Just ten years ago, a "low-budget" feature film couldn't be produced -- much less distributed -- for the price of a car. What a difference a decade makes. As Michael Moore, creator of low-budget indie classic "Roger & Me," has said of today's digital video revolution: "It takes filmmaking out of the hands of snotty semi-rich film school brats" -- not to mention Hollywood itself -- and "puts it into the hands of people in Flint, Michigan." Whether you fancy yourself the next Michael Moore, or you just want to jazz up your home videos, the gear to get there is now within nearly everyone's reach.
The videomaker's requisite heap o' hardware has gotten astonishingly small. Indeed, with little more than an Apple iMac DV computer (street price: $1,300) and a mini-DV-format camcorder, such as Sharp's VL-SD20U (street price: $675), near-TV quality videos can be made literally right out of the box. Unlike the VHS or even the Hi-8 camcorders of the early '90s, mini-DV (digital video) produces professional-quality footage for a fraction of the cost of professional gear. The higher-end Sony DVX-1000 (street price: $3,500) has become the darling of indie film producers, including the makers of recent hits The Cruise and Celebration.
If you don't have a mini-DV camcorder but your computer has a high-speed FireWire port (a.k.a. IEEE 1394), you can still input material from your old Hi-8, VHS, S-VHS, and other format tapes using an analog/digital converter such as Sony's DVMC-DA1. Other options offered by companies such as Pinnacle Systems cover the range of possible combinations of different operating systems, computer ports, and media types. Most converters can be bought for less than a grand.
One last hardware consideration: If you want to edit together every shot of Ralphie from last year's soccer season, you'll be filling up your computer's hard drive faster than you can shout, "Cut!" A removable storage device such as Iomega's Jaz drive easily alleviates this problem.