Greg Bishop advanced from private in the Army to Lieutenant Colonel, across a spectrum of specialties from Infantry to the Signals Corps and finally to Public Affairs. He had a dream to work in Hollywood when he was young which he fulfilled through his military service. Bishop runs MUSA Consulting now for the entertainment industry advising on different projects. Bishop has produced his own feature Ktown Cowboys and worked on projects such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Day the Earth Stood Still, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Battlefield 4 and Snitch.
1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I grew up in the suburbs of Louisville, KY, in a normal, all-American, middle-class family and experience. I was the third of four boys, I had loving parents who are still married today. My father, who was a Marine Corps officer and Vietnam Veteran, was tough but a great role model. My mother took great care of us boys and she was our superhero. We grew up in the pre-home-video game era, so we spent most of our time outside, playing sports, riding bikes, chasing girls and getting into normal boyhood trouble complete with skinned knees and elbows, broken bones and hearts.
2. What values were stressed at home?
With my father being a Marine, and having four boys within six years of one another, discipline, hard work and personal responsibility were paramount in the Bishop household. A strong work ethic was instilled in all of us, so all of the Bishop Boys worked as soon as we were big enough to rake leaves, shovel snow, or cut grass. Our family also pretty much had a newspaper delivery dynasty in the neighborhood for several years. All of us delivered papers until we were old enough to have a regular job, and that was back in the days when newspapers were delivered two times a day. Once old enough, we all had after school jobs washing dishes, busing tables, working in fast food, or whatever we could do to make money legally.
We all went to private Catholic high schools and we were expected to pay half of our tuition for the first three years; our parents covered all of it in our senior year. At the time it was tough. My friend's parents were giving them money for their hobbies and entertainment while I had to work to pay for the things I wanted or wanted to do. My Mom would slide us a couple bucks if she knew we were tight on cash, but for the most part if I wanted to go to the arcade and play video games, those were my quarters going in the machine. I bought my first car at 15 before I even had a driver's license. It was a lot of work for a kid, but in the end, my parent's lessons paid off. All of my brothers currently work for themselves in one capacity or another.
3. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?
I wasn't the best student in high school. I had to go to summer school my freshman year, and I think I only had two A's in my four years…one in Physics and one in Film Appreciation. Don't ask me to explain that. In my junior year I was cast as an actor in a local educational video on teen suicide. The director allowed me to tag along throughout the production and post-production process. That was my first taste of video production and I really loved it. My senior year, in the film appreciation class, I made a Super-8 movie as the final project, and that's when I really fell in love with film and video production. I loved the process and everything about it. I knew I needed to go to film school.
Now, there were no film schools in Louisville, so I attended a couple regional colleges for a couple of years, but it wasn't really doing anything for me. I desperately wanted to go to film school. Then one day I saw an Army commercial promoting the GI Bill and the Army College Fund which just so happened to be the amount of money I needed. I went to see a recruiter; told him I wanted the college money and if I was going to join the Army, I also wanted to paint my face green and run through the woods with a gun. I signed up for the infantry and I shipped off to Basic Training February 27, 1989. While at Fort Benning, I was offered the opportunity to apply for Army OCS (Officer Candidate School). I was accepted and made it through OCS. I was commissioned a year and a day after I arrived at Basic Training and spent the first half of my career as an Army Signal Officer serving in Korea, Fort Campbell and Germany. I wasn't really thrilled with being a Signal Officer.
While at Fort Campbell I met, fell in love and married my amazing wife, and then the Army let me finish my degree through their Degree Completion Program. I got my bachelor's degree from Austin Peay State University, which is right outside of Fort Campbell. I studied public relations there and did a summer internship in an advertising firm. At this point the film school dreams began to dwindle, but I enjoyed advertising because it was still very creative. So while still serving I took the GMAT, applied for MBA programs, all with the intention of getting out of the Army and going to work in advertising.
I still owed the Army a few years because of the time they gave me to finish my degree, so fast forward a couple of years, in the mid-90's, I was stationed in Germany and deployed to Bosnia. One day I stumbled on an article in the Stars and Stripes, about Army Advertising, that changed my life. I learned that I could do advertising IN the Army. I loved being a Soldier, I just didn't like the Signal Corps. I learned I needed to become a public affairs officer to get that job, so after my company command time in the Signal Corps, I transitioned over to Army Public Affairs, and my first job in that career field was with Army Recruiting Command's Advertising Directorate at Fort Knox.
