Article originally posted on Little Black Book
Production company’s founding partner speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about creating a new production ‘car’, the work that made Hometeam one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Companies of 2023’ and his expansive curiosity
Harrison Winter has always had a penchant for overwhelming himself - be it recreationally or professionally.
Professionally, the co-founder of Austin-based production outfit Hometeam loves to immerse himself in every aspect of production. He’s worked agency-side and brand-side. With such all-encompassing experience, he likens himself to a musician who loves - and has tried to learn - not just every instrument in the orchestra but also the role of conductor, ticket vendor, theatre manager and everything in between.
“Working brand- and agency-side exposed me to a lot of different ‘music’ - to understand the whole experience, what’s important and how the vantage point shifts depending on the seat you’re in,” he says. “I no longer play an instrument. The entire theatre and the entire orchestra is the instrument. Knowing how to play that well, it becomes a specialisation, in a way.”
Recreationally? Well, he’s just taken up sky-diving. It’s not the kind of hobby for someone who prefers to lean back.
“You’re falling at 200 kilometres per hour above the alps and a beautiful lake,” he shares. “But you have to watch the altimeter on your wrist to ensure you pull your parachute by a certain altitude and while you’re falling, any slight incorrect movement can send you into an uncontrolled spin. It requires absolute concentration, and everything else in life just disappears. It’s a hell of a way to decompress and it puts a lot of things into perspective.”
Harrison’s insatiable curiosity and passion for pushing boundaries also manifests in Hometeam’s manifesto. He launched the company in 2020 with his partners Brandon Bloch and Lagan Sebert. Their mission, he says, was “to move the needle in the type of work that can be created, the client experience, and to lower the friction of how that work is created”.
That desire to understand production from all angles and the rush that comes from trying new things meant that Hometeam was never going to be a traditional production company, with the standard roster of 10-15 directors rotating. Instead, they wanted to create a distributed model that could tap into local talent to create a consistently creative product.
To explain this difference, Harrison likens production companies to cars. While some production companies might slap on a jazzy new paint colour with the hope of standing out from the competition, if you actually want to win the race, you’d be better off designing a new car from scratch.
“It was important for us that we designed a car that could be consistently built locally anywhere in the world (with remote oversight and leadership) and be driven by any talented local director who lives in the same location as where the car is built,” he says. That model also allows him to split his time between Amsterdam and Locarno, in Switzerland. “We knew this would unlock incredible creative and logistic possibilities, so that clients can walk away with new journeys and experiences.”
But just as Hometeam has seen production reinvented from the inside-out, to really get Harrison’s unique perspective and approach, you need to understand him from the inside-out too.
And that means going back to childhood. There you’ll find the raw materials, his passion for creativity and movies.
“On my mother’s days off, she would ask me to skip school to go to the movies with her,” he says. “She not only loved movies, but the whole experience… the big screen, the popcorn, the fountain soda and the magic of an empty theatre on a weekday matinee. In a way, this communicated to me the importance of films and the cinema experience, that they were important enough to skip school for.”
Self-taught in the ways of film and production through re-watching and studying films, Harrison later had a more formal education in the creative world through his work both agency- and brand-side at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and its client, Burger King. Reminiscing on the iconic mid-2000s campaigns that featured the eponymous King and his giant plastic head, he says that the creative energy at the time felt special. “The work was innovative and being on those large production sets was both intimidating and fascinating. Big name directors, large crews with lots of moving parts, well known on-camera talent, risky stunts, high stakes, very tight timelines, long working hours and a fearless brand.”
A particularly memorable moment from this time that gave him some valuable, lasting advice was when he had to present a new idea to Burger King’s CEO and other executives. Despite some light-hearted goading from his then boss and mentor as he sat down to present, he held his nerve and came away with a life-long lesson: “Even when the stakes seem super high, it can only be taken so seriously. Since then, I’ve won and lost many times over, even when the stakes were high. Stay light, charge ahead, do your best, be confident and let the chips fall where they may… fall down seven times, get up eight. And don’t forget to laugh at the absurdity of it all.”
Still employing this mindset 13 years later, after a decade-long venture as founder and CEO of Co.MISSION Content Group, Harrison now feels that he’s reaching new highs with his career. Earlier this year, Hometeam was named as one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Companies of 2023’.
“It felt like truly being seen in the exact way that you hope to be seen,” he reflects. “That the arbiter of innovation looked at us beyond just our end product (the work we make) and saw layers deep into us and recognised the innovation behind it all and what it took to achieve and create that innovation.”
And at Hometeam, the innovation never stops. Continuing to evolve its post-production capabilities - which are all remote, decentralised and cloud-based - the company is also focused on developing its client experience, how it attracts new clients and top talent, and leveraging the latest AI, AR and other filmmaking technologies. These tools will be vital “to simplify complexity, speed certain things up and open up new creative possibilities”, he says, adding that gatekeeping, “triple-bid cattle calls”, limited geographical thinking (i.e. only looking towards LA and New York for production) and a lack of diversity are all “holding down production” - and are things that Hometeam works at each day to improve.
“Our sights are also set on how we innovate around fostering our filmmaking community and delivering value to them beyond just a transactional relationship,” adds Harrison. “With the recent strikes in the production industry, one thing on the horizon for the entire industry is [a discussion around] the treatment of crews: Wages, hours and working conditions.” He continues, “It’s always been at the forefront for us. We have a ‘crew-first’ mentality because we all used to be crew members. This is a crucial thing that will continue to be of importance, not only for us but for the entire industry.”
Fostering this community of artists has resulted in fruitful collaborations with some of the biggest brands for Hometeam, including Walmart, Google and Ford. Harrison is especially proud of work that has platformed female talent, such as projects for L’Oreal and HBO created with entirely female crews.
In the music space, they’ve collaborated with the likes of Thomas Rhett, Maluma, Lizzo, Kesha and Jack Harlow and more. And they’re also making strides in mixed reality, with AR concert experiences for Snapchat and Kygo. He also hints that they’ve worked with ‘that secretive fruit company’ on a project that puts a car on an XR stage for a ‘popular TV show which we can’t say’.
It’s a lot of work to pack into three years and it’s something that could only come out of the unique blend of personalities in the driving seat at Hometeam. Harrison’s own enthusiasm and curiosity mix with Brandon and Lagan’s own creative and unique perspectives.
Equating the founding trio’s dynamic to a marriage, Harrison emphasises the hard work, trust, communication and honesty that goes into the trio’s successful dynamic. “We have the same values; each came up playing multiple roles in production, and we have different client relationships and industry expertise that we bring to the table in a unique way,” he says. A group of “creative and sensitive people with different strengths”, he says that this is Hometeam’s “special sauce” and a fact that reflects one of his favourite proverbs: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”