The four legs of wholeness are the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual elements. If one of those is wobbling, you will lose stability for all. Lee Cummings experienced that instability in his life where he literally had 166/101 as blood pressure. He was able to eventually change that hypertension element by eating better. Lee is Chef Marie’s co-host of the MChef Project. He is also a movie director, a producer, and an actor. In this interview, Lee talks about how he went through his life’s biggest challenge and shares how he’s been able to unite inner work, fitness, and nutrition that changed his whole way of eating and losing weight.
We have a super special guest. He is my co-host of the MChef Project. His name is the fabulous Lee Cummings, the LEC number one director, movie producer, actor and partner in the business. I'm so happy to have you.
I’m happy to be here. Chef Marie, thank you so much for changing people's lives with food and the Burst of Flavors. I'm super gracious and honored to be a part of everything we have going on.
I have a lot of questions to ask you so the people will get to know you better. I'd like to tell our audience that right after the interview, we’re going to have little recipes that we're going to share with you. In the second term, we’re going to have the funny anecdote that Mr. Lee is going to tell us because he’s such a funny character. The last is we're going to have a super nice quote to think about, digest and his wisdom of words. Lee, tell us about your path because you decided to take on the path in the movie production and your love for the movie. Tell us where did it start?
The passion for my filmmaking came from my father but cultivated by my mother. What that means is that my dad was super into technology in the early ‘70s. I remember seeing a movie behind me, a Korean poster of Taxi Driver. My dad was in the military, he was in the Army and I was an army brat. I moved from Germany to Presidio probably around ‘73. My dad would just love to take me to movies all the time. I remember seeing Star Wars in mid ‘77, ‘78. It just came out. Before that, I would see all kinds of movies like Bruce Lee to Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver was late, I didn't see that at the theater, but my dad was very vigilant about seeing movies. I don't know why and what it was. Basically he was like, “We’re going to see a movie now.” I’m like, “It's great.”
My dad was always first in technology. My dad was the first person on the court in 1979 to have a VHS movie machine. I literally would tell my friends, “We're watching Rocky right now at our house.” It was brand new in ‘78, ‘79. We were the first people to have a microwave. He bought me this little VTR with this little VHS tape with a separate camera. I started to shoot mini-movies. I had my brother doing crazy things. I move here and do that and doing stop motions with normal motion. The video camera looked a lot like The Young and The Restless and all these 30 frames per second type of stuff. I was always in search of that look. I thought there’s something wrong but there was really nothing wrong.
It was according to your style, your vision and your eye.
It didn't look like movies. When I learned later on, movies were shot at 24 frames per second and video. The stuff that was on television, a lot of it was done on video, which was 30 frames per second. It’s super smooth. Our eye sees 24 frames per second, so that's why I was always looking to fill those eyes. For many years I have a theater background, Art minor and a minor in Spanish at UC Davis, which is weird because I'd love to go back and talk at my old stomping grounds. I have a theater background in directing and then acting.
Are you acting too?
You really wanted to do both, being behind the camera but also being able to show your true expression in front of the camera.
I did a lot of advanced acting classes and I fell into wanting to be in front of the camera because I was literally in my hometown Santa Rosa, California. There was a documentary being done for Ford. My friend said, “They're doing a documentary in Santa Rosa at Ford. Do you want to go?” I'm like, “Okay.” I was sitting there and I remember this old guy when I was watching the documentary, the old guy would take the car out and pet this kid on the helmet and put them on a bike and send them off. He couldn't take the bike out because he was 80 years old. They’re like, “We need some different colors.” I was hanging with the director and the guys said, “What about that guy right there?” They pointed me like, “Can you do that?” I'm like, “Yeah, I can do it.” Just like he did, maybe a little bit better. I’m a little stronger than he is. I was twenty-something years old, maybe 23. Lo and behold, I ended up being in what was a national commercial for Ford, which it was supposed to be a documentary and I was tapped hardly into my act. They gave me $250,000. The bigger point was, other than money, was that I got my Screen Actors Guild card and then I started acting in movies. I have a story about Sean Connery.
You’ve got to keep it until the end to keep the audience on board.
I fell into that way and a lot of things happen. I actually interned on Los Angeles when I was in college for Spike Lee. It was for his Robi Reed and Associates, which is Robi Reed-Humes now. She was the premier black casting director in LA at the time. Anything that was being done from John Singleton to Spike Lee, she did. I actually worked for her. Tony Lee, who did a show called the Roc with Charles S. Dutton, which is on television was my mentor at the moment.
