We all have opinions based on our experience but ultimately you have to decide what's best for you. Here is my War And Peace length explanation of my opinion. I’m still not sold as to why a high school student needs to be dropping hard earned cash on gear. Here's my path to working in the business for the last 30 years.
1- Started running sound at church since 3rd grade. Started out on 4 channel amps and was doing live music with 16 inputs, multiple monitor mixes by the time I went to college. By today's standards, that's pretty lame but we are talking about the 70's.
2- Studied mass comm. in college. While in college, I worked on as a camera assistant on a feature, did live sports, freelanced with ESPN, interned at a local news station, ran sound in a campus theatre, worked on a short directed by Joel Douglas and lensed by a guy who did second unit on several Spielberg films. The 1st ac later shot high school musical. The 1st ac on the feature offered me a gig in the camera dept of Miami Vice, which I turned down to stay in school. Do you see the pattern? I plugged into every paying and non-paying gig out there to learn and network. I took a job running live sound on a nationally broadcast cable show and then started running master control. That led to doing satellite uplinks for ESPN, World News Tonight – all while in college.
3- a full time audio job opened up and I took it at the same network. I worked my tail off nights and weekends to learn every piece of gear in house. Everybody left at 5:30, not me. I worked into a producing gig and traveled the US and oversees a few times to produce dozens of live national events and documentaries. Not happy with how other people were editing our projects, I started learning how to run one of the most amazing edit suites I've ever seen. The state of the art digital effects device of the day was the Ampex ADO. I learned the thing from top to bottom and the effects I programmed were used on Entertainment Tonight for years. I stayed there for 8 years until I had learned everything I could possibly learn.
4-For the next 8 years I worked as a staff editor at a production company and did thousands of commercials for regional and local accounts.
5-Then and only then did I buy my first piece of gear. For the past 15 years I've owned a my own production company and when I finally bought, I bought big and dropped about $750,000 and built a facility equipped to do the work I had trained to do. We've done national spots for Sun Sweet Prunes, DIY Network, HGTV, a video that aired on MTV, work for the US Army, US Postal Service, Crystal Geyser Water and more hospitals and car dealers than I can count. I don't care what part of the country you live in, I absolutely guarantee you've seen one of our spots.
Look, I was fortunate to be at the right place many, many times but buying gear doesn't make you a director any more than buying a guitar makes you a rock star. There are so many opportunities to train on someone else's nickel, why not avail you of those chances first? Test the waters and learn what you really need, how to use THEN buy it. I don't know anything about you or where you live but in Birmingham, Alabama where I live, there are at least 4 major churches with top shelf gear. My church has a 3 M/E Sony switcher, 5 cameras with stadium lenses, a couple of final cut suites, a studio with multiple HD camera options, c-stands, kinos, wireless mics, etc. We have a recording studio with an amazing Pro-Tools setup and fibre running all over campus so we can route audio and video at will. We have Whole Hog lighting consoles and moving fixtures. We have probably 5 digital consoles with at least 24 channels and enough portable gear to do a decent sized festival stage. Another church here in town has a couple of Reds. There’s a church in town with a 20 foot crane with remote head. There are churches equipped like this in most larger cities. Honestly, where else can get ready access to this level of gear as a student? We have had 3 guys from our church in the past 5 or 6 years get enough experience to get jobs at Disney World working on their biggest shows. One guy is doing particularly well and is one of their top 3 lighting designers in Florida.
Sure you can buy a camera and grab your buddies and make a movie that you put on YouTube or you can get plugged in with folks who can prepare you for something more. There is no offense intended to anyone or what they are doing with video but understand that there is a very clear delineation between folks who do national and regional work and those who do event work and enter clips into local contests. Which do you want to be if indeed this is what you want to make a career? Based on my experience, getting out there and working on real jobs in a professional environment is statistically the better path to success. Are there exceptions? Sure. The problem is that far too often mom, dad and your buddies will think every piece of crap you do is fantastic. As you are learning, you desperately need ongoing and honest feedback.
Want to make movies over the summer, use your parent’s camera, an iPhone or check out a camera from your school but there is no compelling reason IMO to spend a penny until you know if this is really something you want to do or just a hobby of the week. If it is a passion, jump in and start paying your dues.
Opinions are like butt holes… we all have them and they all stink. You’ll figure out what’s best for you. :)