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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I’m collaborating on a screenplay with a writing partner, but it gets really tense sometimes and we argue a lot.  Do you have any suggestions on how to proceed?

Michael  from Phoenix, Arizona

This week's Answer: 

The “Joy” of Collaboration 

Yes, Fred, I do.  Get another partner.  I know that sounds rather blunt, but maybe I’m in a blunt mood.  The meaning of “collaborate” comes from the root words, “work” and “together.”  Or maybe I just made that up.  Let me check my dictionary and I’ll be right back.  While I’m gone, why not call your partner and see if you can get in one more argument before I get back?  I’m back.  With no proof of my erudite declaration regarding the root words.  But the big book does mention that to collaborate is to work, one with another.  That’s good enough for me.  And it should be for you, too.  And, if you don’t like it, you can buy your own dictionary! The preceding was an example of a “noncollaborative” moment brought to you by yours truly.   Now shall we look up the word, “partner”?  (I couldn’t help myself.)  Ol’ Webster, here, mentions words such as “sharer,” “partaker,” and “associate.”  And “associate” does not mean “the ass I have to ociate with.”  It does however come from a Latin word meaning “joined to.”

So, Fred, let me ask you a question:  “How joined to this ‘partner’ of yours are you?”  Or possibly a better question would be, “How are you joined to this ‘partner’?”  Keeping with my blunt approach:  If it’s just about money and fame and awards... forget it.  It won’t woik.  If you two don’t have a natural creative flow between you like I have with my writing partner (I just made up the word “creative flow.”  I need to call and tell him so he doesn’t try to take credit for it later in our next screenplay that will make seven figures and catapult us to the Oscars stage.  I’m going to have to be in better shape than he is that night so I can reach the stage ahead of him.  Better get to the gym.  Come to think of it, I need to be sure that I don’t tell him what kind of tux I’m going to wear or he’ll get his sooner and make me a laughing stock before all my industry peers, who love me and hate him.), then I suggest that you’re most likely wasting your time.  

I’ve collaborated with several writers and have found that there must be a natural give-and-take.  (I give, give, give, and he just takes and takes, takes all my creative fire and fuel and has the audacity to put his name on the script along with mine.  After one, grueling writing session, he even told me that he wanted his name above mine on the title page.  I stayed calm and collected, but, as soon as he was gone, in the “credits” section, I inserted an “Over My Dead Body” clause in our contract – which I doubt he’ll ever read.  He never reads; for that matter; he never writes.  Just sits there, drinking my coffee and nodding his little pea-brained head incessantly like one of those dumb, bobbing figurines with a spring for a neck, a neck I could so easily wrap my artistic hands around and...  Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes.  Give and take.  You know... I could write an Edgar Poe-type script called “The Telltale Neck.”  I’d finally be free, free at last, free, I tell you.  No partner to slow me down as I jauntily make my way to the stage in my one-of-a-kind tux.)  Esprit de corps.  That’s what my writing partner and I have and it’s what you and your co-writer need to have.  (The word comes from the French, but I’m not looking that one up for you, too.  The truth is I... can’t find my dictionary now.  I gave it... tossed it... okay, threw it... at... him.  He ducked... a window was open... you know how the collaborative process goes.)


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