Breaking the Jump, Breaking the Story: Parkour and Screenwriting

I recently watched a fun little video about gymnasts and parkour experts sharing the basics of their disciplines with one another. I absolutely love cross-pollination between disciplines, and because I have some (minimal) experience in both parkour and gymnastics, this was especially fun – when I was teaching at Synetic I would incorporate elements of both disciplines in training for combat and stunts, and was always fascinated to see who would take to the different forms, and in what way.

But the big thing both disciplines teach, in different ways, is an approach to fear. A traceur (parkour practitioner) must always approach a new jump or a new move, a gymnast must approach a new combination or tricky movement. Both, if they really mess up, can end up seriously injured.

In parkour, landing a tricky jump for the first time is called “breaking the jump.” Overcoming the fear of approaching that jump is a first step – then you can repeat the jump, or others like it, and perfect it, incorporate it into the flow of your movements.

This is interesting to a filmmaker because writing the first draft of a screenplay is often called “breaking the story.” Yes this term can mean a couple different things, but in this context I’ll keep it to the act of blasting through a first draft, often without editing along the way.

Having done both of these things, I can say the sensation at the end is somewhat the same. After you break a jump for the first time, often the first thing you want to do is go at it again, preserve the adrenaline and bravery you’ve just built up and get the jump deeper into your nervous system. Screenwriting can be much the same – as soon as I finish a draft, I’m eager to get feedback and start cracking on the next pass.

But deeper than this, there’s a feeling of relief as well. A story that’s gnawing at my insides is deeply uncomfortable. Getting a first draft out is a kind of a release. I end up feeling un-knotted just by getting it out on the page. A jump that has always bothered you, intimidated you, is still waiting for you to crack it, can be a little source of madness – you HAVE to break it.

It’s funny, but this discomfort is probably a good sign. It means you have something spring loaded with enough tension that if you lean on it it’ll start becoming something. A jump. A story. A set of characters.

This discomfort is something I listen for now, I try to become aware of in my day to day, because discomfort can signify an opportunity.