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Love Series <3: Ashley + Anthony

Love has the power to transform anything; especially creativity. Every month, Milk will sit down with people who have seen their art flourish with the help of a loved one (be it romantic, platonic, or familial.) For the first segment of this series, we spoke to Ashley Cimone and Anthony Prince Leslie, the couple behind Equator Productions. Having worked with the likes of Nike, H&M, and Gucci (while maintaining a balanced relationship) the duo has got it down. 

Introduce yourself.

Ashley Cimone: Equator Productions is a creative production studio. We offer creative services and video and photography production services.

Anthony Prince Leslie: Full-service production.

AC: Yeah, a holistic creative studio. Anthony founded the company before I met him, but we did some restructuring when I first started working with Equator in 2017.

APL: Ashley is now a partner in Equator Productions and also the creative director. Ashley was able to help at the beginning with business development, which really helped the company have structure. She’s also a partner in another company named ASHYA in which she designs luxury travel accessories with her partner Moya Annece. In the beginning, her doing both was a lot, but we somehow managed to figure out what’s the best way to work.

AC: Anthony is a director and a DP (director of photography). He manages all things technical at Equator Productions and oversees the completion of all of our projects. We work with a slew of artists from other directors, photographers, DP’s,  producers, editors, and everything in between. 

Are you both from New York?

APL: I’m originally from Canarsie, Brooklyn. 

AC: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and my parents are from Chicago. I was born in Illinois. 

How did you guys meet? 

APL: In 2013, Opening Ceremony hosted an event during Fashion’s Night Out. Everybody was just dancing and having a great time, and when I looked across the room I literally saw Ashley’s nose ring before I saw her. I could sense a lot of good vibes in that section, and she was just laughing and having a good time talking with her friends…I just knew that if I didn’t talk to her I would regret it. 

My close friend at the time acted as the perfect wingman and initiated conversation later on that night and we all exchanged information.

AC: Maybe a week later, we spoke briefly on Instagram and spoke about going on a bike ride, but something came up, I had a family emergency and had to leave town. I guess I flaked, and we both went back to our lives. We actually didn’t speak again for another two years.

No way. Oh my god, she ghosted you! 

AC: What actually happened after we were supposed to go on our bike ride, is that both of us were dating people, and we ended up getting back with our exes–

APL: I was just talking to people–

AC: He was dating, he was being a young man. I started dating my ex again. But something like two years later, I commented underneath a photo on his Instagram page, basically indirectly telling him he was cute.

APL: She said, “That face!”

AC: I still have it in my phone, ha. And then within minutes, he slid into my DM’s—”Where the hell have you been? I’ve been wanting to hang out with you for too long.” Then he invited me to come check out his studio at the time. He was working from a studio space in the Lower East Side. 

APL: To check me out. hahaha

AC: Our early conversation was intriguing. We spoke about all of the professional ambitions that we had at the time which was exciting, so I went to the studio that night actually, to hang out and see what he was about.

He showed me some of his work and we ended up at the arcade bar around the corner playing video games by the end of the night with his brother.

Already introducing her to the family.

APL: It was super fluid.

AC: Yeah, we just became friends and have been hanging out ever since.

That’s amazing. So what was the first project that you guys worked on together?

APL: The first thing she did was write a contract for me. She helped mend a business relationship by speaking up for me in a moment where she felt like the owner of the company I was working with wasn’t treating me well.

AC: I feel like in the very beginning of us knowing each other, our initial conversations, were really surrounded around dreams that we had individually. You know, like, “Oh, I would  love doing this one day or I really would love to become a major director and direct films one day.” At the time, I had a brand that I’d been working on, and I really wanted to launch it within the next few years. It was just a lot of us encouraging each other and trying to find ways to support each other. So that’s really how it started, and then I started informally working with Anthony on visual projects kind of immediately after I wrote the contract for him. The first video project we worked on was with LaQuan Smith. 

