Lee fulfills his dreams of becoming a producer


Photo by Jena Green an ASU alumna

Vanda Lee, a 2010 graduate of Alabama State University produces the video for City Girls in Los Angeles, Calif. Vanda dreamed of becoming a producer after he arrived at ASU and started his journey in the Department of Theater.

Camille Zanders, Alumni Connection Editor

After a great deal of success in producing videos, Lee was notminated for a VMA award at the 2019 VMAs. (Photo by Jena Green an ASU alumna)

Destiny is defined as “a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency.” It is a series of perfectly aligned experiences that allows one to reach their life’s purpose and be successful. It is usually up to the individual to see the signs and to accept where life is taking them.
Alumnus Vanda Lee knew his passion, knew his destiny, and actively chased it. By accepting and overcoming every event in his life, Lee grew from sleeping on his friend’s couch to producing short films and music videos for some of today’s biggest stars, such as City Girls, Saweetie, and Cardi B.
“We do not understand things that happen in life, but they happen for a reason,” Lee said. Speaking from experience, he can attest that every stop and obstacle he faced prepared him for his life as a producer and director in Los Angeles, Calif.
Originating in Mobile, Ala. Lee grew up as the youngest in a family of five. Once of age, Lee attended Williamson High School. Though he participated in many extracurriculars, he cannot say that he had one in particular that he enjoyed the most.
“I am one of those people that is kind of weird,” he said. “I like what I like in that moment and then I move on to the next thing, but I cannot say that I had a favorite.”
Having a love for entertainment, he joined the theatre department, played the drums in the band, sang in the choir, and took part in Jack and Jill of America Inc.
As a child, Lee enjoyed watching “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World,” a show following a group of friends attending a fictional HBCU called Hillman College. It was from watching “A Different World” that sparked his interest in HBCU life. Lee’s interest in HBCUs grew from hearing stories and seeing photos of college life from his older sisters, who would attend summer band camp at the Hornet’s Nest.

“I just thought that was cool and that I wanted to go,” Lee said. “They had photos, and that inspired me to want to go to an HBCU.”
Though he was initially unsure which HBCU to attend, his choir teacher and 1999-2000 Miss Alabama State Univesity Azure Joyner, quickly assured him that ASU was the place.
Lee graduated from Williamson High School in 2005, got a license in massage therapy, and joined the student body at ASU as a licensed masseuse with dreams of going into physical therapy.
Considering physical therapy was not offered as an undergraduate major, Lee was forced to study a new path. After much deliberation, he decided on psychology, as he found a way to incorporate his love for theatre and entertainment in the field.
“I found out, when doing research in psychology, that there was a program called psycho-drama.” he said. “It allows you to practice psychology as well as sing the theatre aspect to help act out the scenes required.” Still having hopes of going into physical therapy, Lee also pursued a minor in biology.
Just as he had been in high school, Lee was extremely involved in extracurriculars during his years at ASU. He strove to reap all of the opportunities, experiences, and memories that ASU had to offer.
“I was very involved, but not involved enough,” he said.
While also working as a masseuse, he took part in the Student Leadership Institute, the Dramatic Guild, Alpha Kappa Psi Fraternity, Inc., and an athletic trainer for the women’s basketball team. He also participated in the National Student Exchange, where he spent the 2008-2009 academic year studying at California State University at the Los Angeles campus (CSLA).
During his year studying at CSLA, Lee gained a deeper appreciation for his home at ASU. Though he was introduced to Los Angeles’ beauty, he missed the intimacy and love that only the community of ASU offered its students.
“[CSLA] is incomparable because I feel like ASU is a university like no other,” he said. “While I was there, I truly missed the camaraderie of ASU and being part of such a close-knit family.”
While in California, he founded a club called National Exchange Students (NES), where all of the visiting students could come together and find companionship among each other.
Though he found togetherness through the NES group, nothing could replace the classmates and memories he made at the Hornet’s Nest. Lee shares that socializing with other students, being on the yard and any other popular events were always the best times to be a Hornet.
“I think the best times that I had in college were during the ASU vs. AAMU basketball games at the Acadome,” he said. “That used to be a jam-packed, sold-out event.” He vouches that the spirit and unity created at those events were extraordinary and rivaled by none.
Along with the liveliness of ASU, Lee also gained an appreciation for the academic opportunities and professors that he encountered as a student. Though physical therapy was not an undergraduate program, ASU included Lee in a bridge health sciences program that allowed him to shadow physical therapists and learn from professionals.
“They took us under their wing, the College of Health Sciences,” he said, “they would take us to different conventions and to see other allies in that field.”
He also gained opportunities for advancement from Tommie Tonea Stewart, Ph.D., former dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the ASU faculty member that he credits for impacting his career the most.
“Now she really took me under her wing,” he said. “She is the reason that I am working in the field that I am right now.”
Not only did she give him the opportunity to work with Tyler Perry, but she also manifested his future one day while working with the Dramatic Guild.
“One day during a lock-in for the Dramatic Guild, she just started walking around the room prophesying over people … She said that I would become a big producer, and at the time, I had no idea what that even was,” he relates.
At the time, Lee did not know that the work he was doing as the Dramatic Guild and Elite Models’ business manager was essentially the producer’s work. Even though he did not understand his production skills, Stewart indeed did, and she knew that it would get him far in the entertainment world.