You are very well-surrounded. You actually did two of your own movie productions. Why did you choose horror?
I didn't choose it. I will say it chose me. I have been friends with a gentleman by the name of Mitchell Altieri who's with Orama Filmworks. He's a big horror guy and he's been doing it for years. He's had some great success. He's done a bunch but he did two. One was with Sony and one was with Lionsgate. I want to say the one that was with Lionsgate, he did April Fool's Day and Scout movie that we both did. We co-directed that film. It's very scary. It's very awesome. It's a thriller. Mitch is a master and we have another master of the craft is Jeff Allard, who was our producer along with Sheryl. Jeff did Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Jessica Biel, and that's his claim to fame, but he's got a lot of other great movies.
Congratulations. It's an awesome movie.
You’ve seen parts of it, but it should be released hopefully by November to iTunes and Showtime or HBO. I had a mentor before any of that stuff, Eric Blakeney, who was heaven-sent. He's like a brother to me. He was the original executive producer and head writer for 21 Jump Street with Johnny Depp. He founded Johnny Depp. I lived in Barcelona and one of the reasons why I'm on the show. I talked about Barcelona so much because it was absolutely amazing. Eric is a big part of my success. I can always go to him. He taught me a lot of my writing chops, even though I haven't written in a long time. Jamal Jennings, a great friend that I went to college with, he writes most of the scripts that I've been doing. He wrote with Mitch and other writer for Star Light and he's actually been writing a movie I'm trying to get off the table.
It's been a whirlwind, but to concentrate and be in a world where people don't appreciate, not all the time, your creativity, it’s hard. With movie-making, if you don't have something because it can live and die inside your brain. With creative people like myself, there are a lot of projects that end up being like that. They're inside my head and they don't go anywhere, but there's a method to the madness. You’re thinking and visualizing all the time. It's not easy to be with someone like myself in a relationship, hence my divorce and all that. I'm much better for it and I learned a lot from that. I would never have anyone undergo that journey with me because it's my personal journey.
It’s been eye-opening being creative. If there's a lot of creative that are reading this, listen to your insights, listen to the passion, listen to your intuition, which we don't do typically. That's something that is given to us that we avoid some times. I know part of your story and part of your journey, intuition is being intuitive and we all are at some point. I'm probably a lot more intuitive than most and you are very intuitive. Listening to your intuition is very important, especially for someone who's creative. Actually, anyone in this world needs to pay attention to their intuition.
You are approaching the subject and I'd like to cover it because you are a part of the LA scene, the show business that’s such a hard platform. We all know that very few are succeeding. How do you define success?
When I was 25, I used to feel like my success was designed and I would have quoted my old self saying, “Success is by how much money I have in my hands.” Whatever I can hold and attain before I die is a success with who I am. Now, I'm paying more attention to the internal, which is feeding me as opposed to the external. It is a tough gig to live by that and to be that. My feeling in my soul that I know is totally true is that my success is by my word, who I am, where I am, how I feel, my thoughts are my friend. Because happiness, as a great friend taught me, is fleeting. Meaning that happiness can be designed by it just disappears, dissipates between an award here or a car there or a relationship here. Being at peace, that is what I desire. My success is designed by how I feel and am I peaceful? My peace is so much more important than what the external world can give me and I'm learning that being 48.
I relate to this, but I am sure that there are a lot of readers who are relating to what you are saying. You have been going through a difficult challenge. As we can see, it’s such a personal experience. How did you come up from it so strong? Do you have a ritual or do you have things that you are doing into your life every day to keep yourself uptight and with this great balance because you are standing strongly?
I think every man and every woman is a tribe. What I mean by that is a family of people that can vouch for you when you can't vouch for yourself. When you're standing and sometimes you're not, you're being held up by friends. When I was going through my divorce, I was literally sleeping on the floor of my office. When I didn't have hope for myself, I had a few friends that made calls to me and made sure. I want to tell people out there, if you're in a place where you don't feel good about yourself, you can't isolate yourself. Isolation is the last place that you want to be. You can’t isolate yourself because what ends up happening is that there is a depression that you go through and many people do. I can't tell you that I was more depressed than other people. As my friend, Maurice, who's a clinical therapist, we can all have trauma and my trauma might not be the same as yours, but it's still recognized as trauma. Some people see rich people as not having trauma. No, it's not. Maybe their dad wasn't there. My dad went to every basketball game. My mom is an absolutely phenomenal woman and I have people that love me. When you have a tribe of people that love you, when you can't love yourself, that's what you stand on. You're being propped up by them.
