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Meet Your Makers: Helen Hollien



Executive producer at Little Minx on why having your hands in all aspects of a film from beginning to end is her favourite thing about production

Meet Your Makers: Helen Hollien

Originally from Trinidad, Helen Hollien arrived in the United States to attend high school in New York City. From there, she stayed on the East Coast, and went to college in New Jersey, receiving a pre-law degree. 

But, Helen decided to take a different path upon graduation. She moved to Miami, where she quickly fell in love with the film and commercial industry. Her career began as a PA, working on any set she could find. This love quickly blossomed from just South Florida, to working on shoots all over the world. Originally a PA, Helen quickly rose the ranks to production manager, and then finally line producer.

For over twenty years, Helen worked as a go-to line producer on commercial projects for companies such as MJZ, Smuggler, Gartner, Anonymous Content and Little Minx. Her spirit of hard work, determination, and love of her job (along with a kind and warming heart) kept her constantly busy. 

In Spring of 2018, Rhea Scott reached out to Helen and asked if she wanted to join Little Minx as the new executive producer. Helen accepted Rhea’s offer, and now oversees dozens of projects and bids monthly, working closely with Rhea on finding new and diverse content. Her hope is to help maintain a highly-curated roster of talent, while creating work that pushes barriers and focuses on truth.

Helen currently lives in LA where she can be found on set, or hitting balls at the Tennis court.

LBB> 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?

Helen> I always wanted to be in the film business, but I grew up in Trinidad so there wasn’t a lot of production there. When I went to college in New York City, my roommate’s dad knew Edward Pressman who was a big Hollywood producer. He was working on Reversal of Fortune at the time. So I met with Ed Pressman and he interviewed me and he couldn’t get me on that film - but at the time Spike Lee was shooting Mo Better Blues and Pressman put in a good word for me with him. Also, Juan Carlos Esposito was the actor in it and one of the girls I worked with knew him. Between the two of them (Pressman and my friend) I was able to get on that set for a couple of days to see what it was like. It was night shooting and I was a PA helping out with the extras. I wasn’t credited or anything, but that was my first taste of being on a film set. 

LBB> 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? 

Helen> The first real job I did, where I was part of the crew, was in Florida. A production company called Walk on Water hired me as a PA. I was official. I worked with them for a year. Then Mark Coppos of Coppos Films hired me for a project that was shooting in Florida, and from that job I decided I was going to move to LA. Coppos’ main crew were LA based, with Rick Days as the production manager, so I thought I would have an “in” to LA. So I jumped in my little Honda with my boyfriend at the time and drove to LA. 

When I got to LA I called Rick Days and said you gotta hire me, I’m here. He helped me get my first job in LA with Gartner Films. Gartner wanted diversity in the commercial business. At the time, TV and film crews were pretty diverse but not commercials. So he asked Rick if he knew anyone who he could hire and Rick said he had just worked with me. I worked with them from 1991 til they closed their doors three years ago.

LBB> How did you learn to be a producer? 

Helen> I worked my way up the ladder from PA to coordinator to production manager to producer and learned from the wonderful producers I assisted along the way. My first official producing job came after I worked as a production manager on a Nissan job in 1996. During the job, the Producer had to leave because of a family death and I moved up. After I knew I wanted to produce full-time so I could make my own schedule. I made the jump to producing full-time in 1997 when I was seven months pregnant. 

LBB> 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? 

Helen> Too many to say. Every project helps you grow as a producer.

LBB> 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? Why/why not? 

Helen> I agree because the basis for being a good producer is problem solving no matter the medium.

LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why? 

Helen> Having your hands in all aspects of the film from beginning to end.

LBB> How has production changed since you started your career? 

Helen> When I started there were no computers - I had to type the call sheet on a typewriter. So yes, it’s changed. Things are all digital!

LBB> And what has stayed the same? 

Helen> Basic needs for filming regardless of the medium. The roles of the crew has remained the same

LBB> 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? 

Helen> Something that is innate. You need the ability to be patient, to listen, to problem solve and must have the ability to remain calm amongst the chaos.

LBB> Which production project from across your career IS MOST MEMORABLE and why?

Helen> I have done over 100 commercials, it feels impossible to choose just one. What stands out the most and what I remember the most are the people, not the work. 

For example, I did a shoot two hours outside of Prague almost to Poland in an old factory. It was a munitions factory where they used to make weapons and tools and it was full of soot. We were up to our knees in soot during the whole shoot and we were sick for days from it. The people who worked there didn’t wear masks and were moving big machinery and making torches and tools and melting metal and that’s what we were shooting in. The locals were laughing at us because we were so weak physically, from breathing in the black soot. Also, they don’t see Black people there very often so people were coming up to me and asking me if I knew Michael Jordan. 

On another shoot, I remember driving through miles and miles of slums in South Africa. As far as the eye could see. It was a big eye opener. The whole experience was mind-blowing and very uncomfortable because I had Black people waiting on me and wearing maids outfits to serve us. It was still very colonial. Ring the bell and the maid comes. I would go make my own latte because I was not going to have them serve me. It was uncomfortable for them and for me. I said I’m not doing that. When lunch came, I just grabbed my box of food and ate. 

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

Helen> I did a project for a diaper brand where I had to find a man with no arms who could change a diaper with his feet. I scoured the planet and stayed up all hours of the night and ended up finding a gentleman in San Diego.

LBB> 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?

Helen> I was doing a commercial for the Mercedes C300, and we had to find talent who actually owned the car, so we were casting for the car and the talent. To make sure the talent actually owned their cars, we asked them to show up with their registration. We had seven people and on the day of the shoot the Location Manager came up to me and said something didn’t feel right, some of the talent showed up without their cars. Next, the police officer on set asked to see each actor’s car registration. Turns out, four of the seven actors had cars that were not theirs with fake registrations. We then had to do a full rewrite of the script on set. Funny thing was that the original script was all about authenticity. 

LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Helen> I would love to do a movie. I have been so busy with commercials that I have never dedicated the time to do a movie. Now that my kids are grown, it could be something I achieve soon.

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

Helen> I watch movies and I play tennis. My love for the sport and the ability to play it almost daily is what keeps me grounded.

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

Helen> Failing. I have a big ego so I really hate to fail. This is what drives me.

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

Helen> Listen to the needs of your director and crew, and have patience. Also, always empower the people that are around you, this will bring out their best work. Highlight the positives in what everyone is doing. If you focus on what people are doing wrong, then you will never get their best. 

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

Helen> Having teamwork. Also, being a calm, focused, patient, and respectful leader.

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

Helen> Both must be open to collaborating

LBB> Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?

Helen> Surround yourself with people that you trust. Part of empowering people is trusting them that they will do a good job. Beyond that, also know what you expect of them. People I have around me know the level of work that I want.

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Little Minx, Mon, 28 Jun 2021 09:20:00 GMT