The term “break in” has always bugged me.
“How did that person break in?”
“This script helped them break in.”
“How did it feel after you were finally able to break in to the business?”
I don’t know if people have actually said the lines I wrote above, but it certainly sounds like stuff I’ve either read or heard on a podcast somewhere.
Why is it that the term ‘break in’ is used to describe someone gaining employment as a screenwriter? There aren’t special terms used to describe getting a job in other fields. You don’t ‘break in’ to computer programming. You don’t ‘break in’ to professional sports. You don’t ‘break in’ to the medical field. You don’t ‘break in’ to the military.
Really, everything is a job interview. And getting your first gig as a writer is no different than trying to land your first job after college, trade school, or whatever. Sure, like professional sports, there is a very small and finite pool of work available, but that’s just the nature of this particular career choice. When things are so limited, only the best of the best will get the job. Good doesn’t cut it. You need to be excellent. If you’ve got the talent, a good resume (a script), and you interview well (general meetings) you might be able to land a job. Key word might, there’s still luck involved
Say your innate talent is second to none, you write the most amazing amateur script ever, and it manages to land you representation and a sale… that still doesn’t mean you’ve got a career. You’ve got to line up more work and more paydays. It’s all contract work. Your career is a string of contracts, being rewrites, spec sales, pitch sales, whatever… you’re a contractor, going from one job to the next. If you can’t do that, or it turns our all the talent you had was only capable of producing that one great script, do you ‘break out’ of screenwriting? Or do you simply go into a different career path doing a different job?
This stuff is all philosophical and a matter of semantics. Does any of it really matter when it comes to establishing yourself as a professional screenwriter? No, not really. I mean, either you can land a paid writing gig and then continue to keep getting work as a screenwriter or you can’t. But you don’t ‘break out’ of screenwriting and more than you ‘break in.’
It was refreshing to hear Craig Mazin and John August talk a little bit about this very subject on the most recent edition of their Scriptnotes podcast. I think Craig is able to articulate what I’m trying to get across infinitely more effective than what I wrote above. Then again, he’s a professional, so I’d expect his mastery of words to be superior to mine. But, more than that, he’s just smart and interesting to listen to when talking about any of this stuff. Craig’s just got a neat perspective on things in general.
It’s worth checking out the podcast if you haven’t already. They go over a few reader questions and some other topics, but it was the stuff about the term ‘break in’ that I enjoyed the most. I hope you do too.