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#1 Todd Fondleworth

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 03:33 PM

Hi guys, i am currently a student who has always promised himself he would make a movie. I am completely new to the topic and pretty much the length of my understanding of film comes from the X amount of movies i watch per week/Introductory film course (the one that told me what a dolly was B) ). I have a couple friends who are novice actors (they went to that NY film school 2 week program :lol: ) and are willing to act out any script i plan to create. Now that my script is finally done, i come to the actual, very intimidating, process of capturing my words to film. Ive scanned the message board and read topics that I could learn from (and learned that there were all too many). So with the introduction all set here's my question.

I have saved somewhere within the market of 4000-5000 dollars, and i need to know what equipment i should buy. Like should i buy two cheap cameras, or one decent one. The script has a very suburban feel and i dont plan on doing anything too crazy.

Ive heard both sides of the Digital vs. Film war and was wondering (I know, I know its preference) what you would reccommend a novice like myself should pursue. I think what ive gathered is Digital's easier to handle and edit, and Film allows for much more freedom. Then i see 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm and since kindergarten ive learned the larger the number the more progressive but im wondering if made an assumtion. I also understand that there are things called Film Stocks that also have effect on the minutia in the color/contrast that i hope maybe can be explained.

I also understand that some money must be saved for sound, lighting, and video editing software and i hope you can insert a quick little tidbit on what to buy.

If there's a book that can help me out that would be nicely refrenced too.

A preemptive thanks to all who reply.
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#2 Chris Durham

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 04:00 PM

Are you planning on buying a camera specifically to shoot this script? If that's the case, I'd recommend looking at renting equipment. Here's the deal: expect your first movie to be a big steaming pile of crap. May not be, you might be a natural. Probably though, like me, you've decided to make a movie but don't have any experience behind the camera, lighting, directing, supervising your script, etc. You'll be lost while you're making it and as you sit down at your editing station you'll begin to realize all the things you did wrong. No problem here, that's just part of learning. I made my first movie and started screaming at the screen.

Now, if you have a laundry list of projects you can use your multi-thousand dollar camera investment on in the future, then purchasing isn't a bad Idea. I bought my camera partly because I need it long-term for my documentary. I'll probably use it in a few narratives as well. And if you're really looking to learn camera operation, cinematography, etc. it's not a bad deal. But it sounds like you want to write/direct, maybe produce. In any case, you're producing now - it's your money. First rule of financial management: Money now is better than money later (investment notwithstanding), so conserve money where you can. Don't spend $2000 on a camera that you're gonna shoot what would cost $500 if you rented. Even if you're gonna make 4 of those movies, spread out spending your money and don't get tied to a piece of equipment.

Here's another option. Find someone like me who has a camera and trimmings and is looking for projects to cut his teeth on. Don't tell him you have $4000. Buy him beer and tell him you appreciate it. You help him get experience 'DPing' while you get experience directing. Craigslist is great for this. It's a synergistic thing.
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#3 Todd Fondleworth

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 04:54 PM

Thanks for the reply chris,

I have been told before to stay away from the camera nitty gritty, but i feel like I need to get my hands dirty if I want to make my own film. I think (Im probably wrong) the only person who can capture the perspective, and voice of my characters effectively would be myself. Now thats probably a very narcissitic attitude but i think it may hold true. Plus as an added bonus I kinda have that "new territory" exhileration about learning about camera's,shots,angles etc.
Although hopefully i wont regret not listening to your craigslist idea :blink:

I thought about renting before, and when i thought about the schedules all the people that would be working on this film have, I decided that renting something for a couple weeks would have me wishing i just bought a camera. Although renting a camera and just messing around with it for a couple days doesnt sound like a bad idea either.


So i guess the question remains if you were in my shoes what would you buy/rent.

I'd also like to point out I like alot of Wes Anderson's camera work. So if someone has any insight on what he uses to create that image that would be helpful.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 06:40 PM

I started out using Super-8 and it still is viable if you want to shoot some silent footage on film -- especially if you just want to shoot reversal and project the original on a screen. I learned a lot doing that, since reversal is somewhat unforgiving in terms of exposure latitude.

