We had the good fortune of connecting with Hieu Gray and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hieu, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. My head was always buried in a book and I was always writing in my journal. It wasn’t until I left a successful career at CNN that I really let my creativity shine. As the founder of the boutique production company Pho’nomenal Media, I finally allowed myself the freedom to tell the stories and narratives that matter the most to me – showcasing the breadth and diversity of the Asian American experience. Once I allowed myself the freedom to just create, my imagination took me to unexpected places. I find I’m constantly challenging myself to take that extra risk and try something new. I recently just completed a food documentary called Quan 13 about the Vietnamese diaspora in Paris told through the lens of food. If you had told me 5 years ago that this was where my career path was headed, I would have not believed it. Growing up, I was taught to take the path of least resistance. Oftentimes, this meant taking the safer option. That worked up to a certain point, but life is too short. It hasn’t always been easy, but the payoff is worth the sacrifices. Now more than ever, diverse viewpoints and experiences are finally being acknowledged and sought after in media. I’m proud to be contributing my art into the world.
What should our readers know about your business?
I am the proud owner of the boutique production company Pho’nomenal Media. It is a one-stop shop for producing content highlighting Asian American narratives and stories. We recently wrapped up a food documentary called Quan 13 and are currently working on turning it into a longer-form limited series called “Taste in Transition.” In addition to our film work, we are developing an animated series about my Vietnamese-American upbringing in the American South called “Mouth of the South,” and half-hour dramedies “A Life for A Life” about the supernatural cost of the American Dream and “Mr. Ly & Emily’s Road Trip Across America,” a half-hour dramedy about the escapades of an unlikely father/daughter duo road trip across the country. It is an exciting time to be an Asian American creator as more diverse stories are being encouraged in mainstream media. In no way do I consider this a trend, but a movement towards a more diverse representation that I am proud to be a part of. After walking away from a successful career as a senior producer at CNN four years ago, I knew I wanted to have the autonomy to pick and choose the stories I wanted to pursue. The road hasn’t always been easy. My first foray into independent production was with my first business venture Hieu Gray Creative. The focus in the type of work I accepted felt too broad. It wasn’t until I focused on Asian American narratives that things seemed to click into place. It’s better to focus on one particular interest and do it extremely well than cast your nest too wide.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Now more than ever, we need to be supporting our local restaurants. I can’t talk about LA’s dining scene without mentioning what a dramatic toll the pandemic has taken on the hospitality industry. The landscape has changed so dramatically; however, it’s also shown how resilient and resourceful Angelinos can be.
Los Angeles will always and forever be a foodie town and I consider myself to be the ultimate foodie. Eating “in” is now the new norm, and I’m always ordering from my hometown favorites.
For breakfast, I love a fresh bagel loaded with the classics like cream cheese and lox from Maury’s bagels in Silver Lake delivered right to my home.
My current hood is K-town. You can’t leave K-town without having Korean BBQ. Luckily, several places have pivoted to outdoor seating. My go-to for Korean BBQ is Magal BBQ. There’s also tons of cafes to grab a coffee or catch up with a friend from a safe distance of course! One of my favorite places is Cafe Mak where you can get lost in a book.
You can find me jetting around Lala Land taking snaps highlighting local restaurants for my insta as @LaPetiteBelle_Eats.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d love to give a special shout out to Bao Vo. A talented musician and creative genius who decided this year to quit the “agency life” and pursue music full time. We worked together on my documentary Quan 13 when I reached out to him about composing the musical score for the film. The process was completely collaborative and built on a platform of mutual trust and respect for each other’s talents. He is one of the most insightful and sincere people I know. He’s currently at work on releasing his latest LP. He took a chance by working with me on my film and added an extra level of professionalism.
Christian Yi Photography