How would you like to climb Mt. Everest, travel by camel across the Gobi desert in search of dinosaur eggs or paddle down the Amazon river tracking a rare Brazilian marsupial?
And get paid for it?
If you have an itch to see the world and can boast a film background--from production to writing to operating a camera--there is a growing television market for your skills.
The adventure and travel TV business is booming, with three specialized cable networks that air thousands of hours of documentaries each year.
That creates a constant need for new programming, which means opportunities for writers, producers, editors, camera people and researchers with specialized skills.
"It's an extremely fast-growing area and there's a lot of opportunity for qualified, talented people who can produce outdoor programs," says Peter H. Englehart, vice president of programming and production for Outdoor Life, a cable TV network in Stamford, Conn. "For instance, if you know a lot about fly fishing, we'd be interested in talking to you."
Outdoor Life debuted last year with a $100-million investment and is growing quickly. The Discovery Channel, founded 11 years ago by John S. Hendricks with a handful of employees, now beams into 67.2 million households--about two-thirds of all the homes in America.
The third in this triumvirate is the Travel Channel in Atlanta, which dates to 1987 but only recently started an aggressive growth plan. The network has doubled programming in the last two years, adding popular adventure shows such as "Lonely Planet," for which a typical program might feature a young person cycling through Vietnam or hitching through Ecuador for several months while a camera crew records it all in a gritty, cinema verite style.
Although all three networks have moderate in-house staffs, each depends heavily on outside freelancers and production companies to keep those documentaries flowing.
Discovery, which also owns The Nature Channel, uses outside companies and producers for half of its documentaries.
"Before, you had only PBS airing five documentaries a year," says Discovery senior producer Mick Kaczorowski in Bethesda, Md. "Now there are lots of outlets that didn't exist before. We do 25 hours [of new nature and wildlife documentaries] a year."
In addition to showing the sights, today's user-friendly documentaries might also inform viewers how to book a tour, use the high-tech equipment shown in the documentary and acquire the outdoor skills necessary to participate, often through World Wide Web pages that link viewers with sources, phone numbers and additional references.
Film school graduates who dream of making it big in Hollywood might be surprised at the wages for filming the mating habits of emperor penguins in Antarctica.
Staff salaries, Englehart says, can range from the low $20,000s for a production assistant to six figures for an experienced producer.
But competition is tough. Englehart says he received 7,000 resumes for 12 production assistant jobs recently after placing an ad in the New York area.
So how does one break into such a field?
Freelancer Michael Olmert, who writes cultural and natural history documentaries for Discovery Channel Pictures, suggests doing research and sending out film proposals that showcase your specialized knowledge.
"If you like one of the cable channels, send a resume and say you like their shows and know a lot about, um, water snakes," advises Olmert, who recently finished scripting "The Leopard's Son," a 35-millimeter documentary on the endangered species.
Cable executives say they look for people with esoteric and offbeat expertise, such as encyclopedic knowledge about the endangered California bald eagle or sub-Saharan insects, and an ability to tell a story.
As far as advice for college students, Kaczorowski recommends majoring in literature in college because "once you learn how to tell a good story, you know the components that are needed when you go into the field" to film.
Another route is to apprentice yourself to a filmmaker whose work you admire. Discovery, for instance, hires independent film producers, who then draw up lists of potential crew members whose reels and resumes are evaluated by Discovery before a final crew is assembled.
One who has ridden the TV adventure-show wave like a pro is Ira Opper, who in 1993 started his own company to produce, direct and distribute sports documentaries. Opper concentrates on surfing, skateboarding, jet skiing and windsurfing. His cable TV show "Surfer's Journal," which traces the history of surfing through the lens of its best photographers, airs on the Outdoor Channel. Opper also has had shows on ESPN.
The surf mogul fell in love with the sport and its documentation after seeing the classic surf movie "Endless Summer" at age 14. But for years it was hard to convince broadcast executives that wet guys on boards could be a lucrative market.
"Fifteen years ago, we were knocking on doors and people said, 'No thanks, this is trash.' You should see the rejection letters I got," Opper says. "Now there are networks that revolve around this stuff. It's created a cottage industry."
Freelance writer Denise Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com