It has been my experience that most people can learn some programming, given sufficient motivation. Even biologists :) But to go beyond tweaking the cookbook stuff, it takes some affinity for programming, if not outright talent. If your friends have already picked up some programming on their own, that is a good start.
in reply to Suggestions for radical career change?
Regarding video production, a lot of it is digital these days. Nonlinear editing (NLE) packages are cheap and abundant. They may want to try coming up to speed with modern video techniques first. It will make them much better prospects.
And if they want to combine the two, take a look at Video::Info::MPEG, FFmpeg and PDL. Using perl to process video is extremely cool :)