Tough Love in the Big City

Tough Love in the Big City: Roni Simpson Interview

Co-creator, Writer, and Produce of the Tough Love Series Roni Simpson

by Evan Jackson 

One of the most difficult journeys is finding what your niche is. Once you've found that you have to capitalize on it and that's exactly what Roni Simpson did with her writing and creating her web series Tough Love. As I was talking to her about her writing she mentioned trying to find the fun the back in it. As a graduate form the University of California, Riverside and a litany of internships Roni decided the world of journalism was not for her. Even with the success of her celebrity news blog RoniReports, later rebranded as Latest Reports she still was not settled in and wanted more. So what's next? Roni found inspiration through her own relationships, relationships that her friends were going through, and most of all  the classic 90's Black Love era of movies and TV- from Love Jones to Best Man to Living Single to co-create the web series Tough Love with her boyfriend filmmaker Caleb Davis. She pays a wonderful homage to these characters in these films naming her own characters after them. Through this she created the Tough Love web series that has a loyal fan base, a strong following on social media, and an even stronger cast.   

Where did you get your passion for writing? How did it get sparked?
I started writing at seven years old. I started with poetry, I had a poem book my mother had bought me and I would write poems on a daily basis. In the church I was the youth leader and often I would have to get up and read some of my poems. I also would begin writing Christian songs for the church and that’s where my writing career pretty much started. When I went to college I studied creative writing, but after taking a semester and a half of it I realized I don’t like fictional writing. Then I changed majors and became a Communications major because at the University of California, Riverside they didn’t have a journalism program. I took a lot of journalist courses and began interning at different news outlets. I interned at KTLA in Los Angles, Fox, CNN, and Entertainment Tonight. After working in these newsrooms then I realized I don’t want to work in news. It was a lot of pressure in these newsrooms, a lot of fluff stories and stories that didn’t matter. There were a lot of overworked people who were underpaid. It was fun but it wasn’t for me. 

Do you feel those experiences help you find your niche as a writer?
Those experiences definitely helped me. After that I thought, I don’t want to work in the newsroom. I want to create my own outlet similar to what you’re doing. I started out with a whole team of girls from all over the United States. That was also a lot of pressure and very stressful. Sometimes all that stress, pressure, and feeling overworked all the time takes the fun out of writing. I want to have fun when I’m writing.
I had the idea for a web series Tough Love but I had shied so far away from fictional writing so  I was actually looking for a writer and I couldn’t find the right person. So I said, let me take a stab at it and I really enjoyed writing it. Now writing is fun for me again and I’m thinking this what I want to stay focused on.

How did your publication Roni Reports come about?
I began Roni Reports my last year of college and it was just another celebrity news blog. I was really inspired by the blog Nicole Bitchie, I love what she was doing. She was different from the other outlets and what have a positive spin on celebrity news and wasn’t tearing celebrities down. I had fun blogging about different celebrities each day, but that’s when I decided to make it a bigger platform. I said let me create an actual business out of this and that’s when I came to New York. That’s when I got the team of the six girls and I became the head editor. First it was just celebrity news then it got into fashion, beauty, relationships, and then covering a multitude of topics.

Tell us more about you relocating to New York.
Roni Reports went on for about a year and I rebranded it, naming it the Latest Reports. That’s when I got the team of girls and came to New York to study Media Management after college. I was teaching me a lot about branding and marketing. My boyfriend also moved here to New York and he works in film, entertainment, and television shows. I just started connecting with different people out here, networking, and it’s been a lot of fun. 

What are the best jewels of wisdom on your journey that you’ve gotten?
First thing is the networking. I’m personally still working on that. As far as connecting with people I was always like work, work, and work. I thought I just need to manage my social media accounts and connect with people on there but I wasn’t building actual relationships. This whole business is completely based on relationships. I would say people should make that their very first focus. It’s also very important to remain consistent. I’ve seen that with my web series Tough Love remaining consistent has given me a lot of great results.

The cast of Tough Love series (From left to right Bradley Clarke, Devin Coleman, Natalie Jacobs, Verina Banks, Ebony Obsidian, and Jordan Barton    

How did Tough Love series begin? And what genre would you label Tough Love as?
The idea for the Tough Love web series came after I received my Masters for Media Management and I was looking for a job. I had put the Latest Reports on hold and the interviews I had gone on weren’t really working out. I started this Instagram page called Black Love Exists, highlighting relationships between black men and women. That began to grow and people would begin submitting photos and I would post these photos. People were using the hashtag #blackloveexists and now that has over 18,000 followers. I would post videos of old movies like Love Jones or old TV shows like a Different World and people were like ‘I miss this’, ‘where is this’, and ‘I need this’. I was like I miss this too, and told my boyfriend - since he has experience in filming, directing, editing - we should make a web series. The web series community is really growing in Los Angeles and it’s not growing as much in New York. I was not confident when it came to my writing with fiction, so I reached out to different people. I got some writing samples I was not into. I’m that friend that talks to all my different friends about their relationship issues and I had all these different ideas and stories that happened in my head. My mom is also a single woman and she’s been telling me stories for years and I was like let me just start writing this down. And that’s when I started just doing it on my own.  
I would say Tough Love is more so of a drama which is based off of real life events and the statistics we bring up are real statistics. And it has something for everyone. The feedback I’m getting is like ‘I’m Monica’, ‘I’m Jordan’, ‘and they’re so relatable’ and that’s what I love the most.  

How has the city of New York influenced your writing on Tough Love and the characters?
I would say New York has influenced my writing as far as straight forward and aggressive people. I would also say  I am from LA, originally from South Central LA, and they have a very forward and aggressive way about them so I found a combination of the two. That’s what these characters are, they are totally real. I’, pretty much like that as well. I don’t like to hold back. I like to say straight up how I feel.   