Otherwise, these days I'd probably start with a 24P DV camera and eventually save up to shoot a little 16mm now & then.
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#5 Troy Warr

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 07:21 PM

Hi Kenan,

If you're interesting in making filmmaking a long-term goal, I'd definitely advise you to purchase a camera of your own. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but a camera that has mostly manual controls is ideal. You may find yourself relying on automatic exposure at first, but if you hope to grow your skills, you'll need to be able to adjust as many settings manually as possible.

Regarding the film vs. video debate, I think that you're likely safer with video than film, at this point. Film will almost invariably give you better potential image quality (with exceptions, of course, depending on format) than video (at least standard-definition video, i.e. not HDTV). But, film tends to be very expensive, so you're prohibited in the amount of mistakes that you can make if you want to make a certain film within a strict budget. With video, you can (and should) shoot as much footage as you want for practice.

It sounds like you already have a pretty good idea of what you'll need to make a movie:

- camera
- camera support equipment (tripod, dolly, stabilizer)
- audio recording equipment
- lighting equipment
- computer and editing software
- props, meals, expendable supplies, etc.

This doesn't include filters, lens extenders/adapters, hood(s) or matte box(es), etc. that aren't essential, but may be required to achieve certain effects.

I wouldn't recommend two cameras, as you'll have your hands plenty full with just one. I would look into purchasing a good quality miniDV camera - the format is ubiquitous, well-supported and easy to edit without needing an overly expensive editing system or software. Something like the Canon GL2 would be great, and you can probably even find one on the used market with an array of accessories for well under $2000. Above that, there's the ever-popular Panasonic AG-DVX100B, which is a fantastic-quality camera, but at about $3000 will begin to compromise your budget for other gear. Be careful with eBay - some deals can be had, but there are scams and unscrupulous sellers galore, especially in this market.

Resist the temptation to move to HDV - even though it shows promise, you're ultimately going to need to spend more on a camera, and may well need to upgrade your computer to edit the footage adequately. I would get a standard-definition camera for now, build your skills and move to HDV in a few years (or whatever is around then) when it's had more time to mature, and HDTV is more widely adopted.

Editing software - consider the mainstream programs, Adobe Premiere Elements for the PC and Final Cut Express for Mac. There are other choices for competent editing programs out there (especially for the PC), but you can't go wrong with either of those.

For the other factors, I'd strongly recommend some introductory books like "Cinematography", and other choices from this forum's Library page. "Cinematography" is mainly film-oriented, but the lighting and audio information is essentially universal, and the book overall will help you to gain a solid base in movie production, its terms and considerations.

Best of luck to you!
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#6 Todd Fondleworth

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 08:21 PM

Thank you so much David, and Troy.

I think it has been unanimous thus far that as a novice i should start with video, and upgrade as i hone my skills. With regards to conversion from Video to the "screen" (my basement television) what is the highest quality of conversion (i.e. 1080p)? Am i right in my understanding that the HD cameras as of late are rather ahead of there time and buying miniDV wouldn't really hold me back? Can you still capture vibrant colors on miniDV than you can with Film (i am assuming you can with proper lens's and filters)?

I'm sorry for throwing down even more questions but i'm spending 3000$ dollars on something i love to know as much as i can. I assure you i am researching these things as well, but public opinion to me is much more valuable than a manufacturer's promise.

Again your advice is priceless, and i am very grateful
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#7 Troy Warr

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 10:43 AM

With regards to conversion from Video to the "screen" (my basement television) what is the highest quality of conversion (i.e. 1080p)?

I'm not quite sure what you mean; what kind of television do you have? If it's a standard-definition TV, no conversion necessary. If you have an HDTV, you might want to consider the HDV format after all, since you'd be able to take advantage of the increased resolution.

Am i right in my understanding that the HD cameras as of late are rather ahead of there time and buying miniDV wouldn't really hold me back?

Pretty much. HD is still relatively new, and there's still a very active "format war" happening. On the viewing side you have 720p, 1080i and 1080p; on the shooting side, you have those same formats, but compounded with the different formats on the market - HDV (of which there are numerous "flavors" from different camera manufacturers) and AVCHD comprising the lower end of the market. The latter is very new, and as far as I know is still not editable with any major-brand software. HDV has been around for a few years, but still has a ways to go toward widespread adoption (if it ever does).

