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#LiveCivilInterview: ‘Star’ On Fox’s Ester Lou Weithers Talks All Things Screen Writing & Creating

By Posted on 0 12 m read

There has been a wake and revolution of African-American creators, writers, producers, and all around game changers. With the recent success of creators like Lena Waithe & Issa Rae, we have all been curious and intrigued by Television and film creators. Seeing relatable black women create successful, tasteful, and lucrative TV has inspired many of us to shoot for the stars. These monumental moments in cultural and entertainment history have opened our eyes to a world that we never thought we would see ourselves a part of. The television and film industry is notorious for being run by white men. In 2017, it was reported that only about 5 percent of TV writers were African-Americans. If African-Americans only consist of 5%, we can only imagine how many of them were black women.

During Ava Duvernay’s press run for A Wrinkle In Time, she emphasized that this is only the beginning of true inclusivity for people of color. We have come so far but we’ve got some ways to go. Over here at Live Civil, we pride ourselves on providing our readers with resourceful content. We wanted to get the scoop for you all on what it takes to write and create a hit TV series so we sat down with creator & screenwriter Ester Lou for the gems.

Ester Lou is most known for her role as a writer on the hit FOX series, Star. Star is an American musical drama television series created by Lee Daniels and Tom Donaghy. It revolves around three talented young singers who navigate the music business on their road to success. Star recently took over Wednesday nights on TV by attaining higher ratings than ABC’s Modern Family. Her career in entertainment began after college when she worked at Lifetime in their corporate communications department. Since then Esther has worked in scheduling and programming at VH1, was an assistant at Nickelodeon, a PA on House of Lies, and an intern turned co-creator with Black & Sexy TV.

Ester got her big break through a fellowship with Fox where she went through a 4-month intensive process of working on a new pilot and learning how to pitch. The fellowship ended with a pitching contest where fellows were able to pitch to Fox executives. Ester won the fellowship and got her first staffing job on Pitch, she then went on to land a position with Empire and now Star. In this interview, Ester walks us through her personal journey to becoming a television writer. She talks about what it’s like to be a woman of color in the writer’s room, how to pitch, how to get good at script writing, the sacrifices that she had to make to become successful in the industry, and much more.

Walk us through a typical day as a TV writer on the set of Star… 

At the start of the season before production we are discussing the season, the characters, everyone is pitching ideas for what we want to see for the season. Typically the showrunner has a vision and we’re just pitching ideas to help execute that. That happens in the first week or week and a half. After that, we start settling in on some specific ideas and the big moments that we want to see happen in the season (The creation of story arcs and character arcs happens during this time).

As we get closer to production we start making the ideas more concrete and that’s when we start talking about what happening episode by episode. We’re all sharing ideas and we are all pitching different ideas. It’s very free-flowing. It is my favorite part of the room because it is so chill and anything is possible! When it’s just about time for production episodes & scripts are assigned to different writers. This is when people start to leave the writers room to go write their script alone in their office.

Once we start shooting, people start going to set to actually produce their episodes. This is when the pace and energy begin to heighten because the clock is ticking. At this point, we’re thinking about production, budgets, actors, and schedules. It’s a little more hectic towards the end but before you know it the last episode is being filmed!

What type of stories do you like to tell? 

I love to tell stories about people who are accidental heroes, who weren’t necessarily trained or positioned or elevated to the status of hero but life happened and extraordinary circumstances brought out the best in them and before they know it they become a hero to themselves and the people in their lives.

How do you handle rejection when it comes to pitching your ideas?

Your job as a writer is to fulfill the vision of the showrunner and creator of the show. It is not your show. Unless it is a show that you actually created, it is not your show. You can pitch an idea and see how the room responds to it. If they don’t like it and you happen to feel very strongly about it, you can find an opportunity to strategically pitch it again later on. If that doesn’t work you have to move on and let it go.

If they don’t receive the idea then it’s not received. Someone else can even pitch something similar to your idea with a tweak and it would work. At the end of the day, you have to not take it personally unless you feel like someone is batting down every idea you have. If they don’t accept your idea it is cool, that is not the story that they want to tell and that is fine. Go back and think of something else.

