AP Ollie Scarth on an unemployed freelancer’s quest for work

Drastic Productions need BRILLIANT Researcher / AP ASAP for AMAZING new reality /fact ent documentary for C4.

Candidates must be fluent in SWAHILI and be available IMMEDIATELY for a two hour shoot in ALASKA. Ability to shoot on all known cameras an advantage.

This person should be highly motivated, able to hit the ground running and set up multiple shoots simultaneously. This is not an entry level job. There are no other jobs. There is no money.

Of course there isn’t. But if I don’t do it, someone else will.

Unfortunately, this has become an all too common phrase among aspiring lower level freelancers in recent years. Following people’s quest for the all-important first credit in this tumultuous and volcanic industry is like watching an exhibition of natural selection on a time lapse. It truly is survival of the fittest.

Whilst that job post may sound like a lot of effort for little reward, one must pay the rent, and make connections with people in the business, so it’s worth taking a hit with a shorter contract. Swahili can’t be that hard to pick up and who doesn’t want to spend a cheeky couple of hours hugging a polar bear anyway? Do they even have polar bears in Alaska? Note to self: check natural habitat of polar bears.

Two days have passed and I’ve heard nothing, assuming they chose some multilingual, pan-continental AP (probably from Bristol) with a dearth of experience far superior to my six meagre credits. Then my phone rings with an ‘Unknown’ number. Which either means I’ve forgotten to pay a bill, or there’s a glimmer of hope I’ll be able to afford the next one.

Drastic interview

It’s Carol from the Drastic talent team who invites me for an interview later that day, at 1600. It’ll take me about 40 minutes to get there so I leave at 1200. Just in case.

The interview is essentially a fast-paced monologue from the exec about the show. “So originally we had this hair brained scheme to set up an African tribal village in Alaska to see how they coped in a totally different environment with new natural adversaries – polar bears and the like.” (Aha!)

He adds, however: “The channel soon became wary of this idea however thinking it might rub human rights activists up the wrong way so we’ve scrapped that. Now we are thinking of doing two series’ back to back using the same initial ingredients. We take a handful of urban city dwellers from the UK and dump them in Alaska or Kenya with a survival expert. They have to live there, in the wilderness with nothing. Each week the survival expert kicks one of them out of the camp. So it’s a revitalisation of a much tried and tested concept. But we’ll shoot it all on a 5D or C300 to give it that modern feel. It’s story driven too in a constructed reality kind of way, so think TOWIE in Alaska. Or Kenya.”

“OK brilliant, it sounds really exciting. I was just wondering if, once we’re out on location, I’ll be shooting – I noticed it said shooting an advantage in the original ad.”

“Can you shoot?”

(He hasn’t read my CV.)

“Yeah absolutely, done lots with the 5D, Canon 305 and all the big DV names from Sony.”

“Well then I don’t see why not. Anyway, great to meet you and hopefully see you in Alaska! Or Kenya.”

“Lovely to meet you, thanks.”

Alaska to Kenya

A couple of days pass and whilst I remain fairly confident I continue to apply for other jobs anyway. The phone rings around 1400 and it’s the Production Manager from Drastic.

‘Hello, it’s Margaret, the Production Manager on Survival of the Fittest – Alaska, and Kenya. I’m doing both at the moment to be honest!”

“Oh poor you, must be tricky!”

“Yes well that’s another matter, anyway, we’d love you to come and join us as a Shooting AP, if you’re still interested?”

“Absolutely.”

“Great, well I think initially you’ll be casting, both shows, then you’ll either go out to Alaska or Kenya depending on how it goes. Can I just check your rate?”

“Right. It’s £850 per week.”

“Oh, blimey, wow. That’s quite a bit more than I had in the budget. Urm, we were looking at something like £250 for our Shooing APs….”

And on it goes. After some time ‘aspiring low-level freelancers’ like me reach a happy medium where both sides are happy.

Like me, you might call your Mum and tell her all about it, at which point she asks when you’re going to get a permanent contract and you explain, again, that isn’t how it works and that in all likelihood will never happen. She starts telling you about mortgages and pensions and the importance of starting to think about such things. After five minutes you’ve had enough, hang up and start wondering what it’s going to be like in Alaska.

Or Kenya.

Click for part one: reality production on a budget.