The only major drawback with miniDV, in my opinion, is its limited resolution. It's perfectly adequate for DVD distribution, or watching on a standard-definition television, which is what the vast majority of people will have for at least a few more years.

Can you still capture vibrant colors on miniDV than you can with Film (i am assuming you can with proper lens's and filters)?

You sure can, but it takes some practice, as it does with film. Proper lighting can make miniDV look fantastic. David Lynch shot his most recent film, Inland Empire, on miniDV. While it's debatable if that is an "adequate" format for the big screen (again due to resolution), I'm confident that it will look great on a TV set.

One thing to be careful with when using miniDV, or most any digital video format, is its harsh "clipping" of highlights and shadows. Film has a higher exposure latitude, which means that it's less inhibited by over- or underexposure. With digital video, if your highlights are too bright or your shadows too dark, you will lose visual detail permanently. Any changes in brightness or contrast made with your video editing software in post-production will then be more limited, and your image quality will suffer. Making the most of your miniDV camera's dynamic range will take practice, careful lighting, and proper exposure. Again, the Malkiewicz/Mullen book "Cinematography" will serve as a great primer in this regard.

I'm sorry for throwing down even more questions but i'm spending 3000$ dollars on something i love to know as much as i can. I assure you i am researching these things as well, but public opinion to me is much more valuable than a manufacturer's promise.

Not a problem, that's what this forum is for! Obviously you'll have to do a lot of your own research since you're most familiar with your needs and goals, but don't hesitate to ask questions here if you're stuck.

Again, I'd definitely advise you to pick up some books mentioned in the Library and read those cover-to-cover. They're very cheap considering the amount of time and money that they'll save you in the long run.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 10:53 AM

When I started out shooting Super-8, I tried to shoot the best Super-8 I could, to make it look like 16mm if possible, but I wasn't fooling myself that I was going to build a career on my Super-8 footage or make money off of it -- it was a learning tool that was affordable to use. (Although my first paid job in cinematography came when someone saw one of my b&w Super-8 short films at a local festival and asked me to shoot some Super-8 for a music video...)

You don't need to shoot HD at this phase.
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#9 John Holland

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:03 AM

i would stay away from mini DV , as David said try and shoot some Super 8 , i belive you need to know how to shoot film ,before you ever get into the minefield that is HD.
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#10 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:34 AM

i'm not trying to disagree with john, super8 would teach you a lot, and it has some really unique qualities, but bang for buck, and with your level of experience, minidv makes the most since.

think of being able to shoot something and immediately look at it to tell if you did something right or wrong. with film, you'll have to send it off for processing, transfer (which can take days or weeks, depending) and then you look at it and go, "oh poop, that light on the actor was way to bright." with minidv you'll frame the shot and go, "oh, that light is too hot." change it, and be on your merry way.

sound and sound design is the most overlooked of aspects on student works. do a lot of research. it can make a great looking movie incoherent.

on the flip side, a good story with decent editing and sound can still get your point across, even if the pictures are mediocre.

Edited by Chad Stockfleth, 13 February 2007 - 11:35 AM.

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#11 John Holland

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:49 AM

You are talking the easy way ! to really learn you have to be able to use your eyes ,not when looking at subject scene you have lit and then played back and said oh dear that light is to hot. I am trying not to be a boring old fart ,but i bet if i gave my 85 year old mum a Mini DV, after 15mins instruction she could turn out some useable pics. :)
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#12 Todd Fondleworth

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 01:53 PM

From what i understand now is that respect gained in the film community comes from shooting in film. I read a review of someones work on this message board, and when the critic saw that he shot in film he ridiculed is choice. Im not sure if this is an adequate critique, but i kind of don't want to be THAT guy. Although it is a much more painstaking process you are slightly limited in what you do/learn from shooting in film (I understand film has higher fps/the dynanic range). I'm positive this will be something i will be doing for a long time, and not a compulsive dream. I am completely up to yelling at computers and kicking chairs in the attempt to learn this process, i just want to do it the "right" way (although there seems to be no right way). Please feel free to tell me i am wrong in judgement

I have reduced my 3 choices of cameras to these three
Panasonic AG-HVX200 (3000$) HD
Panasonic AG-DX100B (2900$) Video
OR shooting in super 16mm. (i think this is what most people use?)
Im having alot of trouble finding where to buy good 16mm cameras and i see that the Arri Sr2 is a good one, but i dont know where to buy it. I also dont know how much 16mm cameras really cost.

