This article appears in the November-December issue of Seattle magazine. To subscribe, visit seattlemag.com/subscribe
Courtney LeMarco may be the busiest man in Bellevue.
Along with producing the Emmy-nominated reality television show “Hoarders,” LeMarco is working to level the playing field for people of color in the entertainment industry through his pitch competition, “The Big Pitch.” He’s also using his creative streak for another endeavor: a fashion and beauty line called Motsi Couture.
“To me, it’s all just a translation of emotions,” LeMarco says. “What we do as content creators, or anyone who’s in the creative industry, is translating emotion for other folks who don’t necessarily have that same creativity.”
LeMarco’s career has taken several twists and turns over the years. For a decade he led theDubMediaGroup, an advertising and design agency he founded in 1995. It developed marketing materials for both small businesses and major companies. After closing the business in 2005, LeMarco continued to do freelance advertising and design.
While working on a project for Neiman Marcus in 2015, LeMarco met Ken Downing, a fashion designer and executive for the company. Downing recalls that LeMarco had an “aura about him that exuded television.” Their friendship inspired LeMarco to create and pitch his first television concept called “The Industry,” a fashion reality show where designers and influencers would work with brands for different challenges, such as organizing fashion shows or advertising campaigns.
While knocking on doors to get his own reality show funded, he stumbled into a job at another one: “Hoarders.”
LeMarco first got involved with “Hoarders” when he came to Matthew Chan, former producer of the show, looking for a television deal for “The Industry” through Chan’s production company, Screaming Flea Productions.
Rather than giving LeMarco an investment, Chan handed him the reins and made him a producer. Screaming Flea was “going under,” Chan says, but he believed “Hoarders” would survive through TLG Motion Pictures, LeMarco’s production company that he founded in 2017.
Chan says he recruited LeMarco because he was eager to create opportunities for people of color in the entertainment industry. But getting late-night business texts from LeMarco about the show was enough to prove that he had the enthusiastic work ethic and endless energy needed to take the “Hoarders” helm, Chan says.
“The guy is tireless,” Chan notes. “When you’re running shows, it’s not a nine-to-five business.”
The controversial documentary reality series “Hoarders” digs into the lives of individuals who struggle with compulsive hoarding disorders. The show, which has run for 12 seasons with production underway for season 13, reveals the homes and lifestyles of people who hoard, working with psychiatrists and cleaners throughout each episode to help its subjects recover.
With LeMarco at the helm, “Hoarders” extended its episode length to two hours, focusing on one subject each episode instead of two. The show has received criticism that it’s exploitative and stigmatizing of people with compulsive hoarding problems. But LeMarco says it sheds light on the issue and works to discover the “root problem” of hoarding. The production’s work doesn’t end after the credits roll, LeMarco adds.
“We provide these individuals with therapy and are in contact with them throughout their progress, long after the cameras are cut,” LeMarco says. “What people see on the show is one thing, but what actually happens in real life is completely different.”
In 2019, LeMarco decided producing “Hoarders” wasn’t enough work for him. He also wanted to give others the same opportunity that Chan gave him and bolster representation in the industry. So LeMarco created “The Big Pitch,” a television and film pitching competition operated by TLG Motion Pictures.
Though representation has gotten better in front of the camera, diversity is still lacking in executive and behind-the-scenes roles. According to the Hollywood Diversity Report released in April by the UCLA College of Social Sciences, people of color accounted for nearly 40% of the lead actors in top films for 2020, while 25% of directors and 26% of writers were people of color.
“‘The Big Pitch’ was something that resonated with me being African American,” LeMarco says. “I figured it’d be a good way to give back and bring some (marginalized) creatives to the limelight.”
Of roughly 50 entries, around 10 finalists each year are chosen to pitch their film or television concepts. The winner gets $20,000 to produce that project.
The latest winner of “The Big Pitch” is 34-year-old Los Angeles-based Antonio de Graffenreidt, who will work alongside LeMarco to produce “Culture Shock,” an unscripted series where two people with different worldviews and backgrounds switch places and live each other’s lives for two weeks.
Since winning “The Big Pitch” in April, de Graffenreidt says his working relationship with LeMarco has “blossomed.” In addition to producing “Culture Shock” together, the duo is working on a horror film in which LeMarco will make his on-screen debut.
“(LeMarco) really cares about the content that he picks up,” de Graffenreidt says. “Just being in conversation with him, I can feel that there’s a genuine interest for all the content that he’s backing.”
LeMarco climbed the entertainment industry ladder and extended a hand to other people of color working to reach the top. But television production isn’t the only creative venture in his playbook.
In 2019, he founded Motsi Couture, a sustainable beauty brand that sells skincare products, cosmetics and swimwear. LeMarco’s goal for Motsi is to open luxury beauty products to people of all skin types. The company’s products are cruelty free, vegan and made without gluten, parabens, sulfates and silicon.
Working in television allowed him to collect the capital needed to launch his beauty business.
“I’ve always thought fashion and entertainment kind of went hand in hand,” LeMarco says. “Every time you see people on the red carpet, they’re always asked, ‘what are you wearing?’”
LeMarco aims to add a streetwear apparel line to Motsi, expand its skincare line and open a storefront in Bellevue in the next 12 months. He also plans to tie Motsi back to his roots in the silver screen by adding a content vertical to the company.
“(Motsi) is a lifestyle brand,” LeMarco says. “We don’t want to just sell products. We also want to put out content that exudes the Motsi lifestyle: that’s eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep and realizing that you need to take a break from work.”
LeMarco’s long-term goal is to give marginalized people the opportunities that he’s been given on a large scale.
“That could mean creating a foundation that goes into inner-city neighborhoods and shows disadvantaged kids what it’s like to be behind the camera, or what it’s like to design a piece of clothing,” LeMarco says. “If I could create those types of opportunities, that’s really all we’re here for.”
He adds, “It’s all about creating some type of legacy. In the end, that’s all we have, right?”
Keep an eye out. You haven’t seen the last of Courtney LeMarco.