Growing up in the Midwest, Lee Larkins ’08 never expected to work with some of the most well-known rap and hip-hop artists of his generation. Throughout high school, he spent most of his extracurricular time showing horses in the summer, playing ice hockey in the winter and advocating for the skateboarders of Decatur. He also enjoyed taking photographs and splicing together short video projects on a set of VCRs, but he had little interest in a career in the entertainment industry.
In 2004, Larkins came to Millikin to pursue a degree in commercial art and design. He had his ups and downs as an art major. After turning in an unsatisfactory assignment, one professor said “Lee, if you were my employee, I would fire you.” It was exactly the type of honest encouragement he needed, Larkins says. As a result, he began to take his studies more seriously and kindle his interest in videography while filming his friends skateboarding throughout Central Illinois. This interest would transform into the passion that led Larkins to pursue a career in video production and eventually start his own freelance photo and video business.
Larkins spent the months following his 2008 graduation filming skateboarding events. He used these experiences to network with skateboarders, entrepreneurs and filmmakers throughout the Chicago community. Through one of these connections, Larkins was offered an internship with a senior producer at Chrewd Marketing and Promotions’ new start-up production company, Mid C Media, which specializes in music-industry advertising. Although it was a detour from his previous videography experience, Larkins could not pass up the opportunity to work on more high-profile projects.
During his internship, Larkins directed, filmed and assisted with several video assignments, including interviews with musical artists, recap sizzle reels for events, music videos, concert tours and behind-the-scenes features for music labels such as Interscope/Universal, Def Jam and Atlantic. These video projects allowed Larkins to work directly with more than 60 rap and hip-hop artists, including Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Ke$ha, 50 Cent and Big Boi of Outkast.
Although meeting celebrities and going to concerts might sound like a dream job to some, Larkins says working in the entertainment industry “takes a lot of hard work to get to the fun part.” Over the years, he has learned to work with his fair share of last-minute scene changes, celebrity demands and nearly impossible deadlines. “You not only have to learn to keep a level head but also know how to handle unexpected changes,” Larkins warns. “Everyone wants it done yesterday. So sometimes you have to put in extra time, stay up all night and ‘make it work,’ as they say.” Larkins “makes it work” by following some good advice. “One of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve picked up is ‘if you want to go far, you have to learn to be at your strongest, while everyone around you is at their weakest.’”
Despite the challenges, Larkins considers filming for the entertainment industry his new passion. In 2010, he founded Shark Fins Productions*, where he continues to work with well-known clients throughout the Midwest, while expanding his reach to the West Coast and even into the international markets of Jamaica and the United Kingdom.
“I love it, because when I work with my own company, I don’t have to go through other people,” Larkins says, “I can just take the reins.” While he may not take the reins showing horses anymore, Larkins stays true to his past and still finds time to film and support the skateboarding scene. Most recently, he filmed the invitation-only Chicago All-City Skate Competition and participated as a guest speaker at the Illinois Center for Broadcasting alongside one of his idols, pro-skateboarder Greg Lutzka. Larkins is thankful for the opportunities that pursuing video production has afforded him: “I’m always doing something new and exciting,” he says, “I couldn’t be more blessed.”
Both Ty Warden '13 and Alida Duff Sullivan '06 interviewed Larkins and contributed to this feature article. warden was a writing intern for the alumni and development office earlier this year, and sullivan is the associate director of communications.