Awards Daily talks to Industry creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay about adapting their real-life banking backgrounds to TV and taking critical feedback into consideration for Season 2.
HBO’s Industry is probably the smartest show on TV. While films like The Big Short showcase Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain sophisticated banking concepts, show creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay do no such thing.
“It was really important to us that the show was a realistic depiction of that world,” said Down, before critiquing himself. “I think we could have done a little bit more to bring the audience along with us. As much as the show is enjoyable, I think it would be more enjoyable if we had slightly more intelligible banking storylines.”
“We’re our own worst critics,” echoed Kay. “When we look back at Season 1, there’s a lot of character stuff we’re really proud of, we’re really proud of the performances. But as Mickey says, we’re trying to do a better job of giving the audience more to hang on to episode to episode.”
Given the context of the show, where graduates are so tough on themselves that they sleep (and die) at the office, this self-flagellation from the Industry team feels all too appropriate. And yet, in spite of their self-critiquing, Industry manages to completely spin the banking narrative on its head through its fresh storytelling and lens.
“The thing that broke open the idea for the show for us was to see this world through the unique vantage point of young people who may not be white or may not be male, and have the least power in these institutions,” said Down. “The reality of these places is that they are quite international, they are quite diverse, believe it or not. There are a lot of women in them. You’d never believe that if you watched shows or films that were in this world before.”
And rather than use women as a prop to hock banking concepts, they highlight them as messy, real human beings.
“With Harper [Myha’la Herrold] and Yasmin [Marisa Abela], we wanted to write them in the same multi-faceted way that men get written in corporate dramas,” said Kay. “Contradictory, having the same appetites for sex and drugs that you usually see in white-male leads, differing attitudes to their own ambition and how cutthroat they can be. Basically write them without the tropes you would associate with female lead characters, especially young ones.”
In the Trenches In Subtitles
Industry is not kidding around with its first episode (directed by Lena Dunham). In the pilot, a character dies at work. Given that Down and Kay have backgrounds in the banking world, how much of the show is pulled from real life?
“A lot of the stuff is either stuff that happened to me and Konrad,” said Down, “or stuff that we heard about when we were there or stuff that happened to our peers. Hari dying in Episode 1 is a take on something that is all too common in that world, which is graduates working very very hard because of the pressures of the environment or having mental difficulties.”
Season 1 culminates in RIF Day—or when the graduates either get hired or fired (Reduction in Force)—and Kay said sometimes grads do have to plea their case to stay to an audience of their peers.
“When I was working with Morgan Stanley, they had this intern class. It wasn’t a RIF Day speech, but it was more like an end-of-year presentation which was actually broadcast to the trading floor. It feels made-up, but it’s actually something that happened in real life.”
And for audiences that feel on edge from the buzz of the trading floor, especially with that incessant drone in Episode 4’s “Sesh,” that’s all deliberate, as Down and Kay directed the soundscape of the environment to feel as realistic as possible, putting it in the actual script.
“When Harper stands up in Episode 1,” said Down, “I think it says, ‘She’s standing up in a trench.’ It’s an overpowering environment, especially if you’re that age and have no experience. Versions of this on TV are either really over-the-top, where people are shouting at each other, or they’re really quiet with no background noise. People are on the phones all day in those places.”
And if you listen closely, you can catch some interesting conversations going on. In fact, Down and Kay also wrote a secondary script for those side conversations you hear, which the actors recorded in ADR.
“We wanted even more of it,” said Kay. “But HBO was like, guys, no one can hear your dialogue. I think at some point, I was like, just watch subtitles! And they were like, ‘We can’t tell our millions of viewers to watch subtitles of a TV show.'”
Everyone is Expendable
Some shows have trouble saying goodbye to characters, bringing them back when their storyline has effectively concluded. Like any good writer, Down and Kay have no trouble killing their darlings, as the last we see of Greg (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) in Episode 6 is his desk being cleared out, after he was on drugs at the Pierpoint holiday party.
“You write a character on the page,” said Down, “you write their arc, and something bad happens to them, where you assume they’re not going to come back. And then you’re like, God, I wish I hadn’t done that, because we really enjoyed that role.”
“It’s a double-edged thing,” said Kay. “When you cast someone as brilliant as Hari [Nabhaan Rizwan], it almost feels like more of a punch in the gut when he dies, from a TV trickery point of view. Almost it feels quite smart to cast someone like him and get rid of him. But it was always an intention for us to tell that story in the pilot and show all of the graduates around them doubling down and how quickly the banks had moved on was a really important part of storytelling to us.”
Being in the HBO stable, Down and Kay are following the Game of Thrones model: Make the audience fall in love with somebody and then get rid of them.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.