Trinidad and Tobago executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien living her Hollywood dream

Executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien,  second from right in front row, on set of the talk show, The Shop, with NBA superstar LeBron James (back row, centre).  -
Executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien, second from right in front row, on set of the talk show, The Shop, with NBA superstar LeBron James (back row, centre). -

HELEN Eastman-Hollien’s childhood bedroom was plastered with posters of 1980s American TV stars like Scott Baio and teen idols like Leif Garrett, and her mind was full of Hollywood dreams.

Fast-forward decades later, and Eastman-Hollien is the executive producer at Little Minx, a woman-owned production company involved in blockbuster film projects like Barbie and Killers of the Flower Moon.

Newsday chatted with her in a Zoom interview, which she was able to squeeze into her very busy schedule by ignoring all but one of “a million phone calls.” In the interview, she charted her path from the land of the Hummingbird to La La Land.

“Ever since I was little, I told my parents that I wanted to be in Hollywood. But I was a kid,” she said, tilting her head back for a hearty laugh. While this was her dream, she did nothing about it in Trinidad and Tobago because she did not think there was an avenue to make it a reality.

She grew up in Bayshore, in northwest Trinidad, and attended Maria Regina Grade School and St Joseph’s Convent. She left the high school at Form 3 “because (she) used to fete too much,” and her parents sent her to boarding school in New York.

After graduating from high school in 1985, she went to Drew University in New Jersey and graduated in 1989.

“From there I said, ‘I did what Mom and Dad wanted me to do, which was go to college. And I had my major in political science and history. I thought, ‘Oh, I will be a lawyer.’ “But my heart was always in film.”

While working at a “regular job” in New York, she had a friend who was dating an actor who was filming the 1990 Spike Lee movie Mo’ Better Blues. “And I went on set there and that was when I was like, ‘I have to do this.’”

Asked what she found so enchanting about the filmmaking process, Eastman-Hollien replied that on a set, many people come together and are in synch to put the film together. “And people don’t know that. They see (films), but they have no idea about the (number) of people involved and the creativity (involved).”

Trinidad-born executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien. -

She said filmmaking always fascinated her.

“I just think it’s a beautiful form of entertainment. It’s moving. You feel something whenever you watch something, even if it’s bad or good or whatever. You feel something. Any emotion. You’re pissed off, or you’re happy, or you cry. And that part of it always fascinated me. That no matter what it is, you will leave with an emotion.”

Eastman-Hollien was also “enamoured” with movie stars and how they can do what they do.

“You are on a film set and 75-80 people walking around and you have to do a love scene. It’s amazing to me, an amazing talent when you see it for real, and you understand why they make as much money as they do.”

She started in the film industry in 1989 as a production assistant (PA) and worked in that role for two years. She explained that as a PA she would always help producers.

She noted the line of promotion goes from PA to production co-ordinator, who orders equipment and puts crews together for department heads; to production manager, who handles the allotment of money and keeps track of it; to producer, who is responsible for the money; and finally to executive producer, who tries to win accounts for the director by convincing clients he or she is the one for the job.

Eastman-Hollien said there is also the role of line producer (the producer who is producing on set), which she did for 25 years, and which allowed her to travel the world. She pointed out that the line producer on her current production is fellow Trini Natalie G Hil, who has been working as a producer for longer than her.

As a line producer, she worked with Rhea Scott, founder of the production company Little Minx and daughter-in-law of English filmmaker Sir Ridley Scott (Aliens, Black Hawk Down). She recalled Scott phoned and asked if she wanted to be an executive producer for his daughter-in-law.

“I wasn’t too into it, because it is more of a desk job. I wouldn’t be on the road like you are as a line producer.”

She decided to take the job but asked if she could still line-produce for some of Scott’s directors.

“So I did that for a little bit, where I went between both roles, and then it became too much and I just stayed and was an executive producer.”

As an executive producer, she still gets to travel.

Eastman-Hollien has been an executive producer since 2018 and described her 30-plus year journey in the film industry as a “long road” – but not a difficult one.

“I work very hard. I’m a worker. A workhorse. And that comes through. “And being a Trini helped, too, because Hollywood loves nothing better than somebody different – and the accent and Trinidadians like to lime and we are very outgoing people. And that made my progression smoother than most, I think.”

She pointed out many of the people behind the camera are foreigners, and she has many friends in the industry who are English or Australian. “Artists like different people, different cultures. And that all comes together sometimes in the creative process.”

Executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien with tennis superstar Venus Williams. -

She said, for example, if a script calls for something Caribbean or a different food, the directors will seek them out for those “authentic bits.”

She said as a producer, one is responsible for the money but also for the creativity.

“And for giving the director their vision and for seeing that through and making sure his vision comes on the screen. You have to massage those two things (the money and the creative vision) as a producer.

“It is a very difficult job. I think it’s the most difficult job on set because the director wants what they want, and you don’t always have the money to give it to them.”

In Eastman-Hollien’s long career, she has worked on several high-profile projects, including the talk show The Shop with NBA superstar LeBron James, and a Super Bowl commercial with actor and singer Nick Jonas.

As executive producer at Little Minx, she manages directors on the roster such as Luca Guardinornia, who is helming the upcoming American romantic sports film Challengers starring Zendaya; Rodrigo Prieto, who was the director of photography on Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon; directors of music videos for artistes like A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott.

She said it is always tricky working with celebrities, as they get to be nice, but the people around them get to be “difficult.”

Despite more than three decades in the industry, Eastman-Hollien still gets starstruck.

An avid tennis player, she has had the chance to work with tennis champions Serena and Venus Williams. She has also driven around LA with NFL superstar Tom Brady listening to rap music. She said most of all she enjoys watching celebrities work.

Executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien with veteran actor Burt Reynolds. -

“They really understand it is a craft. It’s an art. Not everybody can do this.”

She added Little Minx is always on a constant search for new talent.

She pointed out Shabir Kirschner, director of photography on the Academy Award-nominated film Past Lives, is Antiguan and has been pushing to get more film talent out of the Caribbean.

“We haven’t touched that market yet. And it has definitely been tough to get the Caribbean talent to shine.

“I don’t know why. I think because there’s no actual production hub in the Caribbean to make people come in.”

She said because there was no hub, if anyone wanted to shoot in TT, they would have to bring heavy equipment out of Miami.

“It is more expensive and trickier to shoot in the Caribbean, and I think that is why there has not been a lot of outreach. But there needs to be, because there is some great talent throughout the Caribbean that hasn’t been touched yet.”

Executive producer Helen Eastman-Hollien with tennis star Naomi Osaka. -

Eastman-Hollien has remained very much in touch with her Caribbean roots. She comes home to Trinidad once or twice a year, especially for Christmas, and visits her mother, who lives in Westmoorings. Her mother owns the HR company Eastman and Associates, which her brothers run. Her father died in 2014.

She has also visited Trinidad with her children, though she has not come for Carnival for a long time.

“I have to come and get my bussup shut and Patraj (roti), (El) Pecos, and come and eat my food.”


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