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-   -   Full time vs Part Time: How do you make a living? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/under-water-over-land/449415-full-time-vs-part-time-how-do-you-make-living.html)

Jonathan Betz September 28th, 2009 09:58 AM

Full time vs Part Time: How do you make a living?
Wildlife filmmaking, while an exciting and rewarding career, does not necessarily provide a steady income. So I am wondering how others make a living while pursuing a wildlife film career.

Is it possible to film wildlife full-time?

What are the options for employment vs contract work?

Do you have a full-time job and film wildlife on the side? If so what types of jobs do you have and are they flexible enough to allow you to leave for extended periods to work on a wildlife film project?

How do you afford the equipment while making a living?

I'm just curious about what others are doing for work, and what different career paths are out there. Any advice or info would be greatly appreciated.

Bo Skelmose September 28th, 2009 11:06 AM

In Denmark where none of the national broadcasters want to show or produce nature dokumentaries - you have to sell it to the local TV Stations. I am making sport in the weekends and nature documentaries on other days. Sports are paying my equipment and my sallery and the nature documentaries are made in the rest of the week. As you all know - it takes a lot of time to get a decent shot in wildlife - and you will never get paid for the time it takes to produce a decent programme. Find another way to earn your money and do the wildlife for fun. Perhaps you could manage to sell a nature documentary but you will never compete with the gameshows, in payment or number of viewers.
Some of the local TVstations are making programs from nature as - one shoot in 30 minutes - I remember one where they were lokking for birds on a lake - but on the day they were recording - the lake was frozzen and there was no birds - but still 30 minutes TV programme.......

Jeff Kellam September 28th, 2009 12:17 PM


My primary occupation is in the environmental consulting business. I would suggest getting a job with a large consulting firm and growing your video business as time allows.

The only solid advice I can give is; 1. Make a long term plan & 2. Realize it takes years to build and develop any business, partly by making contacts and industry friends/acquantances.

It would also help if you were near your potential client(s) and/or a large production house. You have to make face to face visits to sell.

Ofer Levy September 28th, 2009 02:56 PM

Hi Jonathan,
I live in Sydney and do function still photography for a living. I mostly work weekends so it leaves me the entire week to do my wildlife work. I made my first film (which won the BBC Newcomers Award in Wildscreen'88) 21 years ago but only got back to wildlife filmmaking about 2 years ago. It took me more than 20 years to get in a position where I can have the time and money to afford this life long dream of mine.
Although I enjoy my still photography work I would love to turn wildlife filmmaking into my main career as I am sure there are quite a few people out there who are doing just that.

Good luck!

Jonathan Betz September 29th, 2009 06:38 AM

Thanks for the replies.

Bo, are you shooting sporting events for news? If so are you an employee or do you work as a consultant? (I know things are likely to be different between Denmark and the US)

Jeff, I assume by "long term plan" you mean that I should plan on forming a solid long-term career (like environmental consulting, working for a National Park, teaching, etc.) and not worry so much about forcing the wildlife career too early? What has been your long-term plan?

Ofer, is your photography work freelance, and if so what types of jobs did you have that now allow you to now work independently? Did you work for a newspaper or anything like this?

Just trying to map out the possibilities. It's easy to want to pursue wildlife film right now (I just graduated in May with a biology degree), but it makes sense to begin a more stable and reliable career first and then fit in the wildlife work later.

What other types of jobs have people had?

Ofer Levy September 29th, 2009 06:49 AM


Originally Posted by Jonathan Betz (Post 1413028)
Ofer, is your photography work freelance, and if so what types of jobs did you have that now allow you to now work independently? Did you work for a newspaper or anything like this?

Yes I work as a freelance. I was a science teacher for many years and managed to gradually establish myself as a function photographer.
There is a quicker way to make it as a wildlife filmmaker - find yourself a rich wife..(-:


Bo Skelmose September 29th, 2009 12:22 PM

I produce sports news together with the broadcasters - they supply a journalist and I film and edit the footage. Some days I am a fotograf on the OB teams. But your way would be to follow your education and just work with your filming when not at work - someday you'll se a possibility to use it for a part time work. There is no golden way to follow - just that you will be good at what you really think is interesting - then the work and the money will come...
You cant force it.