While stationed at Fort Knox I was accepted into the Army's Advanced Civil Schooling program and I went to USC (University of Southern California) where I got my MA in Strategic Public Relations. While there, I learned about this awesome job in LA where a Public Affairs Officer served as the Army's liaison to the entertainment industry. I really wanted THAT job one day.
While at USC, OIF and OEF started, so after graduating I was assigned to Fort Campbell and deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from '05-'06. I was one of the first brigade combat team PAOs during the Army's "Transformation" period. I had a great team, an important mission, and was part of one of the best divisions in the Army. It was a tough but rewarding year.
After Iraq I was assigned as the Deputy PAO for the Headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in downtown DC. After serving there for a couple of years it was again time for a reassignment. I learned an important lesson from a senior officer once and it was to not just accept any assignment the Army offers you. If you want something, you have to fight for it. I fought very hard to get the PAO job in Hollywood. My branch manager told me that the entertainment office position was open, but he would not fill the slot because the Chief of Public Affairs (2-star general) believed it didn't need to be filled. I told my branch manager that that position was one of the most important public affairs jobs in the Army, but he assured me the general had made his decision, and it was "final." I told him that I was going to write a white paper on why it was such a critical position and why I was the right guy for it…I asked him to promise me that he'd read it. He did, and he agreed, but now had to go change the mind of a 2-star general to put me into that position.The general called me into his office a couple weeks later, told me my white paper made sense and he thanked me for keeping him from making a mistake. I admired him for his humility. He told me to pack my bags, you're going to Hollywood. A few months later, I was on the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and I thought to myself, "Holy shit, the Army got me to Hollywood." It was a surreal experience. I retired from the Army about 10-years ago and have been working in the entertainment industry ever since.
Bishop with his Drill Sergeant on Basic Training graduation day.
4. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
I am most proud of just being a soldier and serving. I am proud to represent our country. I'm proud that I began my Army career as a Private First Class with no degree and finished as a Lieutenant Colonel with a master's degree. My proudest achievement in service was the year I spent in Iraq where I like to say we fought the information war. Serving as a PAO doing media relations with major news agencies was interesting but working with the Iraqi people to set up their own newspapers and media outlets was the most rewarding. I helped Iraqi citizens run their own businesses, instructing them on how to create a revenue model for their newspapers, radio and TV stations. I also helped my two interpreters create a market research company that helped the local government, the U.S. Army and the U.S. State Department understand the concerns and opinions of local Iraqi citizens. We advised the police, fire and government public affairs of what it means to tell their citizens the truth. We were there for the first election in Iraq and I got to be a small part of it. It was an incredible experience.
Bishop (top left) deployed in Bosnia.
5. What values have you carried over from the Army into Hollywood?
The military and entertainment business are very similar. I told Michael Bay once that, "you shoot film and we (the Army) shoot bullets, everything else is the same." People in entertainment might be shocked to hear this, but both industries require teamwork, leadership, planning, and even OPSEC. You deal with fiefdoms, budgets and timelines. Hard work and discipline are key. Understanding the commander's intent, or the director's vision, it's the same. Neither culture suffers fools for very long. Both are meritocracies for the most part. I think it's more so in the military than in Hollywood, and Hollywood is more nepotistic that the military, even though that exists in both worlds. But if you're good at what you do, you'll succeed. I knew the Army trained me to be a producer, I just needed to learn the entertainment industry language.
6. What project did you most enjoy doing while working in Hollywood?
I worked in Hollywood as a soldier and as a civilian. As a soldier, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the most fun. It was a Michael Bay movie, so we blew things up and we fired thousands of rounds on set. We had nearly everything in the Army inventory in that movie. There were so many explosions. We shot live rounds from Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles on set. The set caught on fire a couple times. Everybody was out there putting the fire out. Even Michael Bay had a hose in his hand putting out the fire. Every day was just a blast.
