I recently had the pleasure of catching up with creative director Celeste Li to chop it up about her journey as a creative, quitting her job the day before directing Flo Milli’s “Beef Flomix”, what it was like to work with the rising rapper, who she’s paying attention to in the world of film, the importance of exploring multiple goals, and what’s next for herself. Peep our interview below to peep how Celeste is fearlessly injecting herself amongst the film scene and directing her own journey.
EB: Hey, How are you ?
Celeste: I’m good, how are you ?
EB: I’m great ! So of course I know you from interning and writing with you for Vashtie but how did you start your journey as a creative ?
Celeste: Basically I always knew I wanted to work in music and I’ve always been a creative person, but I would say over the past few years, I got more serious about investing my energy and time into cultivating and exploring that through my graduate program and working at labels.
EB: How did you get into directing and who did you admire director wise just growing up ?
Celeste: Honestly I never thought that I was going to be a filmmaker. I took a year off after I graduated, then I started grad school in 2018 and a lot of the kids in my class were film students – I thought I was in over my head. I’ve always been a visual person, I’ve always been into music videos, and short films and I feel like the pieces have started to come together over the past 2 years for me. I was kind of awakened to this core piece of my passion. I knew I needed to work in music in some capacity so I said okay, maybe I need to work at a record label, and then when I started working at the label, I realized that the main shit I was interested in was always content based, I loved looking at the treatments, the decks, the videos. I think that paired with my media program in school helped me realize that the things that I was frustrated with at my job came down to the role I was playing within the industry itself, I needed to be on the other side of it completely. From a music video directorial perspective, I really admire CANADA. They produce incredible work, I love their aesthetic, and consistency, they’re phenomenal story tellers.
EB: So recently you directed Beef Flomix for rising rapper Flo Milli, how did you two get into contact ?
Celeste: Her team was looking for different treatments for the video, so I sent one and they fucked with it. The manager on the project was very supportive of giving new, young talent opportunities to shake shit up so he helped trail blaze that lane for me. From there, I had a call with Flo and her team. The situation was very unique because what I was trying to do was totally outside of my title at the label, so it wasn’t well received by some of the higher ups. Usually artists already have homies they like to work with or labels will go through a much longer process to approve so we really disrupted the system to make the play. I was met with a lot of adversity, a lot of people didn’t want me to make the video because I lacked experience, and whatever their own feelings were about me stepping outside of the lane they felt I should be in. There was a lot of doubt, and many hurdles along the way to block me from seeing it through. But I I did it anyway, it was a great opportunity, I was really excited to work with Flo and her team, and I believed in the record. I was just like no… this is a great thing and I don’t give a fuck about what anyone has to say. I quit my job at the label the week before shooting and I flew out to LA on my last day.
EB: Wow, you’re definitely fearless for surpassing through all of that. The video for sure feels really fun and confident. What would you say was your creative intention for the video and what was the best part of directing it ?
Celeste: Well first of all we worked with AVONNI which is a REALLY really dope production company. They made the process so easy and efficient. It was a bunch of young people that are hungry, creative and super open to collaborating which made me less nervous. Having to own my idea, especially this being my first video, being a female director, and being a person of color, I had to really rise to the occasion and run it. My favorite part of it all was working closely with Flo and her team. Flo was a natural, really kind, and goofy and being around her energy was really great. So much of her personality is what ultimately made the video what it is.
EB: This sounds like it was truly a genuine experience .Are there any other women in the industry who rap that you would like to work with especially given the climate of women rappers we have at this very moment ?
Celeste: I would say in the female rapper realm, I would definitely want work with Rico Nasty. I just think she’s uniquely herself, she really owns her shit. She’s not using her body as a platform and seems open to being experimental with her aesthetic. Overall though, I don’t just want to work with rappers, I want to work with house artists, pop artists, r&b artists, and foreign artists, everything. I’m super open and I listen to a lot of music. I want to tell stories, I want to be able to create dark shit, weird shit, and just be open. I want to have my hands in it all as I cultivate my craft and expand my range, I want to get to a level where Im consistently producing high art. Most importantly, I want to feel fulfilled by my work.
EB: Bouncing off of what we just spoke to in terms of the range in rap amongst women of hip hop that exists right now, what was your reaction when Jermaine Dupree made the comment about how all of them are making stripper rap ?
Celeste: I think someone like Jermaine or anyone is entitled to have an opinion but I also think some of it just sounds so ignorant and small minded. For me, I personally don’t listen to Megan Thee Stallion or Nicki Minaj but I have an awareness of what they’re doing and I see them moving. I think for women to be shamed for capitalizing off of strip club culture, and also being shamed for working at a strip club, its levels of sexism. Women are now essentially monopolizing strip clubs, having their music played and helping women that work their continue to make money… to me that’s a fantastic business model. Some men may be mad because the power dynamic has shifted. Then there’s a whole additional thing when you bring in race as a factor, especially with black women. Whether I listen to the music or not, I dont see the need to criticize others that are working to better themselves.
EB : Yeah I definitely, definitely AGREE ! Last but not least , What’s the goal for you as a director and as a creative in general ?
Celeste: I want so many things girl… My short term goal is establishing my creative media agency / creative consultancy where I can offer my directional services and be able to work in different creative capacities with artists, brands, and agencies. I want to be directing films, videos and executing my own passion projects, but I’m open to anything. I want to be have my hands in all aspects of content creation, I want to be sought after for my vision and surround myself with a team of individuals who challenge me to be sharper. I want to produce short films, documentaries, curate galleries, publish zines, everything. I have no shortage of ideas and I feel like I can help people with their ideas too not just from a visionary standpoint , but I think I can help on the operational front too due to my background in marketing etc. Overall, I want to be able to have my own production house. I want to be full service and be able to come up with treatments and have a team that will execute it by my side. I also want to have a global presence so I can work with innovators internationally. I don’t want to be behind a desk all day. If I want to move to Berlin for a few months, I want to able to do that. If I want to be in London or move to Texas, doesn’t matter, I want to be able to do that. Life is too short to not have your hands in multiple things.
EB: I think you can conquer all of these things without a doubt!
Celeste: I just really believe in manifestation , but yeah I definitely think good shit is coming my way but I’m hoping for bigger things, bigger bags, and better energy.
EB: I’m definitely going to write all of that down but I really appreciate this.
Celeste: No problem at all !