Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali

Sepideh Zolfaghari on becoming a content producer and the art of creating for YouTube

As a content producer, a key part of Sepideh Zolfaghari’s role is to stay in-the-know on all things internet culture. Having created content with the likes of David Beckham, Son Heung-Min and Arnold Schwarzenegger, today she works as channel producer and editor for popular YouTube channel JOLLY. Her journey to the role, however, wasn’t so clear-cut. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, she realised a career in design didn’t quite align with her interests or strengths. Instead, she secured an internship at BBC Creative which introduced her to the world of online content. Here, we speak to Sepideh about sparking ideas, growing your talent and rejecting the glamorisation of burnout.

Sepideh

Sepideh Zolfaghari


Job Title

YouTube channel producer and video editor, JOLLY

Based

London

Selected Clients

LG, Samsung, Netflix, Cats The Movie, BBC, Nike, Fendi, various Premier League Football clubs

Previous Employment

Assistant Video Editor, AKQA (2017)
Freelance Creative, BBC Creative (2016–2017)

Education

BA Graphic Design, Kingston University (2013–2016)

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
My current job at JOLLY is all about being in touch with current trends and what the world is talking about. I essentially get to make videos about memes, music, food, and anything we feel will connect with our audience. I also get to eat a lot of snacks from all across the world – so that’s a big perk.

If you could sum up your job in a gif, what would it be and why?
Do you know that gif of the cat constantly tapping away at its screen manically? (Below) That would be me juggling all the elements of my role. From editing current and upcoming videos, filming content and researching, to ideating for new videos. I always have something to think about.

I don’t get time to pause during the day if I’m honest! It’s one of those jobs that even after you finish your workday, you are still thinking about ideas. Whilst scrolling through social media I’m always thinking ’Is there a video idea in this?’ There are so many elements to working as a content producer. However, I have become very strict with myself, I will always make sure I get my work done within work hours and keep a very organised regime so I don’t overwork myself.

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now?
My desk at work always ends up with all sorts on it because we get sent lots of packages from fans and brands. At one point we received a massive package from (instant noodle brand) Indomie, and I had a bunch of Indomie merch on my desk. I also have a toy (below) from Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food chain that opened up in London not too long ago, which a fan of the channel sent to us! I always appreciate the little things people send us.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The internet and people. My job is so heavily based around internet culture and trending topics. I get to focus on so many different elements. I’ve made videos about Billie Eilish, Blackpink, a video with Tommy Hilfiger, filming with Son Heung-Min to a video about a Reddit feed called Showerthoughts. Reddit is such a funny place to scroll for content ideas, I highly recommend it.

My thought process is so random sometimes. I can be eating an apple, take a bite out of it, and hear the crunch sound and I am like 'Oh that kind of sounds like someone stepping on some twigs in the woods...' which transforms into ‘Oh my god what if we attempted our own foley sounds?’ I then go into an endless research hole and my brain is just a catalogue of content ideas!

The beauty of the internet is that there’s a never-ending hole of content. With TikTok, for example, so many different videos are born from one specific sound. It’s pretty amazing how there can be one video made about one thing, and people see the potential for more content from that. I get excited to see how social media is constantly evolving. I can’t wait to see what happens next week, let alone next year!

“It’s exciting to see social media constantly evolving. I can’t wait to see what happens next week, let alone next year!”

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
There is a little series I had fun editing, which is a post-match analysis discussion with celebrities. The YouTube channel I work for has two channels and we’ve had the pleasure of filming lots of celebrities. I get to edit the aftermath and I get to subtly add my sense of humour and style.

I’ve created content on David Beckham, Son Heung-Min, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger – which was so amusing. With the Son Heung-Min video, I was lucky enough to be there on the shoot, and we had to do a lot of prep work as we were giving him food to try. We made a little afternoon tea stand and I baked some brownies to fill up the stand, and he didn’t need to, but he tried my brownies! He kindly signed a Spurs shirt for me too, which was a surprise for my brother’s friend who is a massive Sonny fan! I enjoy being on set a lot and just helping out.

Another project I enjoyed was a branded video for LG. For the video, we did our version of the popular YouTube series Hot Ones on First We Feast. It was filmed in South Korea (unfortunately I wasn’t there) but I was able to add my own elements into the edit.

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
If you want to become a YouTuber yourself, I would say you don’t need any specific training. I did a graphic design degree and I ended up working in content creation and video editing. I used to make home videos on iMovie and at uni, I would spend some evenings just making process videos of my projects for fun.

