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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Collaborating in a collaborative medium

It's well known that film is the most collaborative of arts, and thus it is not a new observation to state that writing for the screen is a rather unique endeavor within the writing world. At the same time, screenwriters (as do many other writers) tend towards the solitary side in terms of work habits.

I, however, am atypical in many ways. For example, while many people write because it is their lives, and greatest passion, I write because it's something for which I have a facility. On more than one occasion I've mentioned that if I could never write again, I'd still be able to be happy. Also, I've read articles reminding screenwriters they must get out of the house and interact and/or network, but I am an extremely social person, and love meeting, talking to, and hanging with people.

All of this is by way of introducing a new project I've begun. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I've recently begun collaborating on a screenplay for the first time. We're writing from an idea that I had come up with, and both of us were interested in the collaborative process. Neither of us had done it before. So we're both rather excited about seeing where the process leads us, and whether together we write a better script than either of us would do on our own (presumably the main point of a collaboration).

I figured it might be interesting to talk a little about the collaboration method we'll be using, and perhaps hear a bit from others who have co-written screenplays as well. So first off, the genesis. I first described the idea during a meeting of my writing group. At some later point, I'll talk about the group, but for now, suffice it to say that we have a small group that is made up completely of people who knew someone else in the group from before, as opposed to a general amalgam of random people.

Michael Lee Barlin is someone I've actually known for a number of years, though we only got to really know each other from the group. He was involved with the second film I ever worked on, Snapshots From a .500 Season (directed by L. Brooks Elms, the founder of the group). I'm not going to discuss the film in too much detail yet, until we make more headway on it, but I will mention that it is somewhat in the action, quasi-horror vein.

The first thing we did was sign a contract. Everything I ever read about collaborating, and everyone with whom I spoke, said this is essential. Not only does it help protect both parties in a legal context, it also protects the friendship and working relationship. I basically copied verbatim a standard collaboration agreement from Mark latex's excellent Contracts for the Film & Television Industry. Then I made a few minor changes to reflect our specific situation, largely due to the fact that we both agreed this was my initial idea, and thus was more my baby than his.

Next, we met a few times to thrash out our characters and a rough outline. Since then, we've been emailing back and forth to work out a more developed outline, and we're nearing completion on that. Then we will move into the bulk of our collaboration process. I will begin to write the script from the start, for a certain amount of time and/or pages (still to be determined). Then I will pass it on to Michael Lee. He will then revise what I've just written, and write the next bit, also for the designated time and/or amount of pages. He will then pass it back to me for revisions, and the next piece, etc.

With this method, we hope to accomplish a few things. Firstly, we will be building a more cohesive collaboration, in that we will be revising each other's work as we write our own. Similarly, the draft we first complete will hopefully be stronger than a typical first draft, in that we will have written and revised it during our first pass. Finally, this method should allow us each some down-time during the writing process, allowing us each to take our minds away from the script, and to work on other projects during our down-time.

Though we haven't begun the actual writing yet, we've moved along a lot, and I'm pretty happy with where we stand currently. I'll keep you posted as the process progresses!


Anonymous Esther said...

Wow, I never knew that contracts figured so prominently in collaborative screenwriting relationships. I just assumed it was two guys sitting at a table arguing plot and character...

Interesting for a "civilian writer"...

5:52 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Actually, not just for screenwriters. Any collaborative writing will usually benefit from some sort of agreement. It's just that screenwriters are more frequent collaborators than are other writers. Plus, since the (monetary) upside is much higher, there is also a greater need to get things spelled out clearly.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous glenn sanders said...

Great topic. I've collaborated on 4 scripts, and your approach has worked best - outlining and prepping together in person or via email, then either splitting the script into chunks or trading drafts. It's proven better than trying to work out each other's schedules so we can sit for 2 hours a week and haggle over scene descriptions. One script I co-wrote with a friend in Chicago, and we largely collaborated via AOL Instant Messenger.

It does help to get a break from working on it while the other person does their draft, or to have a complete draft much faster if you've split up the acts. Something consider is if you don't communicate, you may end up going back and forth over certain scenes or sequences, writing and rewriting the same material because you both have a different take.

As for contracts, of the four I only had a contract for 1, and I felt most comfortable about that for all the reasons you state. The other thing it can do is set concrete deadlines for each writer to complete their portion, so you're not just agreeing on deadlines, you have a binding contract. Believe me, it works. That was the only script of my collaborations to get a producer attached and go wide to studios.

Keep on truckin'.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

I worked on tv scripts with a co-writer for several years. It was very fulfilling, but there were times when we had to work on the relationship as much as the script. It was the closest thing to marriage that I was ever involved with... until marriage. We even had trouble with our girlfriends at the time, because we were spending too much time calling each other with story plot points. Writers tend to be pigheaded with material, so the trick is to figure out who is best in what category (dialogue, plot, comedy, descirption, etc) and let that person assume a little bit of the lead in that area. But that's easier said than done.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Interesting. One thing that I think will hopefully help us is that we are only partnering on this script (for now), not forming an ongoing writing partnership. We'll evaluate after these few months, and see where we want to go from there, and whether there is something else we'd like to collaborate on. Who knows?

3:51 AM  

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