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Adventure On the High Seas: What Does it Take to be a Cruise Ship Videographer?
Posted Feb 8, 2008 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Are you a gypsy with a wanderlust heart? If adventure, travel, broadcast media, video production, and never-the-same routine appeal to you, then a job as a cruise ship videographer just might be for you. Is the job really as fun as it sounds? I wondered the same thing myself. So when my family took a 12-day Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Fun Ship, Freedom, earlier this year, I asked for a behind-the-scenes tour of the editing and media room and spent some time with the video crew on board.

Before we left for our cruise, which departed from Civitavecchia, Italy, I spoke with Andy Wickes, the audio-visual media supervisor of the entire Carnival Cruise Fun Ship fleet. Wickes works in the corporate office located in Miami. "The videographers on board are responsible for all the audio-visual needs of the cruise ship," he said. "There are currently 22 cruise ships in the fleet. Most ships have three or four videographers on board, though the Carnival Freedom (which had its maiden voyage in March 2007) has five videographers due to [its] large size and the new technology on the ship."

figure 1On the Big Screen
What makes the Freedom—the newest ship in the Carnival fleet—different from other Carnival ships is its new, weatherproof Barco LCD screen. It measures 22' x 12' and overlooks the pool area. Comprising 4" square module pieces with 48 controllers, the LCD screen has 12 million pixels and is connected to a computer so you can see the grid.

From 11 a.m. until midnight, the screen was continually showing movies and concerts to the swimmers and sunbathers on deck. The footage was amazingly bright and clear, even on a sunny day. This LCD screen is similar to the technology used in Times Square with its waterproof structure (although it’s much smaller, of course).

The same crew that does video production on the ship is also responsible for operating and programming the content shown on the LCD screen during its 13 hours of daily broadcasting.

Funship Films
Part of the videographer’s job is making Funship Films DVDs for guests to purchase at the end of their cruise. The videographers will document the different tours based on the number of people who have prebooked. There is a rotation among the videographers regarding who goes on the tours.

On one cruise ship which travels to Honduras, for example, the videographer wears a helmet-cam and videotapes people swinging on monkey wire in the rainforest. Some Carnival ships offer ATV (all-terrain vehicle) tours when the ship is in port, but those are difficult to film. They also have underwater housing for their cameras when they go on scuba diving tours. There are typically two tours in each port, but demand for the tours can vary based on the time of year.

I was surprised to learn that there is no "shot list" for the tours and that the videographer has creative freedom to shoot as he or she sees fit. Occasionally stock footage is mixed in with live footage depending on the weather or other factors that may limit the shots they get.

The Funship Films team tries to sell DVDs every day, but unlike photos that you can see and buy instantly, the DVDs aren’t ready for pick-up until the last day of the cruise. The Funship Films DVDs sell for $24.95 to $29.95. Most contain up to 2 hours of footage. One 8 x 10 photo sells for $21.95. During our cruise, the Carnival Freedom sold six different Funship DVDs, with special offers on Ports of Call and Voyage Videos. All DVDs are NTSC System, though a PAL version is available if pre-ordered. Most of the DVDs are purchased during the last 2 days of the 12-day cruise.

figure 1Other A/V and Shooting Responsibilities
The video crew is also responsible for all in-house and entertainment coverage. They must make sure that the plasma televisions are working in the lounges, bars, pools, open decks, etc., and they are also responsible for the content shown on them. All lounges have an input feed that goes both ways. The crew is in charge of the interactive TV system, orders for pay-per-view movies, and receipts for the Sign & Sale card that guests can access from their stateroom TVs.

The videographers work with the Entertainment department as well to videotape some of the on-board audience-participation events, such as the Newlywed Game. The Broadway-style entertainment shows that are offered after dinner aren’t videotaped due to copyright restrictions. The video team also covers "live entertainment" on the ship and is responsible for making sure the "live interactive video" is working. I witnessed this several times in action on the Carnival Freedom. For example, there was a "mask party" on the deck as the ship was leaving the Grand Canal of Venice. There were two videographers covering this party, and the festivities were being live-switched and shown on the huge Barco LCD screen above the pool. One videographer was shooting his camera on a tripod from a "balcony" overlooking the lower deck, while another videographer was handheld and moving within the crowd.

