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Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

BC Alum Gretchen Libby Discusses the Nonlinear Path to Success in the Film Industry

Yesterday's downpour―characteristic of April―couldn’t keep students from attending BC Film Club's event “Hollywood Eagles” featuring Boston College alumnus Gretchen Libby. Libby was invited to speak about her career experience in the entertainment industry and her career trajectory post-BC. 

Libby’s charismatic humor and down-to-earth attitude was apparent from the beginning of her talk, speaking to the BC crowd as if she had never left.

Having graduated from Boston College in 1990 with a B.A. in communication and film studies, Libby experienced all the woes and pros of BC student life. From enduring the freshman struggles of Newton to living the mod life senior year, her favorite memories at BC were times spent with her roommates (one of whom accompanied her to the talk).

Libby is currently the Executive in Charge of the Global Studio at the powerhouse visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Since she is responsible for handling client relations, negotiations, bidding efforts, and marketing from a global perspective, Libby has worked with high-profile directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Alejandro Iñárritu (just to name a few).

There was no formal path that led Libby to her current position. In fact, her first few jobs had nothing to do with the entertainment industry; however, they did give her the initial experience of working in a professional environment. “Be proactive and energetic,” she advised, reminding students to make genuine connections and to be interested in others.

After working various jobs and positions unrelated to the film industry (yet beneficial to her career growth), Libby was finally able to pursue her passion as a production coordinator at Aoki Studio, a visual effects company, where she spent her days fetching materials for the model makers, going to client meetings, and filling out paperwork. It wasn’t until Image Design hired Aoki to build a miniature forest for a film that Libby joined its post-production team on visual effects.

She worked on her first feature film, Judge Dredd, at Image Design before later moving out to California to work at a different company. She eventually ended up working at Industrial Light & Magic, where she started out as a production manager and produced 300 shots for the Star Wars: Special Edition theatrical re-releases. She is currently approaching her twentieth year at ILM and has contributed to well-known films such as Harry Potter, Mission Impossible, The Revenant and, most recently, Kong: Skull Island.

Libby stressed the importance of diversity in the workforce and the impact of bringing different creative perspectives and experiences to the table by citing experiences through which she has learned from her associates in the workplace. 

Collaboration has been an integral part of Libby’s career, whether it was communicating with international clients or working with the visual effects artists. Learning relationship-building and communication skills at her former jobs have helped prepare her for the intercultural negotiations she currently leads. ILM has taken a global approach and has expanded beyond San Francisco to China, Vancouver, and London.

Libby recalled one of her most groundbreaking moments in visual effects from working with computer-generated imagery (CGI) on The Perfect Storm, which earned the film a nomination for an Academy Award in Best Visual Effects.

From meeting acclaimed directors to negotiating with international clientele, Libby has encountered both challenge and reward in the film industry. According to Libby, although the stress of tight deadlines and pressure to successfully bid on new projects can be energy-draining, the opportunity to work with other creative and driven minds makes the job worth it.

Throughout her career path, Libby has learned that honesty and authenticity are paramount qualities not only in life, but in the workplace as well. Hard work and talent are, of course, important, but it is one’s genuine character that will surpass other people’s expectations.

“Integrity is everything. You’re only as good as your word,” Libby concluded with one final piece of advice.