Phil Brooks, who graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in Advertising, has made strides in the video production industry since graduating in 2007. After finishing his degree, Phil moved to NYC and began working with Final Cut USA, where he continues to work fifteen years later. In addition to his work in video production for advertisements and documentaries, Phil is also an animator and designer. He holds expertise in visual effects, motion graphics, film production, and post production, to name a few of his many skills.
Phil’s most recent work includes a promotional trailer for a new Broadway Musical: New York, New York. The highly anticipated musical opened on Broadway April 26. We asked Phil questions about his experience at UTK, his career in the video production industry, and advice for students hoping to follow a similar trajectory. Read on to learn more about Phil’s inspiring story!
Interview with Phil Brooks:
How did your experience in UTK’s School of Advertising and Public Relations shape your career in video production?
“I can’t overstate how critical the internships were. I interned first at Tombras and then at Y&R in NYC. Both gave me an actual look at what a career felt like day to day. Y&R was a particularly fantastic experience. With my interest in film/video, they placed me in the TV production department during the summer of 2007. The next year I moved to the city full time and in the end, it was through a connection at Y&R that I got an interview at Final Cut/Significant Others in spring of 2008 (where I currently still work 15 years later!)”
What was the most memorable aspect of pursuing your degree in advertising?
“I’d be lying if I said anything other than Campaigns, but honestly I’d already been working with most of my group in other classes for a couple semesters. I think learning to collaborate with a grou (where you all succeed, or otherwise, together) was the biggest takeaway from the program. That’s how it works for real! So many people work on just one commercial (50-100+ if you count the entire chain from brand to agency to production to post) so you learn to contribute your knowledge/creative opinions when appropriate and to listen to others the rest of the time!”
What is your favorite part of your career in the video production industry?
“Working on something new every day / week / month. Specifically starting new projects. That’s when the ideas are still fresh and being developed. Creative decisions are still being made so it feels like we’re all building something together.”
Producing a Broadway Musical trailer is a pretty big deal! What skills and experiences helped you land this role?
“This was definitely one of the most ambitious projects we worked on so honestly it was a great culmination of my entire career up until this point. I’ve been working more in CG lately and it had a significant role in the film (the NYNY neon sign). It was a small team and so we all were wearing a lot of hats to get the job done. Personally, I was doing some (not all) of the 3D modeling as well as the lighting, texturing, rendering, and compositing. Typically, I’m doing more motion graphics stuff in After Effects, but I’ve been pushing into C4D and Octane/Redshift for the past 5 years or so.”
What aspect of producing the “New York, New York” trailer are you most proud of?
“This definitely felt like a “level up” moment for the amount of work we pulled off with so few people in a short amount of time (on a limited budget!). And doing the CG sign with live action was definitely my most technical achievement to date.”
What advice would you give to students who hope to follow a similar career path as you?
“I think internships and networking were extremely important. Starting with the UTK faculty who were always very helpful and supportive, and then just always talking to people! You never know when someone you meet will circle back into your life. Thinking of the big picture, the internship situation (with regard to pay) is hopefully improving to allow less fortunate people to find an entry point into these industries. I am extremely privileged to have had a safety net while living in NYC for that summer and the first couple months before I was hired. The Y&R internship was paid, but it was not a living wage. That said, I am certainly biased, but I do think if you want to make a go at it, NYC is absolutely the best place in the world to start. And if you do try, try when you’re young because you have the energy to live on ramen noodles with multiple roommates in deep Bed-Stuy or wherever is cheapest these days, and get bed bugs, and watch buskers in Washington Square Park or visit the Met, the MoMa, the Whitney and all the art galleries in Chelsea or the LES and just be around people and be a part of that energy as you walk down the streets of Manhattan.
I want to reiterate that I do feel lucky to have landed where I did. I started as client services and that was right before Lehman Brothers collapsed. I clung to that job like a liferaft; delivering coffee and plating meals for clients for a couple years before I was promoted to the “vault” where I organized elements of production and shadowed the assistant editors before gaining that responsibility myself. I definitely found that a lot of the people at Final Cut had been there a long time. It was very familial. Final Cut’s recently retired president, Stephanie Apt, was a huge mentor and she took an interest in every employee and listened to how we wanted to grow both personally and professionally. So despite not doing what I wanted to do immediately, I was confident that I would get there. The value of a good mentor is priceless. Beyond that, I think being open to new paths is important. I originally wanted to be a director, and then an editor and then I got more into design and motion and now I’m looking at moving on into….your next question!”
What direction do you plan to take your career next?
“I am hoping to continue to push into design oriented CG. This could be anything from film/tv titles to commercials to product demos, to public art or anything really! As I continue growing as an artist, the next step is also aiming to expand my role and responsibilities into Creative Direction by building relationships directly with clients and leading the conception and development of ideas from the start.”