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Out into the world, camera in hand: Tulasi Das became a filmmaker

Leiden alumna Tulasi Das moved to England to pursue a career in film, was accepted onto the BBC Trainee Scheme and now works in London as a researcher on historical documentaries. “I still can’t believe I get to do such cool work.”

Name: Tulasi Das (26). Position: freelance filmmaker and researcher for documentaries. Course: BA History with a minor in Media Theory. Graduated in: 2013.

It’s not the most obvious move, to go from studying History in Leiden to a career in film in the UK. How did that come about?

“I’ve always loved film. A friend helped me find an internship with a film production company in Amsterdam, and after that internship I knew this was what I wanted to do. Then I started looking for competitions for beginner filmmakers and I pitched an idea to The Talent Lab, a UK competition. I was selected as a candidate, but they said I could only compete if I lived in England, so I just moved there.”

That’s dedication!

“I already had family in London, so that made it a bit less intimidating, but yes, I did go for it. In the end I didn’t win that competition – I made it to the third round – but it definitely increased my enthusiasm for the film world.”

After that you worked for the BBC for a year, as part of the BBC Trainee Scheme – how did you end up there?

“I spent a while doing all sorts of small jobs in the film world, and then I applied to the BBC Trainee Scheme. I sent in some films I’d made, and I had to pitch ideas to the BBC broadcasters. Fortunately that went well, and I was in!”

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What were your duties at the BBC?

“When you do a traineeship you work in various editorial offices. In my first few months I worked in Natural History TV on a programme about predators: Tribes, Predators & Me. I sat behind a desk there, working as a researcher. After that I was in Digital Storytelling for a while, and then I ended up in Current Affairs, where I made short films to go on the website.”

Which project are you most proud of?

“The thing I like best about my work is that I meet people I’d never normally come into contact with. I made a film for Current Affairs about a man who lives with his daughter in a yurt in a squatter community; it was remarkable to film that. But for me, the real high point of the traineeship was going to Ethiopia for Tribes, Predators & Me, to help the film crew with an episode about hyenas. As a researcher, I was the point of contact there for the local population, and I translated the scenes we recorded on site with the help of an interpreter.”

Tulasi (left, in the green top) on the set of the BBC series Tribes, Predators & Me in Ethiopia.

Do you use any of the skills you gained during your degree in your work?

“Absolutely. I’m really glad I did History. At first glance it doesn’t look as if there’s a direct connection between History and filmmaking, but in a sense History is also telling stories, and that’s what I’m doing now. I also use the research skills I gained during my degree every day in my work as a researcher. At the moment I’m also working as a freelancer with Brook Lapping, a documentary production company that makes documentaries about political history, so my degree is also relevant for that.”

Do you have any tips for students who also want to get into the film world?

“First and foremost, start by making films. These days you only need your phone camera. The first films you make will be terrible, but you’ll get better with practice. And approach filmmakers you admire, to ask if they need any help – that’s how I got my chance with Brook Lapping. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  

Finally, what are your plans for the future?

“For now, I’m very happy with the work I’m doing. But if I had to think about the future, I’d love to become a PD (producer/director) and make my own films.”

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