When should you write with a screenwriting partner, when should you not write with a screenwriting partner, and what are some tips to help you both when you do?
I’ve written with writing partners professionally many times in my screenwriting career. Only a couple of those times were positive experiences. Writing with a partner is a huge commitment. You strive to share the same vision. And that isn’t easy to accomplish when you have two creative minds trying to work together.
That’s not to say that it’s not a good idea to work with a writing partner. Plenty of screenwriting duos have prospered with great success. I’m just saying that it’s tough.
With that in mind, here are some guidelines and tips to consider before you decide to take on a screenwriting partner for your next project.
Know the Wrong Reason to Partner with Another Screenwriter
Many novice screenwriters turn to writing partners for the wrong reasons. On top of that list of wrong reasons is using them as a crutch.
You don’t want to rely on a writing partner because you’re having trouble writing your screenplay. That’s not a good reason. It’s a horrible one, actually.
I can’t tell you how many requests I’ve had to partner with screenwriters because they were having trouble. My answer to them is usually:
“Well, yeah. That’s part of the process. Figure it out. Find your path and your process. You don’t need me. Don’t cheat yourself by using someone else as a crutch. Your failures and struggles are the only way you can grow as a screenwriter. Embrace them.”
The Right Reason to Do It
If you and a peer have a shared passion for a story and share the same passion for the types of stories you both enjoy, you’re on the right track. Most successful screenwriting duos got into the business together. They started as a pair.
Few pro screenwriters went from success as individuals to further success as part of a screenwriting duo. Very few.
But if you’re coming up the ladder with somebody by your side (siblings, best friend, film school classmate, peer), then it can be a great collaborative relationship if you share the same passions.
Don’t search for a screenwriting partner because you need them to help you tell your story. Choose to partner with someone because you can’t possibly imagine telling that story without them. There’s a difference.
Choose Your Partner Wisely
If you’re still “green” and there’s still time to partner with somebody, choose your partner wisely.
Debating with a screenwriting partner is often necessary and can lead to great material. However, many screenwriters come with the baggage of their own vision — and some ego. And ego is poison in a writing partnership.
When one feels higher than the other, whether intentions are positive or not, it’s not going to work. It’s going to lead to unnecessary fighting, lack of compromise, and resentment.
So choose your partner wisely.
- Find someone that you feel comfortable debating with.
- Find someone that respects your perspective.
- Find someone that listens as much as they talk.
If there is any doubt in your mind, don’t partner with them. It really has to be a match made in heaven. It should feel like it’s meant to be.
Try It On Your Own First
If you haven’t come up the ladder with someone else along your screenwriting journey, just do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to take on the challenge. Give yourself a few scripts before you seek out a screenwriting partner.
- Ask yourself why you need someone else there with you?
- And don’t forget the logistics of a screenwriting partner as well. Are you ready to split any possible contest money wins or contract money with someone? Most introductory contract deals for newcomers are in the low five figures. Are you willing to give that money up if and when someone takes a chance on you?
- What happens if the other person gets a screenwriting job on their own and doesn’t bring you along? Can you write a script on your own? And what if you want to go solo? Will you be able to cut them loose?
These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself.
If you started this journey alone, consider continuing on that solo journey and develop your skills, your voice, and your process.
If you came up the ladder with someone and both of you can’t possibly even fathom writing something without the other, then you’ll know that your partnership is destiny.
If that is the case, here are some simple tips to consider as you develop your screenwriting duo writing process.
5 Screenwriting Duo Process Tips
Tip #1: Discuss Your Strengths and Weaknesses
One of you is likely stronger in one area than the other. And vice versa. Before you even think about writing together, you should identify and openly talk about those strengths. And you should be comfortable sharing your weaknesses as well.
If you disagree on who is stronger in what area, you shouldn’t be writing partners. It’s not worth the hassle.
Tip #2: Choose Your Process
Choose your process.
- Are you going to split scenes up and divide them out between each other?
- Are you going to have one writer focus on dialogue while the other focuses on the visuals (scene descriptions, locations, etc.)?
- Are you going to give freedom to veto the others’ work?
What’s your process going to be? This needs to be discussed well before you even start developing a screenplay.
Tip #3: Divide the Duties
Choosing the process is the first step. Deciding who is going to tackle each element of that process is the next.
- You need to go into the writing process knowing who is going to handle what.
- You need to divvy everything up.
- You need to agree on who gets what — and why.
All of this should be discussed at length before you start developing a screenplay.
Tip #4: Questions Must Come with Solutions
Come up with solutions to the questions and concerns you bring up when you read your partner’s work.
It’s very easy to pick apart someone else’s writing.
It isn’t easy to develop multiple solutions and elaborate on why they are better than the original version.
Do the difficult work if you plan on questioning any of your partner’s choices.
Have solutions and options ready, with full elaboration to back them up. It’s can’t just be that you think your way is better. You need to be able to explain why it’s better. And they need to be able to do the same with your work.
And, yes, you both need to be able to do this from a positive perspective.
- Listen to each other.
- Respect each other.
- Choose your battles wisely.
Tip #5: Each Writer Gets a Draft
When you’re done with the script, and you’re doing the first polish draft before sharing the script with any content, fellowship, or industry insider, allow each writer to have a pass at the script.
- Trim scenes.
- Expand scenes.
- Remove scenes.
- Rewrite dialogue.
- Edit dialogue.
- Delete dialogue.
- Trim scene description.
- Add scene description.
- Delete unnecessary scene description.
Allow a polish draft for each writer — one that isn’t up for major debate. Sure, you can go through and cover some talking points. But you need to give each other a chance to allow yourselves some say over the whole script, not just the assigned parts.
When you do this, you’ll see that an extra set of eyes on the whole script can be helpful — for big things and small things.
Bonus Tip — Pick a Project Leader
Decide which screenwriter is going to have the final say. If you’re going to write together multiple times, you can alternate who has the final say in any matter. Every project needs a project manager. Assign that lead before you begin. It will help in the long run.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t debate and discuss. You should. But if you can’t agree on something, you’re going to need someone to finally decide — or you’re going to need someone that says:
“Okay, if we’re not going to go my way or your way, we need to find a third compromise that works.”
And that is what a project lead can do. They help steer the ship towards the calmer waters of compromise.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed starring Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O’Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies
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Author: Ken Miyamoto