Part of the reason that we are starting this series is that being in love with someone can either completely hinder your creativity and ability to do things, or in your case, which is what I’m hoping to highlight, is that it can really transform it. Being creative is such a vulnerable thing and when you have such a special relationship with someone, it can be intimidating to show them all of you. You can pull things out of each other that you wouldn’t have been able to do on your own.

AC: Absolutely. Being partners both romantically and creatively has definitely opened doors for our communication. We’ve gotten to know each other extremely well, almost too well, but constantly challenge each other to be better in all ways. That’s not easy by any means but I’m thankful for it. I can say I’ve experienced rapid growth personally and professionally over the past few years and I know a lot of that is due to what we’ve been able to build together.

APL: There are so many different stories within our relationship that hold those same elements and I feel like a huge catalyst to our growth has been due to us learning to receive feedback from each other. For example, in the beginning of us working together, my color correction skills weren’t there yet. It was one of the hardest things for me to hear because it’s part of your aesthetic. She cared enough to call out that I could do better, and it was hard for me to hear the criticism. It led me down a line of researching and learning more about it. Ultimately, I knew that she cared about me and I had to just stop and pause and put my feelings/ego aside. 

You mentioned before that people often expect you to act a certain way when you’re in a professional setting? Can you expand on that?

AC: What has led Anthony and me to where we are now and running a business together, is that we both have had a really high level of respect for each other’s opinions and experience, from very early on. We also both operate in a very professional way. So, I think it’s surprising for people who don’t know us well or who have never really interacted with us, to find out we’re actually dating after we’ve worked on a project with them because, when we’re on set, we’re in work mode. We’re really serious about what we do. And I think sometimes the assumption, when people see a young couple working together, is that it might hinder their ability to work professionally in certain environments or that it might hinder their ability to be objective when working, especially on creative projects, which can be extremely emotional. 

So I think that’s a strength of ours.

In collaborating, what have you learned about each other that makes it easier to work together and communicate?

APL : It’s easiest for us to work and communicate effectively when we are both aware of our strengths and weaknesses. When that’s all on the table we can decide on how we approach projects.

AC: The fact that we’ve chosen as a couple very early on in our dating each other, to work together, it just forced us into having certain conversations that you may not have early on in a relationship, about money, respect, vulnerability… Being an artist, there’s already a level of exposure that can be difficult, personally, when you’re creating things and putting them out in the world opening them to feedback, but I think, for us to be in a creative business together, there are so many things that we have to discuss, that force us to grow. 

We are realizing that over time, and it’s not always easy. Being in a relationship is work; you have to work to learn to understand each other. We’re learning each other’s working styles, our habits, the things that make us tick, all of that stuff. We’re really trying to push each other to be the best versions of ourselves in both parts of our lives. Anthony and I, we have these conversations all the time, like, “How do we improve in this area?” We both want each other to succeed, and knowing that, it’s always the goal for us to find resolutions where there’s friction.

What is the proudest creative moment you’ve had for your partner?

APL: I’m always proud watching Ashley work. When It’s time for her to run the show, it’s amazing. Most recently, we were on set with H&M, and while working with the set designer she saw that the color of the set we were building wasn’t what she’d envisioned. Our client wasn’t as bothered by it, but Ashley made it a point to run outside, grab some new paint, and help repaint a life-size replica of an entire brownstone. It made so much sense to me. To see that level of dedication to your craft is honorable. I’m very proud of her for never backing down on what the overall vision is, because it’s really easy to settle.

Ashley, what about you?

AC: Thank you. That was sweet! 

