Ton-Essa La’Rocque: model, creator, entrepreneur

Ton-Essa La'Rocque

Ton-Essa La’Rocque

The multi-faceted
Loudbyte co-founder
describes her
inspiring journey
from Ford model
to content-rocking

After graduating from UMBC, Ton­Essa pursued professional modeling and on-camera commercial work with Ford Models. Through her unique experiences both behind and in­front of the lens, she’s developed a fresh, unique and innovative style.

Eight years at the forefront of Loudbyte has distinguished her as a business owner, filmmaker, editor, animator, producer, photographer, and writer.

Ton-Essa has developed award­winning content for global brands, collaborated with outstanding talent, and travelled around the world.

The work that she has created simply rocks!



How did you get into the business? I started out as an actor in New York, which is also where I met my business partner, Steve Gribben. The first thing we did was produce a play. Next, the plan was to create a web series. Steve and I had written a script and bought all the props; we had everything ready to go. Then, the recession hit and our priorities changed. | At the time, I modeled for Ford. Over night, the work dried up. Between odd jobs, I still pursued acting, but the feedback I kept getting was, “she’s too light” and “she doesn’t sound black enough”. It was a really frustrating time — being in a new city without steady income. | One day, while having a brainstorming session with Steve, we both looked at the Z1U and said, “what can we do with you?” That’s when we decided to start our own business, Loudbyte. Nine years later, I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful and supportive partner, and together we’ve grown Loudbyte into an award­winning video production house.

What obstacles have you faced specifically because of your gender? In the beginning of my career, there just weren’t many female camera operators in Chicago, so I was a bit of an anomaly. Even though I was co­founder of Loudbyte, I was often assumed to be the assistant. At meetings, no one really spoke to me directly about anything technical, it was all deferred to Steve. There were obvious differences in how people in the industry perceived my partner when he was a DP versus me. I noticed his decisions were rarely questioned, whereas I would be repeatedly asked, “are you sure?” | My first time shooting in the media pit at a fashion show in New York, I was the only woman shooting video; it was pretty brutal. The house photographer for the designer called me a “stupid girl” and said that I didn’t belong. Two years later, when I became house videographer for the designer, that photographer’s attitude toward me completely changed. | I remember going to a trade show to check out the latest production equipment and a vendor actually stuck out his arm and said, “do you even know what this does?”

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are a woman? I’ve never really thought of myself as a woman or a minority for that matter. Categories are like boxes and boxes have limitations. I know who I am as an individual and what I’m capable of. I focus on what I want and figure out how I’m going to get it. Last year, I was contacted by a young woman who just graduated from DePaul. She asked my advice on how to break into the industry as a woman, and I told her, don’t break in as a woman, just break in.

Work you are most proud of? The work I am most proud of, is still a work in progress. I’m currently writing a feature film screenplay. I wish I could say more about it.

Do you think the #metoo movement has created significant change? #metoo has done a great job at putting a spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse in such a way that these cases can no longer be easily dismissed. Hopefully the movement doesn’t get filed away under modern feminist activism, which unfortunately has become so stigmatized in the media. But, seeing corporations make an effort to be more socially responsible and changing the culture in their work environments is promising. However, I think this heightened awareness needs to go beyond the workplace and practiced socially as well. When we start seeing more individuals who willingly take responsibility for their actions, then I think we’ll begin seeing a real paradigm shift.

How have professional attitudes towards women evolved during your career? When I first started, frankly, no one was interested in hearing a woman’s voice. There wasn’t much interest in her story, or in my case, how I wanted to tell the story. Since Free the Bid, I’ve noticed a wonderful change in attitude, particularly in other women. I can’t tell you how many uber talented women I’ve connected with, wanting to get together to talk about the industry, brainstorm ideas and collaborate. In meetings, I’ve noticed that my input is valued more because I’m a woman and I bring a woman’s perspective. It’s a very exciting and empowering moment in our industry, and hopefully a lasting one.

Trapped on an island what essentials must you have? The Swiss army knife my dad gave me, life saving water, and multivitamins.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? Not to be afraid of my voice and scream more often.

If you could have a one­on­one with anyone who would it be? And why? That’s a tough one…for now I’ll say my future self and ask her the previous question.

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