed
in Movie Maker when you opt to save a movie directly to a web host.
The new page will be a complete tutorial about setting up and using the service, including such
things as custom profiles for the best playback experience.
....on to the topic of the week
Movie Maker 2 - ‘Can’t Save a Movie’
The test project started with 5 clips: 2 video clips (WMV), and 3 pictures (JPG) from
the Fun Pack... 5 simple clips and all from Microsoft. I didn’t want any codec or other issues to
cloud the testing.
For transitions I used 2 standard ones included in MM2 and 2 custom ones made with Transition
The starting project storyboard looked like this:
I copied and pasted this pattern over and over to make the project big enough to get the standard
error message about not being able to save.
The time it took to render the test movies increased with the number of clips... so did the size
of the rendered movies. There was a direct relationship between the number of clips in the movie
and the size of the saved movie file:
5 clips = 3.4 MB WMV file
10 - 6.6 MB
20 - 13.3
40 - 26.4
80 - 52.9
160 - 105.6
320 - 211.3
640 - got the error message before seeing any % progress
Is the error message right when the project has 640 clips? Not really, not unless you consider
‘... enough disk space...’ to relate to the allotted virtual memory space, a special corner of the
hard drive. I still had over 20 GB of free hard drive space.
To see what was happening, I found myself looking at 3 windows during the renderings:
the Save Movie Wizard progress window... looking at
the percent finished and how many minutes to go.
the Windows Task Manager... watching CPU usage stay up there at 100% - normal for
rendering, checking the amount of RAM left... usually running with more than half of it available,
and the most interesting of all... how much memory was currently Committed versus the Limit and
Peak? they were all moving up and up in tandem, but as the total and
peak approached the Limit, the Limit would be revised upwards a bit more... I was expecting the
real constraint to be the Limit - when the memory used hits the Peak, things would stop and/or the
rendered file would be corrupt.... at least that was my theory at this point.
my file manager utility, watching the finished WMV file
grow... how big is the file when MM2 says it’s 50% complete? is there
a direct correlation between percent complete and how many clips have been added to the growing
When my first attempt to render the 640 clip project failed, I followed the usual advice... free
up disc space, defrag, reboot and try again with nothing else besides Movie Maker running. When
it couldn’t get to first base on the 2nd try, I declared the project “too complex to
What happened? The complexity issue is all about computer memory. To watch what’s happening during
the render, use the info at the lower left of the Task Manager, the ‘Commit Charge’ info (see the
circled area of the figure below). That’s the meter.
It says the peak for this session is pretty close to the limit, which means the memory used at
some point since I turned the computer on has hit a brick wall, the current Limit
for the computer.
What’s it saying and what does it mean? Here’s how to read it.
Commit Charge (K) - the current memory usage and capabilities of the system... different
for each system and adjustable via virtual memory settings (Start > Control Panel > Performance
and Maintenance > System > Advanced tab > Performance Settings > Advanced tab > Virtual memory >
Change). The figure below and to the right shows my laptop’s current settings.
Total - the physical memory + virtual memory (page file) currently in use.
Limit - total available on the system - (512 MB of physical memory or RAM) + virtual
memory (the maximum size of 1536 MB - see the figure at the right).
Peak - the highest amount of memory usage reached in the current session (since
turning the computer on)... check at the end of a session (just before closing down the computer)
to see if it is high relative to the limit, which indicates the need for more physical memory or
making the virtual memory maximum bigger.
My rendering processes went fine until the project needed more memory that the Limit... at which
point I got the error message. This was the bottom line for Movie Maker.
Photo Story 3 - ‘Can’t Save a Story’
The test project I used started with 4 pictures and it wouldn’t render the story.
The first and third pictures were high resolution 11 megapixels (4072x2712
pixels). The second was a low resolution (320x240) picture. And the fourth one was super large,
the maximum for a Photo Story picture (7200x7200 pixels). You would expect large pictures to add
I was doing some panning and zooming in the story, and not adding any narration or background
Another big addition to the project complexity wasn’t really in the project file. It was the
profile. I was rendering to a high definition custom 1704x960 widescreen profile. This was not your
average story project.
