We had the good fortune of connecting with Spencer Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Spencer, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Our lives are the sum of a sequence of calculated risks and assumptions of risk. From the moment we are born, we are making risk calculations and assuming the risk of our decisions. Should I touch that hot pan? Should I jump off this branch? Should I take that new position? Should I marry them? We are constantly weighing risk and assuming risk. I feel that an overall disassociation from our decision-making power is what makes us think more risk-averse. So often, we are often told by the people in positions of power around us that assuming the risk isn’t worth it because look at all you have to lose. Then we question ourselves and think, why didn’t I think of that? Maybe I shouldn’t trust my instincts and trust theirs instead because they are trying to protect me. So we become more risk-averse and shy away from decisions and opportunities that could cost us dearly. But in doing that, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. Not only are we convincing ourselves that we aren’t qualified to make decisions about and for our own lives, but we’re also completely ignoring all that we stand to gain. I started SJF after struggling for years to carve out a place for myself in the film industry. I was discouraged looking around on set because I very rarely saw anyone who looked like me achieving any level of success. As a queer Black female-bodied individual, the term unicorn is an understatement. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw anyone with that level of intersectionality on set in front of or behind the camera. Following that dream, while still supporting myself, I took a job as the head of video production at a marketing firm. It became apparent very quickly that they were more interested in making money than serving their clients’ best interests or educating them on how best to succeed using social media. I knew that I wanted to work in an environment that encourages diversity and makes a point to share its success with the greater community. I knew I wanted to serve my clients with integrity and add value to their business. Thus SJF was born. When I first set out on my own, I was very nervous. I had many long and difficult conversations with my wife about what could go wrong. It’s such a competitive industry. I don’t have a ton of contacts. I’ve never run a business before, and I didn’t go to business school. What if I lose every dollar that I put into this and countless hours of my life? But then she said to me, “It’s clear that you will stay miserable if you stay where you are, and I know you can make this work, so what would it look like if you tried it?” And I’m so grateful to her for asking me that question because she permitted me to trust myself and to make a decision to be in charge of my own life. Instead of telling me all that we could stand to lose, she encouraged me to explore everything I stood to gain. I never want to encourage people to take on unnecessary risks. But I encourage you to trust your instincts and to act authentically. We only get one shot at life, so why not live boldly and up to your greatest potential? Try to live in a state of affirmation instead of in a place driven by fear. And always make your decisions with more weight on what you stand to gain than what you stand to lose.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My whole goal as an artist and as an entrepreneur is to help people to connect. One of the most human ways to form a connection with another person is through storytelling. So through filmmaking and marketing, I help people to share their stories with the masses. Behind every company or product, there are people—hardworking, passionate people with families, hopes, and dreams. I believe in the American Dream, I’m living it, so I’m drawn to telling the stories of the people and organizations who are working to leave the world better than we found it. To show the beauty in the everyday things around us we may take for granted, to show the depth and complexity in our own personal experiences. And to create spaces and narratives that allow us to bring all of ourselves to the table. In film school and throughout most of my career, I’ve been the unicorn. I don’t typically get to work with other black, female-bodied, queer, gender-nonconforming individuals and rarely all in the same package. So with my brands SJF Media Productions and now Reach Studios, I really wanted to be intentional with who I bring onto my teams. I try to bring as many identities and experiences to the table as possible because that’s what differentiates us from everyone else. Anyone can put a camera on a tripod, set up a ring light, and hit record. So we have to go that next step deeper and find that root connection that will place the viewer into the story. And the only way to do that is by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and giving them the freedom and trust to bring their experiences to the table.
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?
One week aww, man, so many places. First things first, day or night, we’ve got to go to Griffith Park Observatory. I drive a scooter, so parking is never an issue, but it’s one of the best views of the Hollywood sign, Downtown, and on a clear day all the way to the Ocean. Then we’ll hit the Hollywood Bowl because it’s an open park on non-performance days. We’re definitely taking one of those super touristy celebrity sightseeing tours because I mean we have to. But during the week, we have to explore Echo Park and hit a food truck. We are definitely stopping multiple times at Cactus Taqueria #1 or #3 for the best tacos of your life! We’ve gotta go to the fashion and flower district, then maybe grab lunch at Clifton’s Republic. Enjoy the beautiful architecture of DTLA, then enjoy some sips at the rooftop bar at the ace hotel in the United Artists Building. We’re going to the gold range on top of a parking garage in the middle of Koreatown and eating all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ. We have to spend a day at the Getty Museum and The Hammer Museum (both free btw). I’m also a huge nerd, so we are definitely going to the Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, and California Science Center. For more eats, we are going to Langer’s and Canters for a Ruben, The Little Jewel of New Orleans for po’boys. We can cruise up Mullholland, hit the beach, Hike in Griffith park, or Malibu. We’d go to Long Beach, check out Belmont Shore, and hit the aquarium or the Queen Mary. Hah! The more I think of it, the more places I want to add to this list, so I’m gonna cut it off. Dm me if you’re ever looking for a hidden gem recommendation, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. 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?
My mother, Gerlma Johnson!! Woo, this woman is incredible. Growing up she always encouraged me to aim higher and to really explore everything that piqued my interest. Whether it was Greek and Roman Philosophy, Engineering, Marine Biology, Fine Art, and later Film and Photography she was always there whispering in my ear that I could achieve anything I wanted. But not only that she enrolled me in the programs, and camps. She put me into spaces that challenged me early and often so that as an adult I’ve never shied away from them. She really set me up for success.
Other: Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user124699023
Bam Berry @bam_did_it, Brian Crawford @shotbyboc