Vanda Lee, a 2010 graduate of Alabama State University, reflects on the role Alabama State University had on his career. (Photo by Jena Green an ASU alumna)

Lee graduated from ASU in fall of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in biology. He remained in Montgomery for a few months but then moved back home to Mobile, Ala., upon entering the workforce.
From Mobile, Lee commuted about 45 minutes every day to work as a case manager at the mental health facility of Singing River Hospital located in Pascagoula, Miss. While knowingly utilizing his psychology degree, he was also employing his skills as a producer as he organized and made arrangements for his patients’ lives.
“Working as a case manager, I worked with mentally ill people who did not know how to manage their finances,” he said. “They did not have money, so I had to provide resources for them. It was me going back along the lines of being a producer, but it had more of a direct impact on one individual.”
Lee stayed as a case manager for two years until December of 2012, when he decided to resign, relocate to Los Angeles, and pursue his dreams of working in the entertainment business. He remembers,
“January 14th, I packed up my car and drove across the country,” he said.
While the goal was to go into filmmaking, Lee lined up jobs in Los Angeles that aligned with his psychology degree to make money while waiting for his big break. Unfortunately, while en-route to California, the individuals who promised him housing and work stopped taking his calls.
“I am halfway to LA now with no place to stay and no place to work thinking, ‘What am I going to do?” he thought.
Luckily, he was able to find shelter under a friend’s roof. His old roommate from CSLA allowed Lee to sleep on his couch until he found work and a home of his own but what he thought would only be three days turned into a month.
“Had I not been prepared and able to help those clients in mental health, I would not have been able to survive,” he admits.
Determined to make it on his own and too prideful to ask for help, Lee struggled to provide for himself. While searching for jobs, he would find creative ways to pay for life’s necessities.
“When I got hungry, I would go to Popeye’s, and I would look in the parking lot for a receipt,” he said. “There is a survey on the back of receipts that lets you get a free meal with the purchase of a drink. That was how I survived for food.”
Eventually, Lee landed a job as a behavioral therapist for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where he worked with mentally troubled students. He made his own money and got an apartment, bringing an end to his struggle. This low point of his life gave him a deeper appreciation for his successes and taught him how to hustle and survive in such a competitive city.

“I attended the graduate school of life,” he insists.
In 2013 while working with the LAUSD, Lee was able to get into contact with ASU alumnus Charlie McCloud who was making a music video for the singer Sammie.
Lee convinced McCloud to let him join the production staff as an entry-level production assistant, landing his first job in the entertainment industry. While working on this set, he networked and made other connections that would soon lead to more production opportunities. He went on to work with many more production agencies and artists to create short films and music videos, all while still working as a behavioral therapist for the LAUSD.