As a civilian, it has to be producing my first movie Ktown Cowboys with my business partner Brian Chung. We took it from script all the way to distribution. It premiered at SWSX (South-by-Southwest) in 2015 and it was a nerve-racking experience having so many strangers watching our film. But there's nothing more rewarding than watching an audience laugh and enjoy a film that your team made. Finishing a movie is very tough. Making a bad movie is hard, making a great film is almost impossible. The military trained us to face challenges and solve difficult situations. That's true in a military operation and it's true in the film business.
The film that Greg produced. Photo credit IMDB.com
7. What was it like transitioning to Hollywood?
Even though I had worked in the Entertainment industry for the Army it was harder than you may think. The industry doesn't have the time to help anybody else achieve their dreams unless it's a family member. Most people stop returning my phone calls once I no longer "had the keys" to Army helicopters, troops, vehicles, locations, etc.
I knew some people at Electronic Arts who worked on the Battlefield franchise. Working with them was one of our first gigs. One of the early challenges we had was knowing how much to charge for our services. As a Soldier, you work as long as it takes to accomplish the mission and your pay is the same regardless of outside circumstances. There's really no relationship between pay and time in the military. I remember in one of our early phone calls with EA one of the producers asked us how much we charge for our services. At the time we had no idea what our time and expertise was worth. We threw out a number and the EA guys laughed at us. They literally said, "We can pay you more than that!" Lesson learned.
We probably wasted a lot of money and time starting a business immediately after retirement because we were career military guys and not trained businessmen. We made some mistakes, learned a lot, but we've been doing this for more than 10-years now.
One other similarity between Hollywood and the military is both cultures tend to slap labels on people. In the military we literally wear those labels on our uniform. That's one of the things that always bothered me about the military culture. Promotions and career paths tend to be very rigid and bureaucratic. In the civilian world there are 25-year old CEOs and they're judged on performance of their leadership and the company. There aren't any 25-year-old generals. The entertainment industry is similar though because if you're a consultant, in their mind you'll always be a consultant. It's tough to use that role as a stepping stone into something bigger like acting, or directing, or producing.
Our consulting company was essentially our film school. It helped us learn the language of the industry. In 2012 we created our production company, and while our consulting company is still operating and growing, our production company is our primary focus these days.
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra released in 2009. Photo credit IMDB.com.
8. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
I have a few leadership lessons.
- For big challenges, eat the elephant one bite at a time. Don't let the scope of the challenge intimidate you. Take it on incrementally.
- You have to do the work. A lot of young people think accomplishing something is as easy as Googling it. It isn't. You have to do the work, and oftentimes the work is more difficult than you imagine.
- Don't take "no" for an answer. Write the white paper telling the two-star general he is making a mistake.
- Teamwork. It's critical that you come together to achieve a common mission or objective. You won't do it alone.
For those getting out of the military soon, I recommend that you find and do something you're passionate about. Do something that excites you. Do something that will make you look at weekends as a distraction and look forward to Monday mornings. Whatever you are passionate about and love doing, find a way to do it and make money from it. If it doesn't work, you can always get a government job or contracting job or whatever job other retired military people do.
9. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
In 1927 the first Academy Award for Best Picture went to the Army for a movie called Wings. The military has been part of Hollywood ever since and military stories have always been a part of the DNA of filmmaking and storytelling in Hollywood. For decades Hollywood was patriotic and told mostly pro-American stories portraying our troops against foreign enemies. Yes, it was probably borderline propaganda, but it was a unifying effort from people who loved their country. After the Vietnam War, and even more so after 9/11, most films and television programs about our troops were about fighting their own government, their chain of command or themselves. The politics in the industry shifted along with the way Hollywood portrayed our military. Hollywood struggles with telling authentic stories about our military. It seems we're mostly portrayed as superheroes or broken mental patients. To answer your question, the only way we can change Hollywood is to do it ourselves. That is the only way it is going to get done authentically. We need to work to become the writers, or producers, or financiers to fund our own content. It's easier to do that today than it's ever been, but it's still extremely difficult.
A scene from Wings in 1927 that won the first Oscar for Best Picture. Photo credit Paramount Studios.
10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Personally, I am most proud of my marriage to my wife of 25 years. She is my life's purpose. Career wise, building three businesses with my business partner Brian Chung. But I am not done yet, so we will see what comes next.