Ken Diewert September 30th, 2009 12:22 AM


You posted this in UWOL but it could easily go in 'taking care of business'. In fact it probably has. Here's my 2 cents worth.

I attended film school in Vancouver back in 1990-91. When I came out, one of my instructors helped me get work on some film sets. I was still working at another job that paid fairly well but I loved working in film - so I worked only on TV commercials as they were only a day or two here or there and I could take time away from my other job. As a production assistant I was paid a flat rate of $125 per day, regardless of the length of it. I don't ever remember working less than 15 hours. But I always managed to great great jobs on set and never held a traffic sign, so I really enjoyed it.

After a while I needed to make a choice - and chose to work my 'real' job (40k a year at the time) and get my own gear and do my own thing. I worked it on the side for a few years - went to Central America and shot a wildlife doc - and marketed it with limited success at birdfeeding shops. Shot a lot of live music events, and a few weddings. I wasn't making much (if any) money at it, but I absolutely loved the process of creating and capturing the images. I spent hours stalking birds in marshy swamps and such, or hanging at at nightclubs filming bands.

I then took a couple of years away to start a family and hit it hard again in 2006. The career I had has helped fund equipment purchases and while I still don't generate full-time income from it - I'm working towards that. The one thing that hasn't changed over the years, is my passion for the process. And if you love what you do, you'll never work another day in your life.

Personally, if I was you I'd combine the biology and the film-making and produce a simple, local, educational, environmental video series for kids. Local libraries and schools would buy it. You won't make a lot of money, but you will get experience, good PR, confidence, and (all film-makers really want anyways), an audience.

Also (if you can afford to) look for local non-profit enviro projects that could benefit from a promo video (I've done it and the PR value was very good).

Good Luck.

Rick L. Allen September 30th, 2009 04:53 AM

Jonathan, as a full time freelance videographer I do documentary (lots of history, military, science and my specialty underwater), corporate work, entertainment and some news work. It's taken me 25 years to build a business but there are no guarantees. Take all the PAID work you can and generate PAID work yourself. Schools, libraries & local TV DO NOT have money and will NOT provide sufficient income to support your work. You should also consider how many natural history programs are on TV - not many. What do you bring to table that would make someone want to hire you over an established pro?

We all love what we do but to keep doing it we actually have to work in our field at paid jobs. That means shooting, editing, writing, networking non stop until you make it a career. There are no shortcuts except as Ofer said marrying a wealthy woman.

Jonathan Ramsey October 5th, 2009 11:43 AM

My experience essentially mirrors everyone else's. So I'll skip that.

However, are you aware that there is a Masters degree program at Montana State in Bozeman (I'm 99% sure) that helps people with biology/ecology backgrounds move into related filmmaking ventures? It might be something to consider. I think they pride themselves on getting their graduates into the work force.

One other consideration, read some books on this. There is at least one, if not two, good books on wildlife and nature filmmaking. They bring up relevant economical and moral points (that have to do with the few jobs that exist often asking you to make things or use footage that some people would find objectionable -- think: when SHARKS ATTACK PART IX!).

Lastly, if you can, find someone in your neck of the woods like those of us here on this site that do this part-time or what have you. I often need help on shoots in the backcountry but have trouble finding passionate people with strong backgrounds in either (or both) ecology and filmmaking. Maybe you can cut some years off of acquiring success by learning from those of us who are a few steps further along the trail.

Those are my thoughts. And, forgive me, but I'd like to offer one piece of advice: enjoy the journey... it may or may not happen for you or may end up in a much different place than you had dreamed (i.e., you take time off for a family, etc.). But if you can enjoy the journey, the destination becomes far less important and you will CERTAINLY be more satisfied.

Best wishes,

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