A lot of the time you just learn as you go along. Make content about things you enjoy and find communities online whether that be a YouTuber, a discord group, or a Reddit subreddit. Engage with a community, put yourself in the environment you want to be in and you will find yourself there. Reach out to people – I message content creators I like on Instagram and have discussions with them; it’s always fun just talking about content and sharing tips.

At the end of the day, the point of YouTube is to create content. I’ve seen YouTube start from little home videos like ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ to high-quality TV-like content being produced. We are so lucky now that every phone now has a camera so you can film whenever.

“I've seen YouTube start from little home videos like Charlie Bit My Finger to high-quality TV-like content.”

How I Got Here

What was your journey like when you were first starting? Did you find your feet quickly?
I have had an odd journey – I never knew where I fitted in. I just knew once I finished my degree that I wasn’t a graphic designer per se. I would read job descriptions for graphic design roles and I personally never felt fulfilled.

I was very lucky to land my first job at the BBC in their BBC Creative department. I was their first intern, and eventually, I turned into a regular freelancer. I was able to test the waters in a few different areas, like editing videos and trailers for shows on BBC One and Three. I also got to work with amazing voiceover artists.

I feel very lucky that I’ve managed to work for some great companies, and for the great colleagues that were always around to offer me advice. The variety of jobs and places I’ve worked made me realise that content creation and social media is where I belonged. Conversations with my friends and colleagues helped me to realise where my strengths lay, and I eventually found my feet that way!

“I would read job descriptions for graphic design roles and I personally never felt fulfilled.”

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Pablo Rochat’s Instagram is hilarious – his work is so witty, it cracks me up. He has done these Bob Ross edits which I sit and laugh at constantly.

Secondly, Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book. This came out not too long after I graduated and it’s been a book I’ve purchased many times. Every time I’ve bought it, I’ve ended up passing it onto a friend who works in the field, so I’ve had to repurchase it for myself a fair few times! It’s a handy little book for those starting in the industry, as it’s straight to the point and full of brilliant tips.

Lastly, my friend Paige is a constant source of inspiration. She’s someone who was with me since the early days of my creative journey. She recently started doing illustrations and has a great attitude; if there is something she wants to do she goes for it. She always pushes me to go for things and I always appreciate her for her honesty. It’s so important to surround yourself with friends you can trust.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Even though I graduated in 2016, I still struggle with self-confidence. I don’t know why but there are days where I am completely fine but then there are days I doubt my skills and what I can do. At the end of the day, we are all on our own journeys.

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
I would say it’s beneficial – I think working as a creative of any kind involves having an online presence. It’s there for you to show off your work and to showcase the interests you have outside of work.

My friend Mavis and I recently started a podcast for fun called Final Final podcast. We just casually put up episodes and even though we only have two episodes out, we’ve had people in over 14 countries tune in. We wanted to create a safe space for creatives, and us just to be open and honest about our thoughts and experiences. If we didn’t have our socials we wouldn’t have been able to connect with other amazing people.

Back in university, my friends Paige, Katie, and I did a project on the Stratford skating scene. We were told to look up mym8skates on Instagram, managed to link up, and they kindly let us film them. We showcased the film at our grad show and invited them along. When I got my first job at the BBC, they remembered the project, and I was asked to get in touch with the skaters again as they wanted to film them with Martin Parr for a BBC One ident! I remember being so excited to call them; I screamed with excitement when it first aired.

“Your online presence is there for you to show off your work and to showcase the interests you have outside of work.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I would encourage people to discuss money with friends you trust. I used to be so shy and always thought it was taboo to discuss it, especially at work. However, I have many close friends in the industry I feel comfortable talking about these things with now.

Over the years I have learned about self-worth and how I need to be better at negotiating when it comes to a salary! Don’t just say yes to the first offer you receive. Do your research on salary expectations for roles you’ve been applying for, and work your way around that.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Make work and create stories that you can’t wait to tell the grandkids about. Excuse my french if my parents are reading this – but don’t be an asshole. Remember everyone started somewhere; always be a lending hand.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Start making content in any form for fun – whether that’s a TV trailer for a show you watch, or TikToks. Practice your storytelling and comedic timing, start conversations with people working in the area you’re interested in.

Listen to podcasts, watch videos, be in tune with current affairs and internet culture – but be sure to set yourself boundaries, as you need breaks from social media!

We also have to stop glamorising overworking. Don’t allow yourself to burnout. It’s not an achievement to say up working until 3am. It’s ok to take time to reflect and take a day or two to relax.

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali
Mention BBC