Disney executive and BYU alumnus brings Disney back to Provo


The creative contributor for the movies “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Miracle” and “Tron” shared his life experiences and exclusive film footage at the Humanities Honored Alumni Lecture on Thursday.

Brigham Taylor explains how he went from being a BYU student to a Disney Executive. Photo by Samantha Williams

Brigham Taylor, executive vice president of creative development and production at Walt Disney Co., is a 1992 BYU humanities graduate with an emphasis in film. His work at Disney has also included work on “Remember the Titans,” “The Rookie,” “Tron,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” However, 28 years ago, Taylor was in the same spot many BYU students are in today.

“I began here in 1985 as a lost and wayward freshman,” Taylor said. “I had no idea what my major would be. There were times where I barely made it. I just felt so unfocused.”

With the advice of his roommate, Taylor asked permission from the dean of the Humanities College to be a humanities major with an emphasis in film — a rare combination. Taylor believed this balanced his education in a way that being a regular film major couldn’t have done.

“The reason that combination worked so well for me was they both funneled back to storytelling,” Taylor said. “The study of history, culture and artwork are all formats of storytelling, and film is the modern form of storytelling. So that’s why it worked so well for me.”

After working every entry-level job he could, Taylor moved to California and eventually became an assistant to an executive at Disney. After five years, he worked his way up to an executive position.

“When I was first hired at Disney, I didn’t think I would stay,” Taylor said. “But over time, I got more involved with the storytelling aspect … and then all of a sudden, the light bulb came on and I realized that this could be my career.”

Taylor showed several clips from “Million Dollar Arm,” a movie about a sports agent who brings two cricket-playing Indian kids to America to play baseball, scheduled to be released in 2014. He explained that in the writing, shooting and re-writing process, there are a million ways for a movie to go wrong.

“With movies you have to get what you can. And then you bring all that back and you see something that is a completely re-written version of what you thought you were going to get. But you just have to go with it.”

Taylor explained that this was what happened with Johnny Depp in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Disney hired Depp to play the role of Captain Jack Sparrow but realized that he didn’t look (after having hair and makeup done) or speak the way they had anticipated. Actors can make choices that take the studio by surprise, but at the end of the day nothing was altered.

Taylor said his favorite part of his job is storytelling. He loves to communicate with an audience by invoking emotions such as laughing, crying, getting people to think or inspiring them.

“A lot goes wrong with movie making … but every now and then, things will go right,” Taylor said. “And when they do, they add something very meaningful to culture. And all that goes back to what we’ve learned in these classrooms, and that is really thrilling.”

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