Posted 04 April 2023
Interview by Yaya Clarke
Mention Tomas Araya Larrain

Finding retired politicians and a 100+-year-old woman: Tomas Araya Larrain on life as a TV researcher

Not allowing himself to be stirred by the ebbs and flows of an industry “rampant with nepotism”, Tomas Araya Larrain is making his mark in television research. Always going the extra mile to fulfil the needs of his projects, he’s completed all sorts of fact finding to make productions happen – from sourcing retired politicians to locating an over 100-year-old resident through investigating Google Maps and sending letters to a local community. Here, Tomas tells us how he believes others like him can overcome the barriers faced when competing with the privileged for work in television, as well as the importance of engaging with independent films and documentaries.

Tomas Araya Larrain

Tomas Araya Larrain

Job Title

Television Researcher



Previous Employment

Archive Researcher, ShineTV (2022)

Place of Study

BSc Economics and Film Studies, University of Exeter (2014–2018)

Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
Being a TV researcher is a very diverse and changing role. It is most common to be a freelancer, like myself, which means you go from one fixed-term contract to another, working on a different production each time.

It can be from a daytime antiques programme to a natural history one to a current affairs one about rural life. You can find yourself finding new stories, researching new subject matters to help write scripts and then going on location to help film, keep across scripts, be the point of contact for the contributors (interviewees or participants) and being the go-to person for anything.

No two days are really the same. In the office, you normally help with setting up upcoming shoots – but on location, every day is different. I am currently working on BBC’s Countryfile, where last week we filmed on a vineyard in North Wales, a farm in Snowdon and then on the University of Nottingham campus. Prior to this, I was working on finding archives for [celebrity chef] Rick Stein’s Cornwall. The job takes you to places you would never normally go (and some places you might never go again).

“TV research is a very diverse and changing role. You could go from one fixed-term contract to another, working on a different production each time.”

What kind of skills are needed to do your role?
The most important skill to have is a can-do attitude and perseverance; from experience, this isn’t always so easy to find in people. You need to have some hustle in you and a willingness to get the job done as quickly and smoothly as possible.

For example, I was trying to get hold of a lady that was over 100 years of age – who had lived in the same house ever since she was born – for a film idea. I had only a picture [of her] and [the name of an] area to go by, and with the help of Google Maps, I sent letters out to a few addresses it could have been. It worked – she rang me!

“The most important skill to have is a can-do attitude, perseverance and a willingness to get the job done as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

Can you tell us about some of your favourite projects to date?
I developed a three-part documentary about the 1984-85 UK miners’ strikes for a company. It is meant to be the ‘go-to’ documentary for the miners’ strike for BBC One, and I managed to get some of the best interviewees possible. From Lord Neil Kinnock – member of the House of Lords and leader of the Labour Party from 1983–1992 – to the fierce unionist David John Douglass (AKA Danny the Red) and Lord Norman Lamount, who was the Tory Secretary of State at the time.

If the documentary is to be made, these are some of the very best interviewees on the subject matter that I could get – and I secured them for the project that I solely researched and put together.

A pitch cover for a prospective BBC One documentary on the miners’ strikes that Tomas researched for

How I got here

How have you landed freelance jobs?
The main website for television jobs is Talent Manager, which you can access for free. You can pay to have a premium account.

When applying for roles, you need to get used to rejection – just apply and forget about it. It can be very tough to get work sometimes, especially in the winter months where a lot of people are looking and it is very competitive. You just need to keep pushing and eventually you will get one.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly? 

It was very hard and still continues to be. The industry is rampant with nepotism and whilst it’s sad, it is true.

I did a lot of research for a short film I was developing about the ethnic bias which exists and is evidenced through research. I have a foreign name and I do believe that it can, and does, hinder me. If you are the same and don’t have parents or family friends in the industry, it will be harder – but not impossible.

We can shine as normal, state educated people who have real life experiences that make us just as good, or even better, than those who don’t.

“If you don’t have parents or family friends in the industry, it’s harder, but not impossible. You can shine as a person with real life experiences.”

Tomas’ production friends from Dickinson’s Real Deal (2019)

Could you share any resources that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career?
The Guardian’s Short Documentaries have inspired me – they normally release a new doc every month or so which are always of the highest standards.

YouTube. If there is anything technical that you don’t know, just look it up on YouTube. There will always be other people that are stuck with the same thing, and you can self-teach almost anything.

BBC’s Storyville. It is a collection of documentaries – similar to The Guardian’s docs in tone – that are usually feature-length. One of my favourites was Into the Storm: Surfing to Survive.

In Bristol, it’s been important for me to go and see non-Hollywood films in cinemas like Watershed or the Cube. It inspires me to make things that are more achievable, but just as awe-inspiring. When I’m in Cardiff, I do the same at Chapter Arts Centre.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way? 

Seeing a glass ceiling for myself – coming from an immigrant family and going to a state school in an industry where a lot of the people at the top are privately educated, white and British.

There will also be the feeling of inadequacy and limitation. This is natural, but it’s important to just keep moving and keep trying to advance. People will see your talent and hunger and be willing to take you on.

“It’s been challenging coming from an immigrant family and going to a state school in an industry where the people at the top are privately educated, white and British.”

Image taken by Tomas while working on Britain’s Best Woodworkers series for Plimsoll Productions, Channel 4

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Keep some money aside for when you have gaps between work – like I have at the moment – as you don’t know when the next job will come.

It’s also good to have a little side hustle for these moments; I do a bit of food delivery on my bike. Diversifying your labour isn’t necessarily a bad thing; as a freelancer, everyone will fall on hard times at one point or another, and it’s good to have something to fall back on.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Every person and their career pathway is different. Most people at the beginning are going to have to get a standard full-time job because the most likely scenario is to get hired for specific productions and not as company staff.

However, the most important thing is to think positive – this experience is going to make you an empowered, versatile hard-worker who is going to be ready for anything. I also believe it is a great idea to generate this money and invest it later on in your own productions.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
To just go out and make things; the hardest part is starting. I’m often still needing to heed this advice at times. We all want to work on things we are passionate about, and if it means we need to create them ourselves because others won’t, then so be it: just start.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If you want to work in the unscripted TV industry, you’ll likely start at the bottom as a runner, but this is a good opportunity to make contacts and a name for yourself as a hard worker.

Keep trying to do a great job and there is a good possibility that they’ll offer you a role after within the company. Also, try not to get rooted in your position for too long; try to progress and get promoted. Believe in yourself and keep creating and trying to work on things that are right for you.

Interview by Yaya Clarke
Mention Tomas Araya Larrain