5 Screenwriting Takeaways: HBO's 'Industry'
November 30, 2020
Capitalism is not a dirty word in HBO’s Industry. In fact, for most of the characters, it’s a catalyst — for everything. But this is not Leonardo DiCaprio’s world of capitalist excess à la Wolf of Wall Street, or mystery and intrigue like the big-haired mobsters in American Hustle. No, this is a world of young, money-hungry underdogs who flirt in big-windowed gyms, club bathrooms, and expensive walk-up tiny London apartments. This is the world of first-time creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay (a former banker himself) about one of London’s biggest investment banks, where the young trainee population is cut in half based on who senior bankers think can succeed in the fast-paced world where social capital is often just as important as wealth. With the stakes high, and often getting higher, these writers have created an intriguing and very HBO-branded world.
Here are five takeaways from HBO’s Industry for every screenwriter to take to heart..
1. An Underdog Ensemble.
Most shows about money and the stock market are populated with white guys in very similar suits drinking whiskey and sometimes smoking cigars when they fall into the money. Industry does not look like this — and that’s a good thing. Protagonist Harper Stern (played by Myha’la Herrold) is attempting to blend in while surrounded by money, while it’s clear she has very little. An old flame even has to fake Harper's college transcripts for her when the company asks for them. But Harper is not ashamed to want what she wants, citing an essay she wrote on the merits of capitalism in her job interview. Then there’s Hari Dhar (played by Nabhaan Rizwan). Hari is an enterprising immigrant spending nights in the bathroom so he can be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Not to mention Gus (played by David Jonsson) who is dating a “straight” co-worker on the down low, and Yasmin (played by Marisa Abela), who is just barely finding her voice to stand up to co-workers — and her mother. These people are a scrappy, multinational crew you can root for — mainly because none of them have made it — at least, not yet. But if the show gets more than one season, you can bank on the fact that they will.
2. Individual Demons.
The ensemble in this group is also somewhat haunted by demons. Everyone has something to hide that they’d likely garner shit for at Pierpoint (their simultaneously beloved and feared company). Harper is hiding where she came from. Gus is hiding who he’s in love with. Yasmin is hiding her desire for power. Robert is hiding his unending taste for sex, drugs and lust. And that’s just the trainees. Senior staff have plenty to hide. If you need to amp up tension, drama and streaming numbers, pile as many skeletons in the closet as you can get.
3. That Scintillating HBO Sex.
For better or worse, HBO has long made a name for themselves by embracing the steamy side of content. That said, there’s a way to do it well, and almost a specific brand of skin on screen when it comes to the long-time box office network. To the network’s credit, they were one of the first to adopt intimacy coordinators for every show. They’ve also been groundbreaking when it comes to presenting female desire with no judgement (Sex in the City, anyone?), and Industry is no exception. Multiple episodes are dedicated to Yasmin’s lust and some long, drawn out gym scenes that are just as hot as skin-to-skin contact in the bedroom. That’s not to say there isn’t graphic sex as well. One might flash back to club bathrooms (back in the days when we had clubs) after a certain sex scene in a bathroom stall. While how to write an HBO sex scene most certainly needs its own "5 Takeaways", a few good reminders are to make sure they are not one-sided (give both characters agency), remind yourself what your characters might say, and choose your action words carefully.
4. The Idea of Equality.
If money is a great equalizer, then one would assume every character who enters the world of Pierpoint has a fair shot. In all actuality at the start of this series, that feels true (and oh-so-rare in both the real world and in fiction). Harper even states she’s taking the job because she loves the idea of succeeding on your own merit. While playing the market with people’s money is always a gamble, there is of course strategy, finesse and social protocols to get deals done and pop bottles afterwards. While Pierpoint may care significantly less about their employees than they do about money, at least it seems they care for them less on an equal playing field.
5. The Idea of Place As A Character.
The writers and filmmakers have done an excellent job of creating Pierpoint as a world unto itself. They use wall-to-wall music to lull viewers into an alternate universe of blinking phones, too many monitors, high ceilings, killer views, and too much wine (with a hefty side of cocaine). This world is of the real world, but also some place entirely different for the average human. The writers give viewers a sense that you are indeed stepping into an elite place, and too many missteps and you will be quickly disinvited. The watch is a little unsettling. It gets you a little high on light, pretty flashing lights and temptation. And that seems to be exactly the point.
Final Takeaways: Industry has many viewer-luring HBO tropes on display — the sex, drugs and money are certainly there — but there are also characters that offer surprises around every turn. Not to mention it’s hard not to root for their souls versus their bank accounts, and both constantly feel on the line. Industry might not fully break the mold for a show about the love of money, but at least it took a crack, and the show is young, so there’s still time. And that, like the floor of Pierpoint, is exciting.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/