Unscripted TV

Data wrangler

Also known as: Loader, DIT

Data wrangler

What does a data wrangler do?

Data wranglers back up files on a location shoot. That might sound straightforward enough – but they have to keep a cool head because if they don’t do it correctly, all the work that’s been done to capture the action could be lost.

On a shoot using digital cameras, data wranglers take the cards containing the raw files (known as ‘rushes’) from the cameras and sound recorders. They transfer and back up data on to memory drives. They check the data, label and log them, making sure there’s no data loss or corruption. Data wrangling is usually done to at least two external hard drives.

Then they transfer the data to the post-production department of the unscripted TV production. They keep a log of who has received what footage and what copies of the data exist.

Depending on the production, data wranglers may have to perform runner or logger duties too.  More experienced data wranglers might also be involved in setting up the cameras and adjusting the live pictures in a shoot. In those instances, they are might be called a 'digital imaging technician' (DIT).  Some data wranglers might also be expected to maintain the camera kit when out on location. Then they might be known as 'loaders'.

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What’s a data wrangler good at?

  • Attention to detail: label files accurately, wrangle the data without loss, notice corruptions
  • Digital cameras and computers: understand cameras, file formats and storage media
  • Problem solving: be able to fix kit, tech and cable connections
  • Staying calm under pressure: work methodically within a high-stress environment, speak up when things don’t go to plan
  • TV production: understand how a TV production works, the roles within it and production process

Who does a data wrangler work with?

Data wranglers work with the camera operators and directors of photography. They also communicate with the teams in post-production and with the production coordinators who create a log for the production team back in the office. In some instances, they work directly for the digital imaging technician, although many productions don’t have that role.

How do I become a data wrangler?

Data wrangler is a relatively junior role that can lead into either editorial, post-production or camera positions. There are different routes in. One is to begin work in post-production, possibly in an entry level role such as post-production runner or logger, or in a more general unscripted TV runner role. Working as a logger can be particularly useful if you want to become a data wrangler, because loggers often use some of the same software as data wranglers. Alternatively, you could first work as a kit room assistant with a view to getting work in the camera department on a production.

At school or college:
If you want to work your way up in the camera department, you can take A-levels or Highers in art, art and design or graphic communication, with maths and physics.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. Some of the major broadcasters offer apprenticeships. Check out the schemes with ITV.

If you can’t get an apprenticeship with a broadcaster, it might be worth trying to find one outside the TV industry, where you can develop your skills and your craft. You can then move into TV at a later point. In England, there’s a Level 3 apprenticeship for Photographic Assistant.

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will give you the skills you want. Go to where can I find an apprenticeship? to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly.

Work for an equipment company:
Contact an equipment rental company like Panavision, Provision or ARRI Rentals. Ask if you can become a kit room assistant for them. That way you will get to learn more about the kit and build up contacts. See our advice on approaching employers to learn how to do this.

Get a degree:
It’s not essential to have a degree in order to become a data wrangler. There are, however, degree courses that specialise in television production and photography that you can consider. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV or search for "camera" or "edit". We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.

Look outside the industry:
You might consider seeking entry level work in the film and TV drama industries in order to gain useful experience, such as being a camera trainee, and then turn to the unscripted TV industry to become a camera assistant.

Take a short course:
Hone your data wrangling skills by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one about camera or camera work.

Network:
Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to production manager. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff. StartinTV offers tips on creating your CV and attending interviews, as well as some advice for your first day working in TV.

You might also be interested in…

Being a digital imaging technician, camera operator or an edit producer in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a digital imaging technician in the film and TV drama industries.

Further resources