…Try not to take everything too seriously. It’s of course important to care about your work, but sometimes when things haven’t happened exactly as I planned, I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh my God, this is terrible.” Then by the next day, it’s worked itself out, and I could have used that time spent worrying to do something more productive.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Holly Carter.
Holly Carter is the Founder and CEO of Relevé Entertainment LLC, an All3Media America company. Relevé is a multi-platform production and talent partnership boutique that curates content across media and has managed award-winning, multi-platinum artists including Usher, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Kierra Sheard and Michelle Williams. Inspired by a passion for artist development, this twenty-five-year industry veteran began her career in television casting (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Roc, Martin), ultimately expanding into content creation and brand development. Carter’s production credits include Oxygen’s breakout franchise Preachers Of LA, Detroit, and Atlanta, the top-rated Lifetime original movie The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel, and the upcoming film Mahalia! starring Jill Scott, which Carter is set to co-executive produce alongside Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, and Jamie Foxx. Additionally, Carter created the annual empowerment summit ‘The Merge Summit,’ is co-creator of the monthly entertainment industry Bible study the ASCEND Bible Movement, and is the Chair of Freedom Spirit, an outreach ministry dedicated to serving the less fortunate in south Los Angeles. A Los Angeles native, wife and mother of two, Carter is a graduate of the MBA program at the USC Marshall School of Business and holds a Doctorate of Divinity from the Southern California School of Ministry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a family of artists and singers, so music has always very much been a part of my life. My brother played drums, and he, my sister, and my dad were all singers (and my mother thought she could sing). My parents were always very supportive of our creative endeavors. Even as a child, I remember that for every performing arts production I was in, my parents were in the front row. I would perform a little harder when they were sitting up front — I wanted to make them proud. I had a really loving childhood. As a singer, my dad would perform all over the world. One day he said the Lord called him to ministry, and he became a minister for the last 35 years of his life. He ministered to the homeless community, which is what I picked up when he passed on, to carry on that legacy.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started as a personal assistant working for Hard Copy, a tabloid TV show. My job was to clip newspaper articles and handle casting for the reenactments in their crime segments. I did that for about a year before I moved into casting full-time.
I worked on casting for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, In Living Color, Roc, and Martin, which were wonderful experiences for me, but I ultimately decided that I wanted to be a part of the bigger talent management process, so I moved into agency work. My first big client was Nicci Gilbert of the R&B group Brownstone. Then I started working with Usher, which changed the entire trajectory of my career. Representing Usher opened up so many doors for me. My focus was to build Usher’s television career alongside his mother as she was building his music career. I spent years agenting music artists who were crossing over into TV and acting. I started doing the same work within the gospel music community, representing artists like Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary, and then finally decided I wanted to move into content creation.
So, to capsulize it, I started in reenactments casting, moved into television casting, and then moved into agent work. From agenting, I started managing. Then from management, I started doing what we do now at Relevé, which is producing television and film content.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I don’t know if I have one specific story that I would call out as the most interesting. I’ve had so many blessings in my career, and I’m so grateful for each experience that’s led me to where I am today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve definitely learned something valuable from every mistake I’ve made during my career. One that I can laugh about now is from when I was just starting out in talent management and was coming off of a big win. I got a little swept up in that and didn’t approach an important meeting in the way that I should have, and let’s just say that I was brought back down to earth very quickly.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
First and foremost, I owe my success to my faith in God, the gifts that he’s given me, and the favor that he’s given me.
The people that he orchestrated in my life to be Godsends are two of my best friends — Robi Reed, a casting director, and Usher’s mom, Jonnetta Patton. Jonnetta could have gone with any of the bigger agencies when Usher was looking for representation. She could have said, “You’re an independent African-American agent who is trying to make it. We don’t have time for you. We need somebody who is more powerful.” Instead, she took that and reversed it. She bet on me and ultimately gave me a shot because I was an independent, African American woman — and a single mom at the time — who had a vision and was committed to putting in the work. Every time an agency came in to try to move me out of the way, Jonetta fought for me. I owe a lot of my career achievements and accomplishments to her. Representing Usher was the basis for some of my most impactful business relationships that I wouldn’t have had access to if she hadn’t taken a chance on me.
Robi Reed was the first person I met in the business who took me under her wing and said, “Let’s do this together. I can introduce you to people. I can take you into meetings.” We started representing Kirk Franklin together. We did so much together, and she was the person who made me feel like even when I was new in the business, that I was never going to have to do it alone. Robi and Joanna are the two people who really, really supported me on this journey in a way that tangibly grew my business and my relationships, and I’m so grateful to both of them.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Yes! I think that my advice would be to have a prayer life, be focused, have a vision, and maintain and cultivate relationships. Relationships are key in this business. If you don’t take care of them, they won’t take care of you. I think having a plan and knowing that you’re called to a certain thing, for me, I knew I was called to this. For me, I knew I was destined to do what I am doing now, just based on my conviction. I think you’ve got to believe in yourself in order to be successful in this, because there’s a lot of rejection. There’s a lot of nos. There’s a lot of not right now. There are a lot of naysayers. All of that.
