Alumnus Simon Smith discusses his work on TV series Chernobyl
I am originally from Essex, but wanted to study in London for my degree as there’s a lot of work opportunities there. I knew that I could gain a lot of work experience as the city is, in my opinion, the worldwide hub for the filming industry.
I don’t feel I had the same student life as some of my other friends who attended campus universities, but I had a London life. I lived in student accommodation and got comfortable with London while having the support network of the University. What I lost out on in campus life, I gained in having access to the city. It gave me an advantage.
Get a head start
Because of this, I didn’t struggle with my first job. I used my time at LSBU to gain experience with the University's support. In my first year, I received my first TV and film credits, something people usually don’t get until they finish studying. My advice to any student is to use your time in London to get a head start, that way it won’t feel like such a big step or transition when you graduate and have to start looking for a job.
I studied the work of Director Nick Broomfield and ended up meeting him in person during one of his promotional tours. I managed to get him to come to LSBU and deliver a talk to my fellow students, and off the back of that, he offered me my first job. He is a huge influence on me; I draw on him in my work. The advice he’s given to me, I’ve given to others.
I don’t have many regrets in terms of projects I’ve worked on because I’ve learned what I like and what I don’t like. For instance, I worked on Big Brother, around series four or five. I was at the Excel Centre with thousands of people lining up outside and having them audition to the camera, I realised I didn’t want to do that. I worked on the Wolfman, a big feature film with Anthony Hopkins, and a colleague told me, "you aren’t cut out for night shoots". I kept falling asleep, so I learned that that wasn’t for me either. I worked on documentaries for a while, but there was a period of time that didn’t sit well with me and led me to write my dissertation on the treatment of documentary contributors. What does it mean to use and manipulate their representation on television and what impact does that have? This kind of question is relevant when you look at things like Love Island today.
Chernobyl has to be my biggest career achievement to date. As an editor, you always hope a series like this will come along, but we didn’t think it would be as big as it is. The success was unexpected. Having received 19 Emmy nominations with 10 wins in 2019, including my own Emmy award for “Best Editing”, and the recently announced 14 BAFTA nominations, again including “Best Editing”, it’s been crazy. The things I learned on my course are still useful to me today. I think about the editing theories I learned and draw on them when I edit. I instinctively think and do things because I learned about it at LSBU. These skills have taken me a long way.
I'm driven by my passion
I’ve had some bad advice in my time. Someone once told me, "you can’t be successful and always be nice," and another person told me, "you can’t be successful and have a family". As you might guess, both of those people didn’t have a family and weren’t very nice, but both of those things are very important to me and I am determined to succeed and prove those statements wrong.
One piece of advice I’m particularly glad I didn’t take: "any opportunity you get, just take it, just get your foot in the door". My agent said that’s the worst advice; focus on what you want and do it because it’s hard to break away from a bad opportunity. Don’t settle.
I am still close to people I went to LSBU with. I have made lifelong friends who share my interests. I went clubbing in London every week, and in my second year my friends and I went to the nightclub Fabric to celebrate me booking work on a BBC drama series filmed in Tunisia about ancient Rome. I met my wife that night. Fast forward to having three children and she has grown with me and been part of my journey.
I’m so aware of how lucky I am that I don’t focus on negatives. I’m driven by my passion, so I don’t come up against usual obstacles like others do in their 9-5. Years ago, I would have been scared of not making it with my job, but what has got me through is that I have always enjoyed what I do, so I’ve never felt stuck and have always progressed. Not enjoying your job can really hold you back.
I have been very lucky that the people I have worked for have helped my career and I try to pass that help on to other assistants. I come back to LSBU and give talks and I can see the passion in some of the students and I hope they make it. It’s enjoyable to see people you help do well; it's a satisfying feeling. My advice to all students, don’t expect things to happen immediately. Success takes time. Just enjoy the process.
Check out Simon's website to see some of the other films and programmes he has worked on.
We feature alumni each month who have had an interesting journey. To nominate someone email firstname.lastname@example.org.