When working as a PA, how did you go about letting the company know that you were interested in screenwriting?

I was always writing and working on a script as a PA. However, when you are a PA in the writer’s room it was understood that you are an aspiring writer. If you happen to get a job further away from the writers you should always be writing. When I worked for House Of Lies, the writers knew that when the set was closed Esther was in the office because she is working on a script. Every job I had known that I was working on a script. They knew that when I had downtime that is exactly what I was doing and that is what you’re supposed to be doing. People are always watching you, even if they don’t comment on you or anyone else they are watching you.

I would also as if I could read a script or come in for a table read. Sometimes they said no but at least they knew where my interests were and that I was trying to grow and expand my knowledge. Always ask questions because you never know until you say something. Aspiring writers should also find someone who had a similar path, those are the people who will look out for you. The writers PA in my room at Star is my homie because I have done his job and I understand what it is and what it takes. Especially now in this climate, there are more black writers, people are looking out for each other.

You didn’t stay at a job that didn’t fulfill your creativity. You constantly took risks throughout your career until you were satisfied. Can you talk about the importance of taking risks even when they feel uncomfortable?

Your best life is on the other side of comfort. It does not live within the confines of comfort. There are going to be people around you who don’t understand what you’re doing and don’t understand what you’re chasing. You have to be able to have enough confidence and enough strength in yourself to not let those people and their fears and the confines that they place on their life influence you. As long as you have a plan for your passion it will pay off.

What was your biggest risk?

Moving to LA because I loved New York. Television writing is one of those careers where you have to move to LA. You can do production in other cities but if you want to work in television specifically you have to live in Los Angeles. There was not a lot drawing me there but I realized comfort would be my prison and years from now. I did not want to look back at my life and wonder what would have happened if I moved to LA.

What made you take the big leap?

I just got to a point where mediocrity was just so unsatisfying and disgusting. I felt like I could do more and that I could be more. When that happens you’ll be willing to take that risk, no matter what. If you chase it and fail, I guarantee that you will get some benefit from it or you may end up on another path that you didn’t even know was out there for you. There is never any real failure at risk, only divergent paths.

What do you suggest people do before quitting their job and risking it all?

Make sure you work your pocketbook. I’m not going to get into anyone’s pocketbook but make sure you figure that part out. I emptied out my 401K, I would not recommend that to anyone else. It’s paying off now but it worked out. Sometimes when you take a huge risk it places pressure on you to be super focused and disciplined because you’ve already risked it all. You don’t have any other choice but to succeed because failure is not an option.

We love how extreme and intense Star is, it always takes the viewers on a crazy roller coaster. What do you love most about writing for Star?

One of the best things about working with Lee Daniels is that you have the opportunity to tell stories that aren’t always told on television and you get to do it in a way that is exhilarating. We always go for it. I have also always loved music, I planned to work for a record label in college so it’s cool to show up on set and it’s a fictional record label. It feels like I made it in the music business after all!

The young ladies are also amazing, Jude, Brittney, and Ryan. They put in serious work. They rehearse back to back, learn lines, and choreography. So to live that girl group fantasy through them is really amazing. I have a great time doing that.

Why do you think that it is important for companies to have writers of color in the writing room? 

At the end of the day, you want to have representation in the writer’s room so that you can have a true representation on the screen. Where we are in our culture right now there are so many so many different people of so many different backgrounds that have amazing stories that have yet to be told. I think we are moving in that direction more and more, the politics and the profit have proven to be has proven to be lucrative for companies. They are understanding that the money is there and they are being shamed when the representation is not there.

S/O to Black Twitter, we will call you out and I so appreciate that. I think that is a major part of the reason why we are seeing that shift. Companies are learning, some are embracing it and some are learning the hard way. Either way, we are here and we are not going anywhere. Our stories will be told, we will tell them ourselves and we will do it with excellence and authenticity.

Have you ever been the only woman of color in the room? Can you tell us about that experience?

I was the only black woman in the writer’s room on Pitch, which was about a female baseball player. That was my first show so I wasn’t really sure what my role was in the room. I knew our show was about a black woman and that I was the only black woman. I felt a sense of responsibility and expertise but those two things have to be weighed within the context of the job that you are hired to do. It’s a balancing act of working with the story that they want to tell vs. what I thought the story should be. That was a balancing act for me and something that I had to learn.

