We do TV commercials, political campaigns, music videos, and whatever else we can do well.
The shrill hysterics are an embarrassment to NFS.
As long as we reserve 'hollywood' for a rare effect. Use it when you NEED it, not because you just spent $4800 on it.
Any/all 'effects' should be done rarely, to achieve a deliberate outcome. Shallow DOF is no different.
Since when is pretty a bad thing? Maybe I missed something.
Research any Canon camcorder with the Pro Image sensor, the dynamic range and color saturation are quite impressive for a single sensor camera, and they can practically see in the dark. Buy used from a reputable dealer (like B&H or Adorama) and you will stay within your budget. Our fav is the Vixia HF M41, which has an electronic viewfinder, but there were plenty of cheaper models. Research, research, research. They shoot onto SD cards, a good match for your computer's USB ports with a $5 adapter.
This is a nice substitute steadycam, it will work. Weight the base a little to keep the overall length manageable.
I don't know of a college without a theater department. Get to know a few people there, find out which students are naturals.