A career after the forces - Jonathan Young

Date: Saturday February 16, 2019 at 11:21am

New Challenge New Beginnings (NCNB) is the Resettlement and Lifestyle magazine for the Armed Forces Community. Our front cover interview is with Colin Maclachlan, former SAS turned Actor, Author and Public Speaker. A special thank you to contributors in this issue; Alex Cooper, Jonathan Young, Philip Allan and Richard Harpham..


Thank you for agreeing to speak with NCNB today… Whilst at School, was becoming a Cameraman something that you had an interest in? If so why?

Jonathan: I have a family history in the media going back to my dad in the early 1960’s working as a photographer within British manufacturing industry. I was surrounded by cameras from an early age and that’s were my interest began. When he made the move to motion picture work and I got the chance to go with him on location the early 1980’s, I was hooked ! It is very similar to those who have military family backgrounds with two or even three generations serving. As you are so close to it at the source, you will either push away from it or dive headlong into it. I choose the latter. It really was a case of lights , camera , action !​

As the general public, we are always seeing footage taken from around the world from some of the world’s most dangerous places. Where would you say is the most dangerous place you have filmed?

Jonathan: Frontlines and hostile locations are inherently dangerous, there’s no debate about that. What people don’t understand from the TV pictures is how they ebb and flow like the tides and from one minute to the next in some cases, you could easily find yourself on the wrong side. In urban locations, when rioting is taking place, this the worst. A mob running amok, no one is in charge, action from all directions. In a combat situation, there may well be support from else where and there is a focus and potential objective. With a riot, there is none. That said, the constant threat of IED’s, the unseen enemy in Afghanistan and else where is high in my mind.  If I had rate threat level on the ground, Afganistan,Syria and Iraq all make the top spot.


Travelling is nothing unusual to the Armed Forces, deploying to places that your normal person would not go to. The Armed Forces carry weapons, but you carried your camera whilst following Ross Kemp around Afghan.  How did you find your time with Ross and the Armed Forces whilst in Afghan?​

Jonathan:  I had shot unliterally in Afghanistan a number of times since 2003 before I hooked up with Ross for his various series there in 2008 onwards. I knew what I was letting myself in for when I signed up to work with RK. The British military on the ground welcomed us almost heartedly, one or two people were skeptical of us at first. We didn’t ask for any special treatment and certainly didn’t get any ! We shared all the same meagre facilities as everyone else on the FOB’s, we ate what everyone else ate and did the same as everyone else. The British military as a whole are utterly professional, dedicated and extremely resourceful. Alongside being pragmatic and flexible, two very British traits. I look back on all the times I have worked alongside British military personnel with great fondness and a misty eye. Times I will never forget…. Even the Chuck Norris gags !

Whilst working with the Armed Forces, did you pick up anything that would assist you in the future?

Jonathan: Working as cameraman in the fast paced world of TV, you have to be pretty much “squared away” already with logistics and kit. The two worlds are very similar in reality. Working with the military just reinforced to me the need for effective communications to reach the end target. Couple that with a be ready for anything mentality and you are already well on your way. And a sense of humour…. Because you will need it !​

Many of those serving in the Armed Forces are often unsure of their next career, what advice would you give someone who had an interest in following your footsteps? Get out there and research where you interest my lie.

Jonathan: No point in saying “I would like to work in TV” and then not knowing which direction to take. If you want to work behind the camera for instance, a previous interest in photography and experience on your own time to demonstrate a grasp and understanding of your new choosen profession is required. The media is a difficult and frustrating industry to get access to, to get that bottom step taken on the ladder. Most of the openings that come up are already designed for self starters.  Hee though is the one thing that does stand military personnel in a good position to try and enter the media world is their innate persistence. Allied with the ability to stick at something, not given up at the first hurdle or try a different approach and most of all, not to give up on your self and belief in your own abilities. Going back to the communication skills that you build up in the military, these will be the key to unlocking a future media career. There are opportunities out there, but door knocking will be involved.


Having spent time with the Armed Forces, what transferable skills do you feel people from the forces have that could assist them in seeking the same career?

Jonathan: Communications, logistics, planning and a very healthy work attitude and the means to apply themselves to task management. All of these things are highly transferable. And never under estimate an inquisitive / questioning mind, you can’t over read around your chosen area. We live in the age of the information super highway now and can study any subject we like at the touch two buttons. That and the ability to network. I can easily spot ex military personnel in civilian life through their interpersonal skills.​

Where would someone start in becoming a Cameraman, can individuals volunteer to assist on set to gain experience? ​

Jonathan: This is the age old question, where can I start. Well these days, there are so many routes in. It used to be the preserve of training colleges and the training budgets of the BBC and ITV. They are mostly long gone. Becoming a camera person, it is something that finds you from an early age and develops. What has seen a massive growth over time is the media colleges offering courses. They are a good starting point but I know plenty of people who just fell in to the industry. I know two firemen who both through injury ended up working at the Fire Brigade video unit, loved it and then ended up be coming TV news cameramen. There are several combat video and photography personnel who have gone on to have careers in the civilian side of the industry. As for volunteering, these days everyone is shooting a personal passion project and needs willing staff, skilled or not. Just start looking at social media, numerous groups on Facebook, full of posts looking for people to help out in some way. This is a great starting point to see if you are keen on the business; long hours, bad food, motorway services, poor decisions… oh did I say long hours J ?

Over the years you will have filmed and seen some odd things, interesting things and no doubt scary things, but what funny moment has stuck in your mind? ​

Jonathan: I say this over and over again but I really have lived 10,000 lifetimes doing this job. It isn’t actually a job, it’s a lifestyle choice being a freelance tv cameraman. Don’t expect certainty, expect the opposite. It is though rewarding, challenging, terrifying and humbling all at once to see what I have seen and done over the years. 110 countries and counting, the farthest flung corners of the earth, where foreigners were banned from visiting in Soviet times ….but I have never ever been to Cornwall ! The funny moments can only be justified by those people who were there at the time but one thing I will say, we always have a laugh about the situations we find ourselves in once we get home. Trying to make jump leads out of the sound guys audio cables in the middle of the Canadian tundra, with Polar Bears prowling behind you when some has flattened the car battery, wasn’t funny the time but boy it is funny when you think of now !


When the Armed Forces deploy they will be provided with a packing list, but more often than not something is always left at home.  When you have been away from home working, what has been the most important item of your kit that you left behind (please say the camera)? 

Jonathan: Leaving the camera behind at home or forgetting to put it in the car when you leave to got to the next location in a hurry, I have never done it (honestly !) but I know a couple of absent minded types (hic ! which Pub for lunch) that have done just that and driven off and left the camera behind ! It is the one thing that gives me sleepless nights or makes me stop the car at the top of the road at 5am to double check it is in the boot .The one thing that you never leave home without is your sense of humour. Leave that behind and you are done for. The similarity between the media and the military is quite astonishing. Sense of humour ? check ! Goodwill ? check! Gaffer Tape ? double check ! and good coffee. I have gone out on patrol filming in Afghanistan and elsewhere stirred on the strains of a good espresso. That’s one thing after the camera and batteries that gets packed …. the Aeropress to run from the car. Espresso on the go !

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, in one sentence sum up your time as a Cameraman.

Jonathan: ​ I have lived 10000 lifetimes doing this job. Cameramen don’t retire from the industry , they just got out of focus !


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