Fortunately, in that room, my thoughts and my ideas were very receptive. I have had colleagues who were in the same scenario and their ideas have not been receptive. It can go either way, every writer’s room is different. I put a lot of pressure on myself but I had a writing group full of black women supporting and letting me know what was realistic and what wasn’t.

Talk to us about your experience when it came to working with other people of color who were not black?

I have been in situations where I have been in a room and I have spoken up for another character that was a minority but not a black woman. People looked at me like, “This is not one of yours. Why are you speaking up?”. There are similarities and a community. At the end of the day the mainstream is typically white caucasian and then there’s the rest of us. So we look out for each other. If I see you saying something wack about a Latino man or a latino women I am going to comment on it.

What are the complexities that come with being a television writer and woman of color?

My counterparts can just pitch an idea. They don’t have to think about anything else if they have a good idea they can just go for it. I would always have to pitch an idea but I would have to think about if it was good on the black front, woman front, immigrant front, etc. I juggle all my critiques so that they can be constructive and received well.

What advice do you have for people of color in the writer’s room who want to speak up but don’t know how?

Understand why you were hired, some people are hiring you specifically because they want your black voice. Some rooms, unfortunately, you will realize that you were hired because you are simply there to check a box for HR purposes, and you see that they really don’t want to hear what you have to say. The first thing you should do is figure out what is your role in the writer’s room and find a way to strategically do your job and find ways to make sure those characters are authentic and complex.

Your diplomacy game and your political strategic communications game have to be on point because it will be hard to get your point across if you’re just attacking people in the room. So you have to find a way to fix problems with a story solution. Know how to communicate to the people in the room so that you can get the result that you want.

How do you feel about internships and/or working for free?

I interned on a lot of jobs for free. You must be clear about what you want to get out of it. Work hard to get that thing out of it and then be out. When I interned I let them know that I would work for free if I am able to shadow the director and the editor. Internships are supposed to be an exchange. Know the worth of your values. We joke sometimes in the writer’s room if someone has a good idea, they say they are going to save that for their pilot. All though we are joking it really isn’t a joke at all, you know you’re golden egg and gold mine ideas. Don’t ever give that up! The idea that is going to take you to the top, don’t share that with anybody.

What’s next for you?

I am working on some of my own material right now, production on Star is coming to a close. I am very excited to write dramatic thrillers starring black women so stay tuned!

What do you want the world to know about Esther Lou?

I want to expand the spectrum of blackness in the world and in pop culture. I feel as though we are in an amazing time where there are a variety of black woman on the screen in literature, small or big. The spectrum of blackness is expanding people are seeing more of who we truly are, the different sides of us, the different versions of us and I am so excited to be apart of that. That is my goal in everything that I write, whether it is my own idea or someone else’s.

What type of stories do you like to tell? 

I love to tell stories about people who are accidental heroes, who weren’t necessarily trained or positioned or elevated to the status of hero but life happened and extraordinary circumstances brought out the best in them and before they know it they become a hero to themselves and the people in their lives.

 

‘Star’ Returns With Guest Star Patti Labelle As Queen Latifah’s “Gun Carrying Mama”

By Posted on 0 2 m read

Wednesday nights are about to get more dramatic. Star returns to Fox with binge-worthy new episodes for their new highly anticipated season.  The hit show chronicles the ups and downs of three young, talented singers, navigating the music industry. Lead by Queen Latifah as Carlotta, the group’s manager, the cast will guest star Patti Labelle as her mother.

Get ready to see Patti Labelle as never before. Her role as Christine Brown is an old school gangster and gives insight on the dysfunctional, slightly criminal background of Carlotta. Both Queen Latifah and Patti Labelle are both excited to work together as mother and daughter.

Watch as Patti Labelle opens up about her role, including behind the scenes clips.

Pattie Labelle is not the only singer taking their talents to the upcoming season of Star. Grammy award winning artist and actress Brandy also joins the guest-cast with Labelle in multiple episiode arcs. LaLa Anthony, media personality and actress who currently stars on Power and Quavo, one-third of Atlanta rap group Migos will also have guest slots.

