Steve Luebbert '00 is Vice President, Development at Coolfire Studios in St. Louis. His company produces award-winning, branded entertainment for companies such as Toyota, Intel, Children’s Mercy KC and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He spoke to a group of Jr. Bills interested in business and entrepreneurialism this semester.
If you could go back and tell your high school self one thing, what would it be?
I guess I'd tell myself to lighten up. I took my high school academics pretty serious, I'm not sure I needed to be that hard on myself to find success. Though its a double edged sword, the hard work I put in during high school made college a complete breeze.
What is your biggest pet peeve in your line of work?
Lack of inspiration. You don't have to know very much about entertainment to know that there's a plethora of remakes and regurgitations out there in movies, TV and even music. I think we crossed over into a whole different dimension when the remake of Baywatch came out. The good news is, there are still plenty of brilliant creators out there making amazing content, you just have to look a little harder these days to find it.
What made you want to pursue a career in television?I always knew I had something in me that was drawn to entertainment. Then, one day, a guy came and spoke at my college about his job in feature film development and a light bulb went on for me. I didn't even know that was a job until I heard about it. I didn't know much about the jobs that were out there outside of being an actor, director or writer. But there's a wide array of jobs in entertainment for people with all different types of skill sets.
Who is one person you really look up to, whether a part of your life or someone you have heard about but have never met?
I have a lot of respect and admiration for my parents. It may sound like the easy answer, but it's true. They both came from humble beginnings and are the definition of self-made success. They taught me the value of hard work and the importance of not losing sight of who you are on your journey. Someone I look up to within my industry is fellow SLUH grad Jim Berger '74. He built a business (High Noon) that's very similar to the one we're building at Coolfire. He's had success at the highest levels of our industry by creating shows like Fixer Upper and Cake Boss. But Jim has been able to do all this while maintaining a sense of humor and a sense of humility and integrity, and that can be tough to maintain in our business.
What is your favorite TV show to watch (excluding the ones you've helped make)?
There's too many to count, but I actually watch more scripted TV even though I produce non-scripted/reality. I guess coming home to watch reality TV would be like a dentist coming home from work and reading magazines about teeth. Lately, my wife and I have been binging on Veep, which is fantastic.
Did you find the short story A&P comic or ironic, and why?
Not gonna lie, I had to look this one back up. I'd say that I found it ironic - though I also believe it's pretty easy to project the current state of today upon any kind of literature. Ask me again in ten years, I may change my mind.
What made you choose SLUH?
I was the first in my family to go there, so it truly was MY decision. I sat down and listed out the pros and cons of SLUH and another school, and SLUH came out on top. But in the end, I'd like to think my decision was made based on my gut. I knew there was something special about SLUH the moment I walked in there.
What is one of your favorite memories from SLUH?
There are so many. This is a random memory, but it was a fun one: one early morning on a Saturday during the school year, some other members from STUCO and I decided it would be really funny to drive over to Mr. Maliborski's house (he was our teacher and STUCO Moderator) and cook him breakfast in his front yard for his birthday. We must have gotten over there at 8am, and we set up a hibachi grill and made bacon and eggs while sitting in lawn chairs in his front yard. The look on his face when he walked out the front door was priceless. He definitely gave us the look like, "you guys are idiots." But deep down I think he appreciated that four guys in high school got of bed on Saturday morning to drive to Illinois to make an occasion out of his birthday. Pretty sure his wife didn't appreciate it though.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
That's a tough question. My business is changing so rapidly, it's hard to say what I'll even be doing in ten years. Hopefully, I'll be able to say I helped build a successful company that has made a name for itself making great content and entertaining people. Short of that, I'd like to think I'll still be making content - it may be getting delivered to people in a different way, but I'll still be making it.
What type of involvement did you have when you were at SLUH?
I was very involved during my years at SLUH. I was a three sport athlete (Water Polo, Golf and Swimming) and I was on student council. I walked in through the front doors of SLUH like a sponge and I took in every single experience I could get my hands on. I made the most of my time there and I don't regret a single second of it.
Questions by Richard Michalski '18. Richard is captain of the wrestling team and a President's and Admissions Ambassador. He hopes to pursue a career in film or television writing.