Bryan Smiley ’09 recalls the Hollywood path that led him to feature film development at Columbia Pictures—one that began at Columbia College Chicago.
Bryan Smiley ’09 constantly moves behind the scenes in Hollywood. From working as an assistant liaison between automotive companies and the film and television industries, to co-founding an Esports gaming platform for high schoolers and college students, to becoming a manager of home entertainment at New Regency Productions, all the way to his current position at Columbia Pictures in feature film development, Smiley’s entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance help keep the Tinseltown pieces moving.
What was your Columbia experience like?
I was making mini-documentaries and movies when I was in high school, so by my junior year I was really determined to go to film school, and I was going to go be either be a film director or producer—I wanted to create a career in the film space. So I looked a variety of schools, and Columbia was exceptionally attractive because they allowed you to start shooting year one. My grandmother lived in the suburbs [of Chicago] so I was pretty familiar with the city, and coming from Detroit, I felt like Columbia was like a place where I could be fully immersed into the craft right away.
What was your journey like to get to this point in your career?
When I left Columbia [College Chicago] I made great relationships with some of our speakers who came to the classes and I actually got my first job in Hollywood through some of those connections. That’s pretty typical. And then through freelancing, I met people who knew of job openings. I got a job at New Regency [Productions] because of someone I met at Columbia or someone I met through the process. One thing I knew was that most of these jobs were stepping stones, and if you find the right path, you can navigate towards where you really want to be. Even when I was doing odd jobs, I would still produce short films on the side with friends on the weekends and at night.
What kind of work do you do today?
Now I’m at Columbia and Sony Pictures doing feature film development, so that is very much the traditional job of finding movies to make: talking to writers, directors, and producers; finding great books, articles, and scripts to develop with the goal of getting these projects to the big screen. That’s the majority of my job.
I still do some deal stuff too. For example, I recently brought Steph Curry the basketball player into Sony, because we thought his brand was very exciting and that he could leverage the brand that he has created to make content in the film and TV space. That’s a deal I shepherded from day one and now his offices are based here in the Sony lot [in Culver City, CA].
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur in 2018?
I think curiosity is the number one thing. I am exceptionally curious. For example, I am not a video game player, but I was fascinated by this notion that there were people who were considered professionals, and made a living doing so. That’s how I got involved in Esports. And with the other things I do, curiosity has to be a part of that. It’s what I do with film. Each film has to be a completely different world; you know, you have to be very curious about what that world is and what kind of story you are trying to tell.