There is a lot of great software out there that can aid us all in the making of great content. Over the past few years that I've been trying to make a go at this stuff, I've returned again and again to some essential files that I don't want to live without. If you are unfamiliar with any of these, check them out as they may help you as much as they have helped me to get better and better at this crazy dream. The best news is that despite the fact that all these programs but one will cost you something, they all have free demos that you can try out.
Sony Vegas, $500
I started using EditDV which transmogrified into Cinestream and was subsequently sold and dropped as a product. This led me to look around for a new editor and I found a great one--Sonic Foundry's Vegas 4. Sonic Foundry (who also made Acid Music and Sound Forge) was bought by Sony, who now continues to develop this fine editor. Simple to use and reinforced with a second-to-none audio toolset (it can easily double as an audio editor), Vegas is awesome. Full of features and laid out well for even a small laptop, this mainstay is what I use on every project.
DVDlab PRO, $245
Vegas comes with DVD Architect, but I never liked it much. This led me to find something better and I did with Mediachance's DVDlab PRO, a homebrew program that reverse engineered the DVD standard. You can do anything with this program (subtitles, extra audio tracks, mulitple angles, etc.), but what makes it shine is ease of use and intuitiveness. It's not for everyone, but if you know how to encode your files properly outside of DVDlab (Vegas does it), then this little beauty will satisfy all your authoring needs.
Rough Draft, FREE
I've written quite a few scripts with this simple word processor with a screenplay mode, and it works well. It's a pretty stripped program with practically no script writing features, but it gets the job done. Just hit the tab key to place your cursor for action, dialogue, character, or parenthetical. That's it. I've been longing to try Celtx, another free program that is supposed to be great, but Rough Draft is still pretty dang useful to me.
If you ever have the need to do something cool (like mashups, or commentaries) with ripped DVD files, this program will let you. It is the best mpeg editor that I have come across that lets you edit and trim files (down to the frame) on your drive, as well as separate audio and video and put them back together. A feature I love is that it won't reencode the mpeg if it doesn't have to (like after simple cutting), saving you gobs of render time. I originally paid $250 for this program (to work with ReplayTV files) and it still would be worth that much.
Scenealyzer Live!, $34
While Vegas has a good video capture utility, this one is better and I can use it without booting up my large editor. Simple and easy to use, you can capture with scene detection as well as do time lapse from a tape or a connected camera! I also really appreciate the alerts the program provides (graphically) to let me know if and where my captured file is getting dropped or corrupt frames.
EffectsLab Lite, $109
For simple effects work without the need for something huge like After Effects, you may want this program as much as I did. Specifically designed for the DV filmmaker who needs muzzle flashes and lightsaber effects, ELL is a bargain. I bought it to use on my short Middle of Nowhere, and the results were amazing. With optical and particle effects included as well, I can see I'll be using this program on many many movies in the future.
Okay, now it's your turn. What programs are a must in your toolbox? Please share with us!