a typical day, Dan Malone might be in the Bahamas,
recruiting local fishermen to catch a 10-foot tiger shark.
Or he could be in a boat on Lake Michigan, helping a
camera crew get the perfect shot. Or he might be out in
the Pacific Ocean, checking up on underwater divers and
Dan is a marine coordinator. His job is to
synchronize the people and things that make water scenes
possible in feature films, documentaries, television
shows, and commercials. "When you’re on set with
the actors, you’re making it happen," says Dan.
"You’re standing right there watching the
Marine coordinators are at the heart of
the action when a water scene is being filmed. But filming
is typically the culmination of weeks or months of
planning and preparation. "Sometimes, what I do is
like a corporate office job, except that I get to wear
shorts and flip-flops," says Dan. Many of a marine
coordinator’s tasks are the same as those of any
planner. Responsibilities might include making
arrangements over the phone, attending meetings, and
Like many marine coordinators, Dan’s
involvement in a project begins with a document that is
relatively unique to show biz: the script.
The first thing Dan does when he gets a
new script is to read it, highlighting the parts that
pertain to his work. He studies these scenes and considers
how they might be created for filming. Then, he makes a
list of everything that will be needed and drafts a
budget. The budget includes the projected costs of using
docks, hiring marine workers, and renting boats.
Marine coordinators also help choose the
proper spot for filming. To do this, Dan usually visits
the area where production is scheduled to take place. Once
there, he examines
nearby rivers, creeks, and shorelines to find several
Many of Dan’s jobs take place in
sun-kissed corners of the world. "I like that I get
to travel," he says, "and it’s usually in a
pretty nice place that we’re filming." His longest
assignment—working on a movie about pirates—required
him to spend 9 months in the Caribbean.
When scouting for the perfect site, Dan
isn’t just looking for picturesque scenery. He also
takes into account several practical considerations. Among
these are that the water needs to be deep enough to
accommodate the boats; there must be a dock large enough
to support the filming company and its equipment, which
can include dozens of trucks, actors’ dressing rooms,
wardrobe trailers, and other vehicles; and the
surroundings typically cannot be heavily populated with
people or buildings.
Dan then collects pictures and information
on his chosen locations and the boats that will be used.
He presents the results of his preliminary work, along
with his budget proposal and other ideas, to the project’s
director. Based on the director’s artistic vision, Dan
might need to revise parts of his plan.
After his ideas have been approved, Dan
begins arranging details, like locating the boats that are
used both onscreen and off, negotiating the cost of boat
rentals, and hiring local crews. Such work is usually done
on location, and it may involve gathering people and
equipment not intended to be seen onscreen. "When you
watch a movie, you might see several actors on a boat; you
don’t see the 60 members of the marine crew and 20
support boats that are also out there in the water,"
says Dan. The offscreen backup includes camera, shuttle,
and water-safety boats and crews—elements that are
essential to creating a scene on the water.
Marine coordinators also ensure that
everything goes smoothly, particularly during filming.
Safety often becomes a large part of this responsibility.
One of the biggest obstacles, says Dan, is the weather.
"The wind can create big waves," he says.
"The director might say he wants to keep filming, and
I’ll have to tell him it isn’t safe." When that
happens, the director, however reluctant, usually must bow
to the marine coordinator’s expertise.
Dan’s expertise stems from his varied
practical experience. A former beach patrol lifeguard, he
is also a certified diver. And he knows about the ocean’s
impact on vessels: he has been a boat captain for nearly
20 years, so he is well attuned to the dangers of the sea.
"Most marine coordinators start out
as boat captains or divers," says Dan. "But you
also have to know how to manage people." Dan gained
some understanding of management principles when he earned
a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University
of Miami. "That isn’t necessary for becoming a
Dan says of his graduate education, "but it
definitely looks good on a resume."
Dan honed his management abilities when he
owned and operated a charter boat business that arranged
diving trips to the Bahamas. On these trips, Dan began to
work on wildlife documentaries for a number of sponsors.
"We’d go out on my charter boat and film things
like sharks, dolphins, and whales," says Dan.
As he started to gain contacts in the film
industry, Dan learned of additional opportunities. Now, it’s
his prior work experience that helps him find new jobs.
Marine coordinators usually freelance,
which means that they are hired for one job at a time. As
a result, they may have periods in which they have no jobs
at all—or stretches in which they are extremely busy.
After all, says Dan, "You have to work when the work
is there." And when Dan works, he works hard,
sometimes putting in up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Not all of Dan’s interests on the high
seas have led to moneymaking ventures. Fortunately,
though, his current work is the profitable kind. Dan
estimates that an experienced marine coordinator working
on a 3-month feature film could earn about $80,000. Work
on commercials, which is harder to secure, often pays even
better, he says.
As with many occupations, however, marine
coordinators should expect to earn less when they are
getting started in this career. Beginning coordinators may
find that the allotted budget barely covers expenses,
particularly if they’re working on a small-scale,
low-budget project. Yet these jobs offer preparation,
experience, and contacts that can lead to higher paying
And the importance of such considerations
cannot be disregarded in the film industry. "It’s
competitive, for sure," says Dan. "In this
business, a lot of it is who you know."
Getting to know people is one of the
things that Dan likes best about his job, in fact.
"The chance to meet all sorts of very interesting
people with different backgrounds is great," he says.
But what Dan enjoys most about his work is the excitement
and variety that comes with riding the tide. "You don’t
have any idea what you’ll do next," he says.
"And then, all of a sudden, the phone rings…."