8 Female Filmmakers: Laura VonHolle on Balance and Barrel Rollers
This story is part of a series of interviews spotlighting eight local female filmmakers in collaboration with the Cindependent Film Festival. Read more female filmmaker stories and thank you to everyone who came to support the inaugural Cindependent Film Festival! Stay tuned for our recap on this incredible event.
Bright and early on a warm, Saturday morning, I walked across the uneven, cobblestone parking lot at Longworth Hall, just past downtown Cincinnati. As the impressive brick building towered in front of me, I entered the bright lobby to meet an impeccably dressed, beaming Laura VonHolle, director of operations for Heyman Talent. This small but welcoming powerhouse of a woman led the Women of Cincy team into the Heyman Talent office on the fourth floor of the refurbished factory-turned-office space.
With an acting class doing warm-ups in the main office area just outside of our interview space, Laura shared stories, advice, and inspirational lessons from her past, never once distracted by the flurry of activity ensuing on the other side of the office.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I've been with [Heyman Talent] for 10 years, so I've seen this industry's ups and downs, and I've seen it change a lot. My biggest pitch to the film industry and the production industry is: I am a huge advocate of working local, booking local. I don't know how many times I've had directors and producers call me from Los Angeles and say, "Well, do you guys even have real actors in Ohio?" And my response was, "Where do you think most of your good actors come from? They come from the Midwest. The majority of the greatest actors in either coast are from Ohio.”
So what made you want to get into the agency side of the entertainment industry?
So this is going to sound crazy, but I was working for a doctor in Kentucky, and I specifically remember driving home – it was raining, and this was 11 years ago – and I was like, “Is this my life? Am I really going to be a chiropractor's assistant the rest of my life? Like, please God, if there's something else out there, I'm open to it.” And literally two seconds later my phone rang, and it was my cousin who works for SAG-AFTRA [Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists], and she said, "Hey, I know of a talent agency that is hiring. Do you want to go on an interview?” And I was like, "Sure, why not? I mean, I have nothing to lose. And this is just very serendipitous that you just rang literally five seconds after I prayed for a change in my life."
I was like, "Am I really going to be a chiropractor's assistant the rest of my life? Like, please God, if there's something else out there, I'm open to it.”
And so I went to my interview at Heyman Talent when they were in a little house in Oakley. I walked in and saw Lynne Heyman, who is the sweetest person in the world, with a heart bigger than Texas. And I walked in and I was like, "I'm single. I have no kids. I just want a career where I can grow. I don't know anything about the talent industry. I love fashion. I like movies, and I can negotiate the hell out of money so, I don't know, hire me if you want. But, I am an open book. I am a sponge. You could just groom me anyway you want to.” And she was like, "Well, I don't think you're right for the business, but I'll call you if anything changes."
And she called me the next day and she said, "Can you start tomorrow?" And I was like, "I have a job, so I'd have to quit. Can I start in two weeks?" And she's like, "No, you start tomorrow." And I'm like, "Okay, I'll start tomorrow." So I went to my boss and I was like, "I quit. Today. Sorry about it." And I went home and did the math.
And I was like, "Is this a good financial move and is this a career?" I was picking apart something I wanted, and was just full of fear. But I did it. And the girl that was the agent before me, she was like, "Oh, well, my last day is tomorrow so good luck!" And so I had no training, and I remember going home and studying for hours, till 2 o'clock in the morning. I would sit there and read her emails back and forth with clients, studying the rates.
I laminated a rate guide and put it next to my desk. I would study the models’ profiles, the actors’ resumes, and then I would watch TV in a different way.
I was like a fish in water. It was just… It was so easy for me to acclimate to it. I figured out the money part quickly. But, I don't want to give away my secrets. [Laughing.] To me, it's very easy. But to someone that would just walk in and think that being an agent is like this super cool easy job, they are sorely mistaken. It comes with a lot of stress and anxiety, but on the other side of that, it comes with a lot of joy and watching people grow up in this industry.
How do you deal with the stress of a high-pressure job like this one? And do you have any tactics you can share with other women who are looking at you and trying to forge their own path in a similar way?
Definitely finding balance. I've probably done everything wrong and everything right. The only way that I figured out how to work such a high pressure job was that I figured out how to do it right by doing everything wrong. I would stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning and work. I would get two or three hours of sleep. I've slept at the office before. Before I had a family, when I was much younger, it was just work, work, work – 24/7 work. Work on the weekends; work all through the night; get up at 5 o'clock in the morning and work. I don't regret doing all of that.
I wish someone would have told me, you know, find a balance. Because looking in hindsight, that's not healthy – to work like that. It's not healthy for your spirit; it's not healthy for your soul. Today, I feel like I have made huge strides in finding balance.
I've probably done everything wrong and everything right.
I'm a very spiritual person. So, I meditate every morning; I do yoga every day. I run. Running helps me focus; it helps me get out my anger. And I paint. I make dreamcatchers and I sell them here locally. I wanted to flex both sides of my brain, both muscles, you know. Because I got burned out. And like, eight years went by so fast. And yes, I have achieved so much. Heyman is a completely different company because of me. I think that I've had a huge influence on this market, and the rates, and the amount of work that's brought here. I know that I have made a piece of that happen. And it was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and long nights.
