Rising Star Q&A: Brian Murray

Brian Murray graduated from ComArtSci in 2006 with a degree in telecommunication and a minor in English. In 2016, Murray was awarded the ComArtSci Alumni Board’s Rising Star Award. With a background in cinematography, Murray has enjoyed roles such as director of photography and senior cinematographer for IATSE and NFL Films, respectively. Now, Murray resides in Orlando, Florida, where he is the creative director for Electronic Arts.

What was your favorite class at ComArtSci?
My favorite class was definitely advanced lighting with Brian Kusch. I have used some of the techniques he taught me in my career 16 years later. He introduced us to a breakdown in lighting for documentaries, feature films and TV.

What was your favorite study spot on campus?

My favorite study spot was one of the editing suites that used to be between the two studios [at ComArtSci]. The best computers were in there, and I was doing a lot of editing at the time. While directing a show for telecasters, I worked with many students, so it was a nice space to hide and have good equipment. 

What was your favorite thing to do around East Lansing?
I went to Michigan State to critically think and make a whole lot of friends. I hung out in the dorms a lot, and when I moved off campus, I kept those same friends. Most of them ended up in front of the camera as I tried to video a short film. Everyone was just hanging out a lot. It's a killer school and the largest land-grant university in the United States, so we had a lot of places to hang out.

What’s your favorite MSU Memory?
As it pertains to my career now, one of my favorite experiences was meeting Craig Murray and Greg Harrison because I work with them now 16 years later and are now peers in the film industry. Craig Murray is an inspiration and has been a leader in the film and documentary industry. Greg Harrison, at the time, had just finished a short film featuring Courtney Cox. So I was so inspired to meet people that had succeeded in the industry.

So, you earned your degree in telecommunications at ComArtSci, can you speak about how things have evolved in your industry since you graduated and where you foresee things going from here?

So, when I graduated from Michigan State, I had a very direct intention to get into film. At the time, that meant documentary TV or feature-length films. So, I went straight to NFL Films, where I learned the art of filmmaking from them because these eight very elite cinematographers that shot on Super 16 film and 35 mm film at the time were willing to take me under their wing and teach me. I also used the tools I got from Michigan State, such as nonlinear editing, and brought that and introduced it to NFL films.

The way things have changed is the use of high-definition cinematography and camera, as well as this grouping of mediums coming together now. You say, "Well, I'm in film." That is such a general term now. It used to be, "Oh! You do movies." Now I can say I work in film and make digital pictures and TV shows. Then you look at Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and all of the streaming platforms and see this convergence of all the crafts coming together. Because of this, there is just an abundance of jobs. A video game needs the same audio engineer that a feature film, commercial, and TV show all need. Really that perspective of a singular direction in a career is gone. If you become a specific skilled worker in a particular craft, you can work in so many different mediums.

What was your biggest lesson learned during your time at ComArtSci? And what was your biggest lesson after ComArtSci?

The biggest lesson I learned at Michigan State is that it's a significant accomplishment when you graduate, but it's also the beginning and not the end of something. Moving into your first career, you need to move in with a certain level of humility. 

So then, when you move into your career, my biggest advice and the thing I should've done, is led with my eyes and ears and not my mouth. A lesson when you get into your first job is that you need to learn how to develop a thick skin and be told no. And it's very important that you open your eyes and ears and shut your mouth. That's not a negative, but that's just how you learn. Then once you develop a baseline understanding of how it works, that's when you can innovate and find your own style.

A sentence I didn’t understand when I was told it, but I understand now, was given to be my first boss. He was a very famous cinematographer, and he said, "Brian, you're 22 years old, and you're too ambitious." And I was offended. I remember thinking, "How could you possibly think that?" I have dreams, and I'm not going to take this as a negative, and I will not accept this.

Now I think back, and I really just didn't know what I didn't know. The term of being too ambitious was more of a "Hey, why don't you learn more about this craft that you're obsessed with and learn from us. We're trying to teach you."

Fast forward to the end of your career. It's your retirement party, and everyone is there celebrating your achievements. What do you hope people say about you?
I was humble, never kept information to myself, and always tried to pay it forward and teach. That's all I care about at this point in my career. I've done the awards and accolade game. The biggest flattery of all is copying. I've seen a lot of copying of things I've done in sports broadcasts and stuff I've done in video games that are copied in filmmaking and television. That kind of flattery is the biggest reward I could have.

To get texts seeing my former interns and mentees in backgrounds of film articles or on sidelines on the Super Bowl. For me, that's the most exciting. Those are some of the best cinematographers in sports and film in the world. I'm just proud and happy that I got to help and influence.

To those students who are confused, overwhelmed, not sure what they want to do, unsure about what a degree from ComArtSci can do for them, what would your message be to them?

My message would be that there is such a broad horizon of jobs out there. That degree can put you in so many different places right now. There is so much happening on your smartphone, laptop, TV. There's so much happening and so much about to happen with VR and AR technology. I think what ComArtSci does is that they give you this baseline and a set of skills, and from there, you can do with it what you will. I think the opportunity has just completely come open during Covid. With Covid and Zoom, you don’t need to be in New York or LA to make it. 

By Joe Strother