Watkins began his career as a director of photography in 1976, first working on the film Fighting Mad. In 1983 he was the cinematographer for the series Scarecrow & Mrs. King. In 1984 he lensed the television feature The Glitter Dome. In 1988 he was the cinematographer for the film Paramedics. In 1989 he was the director of photography for the television feature Cold Sassy Tree.
In fall 1989 he began working on the science fiction series Quantum Leap as a director of photography for the second season. In 1990 he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series for his work on the second season episode "Pool Hall Blues". He remained a cinematographer for the third season in 1990. He also made his directing debut with the episode "A Little Miracle - December 24, 1962". He won the Cinematography Emmy a second time in 1991 for his work on the third season episode "The Leap Home: (Vietnam) - April 7, 1970, part II". He directed the episode "Last Dance Before an Execution - May 12, 1971" later in the season. He returned as a cinematographer and director for the fourth season in 1991. He helmed a further four episodes. He was nominated for the Cinematography Emmy for the fourth season episode "Dreams". Also in 1991 he was director of photography for the television feature Til I Kissed Ya. In 1992 he remained a cinematographer on Quantum Leap and was the cinematographer for the TV feature Steel Justice. He was again nominated for the Cinematography Emmy in 1993, this time for the fifth season Quantum Leap episode "Trilogy, Part I". In 1993 he was the director of photography for the films The Assassin and Hearts and Soul. In 1994 he lensed the TV feature Accidental Meeting and the mini-series Family Album. He won the American Society of Cinematographers Award for Outstanding Cinematography in a Mini-series for Family Album at the 1995 ceremony. Also in 1994, he returned to television directing with two episodes for the first season of The New Adventures of Superman. He returned for the second season in fall 1994 and directed a further episode that year and three more for the same season as it continued into 1995. Also in 1995 he directed episodes of The Watcher, The Monroes and Chicago Hope and was the cinematographer for the TV feature Crowfoot.
In 1996 he directed the TV feature To Love, Honor and Deceive and was the director of photography for the TV feature The Naked Detective. He also directed a second episode of Chicago Hope, two episodes of The Client and an episode for the third season of crime drama NYPD Blue, which was created by David Milch. In 1997 he was the cinematographer for the film Desire. He also directed the TV feature Detention: The Siege at Johnson High and an episode of the science fiction series Millenium, created by Chris Carter. He directed two further episodes of NYPD Blue and six episodes of Milch's new police drama Brooklyn South. Watkins was also a producer on NYPD Blue and an executive producer for Brooklyn South. Along with the rest of the NYPD Blue production team he was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. In 1998 he joined the crew of The X-Files, a mystery science fiction series also created by Carter. Watkins served as a co-executive producer for the sixth season and also directed the episodes "Dreamland II", "Tithonus" and "Arcadia". He returned as a co-executive producer and director for the seventh season in 1999. He helmed the episodes "The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati", "Sein und Zeit" and "X-Cops". In 2000 he directed episodes of CSI and The District and the TV feature Deadlocked. In 2001 he was director of photography for the film Little Shop of Erotica and he directed the television pilot Other People, which was not picked up and aired as a feature. He also directed another episode of NYPD Blue, an episode of Night Visions, two episodes of Smallville, three episodes of The Agency and the television feature Semper Fi. He was also an executive producer on Semper Fi and a co-executive producer for the episodes of Smallville he directed. In 2002 he directed episodes of American Dreams, an episode of The Guardian and the television feature Prince William. In 2003 he directed an episode of Boomtown, which was created by Justified show runner Graham Yost. He also served as a co-executive producer for new series Las Vegas. He directed the pilot and three further episodes of the first season. In 2004 he directed the mini-series 5ive Days to Midnight. In 2005 he directed the pilot for the remake of Kojak and a further episode for the first season. He also directed episodes of Into the West and The 4400. He was a co-executive producer for the first season of Prison Break and directed an episode.
In 2006 he directed the pilot of Angela's Eyes, an episode of Kidnapped, an episode of Law & Order and one part of the mini-series The Lost Room. In 2007 he directed single episodes of Law & Order, Numb3rs and Monk. In 2008 he returned to Monk to direct a further three episodes and to Law & Order for another two episodes. He also helmed an episode of My Own Worst Enemy. In 2009 he directed a fifth and final episode of Law and Order, an episode of Make It or Break It, an episode of Royal Pains, two episodes of the US Marshal drama In Plain Sight and two episodes of Warehouse 13.
In 2010 he directed the first season Justified episode "Blind Spot". He also directed an episode of Caprica, another episode of In Plain Sight, two further episodes of Royal Pains, the TV feature The Rockford Files and the films Circle and Knucklehead.
In 2011 he returned for the second season of Justified and helmed the episodes "Cottonmouth" and "The Spoil". He also directed episodes of No Ordinary Family, Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, Alphas, The Event, Royal Pains and In Plain Sight.
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