Why wouldn’t it render? Let’s look at what happens during the rendering.
Saving the story happens in a number of steps, the last one being the rendering of the WMV file.
This project used two steps as there was no audio from narrations or background music.
step 1 - “preparing video” - this step took 22 minutes,
making a batch of temporary jpg files to use in the rendering process. They are essentially
keyframes used when showing you a preview or rendering the video. The
list of these temporary files is at the right.
The number of temporary jpg files for each of the pictures in the story varies with the size
of the imported picture, along with the selections and motions you choose for the story.
The first picture on the filmstrip (4072x2712 pixels) is called image 0. Seven temporary files
were made from it. I panned it from afar, but didn’t zoom. The picture duration is 5 seconds.
The 2nd picture (320x240) is called image 1 in Photo Story, and it didn’t need any
more than one temporary file because of the small original size of the picture. Its duration in
the story is 18 seconds as it zooms out from the smallest area (19x14 pixels) to full screen.
The 3rd picture (4072x2712) is image 2, with 4 temporary files. It has
a duration of 18 seconds as it also zooms out from a small area (246x185
pixels) to full screen.
For the 4th picture, I took a copy of the 3rd one and
resampled it to be 7200x7200 pixels, the maximum size for a picture
imported into Photo Story 3. It’s handled as image 3, with 17 temporary files made from it. It takes
65 seconds to pan from one small area (579x434 pixels) to another one of the same size. It is panning
about 1/3 of the way across the picture without changing the selection size. Even though the imported
picture is huge, the 17 temporary files are fairly small in size.
As Photo Story did this step, peak memory usage remained well below the limit... CPU usage was
low... it was an easy process for the computer to handle and it finished fine (just the step, not
the rendering which is the next step).
step 2 - “generating video” - this last step was too
much for my system. Photo Story 3 had to use all those temporary files and render the story using
my custom 1704x960 profile.
It didn’t get very far before telling me there was ‘...not enough storage...’.
Peak memory usage jumped to 2004160 and the Limit had moved up to 2012592...
similar to the MM2 experience. Available and needed memory had two-blocked again, this time
in Photo Story.
... pressing OK to the error message deleted the folder of temporary
files and things returned to normal. But rendering of the wmv story
file never started.
It’s a situation very similar to Movie Maker project rendering... when the memory limit is reached,
things stop.... you get some kind of error message, corrupt files or both. Checking the data in
the Task Manger and knowing what your maximum memory setting is are the keys to knowing what happened.
Can you guess which of the 4 pictures was the reason for bumping into the
memory constraint? Nope, it wasn’t the biggest picture. To find out, I rendered each of them
alone, using the same panning, zooming and durations. 3 rendered and one didn’t. But one of those
that rendered didn’t play back as expected.
Picture 1 (11 megapixel with
panning from far and no zooming) - rendered and played fine
Picture 2 (small picture with maximum zooming from tight
to full screen) - it said it rendered fine but playback showed the file as just blackness... it
wasn’t a memory issue, but something else to study another day
Picture 3 (11 megapixel with
maximum zooming from tight to full screen) - got the error message... it wasn’t the size of the
picture, but some combo of picture size and zoom settings... more study is needed to see how much
is due to each
Picture 4 (7200x7200 with no zooming and a long pan of
a small selection) - rendered and played fine
Your system memory is critical to rendering a complex movie or story...
The successfully rendered movie with 320 clips had 128 video clips and 192 jpg pictures, and
used 248 transitions. The playing time was 37 minutes, 28 seconds. Although it rendered fine, my
experience is that it’s easier to make movies on my laptop if I break down projects over 15 minutes
The performance of my laptop when running Photo Story 3 is something I’m still assessing. Writing
this newsletter is a step toward understanding what’s involved.
