We know their names, we see their hands, we hear their muffled commentary. safariLIVE wouldn’t be the same (or even possible) without the invisible men on the vehicle, the men behind the camera.
Going through the countless comments and questions that viewers have, it’s not uncommon to receive ones about the cameramen. Viewers often praise their work, are concerned about their safety, and wonder how it is possible to get a job that could put you in the same car as James Hendry for six hours a day. (Confession: this has actually never been asked.) With this interest in mind, I sat down with a few of our camera operators, affectionately known as cam-ops, to find out more about the anonymous people that travel with us on safari every day.
Unlike so many occupations, one does not simply fall into wildlife filming; one must actively choose it. As such, I asked them what drew them into this line of work. Wium related that he, as so many aspiring cinéastes can likely relate to, “always wanted to film stuff”. Life simply seemed more interesting through a camera lens. Ferg also dreamed of filming professionally in his youth; after watching Wildlife on One on BBC he couldn’t help but want to explore wild places and share them with the world. It was only after pursuing a more conventional career in an office, what some may say was a “real” job, however, that extreme boredom set in and he decided it was time to revisit his dream.
While this certainly is a dream job for many of the cam-ops (and for many burgeoning filmmakers) it’s not always the perfect job. To get the full picture I asked them what the pros and cons of this profession are. The overwhelming consensus about what makes this job so enticing is the amount of time they get to work in some of the most beautiful places in the world, places people pay thousands of dollars to visit on vacation. Ferg finds deep enjoyment in spending so much time with wild animals and Senzo takes great pride in doing something so important for nature. Jeandre also feels that this job in particular is satisfying as it is fundamentally different from what is traditionally produced in the media; it shows nature as it is and connects people to the environment. Senzo is also adamant that he gets to meet interesting people as a wildlife cam-op. I’m inclined to agree given the cast of characters here at safariLIVE.
However, the downsides of this profession are nothing to balk at. As Senzo pointed out, while the field is extremely competitive, it is not going to catapult anyone into millionaire status. Furthermore, being tasked with filming the wilderness requires unconventional living situations that can prevent the cam-ops from being with friends and family for extended periods. Friday nights out with the mates is out of the question the vast majority of the time. For Wium, the worst parts of the job are the long hours, constantly being wet from rain and sweat (although that may be a personal problem) and trying to fit giraffes’ long necks into the frame.
For those of you who still feel that this profession may be the one for you, I’ve gathered a few bits of advice to help you in your endeavour. Firstly, there’s no one way to get into this field. Degrees and courses may be helpful, but the best thing to do is to get yourself a camera, start filming and don’t stop, “even if you have to film sports” advises Wium. Ferg recommends jumping at every opportunity to assist the more experienced; you will (hopefully) learn a tremendous amount and networking is the best way to land jobs in this close-knit industry. But most importantly, wildlife filming must be your passion, not just your job. Wildlife, photography and filmmaking must drive you, even if they aren’t necessarily associated with a paycheck.
When watching safariLIVE – the excitement, the (rare) dull moments of endless driving, the laughter of the guides- it may be easy to forget the presence of the cam-ops. But then there are those moments when the camera brilliantly follows a lesser striped swallow through the sky and the cam-op’s name is shouted in celebration of a job well done. It then becomes obvious to us what was obvious to the cam-op all along: “I am the camera. Everything you see, you see through me.” -Senzo
Senzo mentally prepares himself for an epic afternoon safari.