I looked for hope in any way I could to grab myself and those calls from Darren, from Maurice to Gianni Messmer, who allowed me to stand on their shoulders or to be popped up by them when I didn't want to pop myself up. That's not designed by me, that's designed by the universe. That's designed by God. That's designed by you not being able to stand for yourself and the universe going, “Now you can listen.” I love this line in Django that says, “You've got my curiosity, now you have my attention.”
It’s so strong. You’ve got my curiosity now.
Sometimes with everything around you, like if I had success, the success that I believe that having a movie that's out and to me, that's realizing my passion. If that would have happened too early and not at the right exact times, I wouldn’t be able to listen. I'm here only because of my failures. Those stories are my successes. I realize that now as a man. Everything that had happened wrong in my relationship was my fault. I will own 100% my relation to myself and 50% of my relationship with my ex-wife. She doesn't know that. That's not her fault. Maybe she didn't have the tools too and neither did I. I didn't have those tools to treat her maybe the way she thought that she needed to be treated.
That's hard for me to say but that's owning my stuff and owning my pitfalls and my downfalls as a man and being in a relationship that I shouldn't probably be in necessarily, but we both love each other. I can say that now, but before I was a little angry for whatever reason. Like I said, designed by the universe. The universe is people. I'm talking to you, the universe loves you and the universe God has an absolute plan for you, but you have to allow it to happen. You can't swim against the stream. You’ve got to let it flow as you always say, Chef Marie. When you're not swimming into the stream and you decide to stop talking, you listen. Something amazing happens in your life, but you’ve got to be willing to hear that. You’ve got to be willing to go through that process of cocooning, that process of dying of old self to renew like the Phoenix to be reborn. It's something completely different.
It takes time. You’ve got to be very patient. The main core of this show is uniting inner work, fitness and nutrition and better eating. When you went through that big challenge of your life, you had to cover all of these three main courses.
We talked about it on our show and that's not a podcast yet, but it will be. We've been selling shirts, but what we're selling is this. Jesus is the epitome of wholeness. Regardless if you’re Christian-based or whatever that is, Jesus is one of the most recognizable people in the history of everything. We've talked about four courses and it's like a table. Those four legs of the table are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If one of those is wobbling or you don't have one of those like I had no emotional stability at all. I couldn't stand for myself. I had no physical. I literally had 166/101 as blood pressure, hypertension. I changed that element of myself by eating better. I said, “God, if you can take me out of this where I'm at, let me have a place to live with people that love me. I promise to take care of this.” You've met my 75-year-old roommate. They're wonderful people. The energy is great in that house. I cook every day for myself. I lost 35 pounds.
You brought even a challenge and a better way for them to eat healthier. Because they too, they had their own health struggles. It's a domino effect. When we are feeling good about it, when we work on ourselves, we better impact positively to the people around us.
What's great and successful is that many times I think when people say for instance someone's like, I don't even like using the term Born Again Christian. The first thing I’m going to do is tell you how bad you are and what you're doing wrong and how Jesus can save you. I had a bit of that what I call born again when you start to lose weight and look at me. If it's easy for me, it doesn't work that way. Like you said before, if it's born inside, it's infectious because positive energy is infectious. I'm cooking and they're like, “What are you doing?” They're inquisitive about their own learning. I've had every job and it's not a bragging thing. I was a math teacher at one of probably the most prestigious schools in America where we had Joe Montana of the 49ers, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I'm not name dropping. That school costs $35,000 a year for each child to go there. I taught math there. I had these kids who people think they have problems but they do.
I have these children who were awesome and amazing. The point of my story was that people of all walks of life when you come in infectious and children show you what you are, they’re a mirror of what you are, they can assist in their own learning. When I taught math, that was one of the easiest things to teach because when I make things fun in an environment and not being too preachy, they started assisting saying, “Mr. Cummings, it's 3.14 Pi, it's an infinite number.” They started doing quizzing about quantum physics, which we should be talking about, which is also a great thing. People, if you haven't read anything, please go get the book by Joe Dispenza about quantum physics called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. He also wrote something called What The Bleep Do We Know?, which a lot of people know in the era of The Secret, but you’ve got to read this book. It's super impactful.
