Harfun Li on ScreenSkills' Film Forward programme

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The Film Forward initiative is designed to create change in the UK film industry by supporting experienced Black, Asian or minority ethnic professionals to advance into more senior roles.

Harfun is stepping up from Avid offline editor (TV) to assembly editor/1st assistant editor in film.

For a “long time”, Harfun Li has been musing on the next steps in her screen career – yet making the hoped-for leap into film from TV seemed oddly difficult.

With many years behind her as an award-winning offline editor - she was part of the team that recently scooped a Children’s BAFTA for Sky Kids’ Play Your Pets Right – she was keen to take on fresh challenges.

But the industry consensus seemed to be that switching genres wasn’t commonplace: “Nobody really has an answer,” she says. “In a nutshell the culture seems to be that you pick your genre and you stick with it, which I suppose I find a bit bizarre. Surely you can take your skills and go on to learn on the next thing?”

ScreenSkills’ new initiative, Film Forward, offered the solution: “When you are mid-career level and trying to progress, especially when I’m trying to jump from TV into feature films, there’s really very little out there to help. So when I heard about Film Forward it really intrigued me.”

As a woman born and raised in Edinburgh, of Chinese heritage, she has long been unfazed by the overwhelmingly male space of post-production – but in recent years has become increasingly aware of the lack of British East Asian women working alongside her. So Film Forward’s focus on giving experienced professionals from under-represented backgrounds a step up was also welcome.

“I’m friends with one other British East Asian editor, and one or two editor’s assistants, but really the post-production industry is still very male-dominated. I hadn’t ever really thought about it much and just got on with it, but it would be good to see more women like me in the same position.”

Harfun, 44, no doubt like many others, first developed a love of the screen as a child enthralled by TV: “It began with this fascination, just this emotional response to what I was watching. I remember watching cartoons, and comedy-based stuff, coming across The Two Ronnies and Monty Python, the Carry On films. I didn’t understand what it all was about, but I just knew it made me happy.”

At 16, she signed up for a series of Edinburgh International Television Festival workshops for young people, which she describes as an “eye-opener” that introduced her to a whole new world of production. A foundation course in film and TV followed, then a degree in media production at Staffordshire University: “I knew I wanted a more practical course; I wanted to physically make the films.”

An industry bursary in the early days of her career allowed her to take an edit assistant course: “I learnt everything there was to learn about the role, so that was incredibly valuable.” From there she landed a job as edit assistant at BBC Bristol – the only place where she recalls many women working in post-production.

She has worked as a freelancer since 2008, focusing mainly on factual and comedy entertainment – including the BAFTA-winning Play Your Pets Right, Channel 4’s Taskmaster and Great Canal Journeys, and Channel 5’s Chuckle Time and Toddlers Behaving (Very) Badly.

“I really enjoy trying to put together a story in such a way that provokes an emotional response, whatever that response might be,” she says. “Being part of the team that won a BAFTA is so significant for me because I know how hard it is to provoke a response in kids. When you get it, it’s just fantastic.”

She recalls another moment that stands out: “I did once make an exec producer laugh and then cry when they were watching a rough cut! I guess it is about eliciting that same emotional response that I had when I was a child…”

Through Film Forward, Harfun aims to focus on editing features, to “meet excellent people along the way” and to “carry on learning”. She is in discussions to begin her step-up placement in early 2022.

She adds: “I want to take my existing skills and apply them to something new and challenging, to get out of my comfort zone. Other than shorts I’ve never worked on a film and I’m fascinated to learn about the process – whether the relationship between editor and director or producer is different, how are the shots chosen, how are problems solved. It’s a whole new way of doing things, and it’s exciting.”

Film Forward is delivered by ScreenSkills supported by the BFI with National Lottery funds as part of its Future Film Skills strategy.  

CV summary

As an Offline Editor with more than a decade of experience behind her, Harfun has knowledge spanning everything from linear editing to Avid. She says: “I love sculpting a story and collaborating with producers and directors, creating something that is rich in nuance and meaning, especially with comedic moments.” In 2019 she was part of the team that scooped a BAFTA Children’s Best Entertainment award for Sky Kids series Play Your Pets Right. She has worked across factual and comedy entertainment for high-profile names including Avalon, ITN Productions, Maverick, October Films and Lion TV. She is eager to apply her skills to new genres, particularly in film, having also had experience working on a number of shorts – including the Filming East Award-winning Sandwich.

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