Wildlife filmmaking jobs are highly prized in the filmmaking industry. Today, with reduced budgets there’s a significant cross-over between wildlife filmmaking jobs in a crew. Camera operators can also be the directors and so can producers. Occasionally, the camera operator is also the producer. Assistant producers can double up as directors and researchers as talent. But for those of you looking to find your niche in wildlife filmmaking, here are some of the most common and useful roles in the industry! This article describes some of the essential wildlife filmmaking jobs for every professional crew.
Building the next generation of wildlife and environmental media specialists
Many people start off as a runner at a production company or facilities house. This is the place where you edit programmes and hire out equipment. Runners are general dogs bodies, but a good one is invaluable. Crew members could ask runners to make the tea, be a taxi service, pick up tapes, deliver equipment, do photocopying… Any relatively unskilled job that helps everyone else on the team to work efficiently. Being a runner is a great way of meeting people in the industry. It is also an opportunity, through snatched conversations and glimpses of shoots, to learn from them. As a runner, be prepared to keep smiling, whatever someone tells you to do.
Their job is researching possible filming locations as well as finding and checking facts about wildlife and habitats. They also contact scientists to help with a programme story. Additionally, researchers come up with new programme ideas, write draft programme proposals and help with footage research. This entails searching through existing footage in image libraries to find suitable shots for a programme. Sometimes, researchers are lucky enough to go on location. Researchers can be freelance or staff.
Talent is a generic term for anyone who appears on-screen as part of the documentary. This includes actors (yes, documentaries occasionally require acting), characters and hosts. In wildlife documentaries, talent is often sourced from experts in the wildlife industry. For example, documentaries can hire scientists, conservationists and ecotourism operators as talent. To be a good talent you must be authentic and allow your inner personality to ‘pop’ on-screen.
Directors are responsible for the ‘look’ of a film. Amongst the wildlife filmmaking jobs presented, Directors are typically the most creative. They work closely with producers, camera operators, sound people and other production staff. Through this, they translate the original concept or draft script into pictures and sound that tell a coherent and stimulation story. Directors are involved in choosing suitable locations for shooting. They also ensure there is enough coverage of different shot sizes and angles to build a sequence. In addition, they need to be aware of budget and technical constraints and work within them.
A good director has a very clear idea of how he/she wants the programme to look, how to achieve it and how to communicate this to other members of the production and crew. Directors are usually people who are already experienced in film production. Often they will already have worked as researchers, assistant producers or producers.
Producers facilitate a programme from beginning to end. They are responsible for the overall content, structure and quality of the show. A producer is essentially a team leader who works closely with other production staff and crew. Producers may make decisions about which camera operators and other crew to employ. Often, producers will also be directors. The producer may write the script if there is not a separate script-writer. After this, they work together with editors to put the film together after shooting. They are also involved with budgeting. Producers can be owners, freelance or staff.
Editors assemble the various shots into a coherent film with the help of the producer. Just as a cameraperson is skilled in operating a camera creatively, editors are fluent in operating the computers and software to edit the material. This allows them to concentrate on creatively assembling the footage to tell the story. Editors are usually freelance.
Production manager (PM)
Production managers are responsible for making sure the film production stays on schedule and within budget. They supervise the logistical rather than the creative aspects of the production. Working with the producer, PM’s manage operating costs such as salaries, flights, location fees and equipment rental costs. They also oversee health and safety aspects of the production. Production managers directly supervise production coordinators. PM’s and PC’s are often staff rather than freelance. In terms of contract-length, these roles provide some of the best job security in the industry.
Production coordinator (PC)
This person functions under the supervision of the production manager and producer. PC’s directly handle logistics, such as booking flights, booking film crews, hiring in equipment, book hotels or organise camping facilities etc. They can sometimes go on location but usually, this is an office job.
A fixer is a local expert who is responsible for solving problems on location. They smooth the way for production and crew on location. Fixers are usually people living locally to the filming location. They have many contacts and help with arranging access to sites, filming permissions, hiring vehicles and arranging accommodation. They are the oil of the production on location.
Blogger Profile - Ryan Johnson
Ryan is a well known wildlife film maker and biologist and filled numerous wildlife filmmaking jobs during his 15 years in the industry. This has primarily been through his work as researcher, host, camera operator and scientist on shark and marine documentaries. At Africa Media, he runs the Wildlife Documentary Filmmaking Internship Program where students can produce their own 5 minute wildlife documentary in Africa and learn and how to break into this competitive industry.