The Reel Deal with Optimus’ Mary Ann Holecek

Mary Ann Holecek

Mary Ann Holecek

One at Optimus, the production arm of the post house Optimus, announced earlier this month that Mary Ann Holecek has taken the reins as Executive Producer/Managing Director.

For the past eight years, Holecek has freelanced at a variety of Chicago agencies including Energy BBDO, FCB, Rhea and Kaiser, SPM Marketing, The Escape Pod, Upshot and Walton Isaacson.

Her talents have touched such high-profile accounts as, Can-Am, Cracker Barrel, Fiat Chrysler, JC Penney, Kmart, McDonald’s, Safeway, Stella Artois, Toys “R” Us, and Wheat Thins. She began her career in 1994 at DDB Chicago when it was still referred to as Needham.

While the two of us basked in a Hollywood sunset on the rooftop of Mama’s Shelter, Mary Ann answered questions about her new adventure.

Reel Chicago: So, first of all congrats! I am so proud of you.

Mary Ann Holecek: Thank you!

RC: So how did this all come about? Who contacted who?

MH: Tom [Duff] called and asked if I wanted to meet. He had something to discuss. The moment he said he had an opening and asked if I was interested I said, “YES!” I’ve known Tom forever, he was one of the first persons I met in this industry. He has always been great to me and the most trustworthy person. I love production and I love Optimus so it was an easy choice.

RC: Awesome. Now that you’re taking over One at Optimus, what do you see as the position’s major challenges?

MH: One thing that I think we’re facing as advertising and production evolves is finding new ways to partner with agencies. Agency life is different from 20 years ago and clients have smaller budgets and more deliverables and there are so many different pieces to the puzzle than ever before.

There aren’t just :30’s and :15’s, we have :06 bumpers, :10, various lengths of content, as well as shooting many different aspect ratios to accommodate the ever-growing social media needs. Working with an agency to see their projects as a whole and figuring out new ways to work within the budgets and creative is a challenge, but a good one. I’m excited to see what we do next.

RC: Well, speaking of exciting – what makes you wake up ready to jump into work at One at Optimus?

MH: Easy! It’s the opportunity to work with so many different talented people. Being exposed to creative teams and producers from across the country as well as getting to know crew so much more than I had previously and collaborating with the post team at Optimus.

RC: What terrifies you the most?

MH: Missing ad agency life. Working on a daily basis with creatives, project managers, business managers & account mgmt. people. Also, not directly seeing a project all the way through post, mix & music.

RC: In your opinion how do you think being on this side of the business differs from the agency side?

MH: Things move quicker on this side. Lightning fast, actually. On the agency side we’d know of a project and while waiting on boards/scripts to be approved we would be discussing the work and have all the history of how it came to life, client requests, focus group feedback, etc. Once it moves to the production company it’s fast and furious to get treatments and bids together. It’s “go-time” all the time. Fast paced all the time!

RC: Where do you want to take One at Optimus?

MH: Ask some tough questions! You know me, I think BIG!! I want to see ONE continue to grow and open an office in Santa Monica and eventually NY, too. I’d love to see a roster filled with directors who are constantly working!

RC: I have a lot of respect for you because I watched you start as an admin and rise through the ranks. Now that we live in the #metoo era and women are finally making us as a society have frank discussions about harassment, especially in the work place, have you had your #metoo experiences?

Mary Ann shifts becoming visibly uncomfortable, takes a breath then speaks.

MH: Sadly, I faced these instances during my 24 years in this business. I’ve had both positive and negative outcomes from them and feel that the behavior is finally changing and not being tolerated as it once was. For example, I’ve had hotel room keys handed to me and inappropriate notes written on napkins slipped under my hotel room door. There were many leaders that handled the situations remarkably and made me feel comfortable and others who definitely dropped the ball. I remain hopeful the industry is changing as a whole and these changes will remain steadfast.

RC: What about your female coworkers? Did they come to your aid?

MH: My close friends (both male and female) in the industry have always supported me.

RC: That’s great. Support is in important.

MH: Yeah. I have not only experienced being treated differently as a woman, but as a mother and over 40 as well.

I’ve had people question how I could manage being both a producer and a mother of four. My answer has always been simply that I have passion for being both and therefore I find the balance. I was at an interview and when the recruiter, a man, learned I had children he said, “Wait, this job takes a lot of travel. I said, “Yes, been doing it a very long time, I’m aware of that.” He replied, “Well, won’t you miss your kids? Won’t that be difficult to leave them?” I often wonder how many times a man has been asked that question during an interview.

RC: How did you answer his stupid question?

MH: Oh, I let out a big sigh, got up and walked out of the interview and told him what he asked was wrong and if he was smart he would talk to HR and perhaps they could help him figure out why I ended the interview.

Mary Ann Holecek is strong, tenacious and is as smart as they come. One at Optimus is very lucky to have her.

Contact Colin Costello at or follow him on Twitter @colincostello10.