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How Spanish Philosophy led to a thriving career for Steph Hollett | #GettingToKnow

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This week we’re getting to know Steph Hollett, head of production at RAPP.

Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

As Head of Production at RAPP based in London, I work across all our clients, from Samsung and PayPal to Virgin Media and Laithwaites, so quite a varied range of brands.

One important part of what I do is to ensure we are as inclusive as we can be, and I am very keen on giving a chance to new directors and seeing how we can partner with fresh talent. This has been a great success for us and our clients. For Laithwaites, for example, we used a director who’d done very little previously in the UK and the work - ‘That Wine Cellar Feeling’ went on to win big at last year’s DMA Awards.

I oversee a team of four. And while I do pure production end-to-end, I also make sure I develop the younger producers under me and support them to do great work.

As a result, there’s no such thing as a typical day – all my work days are typically varied.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Getting the knowledge and also the circle of partners you need to be a good agency producer. To achieve this, you need to have worked with lots of producers, production and Post Production companies, and that takes time. I’ve been working in this industry now for 25 years and it’s become clear that the more knowledge you have and the more good work you do, the more people want to work with you.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

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I have a Master’s degree in Spanish Philology.

Years ago I was very lucky to meet Pedro Almodovar in Paris and approached him to see if I could work with him, and he gave me his number and email. I sent him a CV made of negative pictures of my face, hands and heart and said I know nothing about production but I’d like to learn by working for you. He said, this is fantastic – come and be a runner on one of my productions. That was The Flower of My Secret.

So I told my mum and dad, I not going to be a Spanish teacher.

I then went to work for two summers for the French music festival Les Eurockéennes. The English production company that was filming it asked me to come to London to work with them. I became a runner before being promoted to a production assistant.

It was a great time as MTV back then had lots of festivals-based programmes. Of course, when You Tube took off it killed this kind of music programming and it was at this point I moved into commercials and production for clients.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

In terms of wins, our work for Laithwaites stands out because of how it set the brand apart, making it really stand out by given it real warmth and depth of heart.

But if it has to be just one, it would be Moonshot, our work for PayPal shot during the early months of the pandemic, a time when everyone was shooting in their kitchens and on mobile phones.

We set out to try and do something more exciting.  Our shoot was in Berlin, Spain, and London, all done remotely, co-ordinated from France, for a client based in New York. It became one of their most successful campaigns on YouTube. That was a fantastic achievement and effort from all the team.

In terms of loss, I guess it was leaving the music environment I started out in and which I loved. I am a massive music fan but back then, with YouTube growing fast, there was not much scope left production-wise. I didn’t want to moan or be sad about this though, so I set out to reinvent myself by turning a negative into a positive – something I’ve turned out to be pretty good at.

What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

Surrounding myself with a lot of younger people. I’m 50, and the energy and passion of younger people is inspiring. I also watch a lot of films and have a great bank of amazing creative partners that I am inspired by and in turn inspire what I produce.

Finally, our brilliant creative team without whom there would be no scripts to produce. You’re never anyone without a great team and people you can trust who inspire you.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

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Chris Freeland, RAPP’s Executive Chairman (pictured above) – a very good listener who believes in people which is so important, and an inspiring boss to have. Phil Barnes, the producer I worked with on PayPal Moonshot who is probably the most knowledgeable brain and technical producer out there.

He can make anything happen and our strong partnership pushed that production to such a great level. Finally, Lauraine Bhuglah. Someone who, when I was starting out in commercials, gave me a chance and the time I needed to build up experience.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

Massively. My mum passed away during the Covid-19 Pandemic. I was in France and we couldn’t have a proper funeral. It was a terrible time for me, I felt very isolated. It’s been tough but I am lucky I have amazing friends and great colleagues who have been so supportive and helped get me through it.

What is your biggest hope for 2022?

My biggest hope is we can go back to normal life and carry on creating amazing work. I hope clients are going to be brave again and start looking forward with their brands and that we can help them create content that will help them with that.

I also hope we can make production greener, something I am working really hard on with my team and with the full backing of RAPP which is great, and, that we can make production in all areas on screen and beyond it, more inclusive. I want every gender, every ethnicity, everyone to be included in my production.

These things are very important.

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

Be open-minded and unafraid to trust people.

As a producer, you can have a tendency to try to control everything but you have to trust your team and those you work with. By being able to do so comes with experience, and that’s really important.

Also, be kind to people. Whoever you are working with today might be in another production company or agency tomorrow. So make friends. Being kind will take you a long way in this industry.

How do you recharge away from the office?

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As I am based in London all the time, I try to go to France quite a lot to see my family and friends. People are very important to me and give me energy, especially my godson Bodhi who’s ten. Whenever I see him, I instantly feel better. I also love cycling.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

If I was extremely rich, traveling – all year long. If not, I’ve a real passion for editing and would love to cut films. Who knows? It’s never too late.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

For our industry to be both greener and more inclusive, especially, with greater equality between men and women. As a woman, I am still surrounding by a lot of males in the industry, there  are still feelings of stigma. I would like to see this change.

Do you have any websites, books, or resources you would recommend?

As someone constantly researching talent and searching for new directors, I don’t rely on any one source. David Reviews is a great web site for staying in touch with what’s going on and catching up – it’s a way to keep inspired, as well.

On top of that, I regularly try to take a trip somewhere.

In the last few years when it has been possible I’ve visited Kenya, Puerto Rico, the Andaman Islands, India, Sri Lanka … Travelling a lot has given me a lot. I think, in life I have learned the most travelling and meeting new people and new cultures – it’s opened my mind so much.”

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