Created By: NimmerStill on October 3, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on March 30, 2013

Unusual Job Establishment

A work illustrates characters performing a strange job as it normally works, before the main plot shows how the job goes wrong.

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Many works derive their gimmick from an unusual job that the main character or characters have. Perhaps it's a job that would be impossible in Real Life, such as space-trucker or Defense Against the Dark Arts. Or perhaps it's just a job most people aren't familiar with, such as firing people.

But this gimmick usually isn't enough to drive a whole plot. Something has to go wrong at this job. An annoying client, a botched execution, a high-profile theft. But at the same time, since the job is so unusual, you want the audience to get a feel for how it works normally before you get to the main action where anything goes.

Hence this establishing trope. There are a few scenes at the beginning where the job is shown working normally. This usually comes at the expense of relevance to the main plot; the first job usually involves a client and characters that will not be seen later, though of course this could be the source of a twist later on.

Often it's just one job gone normally, and then the job that drives the main plot. Occasionally we'll see several instances of normal jobs, perhaps interspersed with character development, before the main action begins.



  • In Sneakers, we see the crew at their job testing the security of a bank before having to steal the box that drives the main plot.
  • In Paycheck, we see one instance of Jennings's reverse-engineering-with-memory-erasing job gone normally, before the big one hits.
  • In Minority Report, we see some normal Pre-Crime arrests before Anderton is accused himself.
  • In Equilibrium we see Preston doing his job of arresting sense-offenders normally before he goes off his Prozium and becomes one himself.
  • In Looper we see several of the time-travel killings gone right before the main action.
  • In Up in the Air we see how Bingham's job of firing people works before various factors upset his comfort zone, starting with changes to travel policy.

Community Feedback Replies: 8
  • October 4, 2012
    • Premium Rush shows a typical delivery for a bicycle messenger before the one that goes horribly wrong.
    And, ya know, bump.
  • October 4, 2012
    "Drive" opens with a properly executed get-away, to establish the Driver's "job" as it usually works. It's the next job that goes awry.
  • October 4, 2012
    • Monsters Inc showed us how the monsters usually get into the job before one of the main characters accidently let a human into their world.
  • October 4, 2012
    I am pretty sure that we already have this covered under Batman Cold Open. And no, this wouldn't be a subtrope.
  • October 4, 2012
    I thought Batman Cold Open was a Cold Open which portrayed the main characters doing something unconnected to the main plot (typically for the purpose of showing some action, rather than Show Dont Tell style Exposition). At the very least, this could be split into a subtrope if there are enough examples.
  • October 4, 2012
    Yes, this is certainly not always a Cold Open, and is typically associated with longer and stand-alone works like movies or novels, which a) have a bit more establishment to do, and b) have a bit more time to do it in.
  • October 7, 2012
    The Star Wars prequel trilogy works this way. In the beginning of each movie, we see Jedi doing their jobs as diplomats, investigators or Clone War generals normally, until the plot thickens, Sith Lords start flashing red lightsabers and everything flies out of control.
  • March 30, 2013
    ^^ Gonna need some examples that aren't cold opens.