This party footage will become part of the Funship Film DVD that Carnival will sell to cruise line passengers. I also watched a "hairy chest" contest on my stateroom television that was filmed live on the ship. By showing these events to the passengers ahead of time, the crew has a better chance of selling them. After these events are videotaped, they are edited down to short 10-minute pieces on average. The videographers film in-house training videos for other departments’ training programs. They also assist passengers attending on-board business meetings and conventions with their laptop presentations by setting up a projector and screen. They repair all of the televisions in the staterooms and make sure that the satellites are working. Finally, they film the promotional videos about the ship’s land tours.

figure 1Destination Weddings
Some Carnival cruise ships (though not the Carnival Freedom) have a wedding chapel on board. If not, guests get married in the lounge. Some ships also offer island weddings. Either way, clients who choose to get married during their cruise can get a wedding video produced by the on-board video crew. The company has a wedding coordinator in Miami; one may be available on board the ship for weddings and special events. There are 2,200 weddings held on Carnival ships each year. The newlywed couple gets the wedding DVD before they get off the ship. Wedding video packages cost $500–$700 and include the ceremony, pre- and post-interviews, reception, first dance, photo montage, and childhood pictures.

Packages can include honeymoon photos as well; the videographers will even (as a premium add-on) accompany the newlyweds on a tour and will include video from the day. The couple can purchase up to 20 DVDs.

figure 1High-Seas, High-Def?
Of course I had to ask, "Are you shooting with high-definition cameras?" I was told they were not, and that at this point in time they have no plans to switch to HD. "We are waiting for the market to settle down before we consider investing in these expensive cameras," Wickes said. "We have 22 ships and at least two cameras on each ship. Besides, not everyone has an HDTV, so what is the point of spending the money right now?"

The Carnival crews currently shoot with the Sony DSR 250 and DSR 300 broadcast models, which have interchangeable lenses. There are remote cameras in the main theater and in the chapels. The videographers edit using the turnkey Leitch Velocity NLE. They also use After Effects to create animation for the live shows, and they duplicate and print all of the Funship DVDs in their onboard media room.

Meet the Freedom Videographers
The Carnival Freedom has a staff of five videographers. I visited the media room on a sea day and met with four of the videographers on duty, all of whom are from Romania, yet speak English very well. Radu Camarzan has been with Carnival for 8 years and has served on multiple ships. As the ship’s AV supervisor, he is on-call 24/7. Camarzan says there is a lot of opportunity to grow and get promoted in the Carnival media crews. I also met editor Daniel Lare, who says he’s fluent in Premiere, Edius, and Avid (but not Final Cut Pro). He currently works with Adobe Production Studio (last year’s pre-CS3 bundle).

The other videographers, Radu Gherman and Arthur Farcus, said the nice thing about working for the Carnival line is that you do something different each day, and as part of a crew there is more opportunity to learn from other videographers than if you were running your own business. All the videographers I spoke with said they enjoy working on the Carnival Freedom but that you have to adapt to the lifestyle. There are activities and social events for the staff on board, the videographers said, but the only time they mingle with passengers is when they are videotaping them.

Is Cruise Ship Videography for You?
Where does Carnival find its videographers? Wickes said they hire videographers from all over the world. All videographers must have an audio-visual background, and most have an associate’s degree in video production or the equivalent in experience. When I asked about the salary, I was told, "Carnival doesn’t discuss pricing but to say that they are competitive with other cruise line companies, and they also provide free room and board, medical, and other cruise benefits such as a retirement plan after 10 years of service."

Once hired, Carnival videographers are then required to sign a contract of employment. They work for 8 months, followed by 2 months off. They are paid a salary based on working 10 hours per day, 70 hours per week.

Three of the four videographers I spoke with are single, which is probably more conducive to this working lifestyle. When I asked if there is a certain age group that finds this lifestyle appealing, I was told that there are videographers in a wide variety of ages working on these crews. Some people sign on for just one contract, while others continue coming back year after year. If this sounds appealing to you, and you would like to learn more about cruise ship videography or apply for a job on the Carnival line, go to www.Carnival.com and click on "find jobs."

As for me, I prefer being a cruise ship passenger!

Kris Malandruccolo (kris at elegantvideosbykris.com), recipient of a 2005 MarCom Creative award and 2006 Communicator award for The Reel Deal, was inducted into the WEVA Hall of Fame in 2007. A 2005 EventDV 25 honoree, Kris is the only videographer to earn the title of Master Wedding Vendor through the Association of Bridal Consultants. Kris is President Emeritus of the Illinois Videographers Association in Chicago. She is chairperson of the WEVA Public Relations Committee and serves on the WEVA Special Awards Committee.

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