> i've gone through these m4v versions of the tapes and pulled out the
> clips that i want, but no matter how high a quality i try to export
> them with, the quality goes way down - both frame rate and resolution
> goes way down.
What rendering settings are you using, exactly? Among other things, the
theora video codec has a quality setting of 16 by default, which is very
low, you want to raise it (the maximum is 63 or something like that!).
> the sound stays ok but it adds this mysterious clicking.
I'm guessing you are using the stable 0.13.3 release; see the user
manual in the troubleshooting section near page 11, I'm guessing you're
affected by the crackling noise problem due to the sample rate (which
has a workaround).
> 1. can i take clips out of a file without changing anything else? just
> exporting those clips exactly as the originals?
Maybe with avidemux... but lossless processing is currently not possible
> 2. can i retain the same quality in the final project as i have in the
Strictly theoretically speaking no, because you are not using lossless
codecs, you are re-encoding, applying transformations to the image
(well, if we had effects and transitions ;), etc. Unless you use
avidemux and apply no filters at all, for example.