The Record, June 2011 -- FAMILIES STANDING in line this summer to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, probably have no idea how many people were involved in creating the themed land; nor do they likely even care.
But Brawner Greer ’90 knows all that went into transforming the international best-selling literary series into an award-winning immersive experience. As Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for Universal Creative, the group responsible for designing and building all rides and attractions in the NBCUniversal theme parks worldwide, Greer oversees the global legal aspects of developing and building ground-breaking theme park attractions.
“What I do is a little difficult to explain,” says Greer from his office in Orlando. “Developing attractions like the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, for example, involves many areas of the law, with an emphasis on intellectual property and construction law. Initially, I was very involved with licensing the rights to use the Harry Potter brand and in negotiating the deals with the Harry Potter feature film actors to appear in our attraction. At the same time, we were hiring the artists and architects, who would help us bring the stories and places from the books to life, and arranging for filming to be done in London. In fact, I had the good fortune to spend a week on the set of the sixth Harry Potter film while negotiating the production agreements. Then, during the final stages of the project, my primary focus shifted to issues around the actual construction of the rides and buildings.”
As a high school student, Greer learned about Hampden-Sydney from a family friend. Later he talked to an admissions dean visiting his school and learned that he had the makings of a scholarship candidate. He says, “My first trip to Hampden-Sydney was for a scholarship interview. It was a cold, sleeting February day. I just fell in love with the place, and I thought, ‘If I can love this place on a day like today, this is the place for me’!”
As a Tiger, his affinity for Hampden-Sydney grew. “I enjoyed economics, especially with Ken Townsend. He was my favorite professor, and I took every one of his classes that I could along with doing a couple of independent studies with him. Also, back then, General Wilson was teaching his national security seminar. I’ll never forget being in his class as the Berlin Wall was coming down, or listening to Tom Clancy speak to us. What a great experience.”
These small classes and his professors’ emphasis on writing were the perfect combination for Greer’s future success. He says, “Maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but, to me, law school was much easier than Hampden-Sydney. In law school, your entire grade for the class is based on one essay at the end of the semester. I felt much better prepared than other students. The curriculum at Hampden-Sydney really teaches you how to think. That gave me—would give any Hampden-Sydney grad—a huge advantage.”
“I didn’t start with the entertainment world during the early part of my career. After law school I clerked for a federal judge and then worked at McGuireWoods, where I was very lucky to have had Hal McVey ’57 as my supervisor. I did a lot of litigation and that’s how I got to know the folks at what was then Paramount’s Kings Dominion. That led me to an in-house job with Paramount Parks, the theme-park division of Viacom, where I interacted with my counterparts at sister companies Paramount Pictures, CBS Television, MTV, and Nickelodeon. After a few years, I made the move from Paramount to Universal.”
Despite what you might think, Greer has found that law and creativity can coincide. Rather than being a legal naysayer, he has become part of the creative team. “I try to say ‘no’ as little as possible. Instead, I try to give alternatives. If you just say ‘no,’ they begin to see you as an outsider, not as a partner. I want them to talk to me so that I can influence project management decisions on the front-end, versus playing clean-up on the back-end.”
And this job is not without its challenges: “The biggest challenge is working with many competing constituents—such as producers, engineers, company executives, licensors, and talent—in the context of a compressed production schedule. So, my job involves a lot of diplomacy and negotiation to help keep things moving smoothly.”
Of course, developing and building theme-park attractions to be enjoyed by thousands of people every day sounds like fun, but that is only part of why Greer loves his job. “Working as an in-house lawyer is very different from working in a law firm. I am so ingrained in this ‘teamwork’ mindset that I couldn’t go back. Of course, I do some things over and over, but every new attraction from Shrek, to the Simpsons, to our just-announced Despicable Me attraction brings new challenges. I love this variety. I think I have one of the best legal jobs in the world.”
So, if you ever find yourself enjoying an attraction at one of the NBCUniversal theme parks and are amazed at how much fun you are having, think of Brawner Greer. He had just as much fun at work helping bring it to life for you.
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