The gritty drama exposes aspects of the music industry as the girls run attempt to leave their pasts behind to chase their dreams. Coming off of their win at Atlanta NextFest, the girls of Star continue to face hindering roadblocks on their quest to stardom.  Star is not the only drama award winning producer and director Lee Daniels is bringing to the silver screen to close out hump-day.

Star will air March 28th, sharing Wednesday night’s with Empire, starring Taraji P Henson and Terrance Howard, another drama centered around the music industry.  Both Empire and Star feature original music and give audiences different perspectives on the world of entertainment through dramatic storylines and powerful performances.

Catch a sneak peak of Empire below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vnMTHPupB4&feature=youtu.be

 

#LiveCivilInterview: Ryan Destiny Talks STAR, Colorism, Gabrielle Union, & The Secret To Her Glowing Skin

If you’re a fan of EMPIRE and STAR Wednesdays like we are over here at Live Civil than you are very familiar with Ryan Destiny. Ryan plays Alexandra Crane, an aspiring singer/songwriter/dancer who left her lavish life with her celebrity parents played by the legendary Lenny Kravitz and Naomi Campbell to thug it out in Atlanta with her super talented girl group in hopes to “make it big”.

Before her role on Empire and Star, Ryan was apart of Russell Simmon’s All Def label’s R&B girl group Love DollHouse. She has been compared to the likes of actress and author, Gabrielle Union. Union says in her book “We’re going to need more wine” that not only can Ryan act but, “she can sing and dance!”.

Ryan Destiny is just getting started, outside of STAR she is planning to release a solo EP and has signed with Capitol Records. We wanted to get to know the beautiful brown skin girl that immediately caught our eyeso we decided to catch up with her and indulge in some girl talk.

In this interview, we discuss the struggles and revelations of being a woman of darker skin, the main components that every musical girl group needs to truly survive, her relationship with Gabrielle Union, her up and coming EP, and of course BOYS, and more. Grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and a notepad because sis is about to drop some serious gems!

 

For those who don’t know…who is Ryan Destiny?

I am somebody that want’s to make a mark as somebody that just loves people and broke boundaries and was just themselves all the time. That is me in a nutshell.

Most people know you from Empire and Star on FOX, how did the role of Star come about after things ended for you with Empire?

The role came from the casting director Leah Daniels, she was just such a big believer in me thankfully and supporter. So when things in Empire fell through she really wanted me to audition for STAR and at first I wasn’t really about it because it was about a girl group and I had just gotten out of a real girl group a few months before. So, I was just like yea, I don’t really think that this is for me but I did it anyway. I auditioned for it and I got it, and now I’m here.

What do you love/respect most about Lee Daniels and his work?

The thing I respect the most about him is that he is very vulnerable with his work and telling stories. He is living his truth in his work and the way that he tells stories is really based off of the things that he has gone through. I really respect that about him because that’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to let people into your life that much even if it is a movie or a show. It is important to do and I think it speaks volumes and really opens people’s minds. If the topic or story being highlighted is something that people are not used to or don’t necessarily know too much about Lee Daniels is really big on showing a whole different perspective on that certain topic. I love that about him and his work.

What new dynamic does Star bring to television and entertainment, why should everybody be tuning in?

STAR is so dynamic to me, it really is a rich show. I’m somebody who is very honest with my work and stuff that I do. If it’s trash and I’m on it, I’m going to say that it is trash but I really think that it is something that is not on television right now. We are singing and dancing and it’s so many beautiful types of people in this cast that are so different. We have a transgender (Amiyah Scott) and the group is made up of 3 different girls that come from different places (Jude Demorest, Brittany O’ Grady, and Ryan Destiny), and are white, mixed, and black.

I just think that is very different, simply, it’s a very different show than anything else that’s on right now. It’s very cool for people to watch and learn different things too because it touches on a lot of hard topics.

The diversity of the girl group in the show truly stands out to viewers, it highlights the differences in women from personality to style and even to skin tone. Growing up with darker skin and as a brown skin girl, did you experience any colorism? 

