2017: The Year of Breaking In

Even though the collective “they” always tell you never to start anything with a flashback (or use any flashbacks for any reason in any screenplay if you can at all avoid it), I’m going to commit my own cardinal sin, and start this particular blog post with a flashback of my very own:

April 2nd, 2015. That was the day that I interviewed Markus Goerg, partner in and manager at renowned literary management firm, Heroes and Villains, for Final Draft’s online blog. During our conversation, I gathered Markus’s eloquent and poignant observations about and advice for new writers seeking to break into the entertainment industry. The truth of the matter is that I had been talking to my friends and colleagues in the industry and gathering information for years about all it took for emerging writers to become professional prior to this moment. But this unique interview format, away from the lunch meetings and coffee shop tables, allowed me an accelerated learning opportunity. On that day it all coalesced for me: I had been asking these questions forever, digging for insights and anecdotes about writers breaking in for years. And in an industry of opinions, I realized I was quickly becoming the hoarder of pure gold. What if there was something other than an interview that could come out of the information and relationships I had been cultivating for so long?

In October 2015, when Focal Press’s editor Emily McCloskey approached me to write a new book for the growing publisher, I knew exactly the type of book I wanted to deliver. I wanted to write a book that wouldn’t try to simplify the process, or make building a screenwriting career appear to be the sort of things anyone can do in just 5 easy steps (or less). Instead, I wanted to write a book about what it would really take, and what real working writers have gone through to launch their screenwriting careers.

Here is what I wrote up – verbatim – in the book proposal that I submitted to Emily a few weeks later, for the book that would become BREAKING IN: TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES:

“This is a book about how screenwriters REALLY break into the entertainment industry in today’s ultra competitive industry space. We hear it all the time: “It’s never been harder to sell a spec!” “It’s never been tougher to break a new writer!” But new writers are breaking in all the time. So how are they doing it, and what can we learn from them?”

Little did I know that these words would directly shape the year that now lies ahead of me: 2017, The Year of Breaking In.

How so, you ask?

In the coming year, I am going to be launching and expanding upon my exploration of how writers are breaking into today’s film, television and new media industries. The rules are simple: They can’t be so-called overnight successes (because, really, what can we learn from those, assuming that they even exist?). They can’t be purely “lucky” (that is, if you believe that such a thing – a writer who makes it purely on luck – actually exists). They have to be able to share with me – and consequently my readers – the journey that brought them to where they are right now in their careers. And they have to have broken in on or after 2008, the year of the famed WGA strike that, combined with the economic retraction, changed everything, when we pulled away definitively from the one-and-done model, and shifted towards the screenwriter seeking to build a career.

So in this, the year of breaking in, I am going to be sharing these insights with you via two distinct avenues:

First, there is the book, BREAKING IN, TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES, which will be out in March of 2017.

This book is a no-nonsense, boots-on-the-ground exploration of how writers REALLY go from emerging to professional in today’s highly saturated and competitive screenwriting space. With a focus on writers who have gotten representation and broken into the TV or feature film space after the critical 2008 WGA strike and financial market collapse, the book explores tangible examples of how success was achieved via hard work and specific methodology from writers who wrote major studio releases (“The Boy Next Door”), were staffed on television shows (“American Crime,” “NCIS New Orleans,” “Sleepy Hollow”), sold specs and television shows, placed in competitions, and were accepted to prestigious network and studio writing programs. The information presented in these Screenwriter Spotlights will be supported by insights from top selling agents and managers (including ones who have sold scripts and pilots, had their writers named to such prestige lists as The Black List and The Hit List) as well as working industry executives in order to inform the reader about how the industry REALLY works, what it expects from both working and emerging writers, as well as what next steps writers can engage in in order to move their screenwriting career forward.

Now, I am not telling you about the book so that you can hop over to Amazon.com and preorder it (though you can if you really want to). Not only is this book integral for my year of breaking in, it is also what brought me to THE BREAKING IN INITIATIVE, which will require you to do nothing as part of your participation – except read.

See, the interesting thing that happened even before I finished writing the book, is that I realized that, while the book features interviews with sixteen writers who successfully have broken in, the reality is that the stories of writers breaking in out there are endless, and each one of them offers valuable, insightful information. This made me want to develop this as an on-going exploration of how writers are breaking in and what they experience as they are doing so. Through one-on-one interviews with newly minted working writers, I will continue to learn (and share with you) how writers are breaking into the entertainment industry as it continues to grow, change, and evolve. These interviews will speak directly to my mission of always remaining a student of the game, and hopefully offer you, the reader, new insights into how others have done it, albeit in their own unique and singular way.

The first such interview with  television writer Jorge Rivera was released in October 2016, and I am now planning to launch a new Breaking In interview every month, and eventually launching the Breaking In Gallery, a repository of interviews – beyond the ones in my book – that explore the subject’s journey from emerging to professional.

And speaking of The Breaking In Initiative… If you, or anyone you know, have broken into the industry after 2008 via new media, television or film, and would like to have your story included in my ever-expanding gallery, just reach out to me! I am always looking out for new writers to interview as I am a believer that there is much to learn from each writer’s unique journey.

And so, without further ado, I would love to invite you to join me. Come along with me on this ride as I continue to explore what it takes to become a working writer in today’s challenging industry. I hope you join me in 2017, The Year of Breaking In!