If you believe in yourself and you are meant to do what you are supposed to be doing, you’ve got great content, you believe in your content and there’s a niche or a direction that you’re following and you have something unique about what you do, you cannot lose. You’ve got to cherish people. People are a commodity in this business that you can’t afford to just toss. That’s why relationships are key. The Bible says two are better than one. When you’ve got relationships in this business, if you’ve got someone that’s walking alongside you during this process, it makes it better than walking by yourself.
I think that would be my advice. Know that you’ve been called to this, believe in yourself, cultivate your relationships and have a plan.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I’m driven every day by my passion, my faith, and my purpose. My purpose in this business is to uplift the culture with content that is inspirational, aspirational, provocative, and, hopefully, life changing. I get up every morning because I know it’s my call and I want to leave a legacy for my children.
Everyone wants to feel connected, and to be inspired. As a creator, I’m constantly asking myself: What can I say? How can I help? How can I inspire? How can I rise up and say or do something that will encourage and uplift those around me?
The change I want to see in the industry is more connection. It’s a difficult time — we’re disconnected and un-harmonized. We’re a bit broken, we’re tired. I want to see people connect better. I want to create content that doesn’t just entertain, but brings connectivity, builds relationships, and encourages resolution. I approach a lot of the content that my team creates with this in mind: the change that I want to see is the change that I’m going to be.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
It’s been an exciting time of growth for our team at Relevé. My passion is producing projects that are steeped in culture, faith, and music. Our aim is always to shine a light on untold stories and to increase representation on screen, and I’m so proud of the work we’ve been doing in this space.
Earlier this year, we produced The Clark Sisters movie for Lifetime, which we were thrilled to see earn them their highest ratings for a movie since 2016. This was such an important project for us because it gave us the chance to tell a story about faith, family, and dreams that people may not have previously known much about. It also gave our team an opportunity to share the joy of gospel music with the world.
Looking ahead, I’m working with Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, and Shakim Compere to produce a new film based on the life of Mahalia Jackson called Mahalia!, starring Jill Scott. Mahalia Jackson was such a force and we can’t wait to share her music, as well as her life story and political legacy, with the world.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Having diversity represented in film and television is so important. Highlighting stories that showcase different people, different experiences, and different voices not only more authentically represents who we are, but also elevates the entertainment industry as a whole and the quality of the content coming out of it. Diversity represents a calling. It calls to the stage my experience, your experience, your grandmother’s experience — it represents the voices of many different experiences, and voices of color and change. I think the more we can diversify television, the more we reflect the world around us as it is — a melting pot of beautiful perspectives and experiences. The more we allow opportunities for these different voices to be heard, the more of an opportunity we have to encourage understanding and harmony in our world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
First, try not to take everything too seriously. It’s of course important to care about your work, but sometimes when things haven’t happened exactly as I planned, I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh my God, this is terrible.” Then by the next day, it’s worked itself out, and I could have used that time spent worrying to do something more productive.
Second, it’s okay to smile more. A smile (when you’re feeling it, of course) can lighten the room and put people at ease. Being serious about your work doesn’t have to mean you can’t have any fun while you’re getting it done.
Third, do your research. I’ve learned this over the years in casting and deal making. Details are so important, the fine print is important, and it’s impossible to get the details right if you haven’t done your research. Go out there and get it done.
Fourth, remember what’s important. My family and my faith are my priority, and always take precedence over my career aspirations. At the end of the day, you have to take care of what’s important to you, because what else is there? Whatever your priority is, don’t lose sight of that in the hustle.
Fifth, maintain your relationships. Relationships are everything. It’s so important to not only form them, but to continue to nourish and deepen them. My relationships have helped me to unlock many incredible opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of or exposed to — if you take care of them, they will take care of you.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
Self-care is so important, and I try to find time to prioritize that no matter how busy things get. I am constantly reading. Even when I don’t have the time to sit down and read a full book, I’ll read through specific chapters that speak to me. I also make an effort to read a portion of the Bible in the morning, both because it centers me and because I draw a lot of my creative inspiration from there. Aside from reading, I love diffusing essential oils and the occasional massage — all of that good stuff!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the quote: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That speaks to me because I have always prided myself on finding a niche — a space that maybe someone else wasn’t filling — that I could uniquely hold. It’s always been my passion to merge the sacred and the secular. That has been my specialty and my passion, and the path on which I’ve made an effort to blaze my own trail through my work at Relevé.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to inspire a movement of healing. There is so much that the world needs to heal from right now. I want people to heal from racism, from fear, and from their unwillingness to embrace difference and change. That would be the movement that I would inspire — a movement of healing and reconciliation.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Michelle Obama. I love her as a mother, as a Black woman, as a woman of change, and as a wife who stood behind her husband, no matter what, until the work was done. She represents everything that I stand for.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Instagram and Twitter at @DrHollyCarter. You can also visit the Relevé website at www.releve-ent.com.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!