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The dreaded iMovie: "Your project is unreadable" error

Laurie A. Duncan
December 7, 2006
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With [insert your preferred holiday here] fast approaching, I'm sure many of you will be dusting off the trusty video cam and shooting hours and hours of home movies, with the goal of subjecting your family and friends with tedious hysterical clips, for years to come. Once you've captured all the merriment, most of you will probably use iMovie to edit your work. You'll spend days, if not weeks, clipping here and there, adding effects and transitions and titles and picking the perfect soundtrack and getting the timing of that Ken Burns effect just right. You'll finally finish, at 3 in the morning, and finally settle into bed, content that your flick is masterpiece on par with It's a Wonderful Life. But in the morning you'll realize you forgot something. That mole on Aunt Mary's chin is pretty scary and even iPhoto's "retouch" tool couldn't hide it, so maybe you should soften up those frames to make your film a little more kid-friendly.

So you drag yourself out of bed and head back to your iMac, open iMovie and BAM! Instead of your project opening so you can jump right in to edit, you get an error message. iMovie exclaims "Your project is unreadable." You try again. But it taunts you. "Your project is unreadable" You reboot the computer, because that's always a magical cure-all. But no... "Your project is STILL unreadable."

Personally, I'm more familiar with the "Your project is unwatchable" message - but that's after I've shown the movie. Let's face it, both situations can leave you feeling quite helpless. While there's no going back for me, there is still a chance for you to recover.

Head over to Apple's support pages and bring up article # 93222: iMovie: "Your project is unreadable" Message. There, you'll find tips for salvaging your many hours of hard work and getting your film back in the can. Here's a recap, for your convenience:



If the project file is unreadable, you may be able to recover it using the methods below.

Method 1 (for all versions of iMovie)

  • Create a new project in iMovie.
  • Drag the contents of the Media folder of the original project folder into the shelf of the new project.
  • Re-assemble the project by dragging clips from the shelf to the timeline.
Method 2 (for iMovie 3 or higher)
  • Open the iMovie project folder in the Finder and locate the reference .mov file at the root level of the project folder.
  • Create a new project in iMovie.
  • Drag the .mov file from the original project folder into the new iMovie project timeline to import the original project contents as a single clip.
Warning: If you use this method to recover your project, do not delete the original project folder or the items in it. The reference movie relies on these files.

Hopefully one of those tricks will get your blockbuster back on track. And if not? Console yourself with a hot toddy or ask a trusted friend to hit you over the head a few times with one of those fruitcakes you've been stockpiling until the pain subsides. Remember, there's always next year!














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