Reflections with Nitin Jain

Nitin Jain is an award-winning producer and director with National Geographic. His work has been featured by Disney+, CNBC, Discovery, and other platforms across Asia. Nitin boasts an impressive and diverse background of experience, having both a Master’s in Public Administration from NUS and an MBA from Goa University. His production work has brought him around the world, from the British Foreign Office to the wilderness of Alaska.

As a Producer/Director at National Geographic I work with some of the world’s best and brightest scientists, explorers, photographers and filmmakers to tell important stories about our world.  

I am really fortunate that my daily work involves working on a wide range of films, whether about protecting marine life in Hong Kong, saving the arctic permafrost in Alaska or preserving tribal traditions in the forests of India.

I am really passionate and proud of the work that I do. Telling important stories about our world has never been more important. We know that climate change is altering our planet perhaps irreversibly and one-third of all animal and plant species could be gone by 2070. So I sincerely hope that every film I make not only entertains but also enlightens and enables people to better understand the world and their own place in it.

27% of all our proceeds are donated towards funding work in science, conservation and education which adds to the importance of the work that we do.

I hope young people while thinking of their careers choose something that gives them the same meaning and purpose that I have been lucky to have.

I often tell my friends that documentary filmmaking is not something you do, it’s who you are. 

For me there has never really been a distinction between work and life because this is what I am most passionate about. Even in my spare time I am mostly writing, developing new ideas, watching films or television or reading extensively about the world. 

Filmmaking is not really a 9-to-5 career. When you enter this profession you have to be prepared to accept that the normal comforts and predictability of a corporate career will not be available to you. My first job out of college was in a music channel and I used to spend weeks and months on the road organizing concerts in different cities. So very early on I knew what this career had in store for me and it hasn’t changed much since.

My time working for the British Foreign Office was easily the best professional experience of my life. I was really fortunate to work with incredibly bright and talented colleagues many of whom are now ambassadors, High Commissioners and senior civil servants around the world.

Working in the diplomatic world broadens your worldview like few other careers. I got the chance to work with three successive British Prime Ministers, meet leaders like President Obama and Hillary Clinton and be part of major events like the G20 Summit and the London Olympics. 

This stint also opened my mind to the enormous power of good governance and the impact it can have on the world. It is what motivated me to study policymaking and I was lucky to be awarded a scholarship at the LKY School of Public Policy to pursue a Master’s degree in this field. 

I often joke that I am probably the most needlessly overqualified filmmaker in the world. 

But both my master’s degrees have shaped me in their own way into the filmmaker I am. My MBA gave me a stepping stone into the world of media and communications while my Master’s in Public Policy made me better understand the issues facing our world and how I could make a positive impact on the world around me. 

Making documentaries for National Geographic is perhaps the ideal combination of my two educational backgrounds. It allows me to work in the media industry but also use its power to effect positive change in the world in small but meaningful ways.

You don’t need a load of qualifications to be a successful filmmaker. What you do need is a passion for telling good stories.

Going to a film school is desirable but not essential. Just like having an MBA degree won’t make you a successful businessman, a film degree won’t make you a good filmmaker. 

Conversely people from all educational backgrounds can be successful in filmmaking. I have worked alongside colleagues who have studied everything from literature, history, languages and even genetics.

Most of the skills needed to tell great stories can be acquired on the job but what cannot be acquired is a fundamental passion for the medium, an open, curious mind and willingness to work hard and keep learning.

In my extremely varied life and career experiences, I have known some things to be true and I hope the youth in Singapore would find them useful too.

  • Don’t just chase a job, chase a passion. 
  • Our divergence is what makes us exceptional. In life as in our careers what sets us apart is not how similar we are to everybody else, but how different we are. So embrace your divergence.
  • Great leaders aren’t one-dimensional. Great leaders aren’t just good at their jobs but also have well-rounded personalities. They have a polished intellect honed by their interest in history, politics, science and the arts. Leaders become ‘thought leaders’ precisely because their depth gives them a thoughtful, insightful view of the world and sets them apart from the rest. So cultivate varied interests whether relayed to your job or not.

And finally, care about the world. As a small island nation, Singapore faces particular threats from climate change and rising sea levels. So be more engaged socially, environmentally and politically. Meet your local MPs, demand action, raise issues, discuss things with friends and on social media and join hands to take action and be part of the solution.