Written in Stone, the series, and a plea for some advice

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A few weeks ago, during the last part of the “So you want to write a pop-sci book” series, I briefly mentioned the idea of creating a series of mini-documentaries which would help promote my forthcoming book Written in Stone. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it, but I have a bit of a problem. I have never created a short film before (well, outside of TV class in high school), and I am asking for a bit of advice from those who are more experienced with video projects.

At the moment I have two primary questions. The first is, what sort of digital video recorder should I buy? I only have about $400 to spend, but if anyone has any suggestions on good digital camcorders in that range I would most certainly welcome them. My second question has to do with video editing software. Are there are particularly good programs that won’t clean out my bank account? I don’t need anything extremely fancy; just something that makes it easy to piece together pieces of video taken in different places.

I already have a few ideas for the short films, from on-location stories about fossil sites to more general explanations of our relationship with apes, and I imagine that much of my summer will be spent putting the films together. If they are successful, I might make video stories a fairly regular part of my work, but first I need to get my equipment together.

Note: I forgot to mention that I would be doing all this on a Dell Studio 17 laptop running Windows 7.