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What shoud I get?
 - Camera
 - Computer
 - Editing
 - Effects
 - Audio 
 - Make my movies look better

So you love movies, huh?  Think you want to try your hand at making your own, eh?

Congratulation!  You've decided to try something that's a lot of fun!  Well...  Sometimes it can be pretty grueling, not to mention frustrating and painful (both mentally and physically).  But, if it doesn't drive you insane it can be the most rewarding thing you've ever done!

If you're just getting into movie making then I hate your guts, because the amazing digital solutions that are available these days were not around when I first got into this game, oh so many years ago.

A thousand or two bucks may not sound very cheap to you, but considering that 10 years ago a decent camera and editing system could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars and produce lower quality images than today's digital consumer gear, trust me it's a bargoon!

These FAQs  address the very basic questions you should be asking about how to get geared up to make movies.  Feel free to ask for more specifics in the Forums.  We're here to help each other.

What camera should I get?

I won't get into any specific makes or models of cameras, but I'll tell you what I think are the bare minimum features your camera should have.

1) Manual control of everything.
If you are serious about MAKING movies, about capturing the images YOU want, you must have a camera that allows manual control of EVERYTHING.  You can't learn camera techniques for yourself if the camera is  making the exposure decisions for you.

2) External microphone and headphone jacks.
Sound is 50% of the picture.  To make a good movie you need good sound.  The mics. built into most camcorders aren't very good and  pick up noise from the camera (tape transport,  zoom and focus motors), and any physical fumbling you do with your hands.  Also, the further away your actors are from the camera the worse the  sound will be.
An external mic. on  an extension cord lets you get away from the noise the camera makes and closer to your actors.  Headphones allow you to monitor the sound while it's being recorded.  This will let you know immediately if there are any audio problems (mic. bumps, airplanes flying overhead, etc.) instead of later in the editing room after all the actors and crew have gone home.

3) MiniDV or Digital8
The only difference between MiniDV and Digital8 is the size of the tape.  Digital8 gives you the bonus of being able to play the old 8mm formats with your new camera, but MiniDV is much more wide spread and I would suggest you go for it instead.  Some film festivals will accept movies on MiniDV, but not on Digital8.

Stay away from cameras that record to DVD.  The image quality isn't as good, the data format isn't as “editing friendly” and there is way more support and options for the DV format.

I would strongly suggest you get an extra battery and external microphone.  A wide angle lens adapter is also a nice thing to have.

There's plenty of other features that would be great (audio record levels, progressive scan, 16:9 aspect ratio, image stabilization (optical is better than electronic), high definition, interchangeable lenses, etc.), but they will of course cost more.

If your camera meets the above 3 criteria, you will have a very good foundation for learning and experimenting with the basic movie making techniques.

Here's a great page that compares and rates just about every camcorder out there.  I highly recommend it:

NOTE:  Don't spend ALL your money on the camera.  Keep in mind you will still need to buy some support equipment such as a microphone, tripod, computer software (and a computer to run it on!), etc.

What kind of computer should I get?

Well, that can be a touchy question, and I don't want to start a Mac vs. PC flame war here.

It is my personal belief that the less you know about computers, the more a Mac system makes sense.  There are a lot more software/hardware options and support out there for the PC, but you will run into compatibility problems more often than with a Mac system, and unless you know how to fix them you can run into some major headaches.

Despite not having as many options, there are still some excellent programs out there for the Mac that will allow you to do just about any movie making related thing you can imagine.

Get whichever system you're more comfortable with.  Just about any G5 equipped Mac or Pentium 4 equipped PC has enough horsepower for DV editing and audio work.  Get at least 512 MB of RAM and a second hard drive of 100 Gigs or more to dedicate to video data, and you'll be in good shape.  Firewire ports (to connect your DV camcorder to your computer) are pretty standard these days, but you should double check that your system has one.

What editing program should I get?

This is more of a “what can you afford” type question.  If you're serious about perusing a career in editing try to get an Avid product.  You can't go wrong with Final Cut on the Mac (and it's giving Avid a run for it's money in the professional field).  I personally use Vegas Video with no regrets on the PC, but would not recommend it for “career” editors.  Whichever editing program you go for, make sure it has at least these features:

1) Allows “split edits”. 
A split edit is when the picture and audio cut at different times. (e.g. You see a shot of someone talking.  The picture cuts to a reaction of another person while the audio from the previous shot continues.)  A lot of the el cheap-o editing programs that come with camcorders only allow you to cut the picture and audio at the same time.  Split edits are a MUST HAVE feature. You can't do any kind of respectable editing without them.  Watch ANY movie and you'll notice that the majority of edits are split edits.

2) At least a few tracks of audio and the ability to mix them.
Some el chep-o programs only allow you to use the original audio recorded along with the video and another track for adding music. This simply isn't enough.  You also need extra tracks for sound effects, ambiance, etc.  Four tracks would be the bare minimum, but most decent programs allow you to have as many audio tracks as your computer system can handle.

3) Lets you control and export/import video to/from your DV camcorder directly.
Okay, I guess it's not a must have feature, but using 3rd party programs to handle your video I/O is a pain.

What effects program should I get?

Another “what can you afford” question.  Most editing programs have the ability to do simple effects, including chroma keying (green/blue screen).  However, programs dedicated to effects (or extra plug-ins you can buy for most editing programs) will do a much better job than whatever comes standard with your editing program.

After Effects is a popular choice and you can easily get help/advice from thousands of people on the web.

If you are serious about perusing a career in visual effects, Shake seems to be the big up and coming program these days.  My personal choice for the most bang for the buck is Combustion, which also has a decent foothold in professional effects studios.

Honestly, if you're just starting to get into this whole movie making thing, I suggest you concentrate on learning how to use the basic tools to tell an entertaining story before you get caught up in the eye candy.  A visual effect should contribute to telling the story.  If you don't know how to tell a story first, you won't know how to make the most effective effect.

What audio software/hardware should I get?

Just about any microphone on a boom (a long pole) is better than using the mic. built into your camcorder.  Directional (or shotgun) mics. are usually the best choice.  (See the Knowledge Base for more info on microphones.)

Even the cheapest audio hardware that comes standard with most computer systems is adequate for the amateur film maker.  There are higher quality audio cards that can be added to your computer, but you should only consider them if you're really picky about the quality of your sound, or are looking to pursue a career in the audio field.

On the editing side of things, I find that most decent video editors (Final Cut, Avid, Premiere, Vegas Video) have enough audio editing and mixing tools to keep the amateur movie maker happy.

My audio knowledge is a bit weak, so if anyone wants to provide more newbie info please send me an e-mail at

What can I do to make my movies better?

Sorry, people, but there ain't no easy answer to that!

If you want your movies to LOOK better, I would say that lighting and camera composition are the most important things.

If you want your movies to be more ENTERTAINING, I would say writing and editing are the most important things.

None of these things have simple catch all solutions, so I recommend that you check out the Knowledge Base and the forums for some hints and tips.

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