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May 2, 2017

3 ways to work with a writing partner

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Or, “Three Ways to Collaborate on a Screenplay.”

A lot of people offer advice to screenwriters. We don’t. We write scripts in house, produce our own stories, and provide services to film production companies. So, screenwriters are not our target market.

So far, apart from a few student projects where working as part of a team was part of the grade, I tend to write alone.   I’m not looking for a writing partner, and unless I were hired to work as part of a team I don’t know if I’d work with one.

However, if you do write screenplays, and you have found your writing partner, I can tell you what seems to work for others.

1. Taking turns.
I found this one reading Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography. He did this with a friend and said it was a lot of fun. The resulting film wasn’t one of his biggest hits, but oh well. Taking turns is as simple as it sounds: One writer writes one draft, then sends it to the other writer for the next draft, bouncing it back and forth until they’re both happy with the final result.
2. Alternating scenes.
I also read a book by two comedy writers who’s movies I enjoy, called “writing movies for fun and profit.” I laughed at Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon’s films (the Pacifier, Night at The Museum, even Balls of Fury), but their scripts were much better than that book. Some jokes just have to be performed to make sense, I suppose.

Anyway, since the book is mostly written tongue in cheek (their films grossed a billion worldwide perhaps, but they’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that), I can’t be sure that this is really their working method, but it might work. First, you sit together in a room, and rack your brains until you come up with an outline. Then, each writer writes a scene for part of that outline. They claim the outline is the hard part. After you’ve written the odd scenes and your partner the even scenes, you switch and polish off the other writer’s work.

3. Lyrics and rhythm.
I often hear teacher of music composition express doubt that creative collaboration is possible. When confronted with great collaborators, they assume one artist wrote the lyrics and the other composed the melody, or something like that.
This can work in musicals, as illustrated in Topsy Turvy, and sort of reflects the way the famous 1930s Wizard of Oz was written.With a non-musical script, it’s a little more tricky. But, it can be done. French films have two kinds of writing credits, one for the story line or treatment, and one for the writer who does the dialogue.

Now, before you approach me or anyone else with one of these, consider that all work best if you know your writing partner well, or if you have an existing working relationship with the writers. Do you share the same taste in films and stories? Do you have a story that you both want to tell in the same way? If you’re not on the same page, it probably won’t work.

Also, unless you’re both loaded, you’ll probably need some money to sustain yourselves while writing, or extra patience while your partner tries to find time to write. The reality is multitasking celebrities usually get ghost writers to write for them, and even a full time screenwriters would normally take 3 months, 6 months, even a year to complete a script. The mythical stories about someone writing a draft in three days leave out all the months that went into preparing that first draft and the additional months that went into writing the more careful second draft.