Jo Ashman, Class of 2002 | Freelance TV Producer/Director

JoAshman-pic1It seems almost unbelievable to me, that’s it’s been around 15 years since I graduated from Lincoln. 15 years was once an impossibly long time frame, and being 35 … well let’s face it, who wants to think about being in their mid-thirties when they’ve just graduated?!  Well I can honestly say, now I’m here, I’m loving it.  I’m currently a freelance producer / director, based in Bristol, doing the job of my dreams.

I just about scraped a 2:1 degree, BA (Hons) in Media Production.  We were the first graduates to do the course and have University of Lincoln on our certificates. I knew it would be tough to break into the industry, and I think I sent my CV to almost any company I could find.  In those early months I did my fair share of work experience and runner jobs, just to get any experience under my belt.  But for me, I desperately wanted to go into wildlife filmmaking, and to do that was going to be even harder.  Several conversations had left me under no illusions that the only people who were successful in this field, were those with a scientific degree, not media…   I was getting frustrated and despondent by the whole system, so when a friend called to say he was going to trek to Everest Base Camp, I jumped at the chance to join him, and spent the next few months travelling across Central Asia and Russia.  I’d recommend time out travelling alone or with friends to anyone, it certainly gave me the time to really evaluate what I wanted.  Strangely it also taught me to trust my instincts, and that’s something I still completely rely on in my job today, particularly in stressful filming situations.

However, what I would say about travelling is, just be careful!  While I was in India, I had a serious accident that changed my life completely.  Following operations and hours and hours of physio the next few months certainly made me question a lot of things.  I had conversations with good friends from the Uni course who suggested maybe I should try and think of a different career path, but I wasn’t going to give up quite so soon.  And, in that weird way the world works sometimes – about 8 months after my accident, while I was still at home convalescing, I was trawling the BBC jobs pages online and came across an advert that could almost have been written for me.  It was for a Disabled Trainee Researcher to work in the Natural History Unit in Bristol on a 9 month placement in their Development team – and crucially you didn’t need a science degree.  Traineeships were (and still are) like gold dust at the BBC, and to find one, for the place I most wanted to work seemed was amazing.  I had to apply.

Not only did I get the job, but I’ve basically been down in Bristol ever since.  Working in development was the best grounding I could have asked for, it made me really understand what goes in to every single programme and idea that gets made, and it made me appreciate how much things change from a germ of an idea, to commission through to the finished film. Below is a picture of my post-it note running orders – it’s how I always work out the plan of every show.


From the traineeship I moved on through all the ranks over the next 10 years – from Junior Researcher on “Incredible Animal Journeys”, to researcher on “Attenborough and the Giant Egg”; I was an Assistant Producer on “The One Show”, and most recently have been a Producer on “Springwatch” and “Big Blue Live”.  I’ve loved each and every role, I took my time.  I didn’t want to jump ahead and then fall flat on my face.  I’ve worked on programmes with a wide variety of styles, for numerous channels and audiences.  Not only to work out what I enjoy working on the most, but to gain as many different experiences as possible.  It’s not been easy, doing everything contract by contract takes time to get used to, and the long, unsociable, unpredictable hours can take its toll.  But that said – I wouldn’t change my job for the world.  I learn something new every day, I’ve been sent to some of the most incredible places on the planet, to film with the world’s best experts in their field. (Photo of Wildlife Cameraman John Aitchison.)


I’m so glad I persevered, that I didn’t listen to the people who said it would be too difficult, that it wasn’t a proper job, or even suggesting that having a disability would hinder my chosen career.  I will be forever grateful to the diversity schemes that the BBC, Channel 4 and other broadcasters still promote, and I believe, there’s room for everyone in this industry if you have the talent and are prepared to put in the effort.  Because of all that, I’ve registered on the University of Lincoln School of Film & Media Mentoring scheme this year and really looking forward to working with students in the coming months and years.