Reim El Houni: What You Learn on Set and in the Field Can Never Be Taught from a Book
Reim has always had a passion for TV. Working her way up the corporate ladder, Reim worked on an impressive array of sets including the BBC, Disney Channel and the opening of the Burj Khalifa. Now she is the Founder and CEO of an award-winning video production company Ti22 Films, which in it's seven years of operation has won over 20 International Awards.
I interviewed Reim to discover the persistence you need to work your way up in a highly competitive industry, how she grew her company from startup mode and her big plans for dubai ON demand. Oh, and the time she crashed an important industry dinner to get a job on Mission Impossible!
Hi, Reim! How did you start your career in media?
I have always been passionate about film and TV, since childhood. I grew up watching movies and TV and in fact even worked at my local video store for years whilst I studied. My first serious internship was at MBC when they were still based in London at the age of 16. I fell in love with the live studio experience and realised that not only could I enjoy watching TV but I could live it in my future as well. I did everything I could from that moment to get as many internships as feasible, working everywhere from The Disney Channel to The London Studios, and after writing to just about everyone on BBC Watchdog I got an internship at the BBC. On my last day on Watchdog, I remember thinking ‘when will I ever get this chance again’ and I walked around each department in the building offering my services. I was fortunate to come across a Producer in BBC Education who was starting a new series and took me on as her Production Researcher. That’s where the obsession began. After a year at the BBC and completing my BA Honours degree in Media Studies, I worked my way up the corporate production ladder in London until I came to Dubai on holiday in 2007, 10 years ago! A switch went off again and on my one-week holiday I applied to a range of production companies and was fortunate to land a contract. That quickly turned into me producing and directing the first English language locally produced show, Out & About, for Dubai One. My role at the station evolved as I became an Executive Producer responsible for a range of formats and growing the team and eventually Head of Events managing the TV coverage for events like the opening of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai International Film Festival.
Who are the clients you work with and what type of content do you produce?
We are in our 7th year and we’ve been fortunate to grow steadily with some great clients. We primarily produce video content, which can be anything from TV commercials to brand films, and animated content and now more and more we are offering social media video solutions as well. We work with everyone from Government entities like ENOC, EGA and DAFZA, to multi nationals like LG, The Ritz and IBM and home-grown brands like Mumzworld, Petrochem and Gulf Marketing Group. We support organisations with all their video communication needs whether external or internal. I personally also consult a number of clients on their video strategy and run workshops as well as contribute to industry panel discussions and provide industry insights in publications like INC Magazine.
I hear media is a very competitive industry! What would your greatest advice be for others wanting to give it a go?
I personally believe that what you learn on set and in the field can never be taught from a book. So the best advice I can give anyone wanting to get into media is to get as much practical work experience as possible. Volunteer your services and time to production companies or broadcasters out there and learn what you can by doing the work and understanding what it takes. Make yourself indispensable to the producer and they will remember you and offer you opportunities when they arise. It's not an easy industry to be in and can often have very unsociable hours, so it is important to experience what you are letting yourself in for.
I know it’s a big question, but how did you go about starting Ti22 Films? What was your greatest challenge to overcome?
To be honest, I can’t say I had a real strategy in building the company. The one thing I did know is that I wanted my company to be synonymous with quality and to be remembered when brands were looking for impacting videos. The best way I knew to achieve that was to produce videos that stood out and were recognised internationally. I am happy to say that 7 years in and Ti22 Films has won over 20 International Medals and Awards including 11 New York Festival World Medals and a Cannes Award. Locally we were also recognised at the SME Stars of Business Awards and Digital Studio Awards. The recognition and PR received from winning these awards definitely helped position Ti22 Films in a different league.
What I would say is just because you are the best producer does not automatically mean you will be the best businessperson. The skills needed to run a business and to run a production are completely different, so I have spent a long time learning, attending workshops and seeing how I can improve my business skills. What has helped me greatly is networking and building my personal brand, as my network has been very supportive with referrals. I joined a referral based networking group early on, which worked for me, as I don’t believe in cold calls etc. One of my other challenges is not wanting . to compromise on quality, which can be a hard pill to swallow to remain competitive.
What were people’s responses when you decided to leave your stable company and start on this entrepreneurial path?
Everyone thought I was crazy! I was an Executive Producer and Head of Events at Dubai One, the main English language terrestrial TV channel at the time. I had a great position, managing a large time and a secure role. No one could understand why I would leave. Sometimes I can’t explain it either. I just decided it was time. I decided very quickly and walked into the CEO’s office the next day, without a plan or an idea of what I was going to do. Over the weeks that followed, I became very focused and as I found out Mission Impossible was filming in Dubai I knew I wanted to be on that set. The day after my last day, I fixed my CV and contacted a few people I knew in the industry and found out a director friend of mine was having dinner with the production manager of the movie the next day. I crashed the dinner and offered my services on the movie, only to discover they had hired all the roles. I remember her saying ‘there may still be a vacancy in transport!’ and I said ‘no problem! I’m happy doing transport!’ I had my interview a day later and started on Mission Impossible 4 a whole 3 days after leaving Dubai One – I had gone from Executive Producer and Head of Events to Transport Coordinator! It was a motivating experience as I realised I was fully capable of managing a feature film as it was just a matter of scale. My productions have 40 people and a feature may have 400 people but all the challenges were the same.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been, and what would your advice be to other media enthusiasts?
Persistence & positivity! I fully believe if you keep trying you will get there. Having said that, in the media industry you need to be willing to constantly adapt and be aware of the upcoming trends. If you stay in the same place, you will die. I am a big believer in learning. I am a big reader and enjoy attending conferences and events as I believe the more you learn the further ahead you will go. The learning never stops in the media industry.
What's it like owning your own company in a male dominated industry?
I think it’s getting much easier than it used to be. I have always worked with strong female role models and colleagues and I think that has diluted the impact for me. I know when I first started in the UK, it did feel like a very male dominated industry, however nowadays I think it’s the technical team that is predominantly male and the production team is actually predominantly female. Without even realising it, I have mainly hired female producers and production managers on the team at Ti22 Films. I have always found them to be more detail orientated and willing to go the extra mile for clients. I am proud of my company and what we have achieved, and fully believe we can go toe to toe with any male run organisation.
Where do you see Dubai’s media industry headed over the next five years?
I see marketing as becoming more and more personal here. Influencer Marketing is going to keep growing in this part of the world, which is why the potential for dubai ON demand is just going to get bigger as brands start to understand the digital landscape. As well as that, individuals all see the potential in being celebrities and having their own following and audience. So a world where everyone can be a star is what we support at dONd.
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