Industry Pro: Unit Publicist Gregg Brilliant
Today’s profile features someone who has worked on some of the iconic films of the last 20 years, from WAYNE’S WORLD to TITANIC to WALK THE LINE to AVATAR, and with the biggest names in entertainment, including Lorne Michaels, Ang Li, Sylvester Stallone, and of course, James Cameron. And it all started with an internship on the Paramount Pictures lot and the feeling that, “This is it.” Read on for more…
Current position & recently-completed projects: I’m a Unit Publicist. I just started working on THE EXPENDABLES 2. Before that, I was on HE LOVES ME for Fox Searchlight by the directors and producers of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. I also recently worked on director Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI and before that, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Prior to that, I was Vice President of Communications and Publicity for 20th Century Fox.
Hometown: Long Island, New York
College and degree: I went to California State University, Dominguez Hills. I got a BA in journalism and public relations (a dual major).
Did you have an internship while you were in college? I had many. My last year of school, I interned in the publicity department at Paramount Pictures.
Is that what got you into PR? Absolutely. But I had been interested in it before, even though I was majoring in journalism. Henry C. Rogers, one of the founders of (legendary PR agency) Rogers and Cowan, had spoken to one of my journalism classes. I asked him to lunch to find out more about what he did.
How smart of you to take the opportunity to basically interview one of the pioneers… Yes. And I became really intrigued by that field. When I got the internship at Paramount Pictures, that was my early start.
What was your first paying job in entertainment? It was in publicity at Paramount. From the internship, which I stayed in for a while, I was hired as an assistant to a photo editor. Eventually, I was made a junior publicist. I was the youngest person on the staff at the time, so I started to focus on their youth oriented films. One of the early ones was JUICE, which was directed by Ernest Dickerson and starred Tupac Shukur before he was a hip-hop superstar. That worked out well. And I worked on the campaigns that launched both “Wayne’s World” movies, all of the SNL Films, all of the MTV Films, including BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD, the Nickelodeon Movies… From there, after a few successful projects, and I worked on some bigger mainstream four-quadrant releases including TITANIC.
By that time, I was Director of National Publicity, and then was promoted to Vice President. I was at Paramount for about 18 years. During that time, I survived four studio regimes and oversaw publicity on a couple hundred movies including the first “Jackass” movie, MEAN GIRLS, and WAR OF THE WORLDS.
And then what do you consider your big break? Let’s go chronologically. Meeting Henry C. Rogers, getting the internship at Paramount, having a few good mentors in my career, and being lucky enough to be paired with some truly wonderful filmmakers and their movies. You know? They make the dynamite. I just help light the fuse.
Where did you go from Paramount? I jumped into a unit for DreamWorks’ DISTURBIA starring Shia LaBeouf. From there, I worked on an independent film called SLIPSTREAM, directed, produced and written by Anthony Hopkins. And, at that point, based on some relationships that I made when I worked on TITANIC, which was a collaboration between Paramount and Fox, I was asked by Fox to help them out on some of their awards campaigns. So I worked on WALK THE LINE, STAR WARS, EPISODE 3, and several other films as an awards consultant.
During this period, their VP of Corporate Communications left the company and I was asked to fill his shoes. I did that for three or four year, at the end of which was a lot of day-to-day work on AVATAR. So, after several years of handling corporate for Fox and after AVATAR’S release, I went out on my own. I’ve done three movies: RISE OF THE APES was in Vancouver, LIFE OF PI was in Taiwan and India, and then HE LOVES ME brought me back here to Los Angeles Now, I’m on THE EXPENDABLES 2 starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, Jet Li. We’re shooting in Bulgaria and in China.
What’s the best career advice you ever got? Quoting Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The other piece of advice that I got was, “Learn how to write.”
I’m looking for a eureka moment when you realized that you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently. The first day I walked onto the Paramount lot. I was blown away by everything going on and I just wanted to be a part of it. I told myself, you know, “This is it.”
Describe a typical workday in your current position. There is no typical workday. On any given day, I’ll be introducing the press to filmmakers and actors, setting up interviews, producing photo shoots, writing the film’s production notes, working with photographers, planning and pitching various stories, planning an overall strategy for a movie with the studio and the filmmakers. Every day is different. That’s what I love about the job.
Worst day or worst job in the entertainment industry? Losing an actor who “wanted to be lost” at the Forum in Los Angeles when he was scheduled to be on “The Tonight Show.” Eventually, I found him, but, you know…
Best day or best job in the entertainment industry? Lots of best days… traveling by private jet with Jim Cameron to “The Oprah Show” with the cast of TITANIC, celebrating Chinese New Year with Ang Lee and our crew in Taiwan, being in India on LIFE OF PI… The star power on the film that I’m currently on just blows my mind sometimes, but really they are all talented artists that are depending on my advice and counsel as the connective tissue between art and commerce. And that makes me feel good.
What’s the best thing about your current job? The opportunity to work with the smartest, most talented people in the business on a daily basis and tell their story and have their story be told. Worst thing about your current job? As a freelancer, I’m still getting accustomed to always hustling for that next job. Things seem to be working out fine, but it’s an adjustment.
Brush with greatness (can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do): The brush with greatness happens in this job happens on a daily basis. I mean, the business that we’re in attracts the most charismatic, intelligent and creative people. It’s a unique and sometimes odd blend of commerce and art, and I feel lucky every day to be involved in the movie business.
What’s the one thing you wish you would have known when you started in the business? This business is feast or famine. Put your money in the bank. In this business, there are good very good — times and also not so good times. You never know what’s around the corner.
What’s the secret of your success/advice to the newbie? Show up early, put 110% effort into everything you do, and be authentic and honest. You have to love what you do. If you don’t, it might be better to find something else to do.
Next move: To continue to find interesting projects to work on and interesting filmmakers to work with.
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