The launch of Vine last month really brought iPhone
video and sharing apps to the fore, and recently I've been testing not only Vine, but competitors like Pincam, Lightt, and now Directr. While Vine lets you shoot 6-second mini movies, it offers little to nothing in the way of editing and enhancing video. Pincam adds Instagram like filters and lets you specify "Highlights" to which your movie gets trimmed, but Directr brings even more game to the genre, with the goal of creating a real mini-movie with multiple scenes. The app can produce more-captivating mini-digital movies than most of its peers, though it still suffers some limitations characteristic of this newly minted class of app.
Setup and Signup
On first run, Directr asks you to allow it to send you push notifications, something not necessary with Pincam. Next, and also unlike Pincam but like Vine, you have to sing up for an account, either creating one with an email address or by connecting your Facebook account. I chose the latter method, which is quicker, simply requiring you to tap a Log In button on a Facebook page. After that, I was switched back to the Directr app, which showed me a big "WELCOME!" message. But I wasn't done with setup yet: I had to then choose a username for the app/service.
After you've set up your account, Directr takes you through a simple six-page tutorial. As soon as you exit this, you'll see that the app isn't just about your own movies?it's about discovering those from other users, too, ? la Flickr. But not only viewing them: You can actually "direct" other users' movies. The well-designed, clear interface makes this and most what you do in this app perfectly clear.
So what does this "directing" involve? The concept will be familiar to users of recent releases Apple's iMovie, whose Trailers feature has you insert your own video clips into a template of shot types, such as close up, group shot, action shot, and so on. In the biz, this is called a storyboard. When you choose "Direct It" from someone else's movie, it actually means that you'll use your own clips in the template used by their movie. It's definitely a great way to build more compelling video stories, rather than just sending a single clip, even one that's been somehow enhanced.
A Directr representative told me that the preset storyboard templates are designed by professional filmmakers, who also pick appropriate background music. He also noted that most users go the preset template route rather than starting from a blank slate.
Whenever you start shooting video inside Directr, the app does something I've been craving desperately for in a video app but haven?t seen until this: A graphic telling you to hold the phone sideways! How often have we shot mobile video holding the phone in a way more conducive to phone calls than to shooting video. When you upload one of these tall clips to YouTube, it looks awful, with big black bars on each side of the worst kind of pillarbox.
Once you turn the phone on its side, you'll see another example of Directr's ingenuity: A circular control that you can move around to set the focus point. Tapping this starts recording. My first clip only needed 1.7 seconds, and had the helpful text, "Wave to the camera" which I used to instruct my PCMag coworker model/victim, Jill Duffy.
When you've shot all the project's required clips, you tap Finish, and the app will go through a "Printing" phase, which took a couple minutes for my 4-clip test movie. This uploads your movie to Directr's server for processing, which also puts it on your profile page. This, of course, means that you can complete a movie project if you're somewhere without data service, for example, abroad on vacation. After printing is finished, you can watch your creation either on the iPhone or on the Directr site. The movies starts and ends with discreet Directr promotions.
If you're not starting from someone else's video, you tap the Plus button at bottom center, which prompts you to choose one of the preset storyboards or a blank template. As mentioned, most users start with a template, but when you start blank, you have three choices as to length: one, three, or five shots. You get more choices of your own when you start on your own like this: You can type in scene captions and overlay captions.
A musical background track is automatically added to your movie. But soundtrack is currently a weak point in the app: you can't choose your music, either by mood or by using an MP3 of your own, and the music the app chooses for you obliterates any audio from the clips you've included in a project.
Don't want to go it alone? Directr doesn?t limit your lone phone to being the only source of video; you can Add Directors. I must note that I ran into a bug in the app at this point, a forever spinning timer wheel. But in another attempt, the feature worked trouble-free.
In addition to the lack of music customization, a couple other gaps show up in Directr's video-editing prowess. You can't use clips already shot on the phone, there's no clip trimming, and there are no fun Instagram-like filters like you get with Pincam. Nor can you start and stop recording for a stop-motion result like you can with Vine. Of course, some of these are choices on the part of the developer, rather than true shortfalls. A definite area for improvement is stability?a bugaboo for just about all video-editing software even up to the pro level. The app quit or stopped responding a few times during my testing, but I was always able to get back on track.
On the movie's page, there are very clear buttons for Facebook, Twitter, save to camera roll, copy link, email, and SMS. But Directr, unlike Vine, has a hearty web presence, where users can view and comment on your creations.
No matter what type of sharing you do, your movie appears on the Directr site, but thankfully, you can make it private if you're not comfortable having it exposed to the world. The web presentation lets viewers comment and "heart" your movies. The site appears to use HTML5 video rather than Flash, but one drawback was that I couldn't view them full screen.
As I've said with previous iPhone video-editing-and-sharing apps, it's a nascent category, and like the rest, Directr, while extremely promising and already a blast to use, lacks maturity. Happily, its makers tell me that a new version is coming in the next few weeks, which we can expect to address some of the shortcomings mentioned here. Directr, even in its current form, is a force for good in the world of mobile video, encouraging better practices for creating more-compelling digital mini-movies. Though the app earns an above average PCMag rating, I'm still waiting for a mobile video app with all the qualities of an Editors' Choice.