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Meet Your Makers: Harry Starkey-Midha

Meet Your Makers 288 Add to collection

With an eager eye on film and TV production, UNIT9 producer Harry shares his thoughts on the key to being an efficient producer and expanding skill sets across different forms of film

Meet Your Makers: Harry Starkey-Midha

Harry has been producing commercials, music videos and short films for UNIT9 Films since 2015. He has experience shooting in London whether studio or location based and has produced shoots countries such as China, India, Shanghai, Bahamas, USA, Germany, Spain, France and Kazakhstan.

Adverts Produced have been nominated for Cannes Lions and Campaign Big awards. Short films have won Best Short at Leeds Film Festival, Premiered at London Film Festival and been BIFA long listed.

What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area? 

I always had my eye on film and tv production but obviously there is a huge spectrum of types of companies, the work they do and the feel to the company so I bounced around a few places before settling at UNT9 Films. I actually did a degree in History and Politics which at first glance might seem a ways away from Producing but ultimately the commercial side of producing is heavy in diplomacy and constructing arguments that you can win - which is what History and Politics teaches you well! 

What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career? 

My first ever job in production was as an edit suite runner at Envy Post on the Broadcast side. I was straight out of school and to be honest, not that interested in learning things! But it did give me an insight into the types of jobs available, and the general vibe of the film and tv world. Then my first actual paid job in production was a few years, a degree, and a few unpaid work experiences later but with a company called RDF, again on the broadcast side. I think it’s so important to try different places out as all production houses have a different feel to them and I didn’t really feel like I ‘fit’ at RDF, but then I did a week as a freelancer at UNIT9 Films, loved the people, and have been working there ever since! 

How did you learn to be a producer? 

I’m a middle child. I grew up in a household of opinionated people, most of whom now work in production and if not production specifically, the media industry. I also had a dad who owned a fruit and veg stall on Portobello Road and that gave me my earliest taste of negotiation and bargaining but from then on my household, unbeknown to me, was training me in the skills of producing. Then the next large learning curb in producing for me was at UNIT9 Films under the guidance of Michelle Craig at first, and then Adam Dolman once Michelle went to open the LA Office and Adam took over in London. 

Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer? 

I mean, every production is a lot of effort if you’re working on things that are interesting. If I do a job that doesn’t require me to dig deep it’s usually because we’re doing something that is either creatively unambitious or a repeat of something I’ve done before. Some jobs test out your technical skills with intricate camera work, some require the logistics part of your brain to go into overdrive as you have many locations in a short shoot, sometimes it’s narratively challenging and you need to really think deeply about how to land the story. 

A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Hmmm, tricky one because that covers a broad range of skills. I don’t think there is any reason that you can’t apply your brain to it but there are definitely specific skills that relate to producing specific jobs. I find digital production tends to be a bit more linear where certain things have to happen before the next thing can happen but with film you’re doing multiple things at the same time that all need to be strung together on the same set of days. Events and film have more crossover in my opinion though and often involve similar teams of production designers, DOPs, costume designers etc. These days there are a lot of projects that have an event side, a digital side, and a film side all bundled together but I’d want to have a few producers covering that knowledge personally! 

What’s your favourite thing about production and why? 

The problem solving and having something at the end to show for it. So many other jobs it’s really hard to point to the thing you’ve been working so hard at but with film production you always have this product at the end of it that you can share with people that they can understand and engage with. That’s a really nice thing to have in a job. 

How has production changed since you started your career? 

I have been producing for about eight years so I haven’t been around for some of the larger changes that people will have seen over the last 20 but certainly there have been things which I’ve noticed as production is a constantly evolving beast. There is the technical side of things that never stops advancing with new cameras, updated drives and new kit that allows you to shoot remote in a pandemic. But I’ve also noticed the client/agency side of the commercial world changing as we see a lot more direct to brand work these days as they look to tap into the great creative brains that production companies are harbouring. 

And what has stayed the same? 

The human and people skills element hasn’t changed. You still have to work with lots of different types of people, have great people skills, know when to push, when to hold back, when to leave people to get on with it and when to get them support! 

What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned? 

Everything can be learnt if you care enough to take the time to learn. That’s not to say that you can be the best if you ‘put your mind to it’. That kind of chat has always annoyed me, as some people are naturally better than others at certain things. But if you want to produce you can learn it. I also don’t think there is a blanket rule to what makes an effective producer as different people come at it in different ways and bring different things to the table. However, there are certain attributes that definitely make it easier: people skills, communication, thinking a few steps ahead and being a little thick skinned as it can be a brutal job sometimes! 

Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why? 

Again I think you get different things from each project you do. I made a short film with a director called Amelia Hashemi that was a real eye opener to the non (or less) commercial world of short film making. It was called ‘Night Out’ and it did alright on the festival circuit winning Best Short at Leeds and getting a BIFA long list. I made a film with a young refugee boxer in Berlin for UNICEF that really challenged us on a production level but also a human level. Then there was shooting giant waves in North Shore Oahu for White Claw which was a crazy challenge but great fun! 