And that's fine with me because I'm at a spot right now where I have found a really good balance for my life. I have a daughter who's a junior in high school. I have a wonderful husband, who is my rock. My boss, Lynne Heyman, is 100 percent supportive of everything I do.
So for women who have high stress jobs, a lot of it is just finding that really good emotional balance to yourself and being true to yourself. And taking care of your mental health. Taking care of your family. I love old people. So I ask them questions all the time, like, “What do you regret? What would you do different?” And it's the same answers: Don't neglect your family for your work. Don't neglect yourself for your work. Your work will always be there. Heyman Talent is not going to crumble if you take a vacation and take care of your spouse and yourself.
What is your favorite or craziest story from your work in the industry?
Wow, that's funny because we actually have like an ongoing internal joke of crazy stories. Which one to choose from? Years ago, we had this actor named John, and he was the sweetest, sweetest kid in the world. And he's like, "I want to be an actor." And I'm like, "Okay, cool." Because we take green people; anybody can be taught. And I was like, "Well, you're going to have to take acting lessons and you need to take voice lessons because you have a really southern twang."
So this kid put in so much work. And I always tell my actors and my models: You're going to get what you put out. So he went to acting classes and he just kept going to every class that we put out there. He took voice lessons over at CCM [College Conservatory of Music]. I was like, "You've got to build up your resume. You got nothing, kid." So he did independent film, student films, and those don't pay; you know, they're resume builders. He did extra work, he did background work, and then eventually he got into theater, because that really helps with remembering scripts. And he started landing commercials. And then he started doing training videos, and then all of a sudden he landed a role in a recurring TV show.
And I remember calling him and telling him. I was crying. He hung up the phone and he drove all the way down here to hug me and bring me flowers, and he started crying. And then his mom called me and she started crying. And I'll never forget how, at that moment, I realized what a difference I was making in actors’ lives, and in people's lives in this industry. Because we work together, and when it really works, that's the result: They get what they worked their ass off for.
And now he's in Los Angeles, and he's working, and he's super happy. He always brings it up and he's like, "And if it wasn't for Laura… She believed in me and she knew. She knew." I'll never forget that. Because that was right at the beginning; I was maybe three or four years into being an agent. And I was like, "So that's what it feels like." Because this can be a rough industry.
And I'll never forget how, at that moment, I realized what a difference I was making in actors’ lives, and in people's lives in this industry.
But some crazy stories? You know, when I think that I've seen it all in this industry… I've had people call me and they're like, "Can you have anyone juggle fire while rolling a barrel on a river?" And I'm like, "Sure, no problem. We got people who can do that." And then I hang up the phone and I'm like, "Holy shit. Where am I going to find someone to do that?" And I find them. Somehow, some way. Yeah. We've actually had some barrel rollers in case you ever need one. It was for a bourbon commercial, and we have like five professional barrel rollers on our roster, which we didn't know that they existed, but you know, they do.
Who was the most influential woman in your life?
The most influential woman. [Pauses.] There are so many to choose. I mean, I don't have one woman that's influential.
My grandma, first and foremost. My mother. Lynne Heyman. There's actually a good friend of mine who works right upstairs – her name's Laurie. My best friend Allison. And my sister – I'm going to probably start crying.
My grandma, because she's my grandma, and she raised five boys and she was married to a doctor. And she's a stubborn old German. She's 90 years old and she's still sharp as a whip. I definitely got my stubbornness and my hard head from her. My mother, because she raised two kids, had two jobs, and got her master's at night. She worked her ass off, and she's got like, no emotion. But she's working on it. She's getting softer the older she gets.
Obviously, Lynne Heyman, because she built this company based on values and ethics. She started off as a makeup artist and she just wanted a place for actors to go that wasn't a school, that wasn't a scam. She wanted to be the honest talent agency. And I feel like I'm carrying her torch with just being a loving light and trying to be the good part of this industry. And Laurie, from upstairs, I've known her for 10 years, but she's taught me how to be a responsible woman, to hold my head up. She basically helped mold who I am because she came into my life in one of the darkest points of my life, and really brought me out of that.
She started off as a makeup artist and she just wanted a place for actors to go that wasn't a school, that wasn't a scam.
My best friend, because she's my best friend and I'm going to kick her ass when we're 90. We've already agreed on that. We're both very competitive, but we lean on each other when it's needed.
And my sister is probably at top of the list. Her name's Julie. My past with my sister was really seedy. I wasn't a very good sister, because I was young and dumb and I did a lot of dumb shit, and I wasn't there for her when she was younger. That's all been mended. But, my sister is a very strong person. Growing up in a divorced family, a sister who's absent, you know… She was an overachiever; she has managed to hike every trail in the United States. She has done the Pacific Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide, which are three months at a time. She wrote three books. She is vegan. She has a 2-year-old son. She and her husband have started their own business and they haven't worked in a corporate setting in three years. They've saved every dime they've made since they were 15 years old. And they have traveled around the world three times. And they don't own anything but a car that they keep in storage in Seattle. So she's like… She's a badass. She's only 36 years old. And she has her own blog, and she has sponsors.
So I really I just… Yes. She's just like those women. My mom, my grandma, Lynne Heyman, Laurie, Allison, and Julie. Those are the women that molded and shaped who I am.
Explore the rest of our female filmmaker series here, and thank you for joining us in celebrating independent film in Cincinnati.