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Laura Gregory: Love Champagne. Hate Bullies.

31 March 2021

LAURA GREGORY

Founder/CEO
Great Guns

From the first day Laura founded Great Guns, diversity and inclusion has been part of the company’s DNA. The global roster includes directors, photographers, artists and editors from across Asia; India, Korea, China, Thailand, Japan, the Middle East, UK, USA and Europe. The age range of talent is from 19 to 60.
 
Laura has served on multiple juries. She was president of Cannes Lions Film Craft Jury 2016, foreman of D&AD next director and juror D&AD black pencil 2016, One show in 2018, speaker at the LIA Creative LIAsons ‘Journey    to the Jury’ 2017. Her 2019 jury appointments included President of Euro Awards and in 2020 she’s a juror on the Immortals and the Cannes Young Director Awards -YDA Awards. In April 2021 Laura is serving on the D&AD Film jury.
 
When it comes to mentoring, that’s always been a huge part of Laura’s legacy. She has continually helped emerging talent find their way, either through the early days of Young Guns at Great Guns, or though the courses and panels she speaks on with one voice. “If you don’t support young talent you will lose future creative thinkers who will force change and leave you behind”. She was juror on the first USA AICP-CDDP Diversity Awards 2017 and juror on the first Cannes 2017 Vowss, She Says/The Voice of a Woman Award.
 
Laura was a D&AD board trustee and member of The Bigger Bounce committee which to date has raised over £3 million for Breast Cancer Now.
 
She has produced four independent movies and a USA prime-time television drama and is a supporter of #freethework.
 
Laura is a licenced landlady and has her own pub, the Great Guns Social. The pub offers pop-up residencies to exciting young chefs mirroring the spirit of Great Guns.
 

Love Champagne. Hate Bullies.
 

A couple of years ago LIA asked a few of us to talk to some of the women at the Creative LIAisons. It was a breakfast meet and mediated by Rosie Yakob and 3 other unique women, Karen Howe, Merlee Jayme and Susan Credle, who each had an awe-inspiring ‘Journey to the Jury’. Susan Credle, started.  Imagine having to follow Susan - we took orderly turns, and I shared my entry into Film.

I guess it started with my early years as a competitive swimmer, a skinny, muscular girl 14 years old, on a summer holiday in Spain.  I was at the peak of my fitness as a swimmer, I trained 6 hours every day, and had always been in a competitive environment from the age of 7 as an ice-skater, then at age 11, I started swimming.  I was told by a handsome ‘friend’ of the family that I would “look like a brick-built shithouse” when I gave up swimming.  It shocked and scared me into a lifetime of concern about my weight.  His words burned into my head. I never stopped my fitness regime, and probably never will. This comment and others like it, drove me into the career I now find myself. Happy, proud, in control of my destiny, and my body.  I’m loving where I sit.  
 
I always hated bullies, in sport, or at school.  My physical strength and fitness make me captain of netball, lacrosse and the swim team, I also made it my role to help the girls who found their way to me when they were being bullied.  Dealing with the school bullies to help these girls gave me the coping mechanism for my own journey into production.
 
One evening at Julies Wine Bar in Notting Hill, I met the man who became my mentor. His name was Bill Shepherd.  He was a joker, laughing, loud and drinking copious bottles of Champagne. It was summer, I was enjoying my gap year before Uni, looking forward to summer of flopping around Europe and partying.  Hum, that’s a lie, I never liked drugs, flopping and gurning are not my thing, I hate losing control.  Sex and champagne were my joys, it was simple then.  When Bill heard I was in for a dull summer, he invited me to cover his receptionist who was going on sabbatical.  I arrived the following day, 17 years old, with Bogie, my Shih Tzu, under my arm.  Two weeks later, I was taken on my first shoot.  It was a small studio in Soho, where one of his directors was shooting two music videos in a day; The Stranglers ‘Rok it to the Moon’ in the morning and Dr Feelgood ‘Down at the Doctors’ in the afternoon.  Champagne and Rock ‘n Roll. The next day we went to edit at a post house on Brewer Street and I popped into the suite next door where they were editing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I never looked back.  I had never felt so challenged, respected, and excited.
 
About two months into my new job, Bill asked me if I would like to go to the Cannes Lion festival in South of France. He said, “you’re good with people, I want you to come and take some of my clients out”.  It was crazy, in the 80’s it was a small, prominently TV and Film festival, attended, almost exclusively by film companies from the UK and Europe, where producers and directors, mostly men, drove their prized cars across France to Cannes and stayed in the Carlton or Martinez Hotels.  It was about winning Lions and the coveted Palme D’Or, networking and drinking as much Rosé as we could.  There were loads of women in production who attended Cannes, but few owned their own production companies.  The women I met were all strong agency and production company producers; there were no female creatives I remember from London.  They had an air of confidence I’d never seen a woman display before, except my lioness of a mother who was in the theatre in London.  It was exciting; they were tough, fun, outspoken, and fearless.  Perhaps it was the nature of film and production that gave them the qualities they displayed.  Clients were there, side by side with agency and production houses and the talk was about craft and amazing work.  At that moment, my life changed, I never looked back, my gap year became my first year at work.  
 
Fast forward a year or two, and I decided I was ready to have my own company.  20 years old, verbally giving the men as good as I got, I began the search for a director and formulated a plan to start my own company.  I found a director, who had studied at the Royal College of Art, he did experimental work on video.  It was art-house crap, totally unsuited to advertising, but I loved what he did.  I had no money, but I had an older boyfriend, with more money than sense, who, keen to tempt me into marriage and the baby market, had bought me a handful of ridiculous jewellery.  Those jewels and the pink Harley Davidson I’d ridden to my second Cannes Lions Festival were collateral for my first company.  My bank manager, at the Royal Bank of Scotland, gave me a loan against my jewellery collection.  He put it into the bank’s safe deposit, and I sold my bike back to Fred Warr on the Kings Road.  I was set.  
 
A Campaign story from September 1987. Entitled "Film duo’s rise to the challenge", was super personal about our choice of wardrobe.  "More people are familiar with Laura Gregory’s unorthodox taste in clothes than her director’s achievements as a commercial director. At a time when the Cannes Film Festival is going out of fashion, Gregory seems to epitomise everything it represents."  What an opener, it went on to say, as an "unnamed creative" in the article explained: "If you look at the most creative people in town, they tend to wear tweed jackets, jumpers and cords. So naturally there is a suspicion when you see a couple of clowns jumping around. If you’re Ridley Scott, you can come in stark naked wearing frogman’s flippers and you’ll still get the job. But Lunn and Gregory’s best creations seem to be themselves."  
 
Recently I was asked by Campaign how I felt about the piece and told them I couldn’t give a toss about being trolled by this ‘creative’ in his tweed jacket - I was in Campaign. Campaign rarely wrote about production companies, and I was utterly delighted.
 
Fast Forward, Great Guns is 25 years old.  We’ve won almost every award in advertising that matters, produced classic commercials, branded, music videos, feature films and prime time US TV.  My biggest pleasure is to help creative people realise their strength and to represent them in the best way I can. My biggest disappointment for years was the lack of women directors. It’s taken decades to get to where we are now. For the first time female directors and DOPs, Head of Department’s are grouping together and supporting one another.  There’s a tidal wave coming.  We will not be bullied, we’re here to stay.