We had the good fortune of connecting with Shun Lee Fong and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shun Lee, what matters most to you?
That’s such a great question—and one not easily narrowed down to just a single answer, since any one virtue exercised in a vacuum, apart from the other virtues, typically ends up being counter-productive, and even destructive. But a principle that comes readily to mind—and one I’ve seen played out time and again—is that creativity, at its greatest, is a collaborative exercise. I’ve found that, in order for a person’s ideas—in art, in business, in reasoning, in politics, or in any other practice—to reach full potential, it almost always will happen in the context of community. Ideas become complete in the collaborative process. Which means that great creativity forces us into friendships with others, it forces us into relationships that sharpen our ideas, maybe even uncomfortably challenge our ideas. And that feels dangerous. You have to intentionally make room for that. It requires a great deal of humor, humility, and grace in the process, which isn’t always convenient—but then again, grace is never convenient, is it? It’s in the collaborative environment that our creativity becomes dangerously good.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have a number of roles in the creative world. Primarily, I’m a writer and film producer who has had the opportunity to work on some really wonderful projects. Currently, I’m the executive producer on a feature film that will be shot in both Nashville, Tennessee, and Taiwan later this summer. And I’m on the producing team for a great new animated series, along with Mike Nawrocki (VeggieTales), Steve Taylor (Blue Like Jazz), and Tom Bancroft (Mulan, Aladdin). I’m also a director and a SAG-AFTRA actor, and so I’ve had the chance to take part in filmmaking from a lot of different perspectives.
Before moving to Los Angeles, I was an attorney licensed to practice in two states in the Midwest, and I still teach entertainment law & business courses at several universities across the country. I also use that background to provide creative consulting for people in the entertainment industries, helping them to find and develop effective strategies for their projects and businesses. It has been extremely useful to be fluent in the languages and practices of both creativity and business. Usually, people speak the language of one or the other, but being “bilingual” has given me lots of opportunities to work on both sides.
I also lead a great organization called The Greenhouse Arts & Media. The Greenhouse is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works with all sorts of professionals in the arts & entertainment industries—developing and equipping creative artists and providing opportunities for continuing professional education, mentoring, projects, workshops & labs, writers groups, community events, and more. We currently have two chapters—Los Angeles and Atlanta—and we have a growing membership of artists from across the country and around the world, having worked with over 9,000 creatives since our inception. The vision has always been to see creatives come together to collaborate and to serve one another and the entertainment community, and it has been great to watch that continue to happen as more and more people get involved. It has been extremely fulfilling for me, personally, to have had the opportunity to help lead The Greenhouse community and watch what it has become.
This all has given me the opportunity to expand my own creative pursuits as well. Along with filmmaking, I’ve also been able to really dive back into music performance, which is where my creative path started, as well as photography and writing. I recently published my first book, “The Saints & The Poets,” and I’m currently working on a novel—an espionage thriller that I’m having just a great time writing. I think that when it comes to creativity, each of the artistic disciplines informs the others—no matter what your main discipline is, you can learn something important and useful from the other disciplines as well.
Of course, there have been all the challenges that come with making the transition from practicing law to navigating the entertainment industry. I’ve found that the skills needed for being a good lawyer are quite similar to those required for being an effective creative professional: initiative, big-picture strategic thinking, communication, and a commitment to serve both the people and the project well.
There are many lessons I’ve had to learn along the way. One that stands out—and which I’ve found to be true over and over again—is this: Your value in the entertainment industry is proportionate to your ability to solve _other_ people’s problems. So many people arrive in Los Angeles and become so fixated on their own careers and needs that they lose sight of the fact that their talents and abilities are meant to serve something larger than just themselves. Those who don’t realize that fact, unfortunately, tend to become a little boring. Those who do realize it, those who embrace it and start looking for ways to solve other people’s problems every day—those are the people who truly stand out.
And that’s what I try to do everyday too: get up each morning, have a cup of coffee, and find ways to solve other people’s problems as a creative.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I like the outdoors quite a bit, so I suggest spending some time hiking—my favorite trail at the moment is the Escondido Falls Trail, especially when its three-tiered waterfall is running full. For more activities outside with great people-watching opportunities, there’s always Griffith Park—start at The Trails Cafe below and hike up to the Observatory, leaving enough time to wander through the exhibits and view the city from every angle.
Mornings should be spent at various indie coffee shops—I enjoy the patio at Aroma Coffee & Tea in Studio City and some of the small cafes in the NoHo Arts District. Set aside some time for the beaches near Santa Monica and Malibu and stop for lunch at Duke’s Malibu, with its great ocean view. And after wandering around Downtown L.A., there are a number of great restaurants for grabbing dinner. Or if you’re looking to just hang out over a great burger and fries, my favorite is Burgerama in Valley Village, a small place with probably the best hamburgers you can find in Southern California.
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?
The Greenhouse Leadership Team