Kieran Breen might have a glamorous job in Hollywood – but he says his best friends are still the ones he met 30 years ago living in halls at the University of Hull.
And Twentieth Century Fox’s President of International Theatrical Marketing recently took time out from his Los Angeles lifestyle to return to his old haunts in Hull and talk to today’s undergraduates.
Breen, speaking as part of the Inspired in Hull alumni lecture series, admitted that he had found his BSc Economics degree “very challenging” but had got through it with the support of his lecturers.
And he had loved his time in Hull. He enjoyed a full grant, The Housemartins were riding high in the charts and all day drinking had just been made legal.
His closest friends are still the people he met at Wynyates, his halls in Cottingham, in the late 1980s. The difficult bit came when he had to decide what to do next after graduating in 1990.
Breen said: “In the first instance, I went after lots of jobs that really used my economics knowledge. I had interviews with number crunchers, Metal Bulletin, even CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), because I liked the idea of combining my degree and my love of beer.”
But as the weeks stretched into months with still no job on the horizon, he realised he had to change tack. He started to think about his passions in life.
“I just used to consume huge amounts of movies, but I didn’t ever think it would be anything more than a hobby,” he said.
“I started to think about what I really loved in life. I knew I didn’t want to be an actor or a director, so I started to think about the industry behind movies.”
Breen remembers travelling across London to read film industry trade magazines cover to cover in libraries and then sending out handwritten letters to the movie execs he read about.
“They were a mixture of flattery and an appeal for 10 minutes of their time. I worked out it wasn’t worth asking for a job – they weren’t willing to have that conversation with me – but they were willing to spend 10 minutes with me. I asked lots of questions; it was like a jigsaw puzzle which slowly started to assemble.”
After six months, Breen thought he had cracked it when he was offered a job on a real movie, working as a trainee publicist on Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr.
But, cruelly, that dream proved short-lived as the making of the film was moved to Budapest to save money and Breen wasn’t part of the deal.
But he didn’t give up. On a visit to the Camden offices of Manifesto, an arm of Working Title Films, he could see they were run off their feet and offered to work for free.
Breen was taken on as a runner, and after six months he managed to guilt-trip the company into paying him.
He worked hard and rose to marketing director at PolyGram Films Entertainment where he worked on top films such as Reservoir Dogs, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Fargo, Trainspotting and The Green Mile.
Breen lost that job when PolyGram was taken over by Universal but bounced back by landing a job running marketing for Twentieth Century Fox UK, where he guided campaigns for more than 60 films, including X-Men, The Devil Wears Prada and the Star Wars prequels.
In 2006, he was asked by Twentieth Century Fox to run the company’s international marketing in LA, so he packed his bags and moved to California. Recent hits he has worked on include Deadpool, The Martian and The Revenant, and last year he was elected Chairman of the 2015 Board of BAFTA LA.
He was asked during his lecture at the University of Hull if he ever received flattering letters like the ones that he had sent out back when he was looking for his big break in the industry.
“None,” he replied, before conceding it would be “very interesting” if he did. It’s nice to think that if someone did write to Kieran Breen, President of International Theatrical Marketing, Twentieth Century Fox, he might just find that ten minutes to talk.
“I just used to consume huge amounts of movies, but I didn’t ever think it would be anything more than a hobby"
"He worked hard and rose to marketing director at PolyGram Films Entertainment where he worked on top films such as Reservoir Dogs, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Fargo, Trainspotting and The Green Mile."