Seetha Kumar is the CEO of ScreenSkills, based in central London but operating UK-wide, who has done remarkably well in an industry where white, middle-aged males still dominate at the top.
With an illustrious career in the media behind her, Seetha is spearheading change in the screen industry in the UK. She hopes to widen access and make it much more inclusive of minority communities and underrepresented people across the board.
ScreenSkills, formerly known as Creative Skillset, aims to find and develop talent across all of UK screen - film, TV, VFX, animation and games – in every role behind the camera from accountancy to hair and make-up, lighting, set decorating, writing or producing.
UK screen is conservatively estimated to be worth £14.4 billion and ScreenSkills works constantly with the industry on addressing skills shortages and needs.
Seetha told the Asian Voice in an exclusive interview: “The opportunities we focus on are across the board- from entry level to mid and senior leadership.”
Seetha is a member of the Creative Diversity Network board and the Royal Television Society Education Committee and was formerly on the Mayor of London's Skills for Londoners Taskforce. Before being appointed CEO at ScreenSkills she was vice president of Pearson Qualifications International, following leadership roles across Pearson’s vocational and higher education teams. But her background is predominantly in television and digital.
She began her career as the first woman reporter at the Financial Express in New Delhi, India, before working for independent production companies making programmes for Channel 4 and then joining the BBC.
“I have spent most of my life making programmes – largely factual. I have worked with and across different genres and led high impact projects, such as the seminal domestic violence season Hitting Home, which resulted in a Parliamentary Early Day Motion,” she said.
“I believe in the public purpose of the BBC. And I gravitated towards subjects where I felt the BBC through accessible storytelling could have a social impact with audiences and so effect change
“I learnt a lot at the BBC. But it was not an easy place to work in. I was aware of being an outsider – an Asian woman. I did not fit the BBC mould – in terms of background or connections or a certain kind of polish.
“Looking back, I think I survived, as I worked very hard and always delivered. I was also willing to do the tough, difficult and the complex - such as successfully leading future-facing strategic projects such as the launch of BBC HD (high definition) or as Controller at BBC Online.”
She eventually left because it “felt time,” she said. “After 20-odd years, it was time for me to move on. I have no regrets leaving.”
Like many colleagues in the industry, Seetha worked as a freelancer on short-term contracts for years though she worked full-time. Although some fear the uncertainty of this way of working, freelancers can be well-paid and work year-round where the challenge is having to keep looking ahead to the next job and how to maintain skills or upskill in an industry that is changing constantly.
“At Screenskills, we do a lot to help freelancers,” she said. Training can help people maintain skills or to upskill, with programmes supported by bursaries and mentoring. “It’s not always an easy life in this industry but it can be a very rewarding one.”
Among new schemes launching this year is First Break, co-funded by ScreenSkills’ High-end TV Skills Fund with voluntary industry contributions. people from a disadvantaged background enter the industry. ITV is the first partner and 10 successful applicants will end up shadowing behind-the-camera workers on Coronation Street and Emmerdale. They will be paid and have their travel covered too. To shortlist the candidates, 100 will be invited to a taster event. As they are whittled down, they will learn about chains of command, on-set etiquette, they will get a tour of a studio and have workshops in skills such as handling kit and make-up.
Other schemes cover the range of roles and career stages from new entrants to executives, including programmes to help those who have taken career breaks for parenting or caring to return to the workplace.
The UK screen industry needs writers, producers, stunt artists, electricians, plasterers, coders and accountants as well as actors.
So even if you are from a non-media background, even if you are a scientist, accountant or engineer, it’s never too late to become part of the media world.
“I worked very hard and I always delivered.”