Business Monday

Tony Lesesne talks about Miami’s creative problem

Tony Lesesne loves living and working in South Florida, but the idea of moving his multimedia entertainment company to another city is always on his mind.

“As far as a place to live, I think Miami’s as good as any place in the world,” said Lesesne, co-founder and chief creative officer of Lesesne Media Group Entertainment in Miami. But infrastructure supporting the film industry and companies that specialize in creative content are missing, he said.

In Los Angeles, for example, organizations, charitable groups, industry associations, unions and universities regularly hold networking events or lectures.

As part of his quest to help Miami become a better home for companies like the one he started with his wife some 20 years ago — and which also now employes his 20-year-old son, Cameron — Lesesne is co-producing the Miami Urban Music & Film Festival from Sept. 25-27 at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami.

“One of the things we’re trying to do with this upcoming event is to find ways to stimulate the entertainment economy the way Seattle and Austin have,” he said.

By email, Lesesne talked about the company he runs with his wife and business partner Woodie Lesesne, the benefits and drawbacks of staying in Miami and the potential pitfalls of working with family.

Q. Tell me more about the kind of content that you produce — who are your clients, what’s your market and what is your niche?

A. We currently produce original lifestyle content weekly. AutoFOCUS highlights new cars, technology, and test drives. Art Culture and Entertainment (ACE) focuses on the local art and music communities. The Hollywood Spotlight highlights films, festivals and Hollywood History. IN FOCUS Magazine TV is a spin-off of the successful magazine we produced for 19 years; it deals with politics, technology and social issues. We will soon launch web comedies, dramas and short films on the web channel at [Editor’s note: AutoFOCUS, Art Culture and Entertainment and Hollywood Spotlight are online publications.].

Q. When you started your business, what made South Florida an attractive place to run a multimedia company?

A. South Florida’s diverse population and many cultures; its international profile and metropolis (Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) are attractive features. We understand and appreciate this place; love the weather, scenic locations, and the lifestyle.

Q. Do those same qualities exist today, or are there other benefits?

A. Yes, in abundance. The Caribbean and Latin American influences are incredible and alluring on many levels. The waterways, the beaches, the sports scene are above par. There are favorable investment opportunities if you have the right contacts in the right places with something that gets interest.

Q. What are the drawbacks to having a company like yours in Miami?

A. No cohesive entertainment infrastructure; no powerhouse film studios or TV networks; sparse venues for filmmakers and emerging musicians; lack of an informed investment community for entertainment and limited access to entertainment power players and decision makers; limited mentorship and networking opportunities. Some of these elements can be cultivated in Miami, but it will take lots of collective work.

Q. How often do you think about packing up and moving to a center for creative arts like New York or Los Angeles?

A. It is a daily thought, not just for us, but for many of our peers in the industry here in South Florida. The option is never off the table, but we simply love it here.

Q. What keeps you here?

A. Great relationships, familiarity, and the fact that we enjoy this community each day and its people. Also, until last year, our kids were in school, and we felt we should not consider a move and displace them, but that has changed.

Q. You’re a co-producer of the upcoming Miami Urban Music & Film Festival, which will put the spotlight on “strategies needed to cultivate a stronger, more successful local entertainment economy.” What are you hoping to accomplish with the festival?

A. We have studied Austin and Seattle to understand how they created and maintain a strong entertainment economy without major film studios and big record labels. We want this event to be one of the elements that helps our business community, elected officials, our so-called thought leaders and economic advocates to gain a greater understanding, appreciation and resolve to expand our economy beyond tourism and to look at how a successful entertainment economy benefits others industries. The talent is definitely here and we will showcase a bit of it as well as screen our films and those by others. We also want to help the investor community understand how profitable the entertainment business here in Miami and surrounding areas can be.

Q. What’s your elevator pitch when you are urging others in your industry to stay in Miami or even relocate here?

A. I can proudly talk about the weather, great locations, great sports teams from high school up to the pros, beautiful people and the logistical reach of the Caribbean and Latin America. Miami is an urban metropolis that is among the best in the U.S. But the elevator pitch has to extend beyond “we got great weather.” Hopefully we will grow some additional selling points that matter to those that can bring jobs, hire vendors and embrace diversity and inclusion.

Q. What do you think the city, county and state can do to boost the “indigenous creative community,” as you refer to it?

A. The first step is to admit that we have one in the first place. The second step is to understand that it is more profitable and rewarding when you grow your own economy and not exclusively try to always import it from Latin America, L.A. and elsewhere. Elected officials, economic development leaders and civic activists can look at ways to connect wealth, and powerful firms with capital to invest in the local talent that we are growing in the region. Success can produce success. In the Silicon Valley, a successful tech firm will spin-off or invest in numerous other smaller firms, some of which also become successful creating a culture producing jobs and new business across industry lines. Hollywood has done the same things, where a major studio gets behind a smaller one that grows and then it gets behind another one. We don’t’ have that process here.

I hope we can help get that started. If the cruise lines, hotel powerhouses and international businesses see local talent with the potential to grow, they can invest and mentor that firm, which can in turn do the same for newcomers. Women and blacks cannot be left out of the process because it leaves too much great talent and innovation on the table. This will never be L.A. or New York and that’s fine with me. But this region can be much more relevant in the industry. It starts with talent that is supported by the powers that be. Look at the art industry since Art Basel came here. So we don’t complain, we just try to find solutions.

Q. You work with some of your family members. How do you separate those parts of your lives to keep family time from turning into a staff meeting — and to prevent family issues from spilling into the work day?

A. I get that question a lot. There is enough time for meetings and planning and all that, but still conversations and discussions can leak into a time when we are supposed to be relaxing at the beach or watching a great film together. Someone has to have the presence of mind and the discipline to say — this is NOT the time for that discussion; SAVE IT FOR THE MEETING. Usually when that happens, we all nod in agreement and go back to enjoying the beach, a movie or eating together.

Tony Lesesne

Company: Lesesne Media Group Entertainment in Miami

Title: Co-founder & Chief Creative Officer

Age: 56

Lives in: Miramar

Professional background: Media, communications branding, leadership development

Education: B.A., University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Awards: 2014 Golden Orange Award recipient from CAMACOL & People's Republic of China; 2011 Legacy Award recipient; 2009 Minority Business of the Year from the State of Florida; 2007 Father of the Year from the Father's Day Council; 2007 JM Family African American Achiever - Business.

Personal: Married to Woodie Lesesne (also his business partner) with sons Antony, 24; Cameron, 20; Alexander, 18 and Julian, 13.