Focus on the Coast
Gary Breece, owner of Public Address System, didn't start out trying to lead corporations onto the tree branch of social responsibility. His career began with an internship as a field producer at a Washington news bureau. He then moved to Los Angeles where he launched Focus Productions, producing video news releases for Fortune 500 companies.
|Gary Breece at Satellite |
photos: Jason Armond
"I started to feel more like part of the problem, than the solution," he said. "Trying to sell things to people they didn't really need in a manipulative way. I needed a change. I wanted to do something more meaningful."
Still married at the time, his wife, an exotic fair-skinned African-American beauty, encouraged him to work on something cause-related to help clear his conscience. "I realized this cause was staring me in the face," he said. "My wife's family owned Essence magazine and was very involved with trying to uplift the African-American community. This was around the time Bill Cosby was criticizing urban music, remember that?"
I did. In 2004, Cosby took a lot of backlash from comments, like: "You young men and old men, you've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job because you didn't want to get an education."
Breece's in-laws were close to Cosby, prompting Gary to suggest an alternative approach. Rather than criticizing what they thought was wrong, why not shine a light on positive urban music. He envisioned an updated version of Wattstax, the Golden Globe nominated documentary that focused on the 1972 music festival that would go down as "the Woodstock of black soul." To his delight, Cosby agreed.
"It was going to be my big break," Gary said, "And, Camille Cosby was the Executive Producer. They gave me some initial money to make a teaser - a sizzle reel - but in the middle of everything; my marriage fell apart."
Resigned to return to corporate work, Breece knew he couldn't go back to work as usual. Struck by how a particularly hostile client's demeanor changed dramatically when highlighting the social good her company contributed, he knew what he needed to do: accentuate the positive.
"When I switched from the old work to the cause-related work, I certainly stopped being rich," he laughed, "But I slept better. And I still enjoy it a lot more. There's something different about it. Everybody tends to check their egos at the door. And many of my favorite clients have the worst legacies because it's the most opportunity for change. A client may have a terrible legacy, but if you help them announce they are turning over a new leaf, people are going to hold them to it."
I imagined Gary working out these thoughts as he motored along back country roads on the vintage Moto Guzzi parked outside, stopping every now and then to take photographs for his Off Route series.
He had mentioned earlier that his family has owned property in Holden Beach ever since his father was a child. The house started out third row, but because of climate change, is now oceanfront. Imagining Wilmington to Holden Beach as a fun ride, I decided to pry: Got a lucky lady riding along with you? Where's your secret place?