I'm an award-winning writer/director. I also do a bit of producing, editing, and shooting - I believe in being as versatile as possible in our increasingly-digital world. I'm based in the Midwest, I love playing complicated board games, I drink a lot of chocolate stout, and I eat a lot of pizza.
Couldn't agree more Aaron. Marrying good design + motion tracking + a simple pop-grow will get you where you want to be.
Jonah, I'd say you could even skip designing it yourself, and team up with someone who is a good designer already out-of-the-box. Designers always love it when someone thinks their usually still work would look lovely all animated!
Also, it occurs to me I didn't exactly answer your question (sorry). If you need hands-on experience, getting on those sets I mentioned can be accomplished in a number of ways.
The easiest is work on Craigslist films. This is incredibly hit or miss (cmon, it's Craigslist), but if you have ZERO connections, you have to start somewhere.
Seek out production companies in your area, and offer up to PA for free and for experience. Type up a nice resume, dress up, and hand it to someone in person at their front desk. Be friendly.
Interning is a more direct way of doing this.
Join your local filmmaking organization. I'm from Indiana, and we had Indiana Filmmaker's Network, for example. People would always come in with project ideas, and sometimes they didn't have all the help they needed to get something done - perfect opportunity for someone such as yourself!
And finally, reach out on social media - perhaps Meetup, even. Facebook search for productions in your area. Be attentive to casting calls for indie films - because they're going to need crew, too, and cheap (free) is good. Just make sure they feed you. : )
You know, saying "getting started as filmmaker" is like saying "getting started as a medicine doer". There are many different professions in the field of medicine - pharmacist, doctor, nurse, surgeon. The same goes for film. Work (for free) on as many sets as you can, and explore the different jobs - start PA'ing, try some boom op, try some gaffing, 1st AC, DP, and of course give writing/directing a try!
If you want more of a baseline, I'd recommend Vimeo's excellent series on filmmaking:
Check out the "where to begin" section on the right, as well as the categories.
Final two tips:
1.) BE A NICE PERSON. Filmmaking is a team sport.
2.) Keep reading No Film School, of course. : D
I'd recommend a monopod to anything else, actually. Something you can travel with/is collapsible/carbon fiber. For documentary work, a bit of camera movement is acceptable (especially considering many lenses have wonderful Image Stabilization), and you'll want the ease of being able to run-n-gun. I'd go so far as to say depending on the subject matter, I may not even recommend taking a slider at all, and instead using that space/weight for an extra lens and/or extra media.
I agree as well. Very wise to "try before you buy". Just ask my ex - heyoooooo!
If your budget is that low, and you don't know what you want/don't have a baseline, I would actually recommend you team up with other filmmakers who already have gear/would like to join your project, and NOT buy a cam yourself yet. It's been said before, but cameras are simply tools. And lately, they seem to go out of style every 4 years or so. Best of luck to you!