And in recent times, shooting across countries in a pandemic is a challenge. We did a shoot with Jason Sudeikis and Jose Mourinho for the launch of the show Ted Lasso. The two talents are supposed to be on a phone call with each other but were available on separate days and in separate countries. On top of that, neither of them wanted a film crew in the room with them at that point in the pandemic - but I was proud of how it turned out.

And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges? 

Everything is pretty challenging at the moment in the face of a pandemic but in terms of exciting productions I have one in development for over a year that brought a whole lot of different mediums under one umbrella. From short film, to cutting edge digital technology, to long form documentary making but until it goes live there’s not much more that can be said about it. Then there was also a shoot recently with Neymar for PokerStars which as a football fan, was great to work with such a megastar. 

Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it? 

I was shooting in Kazakhstan at a Charyn Canyon. It was insanely beautiful but we actually arrived in the dead of night. Our camp was at the bottom of the canyon but we arrived at the top and it was literally pitch black. We were driving around off road only able to see 10ft in front of us and it soon became apparent that the Kazakh driver in the convoy car in front did not know the route as he twice turned left or right and slammed on the brakes to reveal sheer drops directly in front of us. I only had one person who spoke both languages and I insisted the driver went and got the canyon park ranger person, which he begrudgingly did. When he came back we set off again with him saying he had the ranger in the back or his car to direct but then it happened again - sheer drop. It became apparent that, out of pride, the driver had just done a lap and come back without the ranger. 

Eventually we found the dirt track that was supposed to take us into the canyon to our camp but it was steeper than anything I had ever seen a car drive down with huge boulders to drive over and I was not feeling that confident in the driving team as a whole. I made everyone turn around and go to a petrol station about an hour away as we discussed our next move. I had about 30 angry Kazakh guys who felt I was being silly (that’s the polite version of what they thought of me). I asked one of them how many people had died on sets he had been on and he said ‘about 6’ to which I replied ‘well I have had zero deaths and I’d like to keep it that way’. 

After much debate and translating it became clear they were happy for me and the translator to stay at the petrol station all night in a van, but they were heading back down that canyon. I reluctantly agreed to go with as long as people walked down to camp as it was safer than a car rolling down a hill. They agreed in the end, most people walked, although some still ignored me and drove down with what was some of the most impressive driving over 6ft boulders that I have ever seen. It was worth it though, no one was hurt, and it was an incredible shooting location…

What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer? 

Expanding my skill set across different forms of film is a goal. Creating long form as well as short form content. Going to as many new places as I can. Meeting as many new people as I can. If I’m very lucky some other filmmakers will see what I have been a part of and use it as inspiration in their work. Just to be part of the overall conversation of how film develops and add my 2 cents would be great. 

As a producer your brain must have a neverending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax? 

Yeh it’s tricky. When you’re deep in pre-production it’s pretty hard but I think that’s something I have come to terms with but finding the balance with downtime is important. I think the latter stages pre-production and production can be all encompassing but then you’ve got to find the time to make up for it and not just roll production to production! You’re no help to anyone burnt out and you’re worse at your job when burnt out. 

Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive? 

We touched on it before but problem solving is the drive. Everything is a puzzle waiting to be solved and I love discovering new things. Working out the best way to go about something and being efficient with mine and other people's time gives me kicks. 

What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer? 

Be honest with yourself about your skillset and the skillset of the people around you. You’re not supposed to be an expert in everything, but you are supposed to plug the gaps where knowledge is lacking. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be up front if you don’t understand something. Believe me, fronting knowledge about something is obvious to some who are a specialist. DOPs, Production Designers, and all your HoDs have knowledge and speciality that you don’t so ask them questions, tap into their skillset and build your own in the process 

From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production? 

A well balanced team. A team where there is a level of familiarity always helps. I think it’s important to bring in fresh minds for fresh ideas but there is also a lot of value in people that understand each other's patterns of work. Premier League teams don’t tend to win the league 2 seasons in a row with exactly the same team, but then you can’t have 11 fresh players either. 

What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship? 

Everyone needs to feel like they had some wins. Filmmaking is just one giant set of compromises so everyone needs to feel like they were part of the process, their ideas were listened to and they can therefore be proud of their part within the process. 

It’s important for directors to understand that creatives might have been working on this idea for a year or more before the director even saw it. But it’s also important creatives understand they brought a director on for their voice and their perspective. Between producers, I think it’s good to understand that you’re working towards the same goal. The best agency/production experience I have is when the agency producer has done some production producing as it gives a level of understanding as to what it takes to get something done but on the flip side it’s important for production producers to understand that their campaign is one part of a much larger ecosystem that the agency/client are managing. 

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UNIT9 London, Wed, 19 May 2021 13:47:25 GMT