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Natural history is one of those genres that seemingly everyone wants to work in, however some of the big indie production companies are saying they are struggling to find talent. It was this disparity which compelled me to write this in response to the article Natural History Renaissance.

If you’re reading this wanting to know how to get into natural history, be prepared for it to be tough. But there are things you can do.

Firstly, there are networks out there specifically for natural history crew. In an effort to remove one of the barriers from entering the genre - the need to be in Bristol - these networks want to encourage the formation of localised hubs all over the world. Bristol is for natural history productions what London was maybe a decade ago for the rest of telly. Things will change, but this takes time.

Don’t be afraid to work in other genres. There’s a huge misnomer that when switching genres, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up all over again. If you’ve been operating cameras for years and you want to switch to working in natural history, you shouldn’t have to start from the ground up. I still freelance on corporate productions as many of them now require live broadcasts, which is a skill needed for large scale live projects like Springwatch and Blue Planet Live. I also freelance in fact-ent and make branded and promotional content too. If you’re good at your job, you’ll be competent no matter what your lens or microphone is pointing at!

The other common advice for those wishing to get into the genre is to make your own films. It sounds like a cop out answer, but it really is the best thing you can do. Being too stubborn to drop a story that I felt needed telling, I self funded an hour long feature film about the Scottish Wildcat, which to my delight made it onto Netflix. Several high level producers were impressed that at just 29 I’d managed to do this - but this hasn’t earned me any jobs in natural history yet.

With that in mind, I think there are also things the production companies themselves can do.

To say there’s a shortage of skilled and willing crew is simply not correct - my production company is frequently inundated with requests for work and work experience. Not everyone who wants to work in natural history is based in Bristol either, and for field based roles this shouldn’t really be a requirement. It’s more economical, more ecological and more diverse to find local crew than it is to fly a few Bristolians all over the world!

On the occasions that job vacancies are posted, they can be so restrictive that even someone with years of experience in that particular role may be effectively ineligible due to an arbitrary number of required broadcast credits. Rumours even suggest that companies may have already decided who they’ll be hiring before a job is posted. Factors like these can and do put people off applying: people who may be the ideal candidate for the job.

Several of the large indies have said they are struggling to keep up with the demand for content from broadcasters and streaming platforms. My suggestion would be for each large indie to partner with a couple of small production companies to help produce commissions. There are plenty of us out there with a wealth of ideas and talent, but perhaps not the right connections or contacts.

In short, there are things that both freelancers and production companies can do to address the disparity. The best opportunities for freelancers can come from making your own projects and building a set of transferrable skills in other genres - just don’t give up if you’re struggling to find the work you’re looking for. Also, if production companies make opportunities more widely available, it will foster new talent and this can only help the genre to grow.

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