Thank you so much Lee. Where can they follow you? What’s your name on Instagram?
Can we follow your work there and everything?
Yes, about life, love, fitness. We're going to do some meditation probably but this is wonderful. I'm learning a lot about myself. One thing I’m learning is that people have a lot to offer. I'm so appreciative of your energy and you sharing this and sharing the energy of a chef that I can help share with other people as well. I'm telling everybody when she says, “Honey, baby, you look up. It's good.” They don't know that yet, but they will.
There’s a second part of this show and it's about recipes. We are in this together. This is MChef Burst Of Flavors. We talk about spices. We want to spice it up. We want a torch tofu, veggies and all this, but your thing as for recipes is that air fryer. You should talk to us about it because it changed the way you are eating. You lost how many pounds again, Lee?
I lost 30 pounds. I was about 240. I'm about 210 now. I float between sometimes eating cake, eating cookies and things that we have to help us live.
Do you love carbs?
We have to love carbs a little bit sometimes, but not all the time.
You can treat yourself otherwise and talk to us about that air fryer thing that just changed your whole way of eating and losing weight.
I’m very appreciative about your spices. It goes hand in hand. I bought an air fryer and I don't deem myself as a cook, but I learned how to cook certain things pretty good. I eat a lot of chicken and a lot of fish. I didn't eat a lot of vegetables before, but now putting spinach into my mouth and broccoli is so good. I know people out there if you don't like vegetables and I was never a vegetable person. You can ask my mom and she was ever going to be in this show. She'd be like, “He hates vegetables.” It was absolutely so bad. With the air fryer, I allowed myself with your spices. San Antonio is so delicious and Louisiana as well but with San Antonio, I make these tacos.
I live in California, so you can make your own tacos. I put the dark meat chicken inside there and I could do the other breast meat too, but I just like dark meat. A little bit higher in fat but it’s okay. I literally would just put your seasoning on there like a rub because there's a rub, Louisiana or I use San Antonio's Tex-Mex. I pop it in there for fifteen minutes and the air fryer takes all the bad stuff and floats down to the bottom. I'm literally licking my chops going, “This is amazing.” I'm getting great meals with making my own fries with sweet potatoes. They're not fried because there's no oil in them, but they still feel very crispy. Your body feels good. I've been doing a lot of that, and then hopefully at one point we'll go to China or somewhere and get you your face and maybe my face on the back with the air fryer.
We have to do something like that, making some great strives. The reason why I mention the air fryer because sometimes when you say you don't have enough time, you go eat some fast food. You always have time to throw something inside the air fryer. Throw a turkey burger in there. Throw some avocado and a nice sliced tomato that's from Olivers. We are eating 91% fat-free turkey meat and you can make your own spices. There's so much flavor that with your spices, there's no reason not to eat well. Spices are the way to go. I'm enjoying that and enjoying the air fryer. I bought a little one that was a 2.5 liter. My roommate ended up buying and they're cooking everything. These people who ate out every single day.
It’s the Domino effect again, but positive impact.
Liz is eating salads, she’s eating chicken. They're making their own chicken. They're putting the seasoning on. They feel good. You are talking about non-allergen, gluten-free and sodium-free. I don't know if that's true or not, but I know it's organic. I’ve seen the packaging. It's absolutely amazing. As opposed to putting these fillers in these things and seasonings with all the sodium and I had to watch sodium for my high blood pressure. You can have great meals now and it can be very easy within fifteen, twenty minutes. We have some things coming on some of our show that’s going to help you guys out there in the world that I feel passionate about.
We're going to the third part and it's going to be your best part, I believe. Lee, I'd like you to share with us one of the funniest anecdotes that you would like to talk about because you're such a funny character. You have this great bubbly personality. Do you have one that come up from your mind?