“I used to have to skip school to go to work on set, but I knew that production is what I came to LA to do.”
In 2015, Lee resigned from his position with the LAUSD and went into production full-time.
“That is when my breakthrough came for entertainment,” he said.
In 2017, he started his production agency, called Cmnsoon Entertainment.
“When I was back in Alabama, I had that on my tag, ‘Cmnsoon.’ When I first got it, people would ask what it meant, and I would say, ‘My blessing is cmnsoon!’”
Specializing in producing music videos, short films, branding content, and more, Lee has made a prominent name for himself as he has worked with some of today’s most renowned artists.
In 2018, he was nominated for his first award, a Video Music Award (VMA) for the Best Latin Music Video for Maluma’s hit song “Felices Los 4,” translating to “Happy the Four of Us.” Lee worked with director Jesse Terrero, the creator of the well-known movie “Soul Plane” (2004), to create that video.
“It was a milestone, very unexpected. I can say that it was a great video with many dynamics,” he said.
Since then, Lee has been nominated for the 2019 BET Hip Hop Award in the Best Hip Hop Music Video category for the song “Twerk” by the City Girls ft. Cardi B. He was also nominated for the 2020 VMA Song of the Summer with the song “Tap In” by Saweetie. Lee says, “It has been great so far. In 2021 I hope to bring home an award.”

Lee takes a minute from his work to explain his vision to the artist Saweetie who is appearing in the video. (Photo by Jena Green an ASU Alumna)

In honor of this year’s Black History Month, he also worked with Spotify to create the media to decorate the different Black History Month, and HBCU inspired playlists. He worked to get photos of 2000 ASU alumni 2 Chainz in an ASU basketball jersey, along with a video of ASU students doing the “swag surf” dance.
Though it is not always perfect, Lee shares that his field’s biggest challenge is managing the ever-changing people and conditions around him. Though they cause minor disturbances, he believes his time with ASU prepared him to handle those moments gracefully.
“I think that had I not attended ASU and gotten a degree in psychology that I would not be as strong of a producer that I am today,” he said.
In a field where he is constantly battling between fight or flight, he always chooses to fight. Always on the search for the next hottest set or trend, and he says, “You have to constantly be on your toes.”
Along with his degree, Lee vouches that his experiences at ASU allowed him to strengthen his ability to stay calm in high-pressure situations.
“Those are traits that were taught to me by the theatre department and Elite Models,” he says. As a member of Elite Models, Lee was able to master the art of presenting himself confidently and tastefully in front of a crowd, go backstage and undergo an entire outfit and persona change, and go back in front of the public just as refined as before to do it all over again.
“Had I not participated in those at ASU, there is no way I would know how to do those things,” he said. This ability to flip the switch, adapt, and present in front of a high-profile crowd is one that he utilizes every day in the entertainment industry.
Though it is a lot of work, Lee adamantly expresses that his career is more rewarding than it is challenging. Of course, he enjoys collaborating with and being recognized by such major celebrities; he emphasizes that creating art is the most gratifying part of his work.
“No matter what race, color, or ethnicity you are, there is something about the art and production that you can appreciate,” Lee said.
Working in such a majority-dominated field, Lee would like to see an increase in people of color working in the entertainment production industry.
“There is so much money to be made behind the scenes rather than in front of the camera,” he said.
He shares that by having a production role, one is granted more creative freedom and a ton of opportunities. Lee himself enjoys being able to create characters rather than conforming to fit them. To introduce more creators of color to the industry, he works with a predominantly ethnic staff. He shares,
“I try to make sure that more than 50% of my crew are people of color,” he said, exceeding the 15% minimum that the entertainment industry has encouraged as the standard.
In his personal life, Lee is beginning a family of his own, as he is currently engaged with plans of tying the knot in October. He is extremely involved in the community as he is the president of the Los Angeles ASU alumni chapter, participates in community service, does “Read Across America,” volunteers at the LAUSD schools that he previously worked with, organize food drives, mentors young men in the LA area, and much more. While he works tirelessly in his LA community, he hopes to give back and bring production work to the Hornet’s Nest.
“There are a couple of things down the turnpike for you guys to look out for,” he says.
Hoping to inspire students considering careers in the entertainment industry, Lee advises one does it out of a genuine passion for art rather than fame.
“Make sure that you pursue a career that you truly and honestly love,” he said.
For the entire ASU student body, Lee advises making the most out of all Hornet years.
“Find a love for ASU that will live in your heart forever,” he said.
He says to embody that love, unity, and pride that ASU has to offer, as it will guide you through all obstacles life has to offer. It was the lessons, skills, and experiences that he learned while a student at ASU that led him to his dream in the heart of Los Angeles.