Case study

Living
the dream

There is no question. Omar Soomro is living the dream. He graduated from our Film Production course last year and he has already spent six months working as a camera trainee on Netflix’s acclaimed series Sex Education. Next, he’s moving on to a new series for Amazon (but it’s a secret so he can’t tell us anything about it).

The harder you work ...

As well as Sex Education, Omar has also worked on The Crown, feature films and other productions for the BBC. He says: “I’m very proud and very lucky to be working on Sex Education. But the harder you work, the luckier you get, I suppose.”

In that case, Omar deserves that luck. He’s on an exhausting daily schedule on Sex Education. “But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I wouldn’t change it for a minute,” he says.

“Being on a six/seven-month-long contract job, my crew is my family. I know their kids’ names, I know what they like to eat, I know what their kids like to eat. We’re very close. That connection, that bond we’ve all formed, that’s really important.

“And there’s all the showbiz stuff. It’s nice to see the actors in person. They’re nothing like their characters. They’re just lovely human beings. Not a single bad word to say about any of the talent. They’re just fantastic.”

It helps when you are already a fan of the show. “Me and my girlfriend at the time would sit and watch the show and loved it. I’d talk about: ‘I really want to work on it, I really want to work on it.’ 

“I’m truly blessed to say I am working on it now. It’s really nice to be in such a progressive show that values itself on morals and telling true stories. And not apologising for telling them.”

Omar's story

Omar Soomro smiling

View Omar's story video transcript

Never saying no is a big yes

Omar’s appetite for hard work showed itself when he was at university. He admits that he finds it difficult to say no when a new opportunity presents itself. He explains: “I was always saying yes to new things, scary things, like shooting in Malta or filming on 16mm cameras from the 50s out in Portugal. Doing things that I wasn’t ready to do.

“When those opportunities presented themselves, I just couldn’t say no. You think, well, why not? When else am I going to do this? And I’m so glad that I did.”

And it was an approach that produced valuable contacts. He adds: “While a lot of people were out drinking (I’m not saying I didn’t do that, of course), while they were out partying, I was going to networking events, I was working on night shoots.

“We would finish off lectures, get two hours sleep and then we’d drive and work on night shoots out in Grantham or Sheffield for short films. We weren't getting paid but we’d do them, get another two hours sleep and then be ready for lectures in the morning.

“It was just trying to get it all done. Sacrificing a lot of time and energy to give towards other people’s visions, and also sacrificing towards my own. And all that work ethic that ended up building this career so far, the foundations of it.”

Omar Soomro in a film editing suite

Making connections

Omar attributes a lot of his success to his film lecturer, Barry Squires. “It was the trips down to Pinewood Studios he’d take me on,” he says. “It was the hours outside of lessons. He was extremely generous with his time and his contacts. And that’s one of the reasons why I was so well connected when I left university.”

And one of those trips down to Pinewood Studios led indirectly to his current job. They were told the new camera they were being trained on was being used on the Netflix flagship, Sex Education, by an amazing young cinematographer, Jamie Cairney. So, when Omar heard on the grapevine that they were crewing up for season three, he decided to email Jamie out of the blue.

Omar said: “I’m a huge fan of your work, I’ve just finished uni, I’m all yours if you’ll have me.”

Jamie replied: “I’m not working on season three. But thanks for the kind words.”

That could have been that. But Jamie liked Omar’s CV and gave him a recommendation and some contacts for the people who were working on season three. “After a bit of deliberation, they decided to take me on. And the rest is history. For the past six months anyway.”

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Why choose Derby?

It all started for Omar when his mum bought him his first camera. And his future changed. He had been planning to study medicine but, with his new camera, he put together a showreel to send off to universities.

“We didn’t have a lot of money,” he explains. “She gave me a lot to buy a camera. My first camera. And that was a huge part of getting into university, building a showreel, a portfolio just to get considered as an undergraduate.”

And Omar went to a lot of Open Days before he arrived at Derby. But it didn’t take him long to make up his mind. He explained: “It wasn’t really the lecturers or the programme that swung me, it was the city.  Derby is one of those places. It’s so magnetic. That city. It felt like I was allowed to be who I wanted to be here. I didn’t have to apologise.

“I just got that feeling that, yeah, this is where I’m going to spend three years. I just felt safe. I just felt it was a no brainer. At that one moment it wasn’t: oh, maybe I’ll see if there’s other conditional offers. It was: nah, I’m going to Derby straight away.”

And Omar went on to achieve great things at Derby, winning the Best in Brief (POPS) award at the NAHEMI Kodak Student Commercial Awards 2020 as director and cinematographer.

Omar Soomro smiling

I surpassed what I thought I could achieve, became a person I am proud of, and have gained memories, friends and hopefully a career that will last for a long time.

Omar Soomro
Film Production

What does the future hold?

After Sex Education, it’s … sorry, still can’t tell you. All Omar will say is: “I’ve just got onto a new job, a new Amazon series which is coming out but it’s brand new and I’m not allowed to talk about it. It’s all very exciting. That’s fantastic. I’m really looking forward to it.”

So it looks like his mum’s decision to buy him his camera has paid off.

“I think, like a lot of people who enjoy working hard, they don’t know what to invest that energy into,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges for creatives is finding that avenue of expression. You’ve got all this vision and you’ve got all these things that you want to say but you don’t know how to say it or how to communicate these things. I was quite fortunate to find out that film was that avenue for me. Creatively it was that perfect mix.

“I found my purpose through this industry and university was a canvas for that practice and that expression and that discovery. I think my vision, my scope of vision increased, the people that I knew, the cultures I was exposed to, they all opened up. I think my horizons were just broadened while I was at university.”