I have definitely experienced it in my personal life while growing up and in the industry, it’s just in the society period. Different things that I would go through would just be simply people not thinking that I am beautiful. People literally not liking me, whether it be a guy that I like or just anybody not liking me because of my skin color, being embarrassed by it and you know, not thinking it’s beautiful because they see a lighter skin tone on television being praised or they hear it in a song by one of their favorite rappers. It’s just always been a thing that even I at a certain point thought was right. I would think, “Oh yeah, you’re right. I’m not beautiful because I’m this color like I want to be lighter”, that would literally go through my mind. That’s a terrible space to be in, especially when you don’t even realize it. When I finally did realize it, and it finally clicked for me, it really truly was a complete shift in my life and it was a genuine shift.

When I realized it, it wasn’t in a time when social media was in this great space where we are showing so much love to one another and so much support of all of our skin tones and diversity. Being loved now I think more than ever really still has such a far way to go because it’s still such a huge issue that’s happening. When I realized it, it’s something that I literally had to pull from myself, I was like, “WOAH! It clicked like I am so beautiful and my skin color is so great and grand and I should not feel like I want to have my skin lightened.”. It also wasn’t a thing where I felt like I had to put down a lighter skin girl, I feel like that’s another huge issue that we have to. Because of jealousy and the way people are brought up, they like to put down a lighter skin person and I think a lot of times is happening to now where darker skin girls are being praised so much, now people are kind of going down this other road where they don’t really like light skin girls, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

It’s almost a trend now and I feel like now some dark skin girls aren’t truly loving themselves, they’re loving themselves because it’s what’s hot right now. It should not matter if it’s hot or not, you should love yourself regardless. I just want to really express that and let people know how real that is, and how important it is to really mentally have a shift in your mind. Screw society, screw what is in front of me right now, I am beautiful regardless and I’m going to do this and succeed in this regardless. It’s very important to me and it’s definitely something that I am forever going to speak on because it’s very very real.

As a platform that highlights everything that deals with black women and their magic, we have been dying to find out what your skin care regimen is. What foundation do you use because we all know that Fenty beauty just came out with the perfect matches for all of us. You’re known for glowing and having that melanin poppin’ skin, what’s been your secret? 

Honestly, I went through a whole thing with my skin where I was breaking out really bad, so it’s just crazy now how people are like, “What do you do with your skin?!” and I’m just like, “wow this has been a long time comin'”.

I use a lot of products that don’t have a lot of extra stuff in there. Vanicreme is one of the products that I use, but mainly their face washes because it’s very simple. Some of the stuff that I used to use had a lot of acid and extra chemicals that would dry my skin out and that would not help me at all, I would actually break out even more. So, gentle and simple products are very helpful and aloe vera gel has been the best to me ever!

Whenever I do break out, because I still do, I want people to know that I use a product by Mario Badescu. It’s a spa treatment that you use it’s in a little pink bottle and it’s drying lotion, that I’m telling you will save your life when you’re breaking out I promise!

As far as cosmetics, I use Giorgio Armani, that foundation goes on like silk and it’s not very heavy and that’s the best part. It is important to not use heavy makeup, that’s very crucial to skin care period. Now as far as how long that list is of darker colors, they need to step that up because Fenty just blew everybody out the water for that. Another brand that’s good with skin color for darker women to is AJ Crimson, they truly have a variety as well.

You’ve been compared to the likes of actresses like Gabrielle Union. In her book, “We’re Going To Need More Wine”, she talks about competition and how when she first met you she thought to herself:

“Bitch, fuck you. You want me to mentor you? The press is literally calling you the next Gabrielle Union….”except she can sing and dance!”

How do you feel about the statement that was made and what is your relationship like with her now?  

That was very weird to me, weird in a good way because I didn’t expect her to put me in her book period. I remember the time that we did meet, which is the situation she was addressing in her book and she was very nice. I wouldn’t have known that she was thinking any of the stuff that she said she was thinking in her head at all. It’s interesting because she was just talking to me and we were just chopping it up about what I was filming at the time and I was just struggling mentally with stuff within the show because there is always some drama and she was just being supportive of that and she told me to push through it.

