Chris Gary, the former HBO producer who oversaw Game of the Thrones and the upcoming The Young Pope, began his talk at Bowdoin Monday night by looking out at the audience and asking, “What do you want to talk about?” In response to cries such as, “How do I get a job?” Gary discussed his circuitous career path and what it takes to make it in the film industry.
Gary was candid about the competitive nature of the job market. “No one’s going to give you a job. You’re going to have to take a job,” he said. To Gary, this means two things: being willing to beat out another person for the position you want and knowing what makes you unique, or what you can offer.
Cold-calling a member of the audience, Gary asked: “What do you Google?” Things you’re curious about, Gary explained, turn into hobbies. Hobbies, then, can set the foundations for a meaningful career.
Though Gary began his own career in finance, he didn’t find it satisfying. “The longer I stayed in it,” he said, “the less I liked myself. I was helping wealthy people get wealthier.”
So, he took one of his interests—film—and made it his hobby. A film executive friend of his started sending him screenplays every weekend. Gary responded with his impressions, citing film theory and detailing what worked and what didn’t. “Because I was youthful like yourselves,” he said, “I thought that everything he sent me—like when you’re in school—he wanted my response to it.”
Soon, something exciting happened. “Things that we were flagging early on became real movies in real time and I was watching it happen,” Gary said. A couple of years later, the producer called Gary and suggested that he come work for him, for free. “Bet on yourself!” he told Gary. The next day, Gary quit his finance job.
He admits now that this decision was rash. But, because he had prepared and knew the currency of the business, it worked out. “I had already been reading [screenplays] for years,” Gary said. “I had done notecards on every agency in Hollywood. I knew who every partner was, every literary agent. I knew who their top clients were and who their favorite clients were.” Not knowing this information, Gary warned the audience, would be akin to “wanting to be an astronaut without knowing what NASA is.”
Despite his success, Gary is still acutely aware of how hard he needs to work. “For every good movie, you have three years of relevancy,” he said. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Bowdoin Career Planning and Bowdoin’s Cinema Studies department sponsored Gary’s visit to campus. Before his talk, he had dinner with a small group of students.