Over the few days I’ve been spending on this newsletter, deliberately crash-testing MM2 and PS3,
I didn’t experience any problems with either of them.... the brick walls of memory constraints are
understandable and it’s good to have a meter to watch. It’s like driving with a gas gauge.... if
things stop working, you have a good clue and can take it from there.
I look forward to comments and discussion about this and other newsletters on the forums at:
Have a great week... PapaJohn
Movie Maker 2 - www.papajohn.org
Photo Story 2 -
Photo Story 3 - a branch of -
Products and Services
I’m involved in many things that support the users of Movie Maker and Photo Story, and adding
more daily. Here’s a list of what is available to the public. Some are free and others are reasonably
Books and Magazines:
Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things (with
its online companion on
Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero (with support on the Friends of Ed forum at
MaximumPC’s winter quarterly special - tutorial ‘Make a Killer Flick
with Movie Maker 2’ - now on newsstands in the USA through March 7th.
Movie Maker 2 -
www.papajohn.org - 3
goals: to help you solve problems, be the online companion to the Do Amazing Things book, and provide
a detailed tutorial for Photo Story 3.
PhotoStory 2 -
www.photostory.papajohn.org - a full tutorial about using
it. It’s not a problem-solving site.
PhotoStory 3 -
- see the menu branch close to the bottom... like the Photo Story 2 site, it’s more about how it
works and how to use it, not about how to resolve problems.
Online Support - Forums, Channels and Newsgroups
I’m a regular on many online forums and newsgroups, the main ones being:
Maker and Photo Story forums at
Movie Maker 2 forum at SimplyDV.com
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup at microsoft.public.windowsxp.moviemaker
Photo Story 2 newsgroup microsoft.public.plus
Photo Story 3 newsgroup microsoft.public.windowsxp.photos
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story newsletter. The annual subscription is $20
and the link to subscribe is on the main page of my Movie Maker website at:
Topics for upcoming newsletters (always subject to change):
#32 - Picture-in-Picture - using this Happy Holidays sample for the tutorial... it’s less than
a 2 minute movie but with lots of stuff to put together. The newsletter might be one of the longer
#33 - open
#34 - open
Older newsletters (more than 6 issues ago) are archived by Rob Morris at:
Transition Maker 2 (TM2) - a utility for the ultimate in making personal and custom transitions
for Movie Maker 2:
TM2 is a joint effort by Patrick Leabo, the programmer, and
routinely beta test the Pixelan packages and think very highly
of their people and products: Their SpiceFX packages of additional transitions
and effects for Movie Maker 2 are available at:
ProDAD’s Adorage package for Movie Maker
2 is available at:
Other fee-based services:
you can’t save a movie because your project has become too complex, e-mail it to me and I’ll
divide it into manageable sub-projects for you, and provide detailed instructions to render the
parts and assemble them into your final movie. $49.95 - for details, see the sidebar on the Problem
Solving > Can’t Save a Movie page of
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story 2 training and support services start at $50 per hour - email
and I’ll help you determine your needs, and work with you to plan and implement them.
Wedding website/video packages start at $2,500 + travel expenses. See
for a sample.
About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from Microsoft.com
||John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn
online. An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and
a regular supporter of the community of Movie Maker users, John
received a 2003 MVP award from Microsoft for that support. In March
2003, he started a comprehensive website about Movie Maker 2 at
He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and
provides support services - all for the community of Movie Maker
2 users. An engineer by formal education, John is a computer database
and multimedia expert by business and personal experience. He co-authored
the first book about Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a
second one. You can find his advice in the
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the
Windows Movie Makers Forums.
newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler.
Please note that this is an archive of newsletters and some information
may become outdated. PapaJohn, and the webmaster of this site, provides
this information "AS IS" with no warranties.
Visit - PapaJohn's Movie Maker 2 and
Photo Story 2 Newsletter Index