Our relationship is great right now, we’re very supportive of each other. She’s supportive of me, thankfully and I appreciate her vulnerability in the book and how she expressed how she felt truly about it all and overcoming certain things within that. So it’s cool, and I really do think that there is room for all of us and she’s Gabrielle Union so I think she definitely is so good on me and I am no threat. I think that we have a great future ahead as far as our relationship and what could happen because doing a movie with her would be amazing or any type of project would be really cool.

You’re a triple threat, you dance, sing, and act. Star has given you the opportunity to do all of that on what platform. Can you talk to us more about your musical career outside of Star?

Yes, I’ve been recording my own solo music for the past 2 years now. I am in the process of putting out an EP, entitled On One’s Own and I’m really excited about it because it will really just be me. People will really see the difference between the songs on the show vs. who I actually am and what I can create and what I make. I take a lot of different elements but for this project, you can say that it is R&B based and it’s just chill. I’m a dancer too so it’s going to be a lot of that as well, it’s going to be fun, I’m excited.

You are in a girl group on the set of Star and have actually been in one in real life, Doll House. What do you believe are the main components that every girl group needs to thrive and be successfully happy has a group and as individuals?

It’s a very difficult thing and I think the main downfall that I had in my experience was simply and truly be friends. There is a lot of people in the industry that think that you can throw girls together and they think that you can just say, “Okay, be friends now” and it will be fake at that point, it’s very forced and that will never resonate. Sometimes it happens that way and thank God it can, but it will only happen if they truly connect. If they don’t and they are like faking it in interviews and faking it in the public, it will always end badly. Somebody is going to leave, somebody is going to be replaced. People are able to see that, and that’s not what girls want to see, they want to see girls that are true friends and once they see that they are not, it’s like, “Oh, this is going to end”. So I think that is a huge part of being a girl group, you really have to love each other.

Individually it’s the same thing, you’re going to have to be your authentic self with anything. Whether you’re in a group or not so as long as you keep those things in mind and you know what audience you’re speaking to and why you’re doing it, then that can really help along the way.

You’re dating a fine young man by the name of Keith Powers. What do you look for in a guy and what is your outtake on dating as a millennial and especially in the industry?

What I look for in a guy is everything that Keith is. It’s very very hard to please me, especially now because I’ve seen a lot of different people and it’s hard to get me and it’s hard to play me. It’s just tricky, especially in the space that I’m in, I’m very career based and that’s always first for me. So to be in the industry it’s very tricky and as long as you both realize where you’re at in life and you realize that certain things are going to have to be sacrificed but you still respect them and love them and you guys have an understanding then things will be easier. It helps me having somebody who is in the industry because you guys understand each other on a different level. You’re busy, they’re busy so that helps and I know people think that it may be a thing like we don’t get to talk as much or there’s no time but it helps because we’re young, we’re living our lives. The number one thing that’s been important to me not having any pressure, there’s no pressure on it things go a lot smoother. When you feel like there’s something weighing down on you and you feel like you have to please them or please everybody else. Being in the public eye in a relationship can get tough too which is why we’re pretty low key but a lot of opinions can come into play and that’s pressure within itself, so you really have to keep that out. The pressure sucks.

Out of all of your female peers in the industry who is inspiring you the most right now and why?

I have always been influenced especially by entertainers, people like Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, and Prince. I’m huge on singers like Brandy, Lauryn Hill, and India Arie. As far as acting goes, ugh it’s always so hard choosing people because I love my people so anybody that’s going hard right now really. It’s so many young aspiring actors that are really killing it and I’m just a fan, I’m a fan of all of us right now that are just pushing these boundaries and going in these different directions that people don’t usually see us in, whether black or another race. I really do love every actor that’s coming up right now and I think we’re really doing different things with how much we can do too, we’re not just actors and we’re not just singers we can do a lot more and we can make a change in the industry and the world.

What’s next for Ryan Destiny and what do you want the world to know about you?

I will just say, you will see. I am always and forever evolving and my journey I feel like is going to be a long one. I’m definitely always going to keep people updated but there are a lot of things that people don’t know and I’m excited about the future and I just want everybody to know that I’m a lover and an entertainer.