Filmmaker & US Navy Veteran, Johann Balbuena is Changing the Narrative on What it Means to be Black in the Cannabis Industry


Johann Balbuena is a bi-lingual, LGBT Dominican filmmaker. Her new film, Dancing With The Devil, is centered around the manic depressive protagonist Lily, who recently got control of her mental health, when she finds herself dabbling with the ghost of her pre-recovery identity upon meeting Will, a US Navy Veteran. Johann is a Cannavist, Navy Veteran, Executive Producer, and Cannabis Licensing Consultant powerhouse living in San Diego. She talked to ProductionHUB about her break into the film industry and how she’s changing the narrative  on what it means to be Black and successful in both the film and cannabis industry.

ProductionHUB: Johann, could you talk a little about your background and how you used your experience to break into the film industry? 

Johann Balbuena: Filmmaking has always been a passion of mine. As a kid, I was always the one taking pictures with a disposable camera documenting family trips and gatherings, As I got older, I started using video to record parties and concerts. Even while serving in the US Navy, I was always the person behind the camera. Fast forward to adulthood, I became an entrepreneur in the legal cannabis industry, where I identified an opportunity for an unmet need for high-quality inclusive content creation and decided to provide solutions for it. 

PH: How do the skills you obtained in the US Navy translate to your work in the film industry? 

Johann Balbuena: My experience as a military service member granted me the ability to work with a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, personalities, skill sets and abilities. When we come together, we are able to look past our differences, focus on the common goal and get it done. I am proud to say that there are a lot of veterans and veterans supporters in my tribe and my team. We all have that similar mindset and for that reason, the productivity levels within our team are super high.

PH: How did Synergy Studios come about? What drove you to create a company fueled through cannabis?

Johann Balbuena: While working in the legal cannabis industry, I became a content creator for brands. In an effort to fill the unmet marketing needs the industry experiences not only for businesses and brands, but for actual information and education, I decided to use my passion for film and content creation to help my counterparts in the industry and ultimately to build a business with purpose for our team.

PH: And Synergy Studios recently created Cannabis Synergy. Tell me about the show and what production looks like. 

Johann Balbuena: Cannabis Synergy, our live talk show was created to be a platform to connect the canna-curios and canna-experts through multi-sensory in-real-life experiences. We had so much fun producing it and our audience enjoyed every bit of the experience as they got to see a live production come together right before their eyes. We laughed, cried and vibed with our guests throughout the different segments. Cannabis Synergy is a labor of love, which we cannot wait to bring back as soon as possible.

PH: The live show isn’t all you’ve got up your sleeve – what else is in the works?

Johann Balbuena: The pandemic took place so we pivoted to pre-recorded content, short films, and coming soon 360-film for VR. My team and I are super excited as we have continued to hustle and used this “unprecedented” time to hone in on our creative side and come together (safely) even stronger. Our short film Dancing With The Devil was so much fun to shoot. The film is about a young couple who connects over their mental health issues and develop a questionable love affair. On a more personal note, I have a book coming out as well called “The Successful Canna-preneur”, which is a practical guide for new and experienced individuals to thrive in the legal cannabis space based on my experiences and the experience of my clients and partners.

PH: Sounds like a lot of work! How do you avoid burnout and consistently stay motivated? 

Johann Balbuena: I love what I do! I love my team and the people I work with. I think what keeps us grounded and keeps our synergy consistent is our collective solution-based thinking. Creative thought is super important as well. We are carving our own path and bringing things to life that come from within us and in doing so, we strategically use our strengths, maximize our resources and most importantly have fun while doing what we do. All of that combined is our recipe for motivation and productivity.

PH: What are “empowerment hacks” and how have they helped you? 

Johann Balbuena: Empowerment hacks is a term I coined while documenting habits I intentionally applied to my life in order to live my best life. For productivity, my hack is visualizing. When I have an idea, I like to start with the end goal in mind. Seeing the end goal clearly in your mind, motivates you to go for it! The clearer your vision, the more driven and inspired you will be to keep pushing forward and take action towards what you know you want.

PH: What are some ways you’ve learned to manage your workload? 

Johann Balbuena: I live out of a calendar and a ’to do’ list. Managing workloads is a journey. The more responsibility you get the more adjustment you have to do. I thrive on achievement so checking items on my to do list feels like a win and I really like that feeling.

PH: Tragedies such as Vanessa Guillen have been plaguing the news recently. What steps are necessary in order to prevent events like this from happening again?

Johann Balbuena: We need a cultural shift. Not just within the military, but nationwide. I could have been Vanessa. And there are thousands of Vanessa’s out there. Our culture of just going with the flow, letting things happen because “that’s they way things are” has got to change and our leaders need to held accountable and removed and replaced when they fail to fulfill their responsibilities period.


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