This October, David Gale came to the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy. Director of Q&A Series Tova Laiter hosted the evening alongside Veteran Coordinator Steven Padilla.
Gale began his illustrious career in entertainment as a lawyer, but wanted to make movies. Without any experience, he had to settle for working at ICM as an Entertainment Lawyer.
For 10 years he held this position until his firm began working with Ridley Scott’s production company. The two liked working together, and Scott offered Gale a job. It was not glamorous work, but Gale kept his nose to the grindstone and, just when he thought it wouldn’t work out, a friend phoned to tell him that Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of “The Terminator” and more recently “The Walking Dead,” was looking for someone to run her company.
“I did that job for the next four years,” Mr. Gale said. “That’s where I really learned to produce movies. Gale is a tough one, but she’s fair and a wonderful person. If you did the work she really respected you.”
Yet Gale still wasn’t doing the kind of work he truly wanted to be doing. Then, in 1995, MTV called. They were looking for someone to run their new feature film division. The first film on the docket was “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.”
Gale remembered, “I loved it so I stayed there, running MTV Films, for 11 years.” His work included such cult classic hits as “Election,” “Varsity Blues” (with Tova Laiter), “Jackass: The Movie,” and “Pootie Tang.”
Laiter wanted to know, what was the philosophy behind MTV Films’ and Gale’s success?
Gale’s response: “When you have a great brand and you’re trying to make movies, or anything really, you can depend on that brand to help you understand and define what it is you want to make.”
Gale did this by keeping the budget low and by hiring great independent voices. “Murderball,” Tupac documentaries, and indie voices helped define a youth-centered brand for the early 2000’s. When he had the idea to buy a manuscript called “Twilight” and the studio passed, “Everyone thought I was crazy,” Gale said. He then decided it was time to move on.
His boss gave him a new division as head of digital at MTV. In 2006, this move put Gale at the forefront of the next wave of media entertainment. Facebook and YouTube were brand new players on the scene. The rules for digital marketing, development, and content had not yet been created.
While MTV ultimately elected not to go full blast into the digital world, they gave Gale the freedom to experiment and learn.
After 18 years at MTV, Gale was looking for something new, only this time he wasn’t sure what the next step would be. So he quit. A few days later, someone sent him a video that led to the creation of We Are The Mighty, a digital media company focused on engaging the United States military community.
“Somebody sent me a music video of a band I’d never heard of,” Gale recalled. “What was cool about it was it was all veterans in the band, and they had 150 million views on YouTube.”
A couple of days later Gale received a documentary about five severely disabled veterans who were doing standup, called “Comedy Warriors.” He had a thought: “The military is a big giant audience and no one is serving it.”
His second thought was, “Whatever I’m doing next I want to be positive in some way. Could I combine my skill set of 30 years and put that to work with a company that could make a difference?”
Over the next year, Gale invested all of his time and energy into learning about the military and the lives of those who serve. What he learned is that one-third of Americans are directly or indirectly related to the military. Gale found that there were some entertainment companies with a military focus, “But without military personnel behind the camera it’s not going to be authentic. The entertainment industry says we have a lot of jobs for veterans — you can work in the mailroom or as an electrician. But we’re missing the creativity.”
“There’s a lot of leadership skills not being put to use,” Gale commented. “The level of maturity, the ability to make decisions and adjust is so much higher than a 30-year-old who has been getting copy and delivering scripts for the past 10 years.”
So Gale co-founded and is now CEO of We Are The Mighty. This organization hires veterans to create content and then helps pitch and launch the content on different platforms. There’s an internship program that turns young creators into professional filmmakers. He’s also partnered with Medal of Honor recipient and Chair of NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program Colonel Jack Jacobs to shoot a documentary about the first 10 weeks of basic training.
NYFA student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Drew Demboske asked, “What was the biggest obstacle you faced when starting your company, besides funding?” Gale suggested: just creating something. Once you’ve begun, you tweak, observe changes in viewer consumption, and keep up with those changes that happen every day.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. David Gale for taking the time to speak with our students. Check out We Are The Mighty online by clicking here.