Elliot Lowndes, camera assistant
Find out more about how he uses biology in his communications career
This interview was conducted in 2012. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers information was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.
What do you do?
I work at Ammonite, which specialises in filming animals at night, and I assist cameramen on location.
What kind of locations?
Last year, we went to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and drove around after dark. It was pitch black. I was poking out of the sunroof in night vision goggles, looking for animals and giving ‘one o’clock’, ‘two o’clock’ directions to the cameramen in the car. We also spent two months in the Azores, going out in a boat at night to hunt for giant squid with a camera on the end of a 500 m fibre optic cable. And in Belize, we filmed tiny crustaceans called ostracods, which produce jets of bioluminescence. That was phenomenal, like a fireworks display under water.
What did you study?
I did physics, chemistry, biology and psychology A levels, then a degree in zoology at Newcastle University. After, I completed a Master’s in wildlife documentary production in Salford. As part of that, I made a ten-minute film about the tansy beetle.
How did you get your first job?
On the back of my film, I got a job in Bristol doing admin at an independent company called Tigress. Then I heard there was a camera assistant role going at Ammonite. It’s a competitive field, but I had a recommendation from someone who worked at Tigress, got my CV in at the right time and made a good impression at the interview.
What prospects are there for progression?
Most cameramen in the industry work as freelancers, but I’ve got lots to learn before I do that, as I need to be sure I can get the shots that people require.
What is your work–life balance like?
It’s tricky being away for long stretches of time, as I don’t always manage to keep in touch very much with my girlfriend and friends. We’ve got quite a fair policy here – for every week we’re away on location, we get a day off in lieu when get home, so that gives you some time to catch up.
What are the most challenging and satisfying things about your job?
We’re developing new specialist tools and technology, so I’ve had to learn how to do detailed technical drawings and learn practical metalworking and woodworking skills on the job.
The best thing is that this job gets you beyond the red tape, so you can see things you’d never normally see. At the Maasai Mara, for example, tourists have to leave at dusk, but we got a special permit allowing us to stay in the reserve. One night after a torrential downpour, we saw hyenas jumping into a flooded ditch and swimming, playing and interacting. They’re nocturnal animals and rarely swim because the rivers are full of crocodiles, so it was a unique sight. Those things are very memorable – they stay with you.
A levels: biology, chemistry, psychology (2005).
BSc, zoology, Newcastle University (2008).
Master’s, wildlife documentary production, University of Salford (2009).
Office administrator, Tigress (2009–10).
Camera assistant, Ammonite (2010–).
Salary guide (2017)
Camera assistant: dependent on experience, £240–£430 per day. Camera operator: dependent on experience, £371–£620 per day (BECTU).
Essential subjects (2017)
For film production, most courses require at least two A levels; to do it at postgraduate level like Elliot you’ll need a good undergraduate degree and some work experience.
To do a zoology degree – which, while helpful for understanding wildlife, isn’t essential for filming – you’ll generally need three A levels, including biology and a second science (UCAS).