Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight – Owen Burke (C ’94), TV/Film Producer at Gary Sanchez Productions

Owen Burke (C ’94) produces TV & Film for Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions. Shepherding such shows as “Drunk History” and the upcoming “Robbie,” both on Comedy Central, and most recently, “LA to Vegas” on Fox. He also performs improv comedy weekly at UCB Theatre in Los Angeles.

What was your first “big break”? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?
When I lived in NYC, my downstairs neighbor dragged me to the first long form improv show I ever saw. I didn’t want to go because I thought I knew what improv was, but I was wrong and he knew it. He took me there. I was blown away and I started taking classes at UCB. Life changer. That neighbor is a friend for life.

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part of my job is working with talented people to help nurture their ideas and vision whether it be in script form, cinematic form, or in themselves discovering who they are as performers. I also love writing jokes. Lots of jokes. I love jokes…. The most challenging part of the job is convincing a network or studio that what we’ve created works even if it outside their aesthetic boundaries. Convincing people to go for something different when it is their money on the line is challenging but rewarding when it happens!

What is a current project you are working on that you are excited about?
I am currently producing a show called Drunk History which, on its face, seems silly, but is actually executed with artfulness and honesty. And I learn so much history working on the show! Now in our sixth season, I still go to set everyday, astonished by what we are making; loving every second. I have a few shows and movies in development which are super fun and exciting because no one has said, “no,” to them, yet.

Are there any ways that you feel Georgetown especially prepared you for your career?
Georgetown taught me that it takes hard work to succeed. Nothing was easy at Georgetown, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t rewarding and fun. There was a Professor there named Ray Reno, who believed that the best way to learn Shakespeare was through performance. He was known as “Easy-A Ray” because if you “acted” in the scenes, you would get an “A.” But many were surprised when they didn’t get an A because even though they performed the scene, they did not put in the work that it takes to understand the text. I learned the “A” is easy if you put in the work.

What is your best advice to those who are starting out in your field?
Believe in yourself. Succumb to the grace of your passion and have faith it will only bring you good things. It may take a while (or it might happen quickly) but have faith and work hard and you will find yourself where you belong.

How is the ever-changing media landscape affecting your industry?
It keeps studio/network executives guessing about what is “the right fit” for their platform as no one really knows but I feel as long as we make excellent material, it will find the right home and audiences will like it.

Best Business Advice Received:
“The more you put into something, the more you get out.” An alum told me that and I found it to be the truest advice I’ve ever received. I put that advice into action at Georgetown, UCB Theatre, and now working at Gary Sanchez and it has brought me nothing but rewarding experiences.
Also, my manager told me, “Writing an hour a day is better than not writing an hour a day.” Simple but true. And harder than it sounds.

Trait You Most Admire in People:
Throwing the rope down to those coming up. Those who share success and give credit where it is due, especially to those starting out, is extremely valuable for the culture of our community and for that person rising through the ranks.

Favorite App, Website, Podcast or Social Platform (other than related to your own company):
My favorite app is my Weight Watchers app. Keeps me honest.

Favorite Georgetown Professor:
That is so hard because each professor taught me so much in such different ways. “Easy A” Ray Reno taught me hard work can be really fun. Father Hentz taught me to understand the meaning of faith, and Professor McKeown taught me to challenge my beliefs and learn from empirical analysis.

Favorite Georgetown Restaurant or Bar:
The Tombs. Is there another place that I don’t know about?

Favorite Georgetown Memory:
One of my fondest memories on the Hilltop was during exam time in December. It was late and so many students filled the floors of Lauinger Library studying for their tests. And around 11:45 we all quietly packed up our bags and with the muted cheer of newly falling snow, we marched over to Gaston Hall to attend “Christmas Day” Mass delivered by Father King. With book bags at our feet and the smell of incense above our heads, with the flickering of candlelight against the gold leaf of that hallowed hall, we were transported to a profound, peaceful, and uniting moment by the transcendent tranquility of Father King reading the Gospel of Luke depicting the birth of Jesus. The memory warms me to this day.