Mickey Down and Konrad Kay burst on the scene in 2014 with their black comedy Gregor, snagging a British BAFTA nomination for their first feature film. This year the duo tapped into their past lives in the finance world for the HBO series Industry, focusing on a diverse group of young investment bankers in London. While the show is steeped in finance, don’t expect any long insider-trading arcs, a la Billions. The pair spoke about the show, which premieres Nov. 9, with Multichannel News senior content producer – finance Mike Farrell. An edited transcript follows.
Investment banking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of series topics. What drew you to this?
Mickey Down: It sounds like a cliché, but we’d always call this show a ‘people show’ more than a ‘finance show.’ The starting points were always the characters rather than some overarching plot about insider trading, or banks failing or any similar, well-trodden territory. We were always more interested in the micro-politics and relationship dynamics in places like these and what they looked like through what we feel is a unique vantage point — their youngest and least powerful people.
Konrad Kay: One of the more prominent themes of the show is the role mentors play during the formative stages of a career. These are incredibly hierarchical institutions which pretend not to be by flattening the playing field — managing directors sat next to baby-faced graduates — but in truth, somebody’s always watching and assessing you. … We wanted to crack open the black box of high finance — much talked about, little understood — and give the viewer a peek inside, taking them on a roller coaster through the highs and lows of a graduate’s first year on the floor.
What’s your favorite all-time TV show?
KK: The Sopranos/Mad Men (depending on mood)
MD: The Sopranos/Chappelle's Show (depending on mood)
What books are on your nightstand?
KK: A Thousand Moons, Sebastian Barry; Something Happened, Joseph Heller
MD: All That Man Is, David Szalay; The Struggle for Mastery, David Carpenter
Favorite recent meal
KK: The Canton Arms, pub in London
MD: The roast pork my mum made last night.
Destinations on your bucket list?
What’s on your DVR/in your queue?
KK: New season of Fargo, more NXIVM content
MD: The Real Housewives of New York
Did you watch and/or read a lot of finance-themed shows/movies/books while you were writing this?
MD: We didn’t purposefully steer clear of all other ‘finance-themed’ art while writing this, mostly because we’ve probably already seen and read all the classic stuff. In fact, a lot of it was (and remains) the reason many people go into finance in the first place. The literature, film, television, whether it’s trying to do this or not, remains a recruitment tool for these institutions.
Why set this in London and not New York? Is it because of all the potential LIBOR jokes?
MD: Haha! We’ve both worked and lived in London our entire lives and the show speaks to our experiences both professionally and personally. We always try to write from a place of authenticity so it just made more sense to set it in the space we have firsthand knowledge of.
In the trailer, Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold) says the reason she’s there is because it’s ‘the closest thing to a meritocracy there is.’
MD: We were interested in the idea of meritocracy and what constitutes a true meritocracy, or whether that concept even truly exists. A crucial idea that these places sell on entry to their young recruits is that they are meritocracies, blind to socioeconomic background, gender, race, class. We wanted to try and unpick this idea and what it means in 2020.
KK: While there have been steps taken to open the doors to transparency and end the cult-like opaqueness of these places, the underlying methodology of evaluating people by productivity or P&L and compensating them accordingly hasn’t really changed. The insecurities of people who measure their status and worth by what their boss hands them in an envelope in February still very much exists.
Lena Dunham directs the pilot. You both said you were fans and were going for a bit of a Girls vibe with your feature film Gregor. Is that what you were hoping she would bring to Industry?
MD: That’s good detective work! We were huge fans of Girls. The show had been out a few seasons when Konrad and I started writing together and we were blown away by it — by its frankness, humanity, humor, naturalism, its deeply flawed but deeply human characters in their twenties. It achieved things on TV we didn’t think were possible until then. These are all things we wanted to emulate with Industry. λ
Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.
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