When I got my Screen Actors Guild card, the Ford commercial was a real thing, but I didn't know it was going to be real. I was actually in The Rock with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. Michael Bay directed it and he was down there. I'm literally on set and I can see a larger version of Sean Connery and he was a stunt guy, but he's a buffed-up Sean Connery. That's not the funny part, but it is very funny because you see him roll on the stairs and then the stuntman will roll down the stairs and will get up. The cool part is that I'm actually in the movie. I was a bellhop and Nicolas Cage comes up to me and says, “FBI agent, where are them all?” I've got this crazy bellhop hat on my head. That the funny part. When I was waiting for the scene, it was 2:00 in the morning. We're down in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, I'm not lying. I'm literally sitting and I'm reading a book waiting because Hollywood's all about hurry up and wait. I was waiting for the scene for me to be in with Nicolas Cage. I was sad because they already came by and said, “We need some more FBI agents.”
I was ripped up and the guys were like, “Sorry, you're too short.” Nicolas Cage is 6’3” and the same with Sean Connery. They're both tall people. Most actors like De Niro and Pacino, they’re my height, 5’9”. They're all short. These guys are tall. They’re like, “Sorry, you can't be an FBI agent with these guys because they wouldn't hire you. You look ripped but you're too small.” I'm reading my book and Sean Connery was standing in front of me and it was weird. I’m like. “Who is that?” Because his butt is in my face. I look up and I go, “It's Sean Connery.” I'm like, “Excuse me, Mr. Connery, your butt is in my face.” He’s like, “Sorry.” I know it's not that funny, but to me it was funny at the time because it’s a great story to tell about Sean Connery. He is a great and awesome guy to see working at that level. After that, he’s like, “Reach me and Nicolas Cage.”
The last part of the show is a very quick and nice quote of wisdom that we would like to take the time to share. It has been sponsored by Woman On Fire. Go check it out. Can you talk a bit about Woman On Fire because they are a great partner?
Woman on Fire by Dana Bryant. I have been working on this project. She is a superstar. She is definitely a lioness. We will hear a lot about her and a bit of the work that she's done. Dana’s history and her trajectory have been very interesting. She was a woman on fire and has been for many years. I think God had a definitive plan for her. She literally was robbing banks. The FBI was after her. Go to DanaBryant.com or look up @TheDanaBryant on Instagram. You'll find out more about her story and I know she’s going to allow me to do her story and do her movie because I want to tell her story. Woman On Fire it’s what we call a metric measured increase of becoming the woman that you want to be through a scientific approach. There's a definitive way on how to approach that. There are a lot of coaches out there that are trying to do self-help type stuff, but they're not the real deal. Dana has been in prison. She has not only been lived it, but she is also it. She is a woman on fire and women need a tribe. I've been here in Crossing the Jordan and I understand the work. Dana and her husband started Crossing the Jordan, which leads into Woman On Fire with nothing. Literally, they started at their house by getting clothes and things for other people that needed things.
You did in Santa Rosa. It’s local to California.
They have nine stores and a few boutiques. They actually get clothes and things from other people that don't have unwanted goods and they can make money on those things, but most of the time they used to give them for free. Some of the women here have their stories from domestic violence to prostitution to drug abuse. They would actually try to steal from Dana and Dana knew they were stealing, “No, you can have this.”
She is here to care for people.
Dana and Michael had no money at this time. Michael said, “I had $15,” when they bought their first little items and they ended up giving those stuff away for free. There's a lot of stuff to be said.
The quote that we would like to share with you is from the wonderful and the strong Nelson Mandela, and it says, “It always seems impossible until it's done.” Thank you so much for your time. It has been a privilege to share your personal journey.
Thank you so much.
I'm looking forward to the next episode. What’s going to happen?
I don't know.
You're going to interview me. Is there a last thing that you'd like to share with our audience?
If you’re in a place of despair and depressed and you're reaching for something, reach for someone who has hope. Even just a tiny bit, because that's going to take you out from wherever you are, just a little bit further out of that. Always try to look at your life outside of yourself. Be a watcher of yourself and a watcher of your thoughts and be kind to yourself because it's a long journey.
Thank you, Lee. I appreciate it.
You take care.
Lee Cummings is a filmmaker based in California with more than 20 years of experience as a Producer, Director, Director of Photography, Script writer and Editor. In 2009, Cummings orchestrated his first full-length feature film to be distributed by a global film distributor.
Cummings founded 505 films, with a focus on music videos, Full Circle Entertainment with a focus on films, and has progressed to being the founder of Str8forward Media, a full service production and media company (film, pilots, commercials, internet content, etc.). As Founder and President of Str8forward Media, Cummings has directed commercials and film projects for clients throughout the Bay Area, including The Travel Channel, MythBusters, and Burts Bees.
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