Please tell if my choices are wrong or right. I greatly appreciate all your time with me.

P.s. Im going to buy that cinematography book today.
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 02:43 PM

If you're a beginner, don't spend too much. I'd get a 24P Mini-DV camera like the DVX100B as a learning tool. A 60i HDV camera has both the problem of looking video-ish because of being 60i plus forcing you to deal with the higher amount of resolution, plus the difficulty in showing it in HD to people, etc. There's no need to be dealing with HD at this point.
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#14 Chris Durham

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 02:57 PM

Kenan, I wouldn't pay any attention at all to the debate between film and video at this point. It's a pointless debate: Video is here to stay and on the other hand anyone who thinks that Film is on its way out is mistaken. Both formats are valid. Work with whichever is best for you now. I started on video 5 months ago and I'm chomping at the bit to make the leap to film. But that doesn't mean I'm trashing my video gear. My take on things, and I think anyone here with a three letter suffix on their name would agree, is that the modern professional cinematographer will do very well to be familiar with both.
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#15 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 03:43 PM

I have reduced my 3 choices of cameras to these three
Panasonic AG-HVX200 (3000$) HD
Panasonic AG-DX100B (2900$) Video
OR shooting in super 16mm. (i think this is what most people use?)
Im having alot of trouble finding where to buy good 16mm cameras and i see that the Arri Sr2 is a good one, but i dont know where to buy it. I also dont know how much 16mm cameras really cost.

Eek. Be careful. The HVX200 body is $3000. You also need several P2 memory cards, a good fluid head tripod, and preferably things like an HD monitor and a matte box & follow focus. A full HVX package is around $10,000. And that's not even touching things like lighting and grip equipment, as well as sound!

Think about all of the other things you'll need in addition to the camera. If the $3k is just your camera budget, then maybe go for a used DVX100a. Remember that things like a tripod and lights aren't optional in narrative filmmaking.

Super16 is going to be far too expensive for you to use. If you buy a camera like an SR2, you need to maintain it, and that's a whole other area you need to learn.

Really, though, take a long hard look at your position right now. You have never made a movie before. It's really exciting to think about your movie going to festivals and getting you recognition. In reality, though, this doesn't really happen. I don't say this to be discouraging at all, it's just that I've seen so many people go through the exact same thing. It happened to me too. What happens is that your first movie, hell, your first several years of making movies suck. I've made movies that were so bad I don't even show them to people. Hell, I've made a movie so bad I won't even publically discuss it. It takes a lot of practice to get to the point where you're making really good, worthwhile stuff that you can submit to festivals and get recognition for.

What I'm saying is that you should assume that everything you'll be making with this camera will be practice; primarily for your personal use. It's really unlikely that you'll be making your masterpiece your first time out. Again, I'm not at all intending this as a put-down on you, and I'm not intending to be discouraging. My advice is simply to recognize that it's a long journey, and that you're just starting out on it. In my opinion, it's just not worth it for you to blow $3000 on a camera, especially if you've never used one before. Buy a cheap miniDV camera with as many manual controls as possible, or a Super8 camera. Practice on cheap formats, and in a year or so, when the format war has hopefully settled, get yourself something of higher quality. In the meantime, save your money for things like production design, sound, and lighting.
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 03:45 PM

Think of it this way -- if you can learn to create beautiful images on your DVX100B, great compositons, lighting, etc., then think of how much easier it will be when you shoot on 35mm someday to get great images. I think it's a good challenge to work with lower-end gear and learn to maximize the image quality before you move up to better equipment and formats. When I showed a b&w Super-8 short film at a small local festival, people thought it was 16mm. When I shot 16mm short films in college, some people thought it looked like 35mm. My first 35mm feature was on Agfa stock and the lab people wondered how I made it look so sharp and rich, because so many other indie filmmakers were turning in fuzzy, grainy footage on the same stock.

