Tom Watt-Smith

Tom Watt-Smith

What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career?

I left University, went to live in Italy for a year and then returned and enrolled on a BBC training scheme. For the last 15 years I’ve been making TV shows and Documentaries around the world for the major broadcasters; BBC, Netflix, Channel 4, Discovery.

What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve?

I work for an independent production company that makes shows for the BBC, Netflix, Channel 4 and feature films.

As a Director, I write scripts, design a ‘vision’ for a show and then find the right people to make it. The team of Producers, Directors of Photography, Sound folk, presenters, production managers all play a vital role in making a documentary and its success lives and dies by the whole team. As a director, your role is to let everyone do the job they are skilled to do and execute the vision.  Most importantly, keep moral up – making documentaries can be very tough with very long days!

As an Executive Producer, I develop ideas for documentaries and TV shows, pitch them to broadcasters and  then run the making of shows – who works on it, how’s it’s made, the legal elements, health and safety and ultimately making sure the broadcaster are getting what they asked for (and paid for!).

Both jobs are wildly different but hugely rewarding.

What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career/will help with your future career?

Human Geography is at the heart of every documentary I make. Studying Geography at Leeds developed my fascination of the world around me. The process of studying taught me to rigorously interrogate subjects and empowered me to tell stories about our environment in the furthest flung corners of the world. As a geographer, it’s probably no surprise that I veer towards makin documentaries about Africa’s 19th Century Explorers,  Plastics in the Ocean, The global Meat Industry, Medical Teams in Johannesburg, The future of our food and the technology that is changing disability (and a bit of Extreme Fishing with Robson Green!)

Looking back, why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

I was told Leeds was an amazing University – a balance of academic excellence and fun. To be honest BA Geography was a hell of a lot harder then I ever expected – thanks Graham).

What was the best aspect of the course/the University and why? Any highlights?

The freedom to think! Your let free from the shackles of School and can study what you like. I was allowed to do my dissertation on the rise of tourism in post-communist Cuba. Everything is Geography. And if it’s not, I bet it’s not that exciting.

What other activities outside of your studies were you involved in?

I love thaiboxing and dreamed of being a champ (never happened). I was part of a (now painfully embarrassing) Drum and Bass and Jungle show on Leeds Student Radio too – I quickly learnt my life should only ever take place behind the scenes – directing/writing/filming suits me perfectly.

What would you say to students thinking about studying the same course at Leeds/thinking about the same career?

Do it! Studying the world and our place in it can only set you up for the future. Making documentaries is basically like writing dissertations on anything you want and getting paid for it. What’s not to like?