ANSWER: I AM THE CHICKEN!
By: Jess Canty
I was at a Women in Film event this week and Shelby Stone, the producer on the panel, answered the age old question - which came first? Chicken or Egg?
She was talking about some recent break-throughs in the business - namely Issa Rae, Justin Simien, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Lena Waithe - and she said "you have to create your egg."
I think this is such a fantastic concept. Of COURSE the egg comes first - and you CAN create it.
And it hit me! WE ARE THE CHICKENS.
Not to be confused with the guy wearing the chicken suit in Brian's recent re-post. I actually am thinking now that why Brian is so offended by this guy is because he is just throwing on a chicken suit, but he ain't no chicken.
But I digress...
YOU are the chicken. And you have to create your egg. And this all depends on what, exactly, you want to do in your career.
Take Issa Rae. As Shelby pointed out, Issa spent a couple of years doing Awkward Black Girl (2011 - 2013) on YouTube and doing a kickstarter campaign to finish her first season. She then got some notice and ultimately partnered up with Larry Willmore to work on the pilot for the series. It wasn't picked up by HBO until 2015 and didn't premiere until 2016.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag started as 10-minute sketch and then became a one-woman show that played at Edinburgh in 2013. She THEN adapted it into a show which premiered in 2016.
Lena Waithe and Justin Simien were in a writer's group together. Shelby said that this group was the most "active and dedicated" group she has ever heard of. They met weekly. They were critical but fair of everyone's projects and then they would get together on the weekends and shoot each other's material.
The original short for Dear White People was born out of this group. Simien began developing DWP in 2007 and ultimately did an indigogo campaign with a trailer to raise money for the short. Ultimately he was able to shoot the feature in 2013 and went to Sundance in 2014. The show was created from the success of the movie. Lena was a producer on DWP - and during that time she had small parts in shows like The Comeback (HBO) and was in a number of writers rooms.
I mention this because Lena's "egg" was the more traditional kind - i.e. working her way up through other people's projects until she had enough contacts and success that someone would give her a shot on her own egg.
But Jess, what if I don't want to be a creator?
That is FINE! But I still think it is helpful to think of your career as "creating your egg." Your egg could be 10 co-stars. Your egg could be a podcast. Your egg could be getting yourself on that one show that you just KNOW you would be great on.
I think what I like about Justin, Phoebe, Lena and Issa is that if you look at the timelines for all of these projects they span YEARS from the first inkling of an idea to being in front of audiences. YEARS. Protecting their egg from the elements, incubating it.
Showing it to people - look! I'm making an egg! Look at my egg! Want to help me make it a chicken?
I think the reason why they were each successful is that they did not give up on their eggs. Whatever else they were doing during these time periods, they were still spending time and attention with these projects. They didn't give up until they hatched.
I think the other thing to remember is that we don't ever hear about all of the broken eggs along the way. And there will be broken eggs. There will be projects that don't go. There will be shows you don't book. The trick is, you can't get stuck focusing on these. They broke. It happens.
You MUST move forward with the eggs you have that are still in tact. The ones you can keep incubating.
You are the chicken.