Guest Column: How the U.S. Navy Prepared Chris Lee for a Second Career as a Hollywood Manager – Hollywood Reporter

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For Veterans Day, the Authentic Talent and Lit rep, whose clients include Simu Liu, reflects on how Hollywood movies inspired him to enlist in the military, which in turn motivated him to seek a future in show business.
By Chris Lee
It’s interesting being a military veteran in the entertainment industry. There are so many films about war and the military displaying traits of bravery, brotherhood and pride – aspects that piqued my curiosity as a young man and lessons I later learned during my time in the U.S. Navy. From Tom Cruise doing fly-by’s in big pop-culture summer hits like Top Gun or defending Marines against a court-martial in an awards drama like A Few Good Men, entertainment was actually my inspiration for enlisting.
Now as a talent manager at Authentic Talent & Literary Management, this Veterans Day has me thinking back to my time in the service, how it’s helped in my second career and the opportunities I’m able to give to others looking to do the same.

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I joined the Navy at the age of 17 out of high school because I wanted to see the world and live out those moments I watched on the big screen. When I look back on how movies inspired me to join the Navy, it seems fitting that actors have been a consistent inspiration – both then and now. When we were circling the Persian Gulf for months in the middle of Operation Iraqi Freedom, some of the best times I had were when the United Service Organizations (USO) came onboard. For those not familiar, the USO is an American nonprofit-charitable corporation that provides live entertainment such as comedians, actors, musicians and holiday programming for members of the United States Armed Forces and their families abroad as well as other programs, such as sending care packages to troops on the frontlines and surprising families after a deployment.
R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), Tom Selleck (Magnum, P.I.), Brittany Murphy (Clueless), Alyssa Milano (Charmed) and Conan O’Brien were some of the talent that took time to meet with our crew on the U.S.S. Nimitz and entertain us with music, dancing and stories. They not only entertained us but upped our morale and gave us hope. These performers helped me further realize how much of an impact entertainment can make in inspiring others and offering a fresh perspective. Meeting them confirmed that I wanted to be part of that magic. After my enlistment contract was up, I enrolled at Cal State San Marcos and majored in business, using the GI Bill to fund my education with the intent of pursuing a career in entertainment.

I got my start at CAA, worked my way up and later transitioned into my current field of management. Being in talent management has been challenging and rewarding in so many ways. Although there are differences in the work from my service days – in Hollywood, I’m not literally quite literally running through a flight deck, dodging rotary propellers and ducking through the immense heat coming from an F-18 jet exhaust – there are similarities in my overall sense of purpose and in the mission to serve others that I have not lost sight of. This sense of mission has led me to represent people I’m incredibly proud to work with, who are trailblazers and leaders in their own ways, particularly as an advocate for Asian representation. Witnessing my clients’ growth and how they have utilized their platforms to address important issues, cultivate change and inspire others constantly reminds me of why I got into entertainment and how it can be a catalyst for powerful things. In fact, I was able to pay it back and help the USO when my client Simu Liu participated in USO MVP Con during the promotion of Marvel’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It was a rewarding experience to be on the other side of things and help inspire and lift morale among the men and women currently in service.    
Although it’s been many years since I have been out of the Navy, I will always identify as a serviceman and never lose sight that it is an honor to be a veteran. Currently, I’m part of a couple of military organizations that are part of the entertainment industry: Veterans in Media and Entertainment (VME) and  Merging Vets and Players (MVP), which is a collaboration with military and professional sports players who suffered the same kind of trauma that veterans do. In VME, I’ve offered one-on-one mentoring sessions, giving advice to other veterans who are pursuing acting and entertainment. In MVP, I’ve attended boot camp workout sessions to cultivate community with other veterans, supporting and encouraging each other in both mental and physical fitness.

There are some experiences that leave you with a lifelong impact on your values and perspective. Being in the service taught me the importance of stepping up to the plate and how serving others is what makes a good leader. This has helped my mindset in management, which is a lot of juggling and wearing many hats. It is a manager’s job to oversee their talent’s careers and help navigate their path. This is where leadership skills of patience, tactical thinking and genuine listening are keys to success. In the Navy, being able to work as a team was important in accomplishing our tasks and critical for the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our ship. This is also relevant in management, where working with agents, publicists, lawyers and others in the industry is necessary in accomplishing our overall goals for the success of our clients.
Serving in the U.S. Navy provided me with a solid foundation about how crucial discipline and perseverance are. There will always be obstacles that emerge to steer you off course from your mission. Learning how to push through these difficulties and become accustomed to confronting hard situations was imperative in being successful as a serviceman. Even when you’re uncomfortable, sick, tired or even afraid, there was always the urgency of a greater task and purpose at hand. And now as a talent manager, regardless of the day-to-day obstacles of fighting for more opportunities for my clients to more challenging issues that can affect millions of dollars in production, the mindset of never losing focus on the greater mission has carried me through.

Chris Lee, a San Diego native and U.S. Navy veteran (aviation electronics technician 2nd class), is a manager at Authentic. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two beautiful daughters. 
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