Unscripted TV

Vision mixer

Also known as: Video switcher

Vision mixer

What does a vision mixer do?

Vision mixers work on multi-camera TV programmes. They select what the viewers see on their televisions at home. Sitting next to the studio director in the production gallery, in front of an array of monitors, they cut between the different pictures available in real time. Often, the vision mixer follows the director’s instructions on which camera to select, but at times they make their own decisions while the director is doing something else, like preparing for the next sequence or dealing with an unexpected problem.

A vision mixer needs to be able to concentrate for long periods, as some programmes may run for two or three hours without a break. They can’t afford to miss an important reaction on the face of a contributor or guest. If they capture a special moment, it will enhance the programme and could be in the archives for decades; if they miss it, it will be lost forever.

There are other things to think about too.. On recorded programmes, they need to consider selecting extra camera shots for post-production so the picture editor has alternatives when editing a difficult sequence. Vision mixers increasingly need to layer graphics over the picture such as those used for replays in sporting events.
Sometimes, in addition to providing the main programme output, vision mixers also have to select sources to additional feeds such as in-vision screens.

To do a good job, a vision mixer needs to know the programme content very well, so they often specialise in genres they love, such as entertainment, sport, politics or music (if the latter, it helps if they can read a music score). It can be seen as a technical job, but far more important is the ability to know which shots will cut well together, and to judge the precise moment of when to take a shot. The very best vision mixers are storytellers, capable of capturing the programme or event as it unfolds in front of them, with an almost supernatural instinct for when to cut.

Vision mixers are always ready for the unexpected. Many go on to become multi-camera directors, but others prefer to excel in the vision-mixing role. They are usually freelance.

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What’s a vision mixer good at?

  • Storytelling: know how to use sequences to make the story clear and engaging 
  • Multi-tasking: look at different screens, listen to the director, and operate the mixing desk at the same time
  • Staying calm under pressure: make smart decisions with split-second timing
  • Visual awareness: have an instinctive or learnt understanding of what makes a good picture
  • Knowledge of the subject matter: whether it’s a particular sport, type of music or event, know the subject so you understand where to focus the attention

Who does a vision mixer work with?

A vision mixer works closely with the director. The vision mixer operates the mixing desk while the director calls the shots, or they work off a script that’s been prepared by the director. It’s essential the vision mixer and director have a good understanding and work as a team. Occasionally there is another vision mixer to help with graphics or other specific types of editing.

How do I become a vision mixer?

In order to become a vision mixer, you need experience in the unscripted TV industry. The first step is to get into the industry, most likely starting off as a runner. Some people go on from there to roles as an autocue operator or a production coordinator. Once you have some experience of multi-camera TV shows, you need to find your way into the gallery. Often, people do this through becoming a graphics operator or script supervisor and then going on to become a vision mixer. It takes several years to become a very good vision mixer.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in any subject you enjoy, but English, media studies or maths would be useful, as would film-making, art and design, graphic communication or photography. If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

• BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
• Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media 
• BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
• UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
• OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)


Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. There aren’t apprenticeships in vision-mixing as such, so to get into the industry, it could be useful to take an apprenticeship with a TV broadcaster. You can make your way over to the gallery and to vision mixing from there. To find out more, go to what’s an apprenticeship?. Go to where can I find an apprenticeship? to find apprenticeships in your region, or approach companies directly. Find the major broadcaster schemes using the apprenticeships filter in information and resources.

Get a degree:
You don’t have to have a degree to get into this role, but if you want one, have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in unscripted TV. 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.
It’s also worth searching for diplomas in vision mixing from the National Film and Television School.

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 BBCITVChannel 4Channel 5Sky and EndemolShine UK.

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 and 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. Make use of ScreenSkills list of industry job boards. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the head of talent or 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 an edit producer or a production coordinator in the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being an editor or video assist operator in the film and TV drama industries. Alternatively, you could consider being a camera trainee. 

Further resources