On Collaborations

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is finding your voice. For me, this required writing half a dozen screenplays that felt like masterpieces upon completion, but in retrospect, were nothing more than 600 pages of shit that amounted to an invaluable learning experience.

Writing is a skill, and just like any physical skill, it requires conditioning. If you get in tip top shape and then suddenly stop working out for months, you’re all but guaranteed to perform on a subpar level the next time you engage in any physical activity. The same can be said for writing.

It’s all about momentum.

Now, you may have discovered your voice, exorcised all the hackneyed prose and clich├ęd, lazy devices, and that’s all well and good, but can you handle writing collaboratively?

Not many people can. Writers are a peculiar sort, typically introverts that resent folks that love the spotlight. So how do two people with these personality quirks join forces and generate something that incorporates a fair share of voice for both parties in the final product?

That…is the million dollar question.

In my experience, actually writing in the same room doesn’t really work. When I began writing Old Stud, Jim contributed heavily to the development of the characters and the story, but I did the actual writing. In part, we worked this way because it was important to me to have a produced solo writing credit, but it was also out of necessity, because I had a clear vision for the tone, and Jim respected that. Since the physical production was a tremendous task, I made sure that he felt his ideas were represented in the script to an appropriate extent, and thankfully he did. We also had several discussions on set and during post, and he helped me navigate through some challenging logistical and creative problems, resulting in a product that we both owned and for which we felt pride.

I have had other experiences in the past that did not turn out so well. Writing, and in particular comedy writing, requires people to be on the same page. If you’re contributing to a line, scene, act, or anything meant to be humorous and your take on the joke doesn’t align with that of the other contributors, the piece will be in danger of failing. It’s unfortunate when this happens, and it ties into the personality issues mentioned earlier. On any project, there needs to be an alpha, who will shepherd the project to completion. There needs to be a hard ass that will argue the shit out of every point so that only the worthwhile ideas remain among the weak concept fatalities. This requires that the other contributor(s) be aggressive, too, and defend their own ideas.

I love arguing, but not for the sake of arguing. I love it because it exposes the flaws and weaknesses of a concept. It’s much better to piss off your writing partner and tear apart his or her take on something than to sit back politely and let a subpar idea stay as it lays, only to manifest itself as a weakness in the text, and possibly the resulting episode or movie.

In conclusion: stand up for your ideas, question them and those of your collaborators, and never make it personal. It’s not about ego or prestige; it’s about serving the project.