The characters are very intricate and detailed. Are they based on anyone? Are they based off of you and any past relationships you’ve had?  
It’s actually a combination. It’s a combination of people in my life, close friends, and family members as well as TV shows and movies. I draw inspiration from everything, even my own situation. The characters in the Tough Love web series are named after different characters from popular black movies. The characters don’t relate but I took the names from there. It is fictional, but it’s really not, it’s based off of true events.

Through your previous dating experiences throughout the years up until now which character were you at certain moments? Were you all these women?
As far as the woman on the show I’ve been all three and I didn’t even notice it as I was writing that, that’s exactly where I was pulling from. I’ve been Monica and you know, been hurt, and dealing with a person that wasn’t acting right. Then after that I turned into Jordan or before that I was Jordan. Then Alicia, holding her boyfriend down and trying to get through different relationship issues. So I’ve been all of them.

Tell us more about the Social Media impact of the Tough Love series: First, on how you approached it and secondly on the reception you’ve received about the show.
Nothing I’ve done has had the reception like I’ve had from the Tough Love series. My approach originally was to make an Instagram account, I actually made two: fan page and then one for the series. What I would do is try to connect with and comment and follow people’s page that were already following different web series or different networks like BET or TV One. From there people would tell their friends and more people would start following. Then we set up a twitter account and we started interacting on there. I try to make sure that I reply on the YouTube and Instagram comments and to stay connected as possible. I personally, when I see a web series online I don’t think I would comment so its crazy to me the number of people that are actually taking the time writing paragraphs about how they feel about this character and that character. And it makes me happy. 

Director and Exucitive Prodocer of Tough Love Caleb Davis with Writer and Producer Roni Simpson

What’s the work relationship like with you and the co-creator of the Tough series your boyfriend, Caleb Davis?
We work well with each other and help each other in every aspect. The Tough Love series is like our baby and we’re completely hands on. We go through the scripts and he has knowledge about what draws the audience in. I can talk a lot so sometimes he’s like oh this is a little to dialogue heavy, let’s get more action, there’s a way we can show this versus telling it, we don’t want to spoon feed the audience. Sometimes I’m like no that has to be in there and we have a little debate. After he’s done editing as scene, then I’m like that looks a little weird. As I point to the script, what’s on the script isn’t coming across or conveyed properly. On set we have different debates and one of our main ones was the sex in the series. He wanted to show a little more of the sexy scenes and I was like no, the scene is not moving the story forward. I also feel like I had to protect a lot of the ladies on set.            

In every episode of Tough Love you hint at a social topic. Your characters touch on it and discuss it as a group, with differing opinions. Why do you feel it was important to introduce this?
New York is such a connection based place and you’re always sitting around talking to new people. I’m really not the person for small talk, so I love talking about real issues, real things that are going on, and I get really passionate. I wanted to show these friends not just sitting around talking about fluff and nonsense. I want to show them actually digging deep into real issues, real things that are going on, and a lot of times you see a lot of people, especially in the black community, will be on completely different sides of the sector as far as their ideas. You’ll see what I didn’t do in this series, when we talked about the Bill Cosby issue, I didn’t just focus on if ‘he did it’ and I didn’t just say oh ‘he didn’t do it’, I tried to keep it really balanced.

What topic are you not willing to write about? Almost afraid to touch on?
I would say I would be afraid to touch on homosexual topics because that can affect people in different ways.  

Do you feel that you’re afraid of the backlash or that you aren’t well versed in that subject?
I would say I wouldn’t be completely well versed to write about that subject. That’s a very sensitive one, and I can show the negative commentary versus the positive commentary, but the negative I feel would be very offensive. So I would probably be scared to touch on that.  

What’s something unexpected you’d write? That people would be surprised by?
I can’t say I’m working on something too different. I would say some of my struggles on that I’m trying to incorporate into the mix this season is just trying to take it deeper. Just topics that are really heavy like STDs and Domestic Violence. So I’m just trying to take it to another level and it’s getting kind of difficult.

Boldest thing you’ve ever done? And what’s the boldest thing you will do?
I would definitely say moving to New York. New York is a very rough place to live. It was just on the other side of America and I don’t have any family here. And I was just like oh alright, I’m just going to study in New York. It’s the media capital and in LA it was hard for me to break in. New York is not easy, it’s expensive, it’s dirty, and everyone’s trying to hustle you. There’s the extremely terrible side and then there’s the extremely exciting, fun part where everyone is driven and you really feel empowered in New York. There were times where I was like I’m out of here but I just really had it tough it out and I’d say I’ve done some really great things like put on these events, I’ve connected with the Aldo store, I did two events there. I’ve done red carpet interviews, shooting an actual show here; hoping on and off subways and New York is just a beautiful backdrop for all of that. So I would say moving to New York had such an effect on my career and my life.
What I really want to do is, since I have the Instagram page Black Love Exists, I want to create a dating website. I have all these followers and I want to continue doing that and I want to have the site be restricted so it’s actually for dating. I’m really focused on that for 2016.          

What’s next in your career and what’s next for the  Tough Love series?
I really do enjoy this and I want to take it further and write different stories. Our goal now is to build a network for this and to put together multiple shows. The next thing for the Tough Love series is writing season 2 and filming that and then getting out there. Also doing that and shooting another film and another series and continuing to build this platform and build a network of different creations for Caleb and I.  

Where can people reach you?
You can find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at RoniReports
For the Tough Love series
Twitter: @Toughloveonine



Featured Video

Popular Posts