It's very useful to learn the tricks that fool the eye into thinking the image is richer and more detailed than it really is.
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#17 Troy Warr

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 06:35 PM

I have to agree with Scott and David on this one. I think that we all know the temptation to stretch our budgets to get the best format that money can buy, but I don't think that you'll be disappointed with the AG-DVX100B. Your footage will be essentially free ($3/60-min. miniDV tapes), editing will be easy and fast, and you'll have instant feedback when you shoot your footage. Use the remainder of your budget to buy some quality accessories like a tripod, lights, etc. and when you're able to upgrade the camera in a few years, you won't have to get all new equipment.

In the film world, 16mm or Super-16mm is just too expensive. By the time that you get a camera, shoot some footage, and transfer to video (probably to miniDV anyway, that's what is most common and affordable), you'll have eaten up your entire budget on about 10-20 minutes of usable footage, if you're lucky. Super-8 will get you further, but the image quality that you get won't exceed miniDV by all that much (if any - it's an often-debated point), and again, you're left either projecting and splicing the film by hand, or ultimately transferring to miniDV, which is expensive.

It's a romantic idea to cut your teeth on film, but I think that's because video hasn't really been a viable option for amateurs until relatively recently. Granted, some time in your career you *will* want to get to know film, but I think it only makes sense to get your practice and make your mistakes with a cheap, easy, versatile format like miniDV, and save your 16mm shoots until you have some more experience under your belt. David also has a great point, in that learning to stretch miniDV to its fullest potential will directly translate to doing the same with other formats down the road.

The HVX200 isn't a viable option, for all of the reasons that Scott outlined. Incidentally, where did you find one for $3000? I haven't seen it listed by any reputable dealers for less than about $5300. I haven't looked all that hard, but if you've found it from a decent place for $3000, please let me know!
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#18 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 07:16 PM

Incidentally, where did you find one for $3000? I haven't seen it listed by any reputable dealers for less than about $5300. I haven't looked all that hard, but if you've found it from a decent place for $3000, please let me know!

I don't remember all the details, but it's known to be a shady deal. I think what happens is that less reputable companies sell parts of the package for cheaper [ie, the camera body but not the batteries or anything else that comes in the box], and try to sell you the other parts as well, adding up to just as much, if not more money. If you don't want to buy the rest, then the camera is suddenly on backorder. Something like that. There's pretty much a floor for camera prices, and if you see something for significantly cheaper, it's probably a scam.
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#19 Troy Warr

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 08:17 PM

I don't remember all the details, but it's known to be a shady deal. I think what happens is that less reputable companies sell parts of the package for cheaper [ie, the camera body but not the batteries or anything else that comes in the box], and try to sell you the other parts as well, adding up to just as much, if not more money. If you don't want to buy the rest, then the camera is suddenly on backorder. Something like that. There's pretty much a floor for camera prices, and if you see something for significantly cheaper, it's probably a scam.

Gotcha. I figured it had to be something like that, since the profit margin on cameras is usually about 10% (or less) at a local retail store, and even less at a major online retailer like B&H. Usually every authorized dealer gets camera hardware at about the same cost, and some companies even prohibit advertising retail prices below a set amount.

Kenan, be very wary of those low prices! I would use a major retailer like B&H Photo as a general guide to market pricing. You might find a *slightly* better deal by $20 or $30 at another reputable dealer, but definitely not $2300 better. ;)
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#20 Todd Fondleworth

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 09:23 PM

Hahah thanks for all your input guys, honestly. I am 100% sure i would have completely blown a whole lot of money for a bunch of crap that i'd hate for the rest of my life. I think everyone made a good case for a beginner like me to stick with video, and work from there. Maybe once i get in a good rhythym with video (and save up again) i'll be able to try my hand at film.

To scott i take absolutely no offense to you warning me how bad my stuff is gonna be. I think i'll be the first one to tell you guys that my stuff is gonna be horribly shitty. Of course everyone aspire's to be sitting at sundance with the credits rolling and people on there feet, but by no stretch of my imagination do i think thats gonna happen to me. I just want to dick around with movies i guess. I watch so many i feel like making one would be a fun collective effort. And if i do end up at sundance i wont hesitate to rub it in your face. :P

But jest aside does anyone have specific lighting/sound gear i should buy. I understand that you should never compromise with sound gear. THat seems to be well stressed. Also if any of you know a good lighting kit i can buy?

i understand sound is around $400, and lighting is about another $1000


I also should thank you guys from saving me from a scam. I think the last thing i wanted was to be scammed.
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