I mean, yeah, I would say the same thing. There are so many moments of growth that we’ve witnessed for each other and moments of growth that I’ve been very proud of for Anthony, but I’d say if I could think of my proudest moment, it was that he really saw his vision through for his short film “Free Bird.” We’re still in post-production for it at the moment, but this is something that Anthony talked to me about years ago. This concept for a film that he’s been ruminating on, it’s very personal, and I think for any man it’s difficult to be vulnerable, and for Anthony to let people into some of his innermost feelings is courageous. This past season, we worked on the casting for the production; it was a really beautiful experience, where everyone involved really poured a lot into the project because they were following Anthony’s passion. I mean, you could just feel it on set, and feel it in the way that everyone that was involved responded to Anthony. This was truly a labor of love, and he really cared about just being true to himself and working on the project in the most authentic way. I was so proud to watch you pull that together because it was not a small feat. And I’m super excited for everyone to be able to see the director’s cut, which we are currently working on.

APL: We put out a preview with Google most recently which was shot on the Pixel 4. The director’s cut is coming soon, and it’s probably one of my most vulnerable projects; there were a lot of things that I had to really look inside myself for.

Ashley and Moya [Annece]  helped me tremendously with their creative direction. There were so many ideas floating in my head that I could never actually put words to.

AC: We did it. We’re doing it.

What do you think it really means to love someone?

AC: I definitely have my theories about what love actually means; I think it means a lot of different things for different people. When thinking about it in the flowery abstract way, love definitely feels like butterflies, it feels like an ocean, but I think of love as a verb. And I think that love is exemplified through the ways in which you reciprocate with someone, the way that you intentionally engage with them. We try our best to be very intentional in our relationship, and that’s not to say that we don’t have hiccups, or that it’s not challenging, but our intention behind learning each other, supporting each other, encouraging each other, and genuinely wanting to see each other win is where the love shows up. So, I know Anthony loves me because he really tries. I think he knows that I love him because I really try. 

Totally, and I think that links back to your definition of love: understanding, or at least the desire and willingness to try to understand someone (and yourself!) What projects are you most excited about at the moment?

AC: We are doing so many things. I think at the end of the year, we went out with a real big bang. There are a few projects that I’m very excited about that we either recently finished or are still working on.  We worked on this really beautiful feature for Nike with the New York City Parks and Recreation and got the opportunity to do a feature on the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn. And you know, that project was very special for us and I think just left an impression on us because of its impact. As business owners and specifically black business owners, for us to be able to highlight our community in a positive light, that was an amazing opportunity. To be able to speak about a neighborhood, that may not have the best reputation and highlight some of the really positive things that their community is doing for themselves was special, and the Brownsville Recreation Center was just a beautiful space to be able to work in with people who genuinely care about the community. And for us to be able to work with Nike and use that platform for them to talk about it….priceless.

APL:  My favorite quote is at the end where Jerry Childs, the BRC director, says “ This is the Brownsville Rec Center and hope lives here” That touched me.

What advice would you give to other creatives that are working together in love?

AC: Be patient, and self-aware. Self-awareness is really important, because, funny thing about love it makes you a little crazy sometimes and kind of breaks down your logic, so I think it’s a big decision to work with someone that you also love; so make it consciously and be intentional about it, patience is key. 

APL: I agree, To be able to actively listen to your partner and kill the ego takes hard work. We all know how to move in the world solo but it’s a bit different with 4 feet :)

AC: Making time for yourself is really important when you’re working with your partner as well because I think what can happen a lot of times is you lose yourself in the relationship. I think what’s changed for me now is that I understand that true partners allow and support each other in becoming the most expansive versions of themselves and live and grow parallel to each other, not on top of each other. I would just recommend that if anyone plans to work with their partner, always make sure that they make time for themselves and maintain their individuality.

APL: It makes sense because we bring different things to the table. 

AC: That’s why we work so well together and complement each other because of who we are individually.

APL: Aww!

DIRECTOR/EDITOR: Jordan Shelwood

PHOTOGRAPHER: Andres Norwood

PRODUCER: Ella Jayes

SCORE: Jason Park

BTS FOOTAGE: Wayn O Reid & Andre Uncut

Stay tuned to Milk for more love stories. 

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