There are many successful writing teams in Hollywood. Then there are those that aren’t so successful….
So often I hear:
- “I was working on a project and my partner flaked.”
- “I was producing a show with two other guys and then we just stopped getting along.”
- “I broke the story with a friend and I want to keep pursuing it and she doesn’t.”
In the excitement of starting a new venture or project, it’s natural to focus on the ideal outcomes. We want to be optimistic. We think to ourselves, “We’re going to work on this together and then we’ll sell it for a lot of money and we’ll both retire early.” It’s the romantic equivalent of starting to date someone and in the flush of romance thinking, “We’ll get married, have kids, and live happily ever after.”
Like any relationship, there’s no way to guarantee success up front, but by having realistic expectations and following the tips below, you and your partner will put yourselves in the best position possible to have a successful partnership.
1. Discuss Your Expectations For The Writing Process
Before you fully commit to a writing partnership, have an in-depth discussion with your prospective partner on your writing process and goals. Do this even if your partner is your spouse, best friend, or sibling. By making sure you’re as on the same page as possible up front, you can avoid a great deal of grief down the road.
Ask yourselves questions like:
- What is our writing process?
- How long should a draft take?
- How will we give each other notes?
- How will we handle it when we really disagree?
- How will we hold each other accountable?
- How often will we meet?
Be honest when discussing these questions. If you and your partner’s styles, availability, or goals are incompatible, it may be a good idea to back out now rather then enter a collaboration that’s not going to work.
2. Create A Written Contract Together
I’ve known a lot of people who don’t negotiate terms because they are afraid of spoiling their relationship. The question is whether or not you’re serious. Professionals value their investment of time and energy. They choose their projects carefully and they plan for the future. While negotiating an agreement in the beginning can be uncomfortable, it is far better than negotiating down the road when there’s a lot at stake.
The WGA has a Collaboration Agreement that you can use as-is, adapt to meet your needs, or use as a precursor to working with an attorney on a more formal document.
3. Include A Mission Statement
Your mission statement should be included in your contract and express exactly what you are trying to accomplish.
- “Our mission is to develop and write a feature-length spec biopic of George Washington.”
- “Our mission is to develop and write action-adventure films that emphasize story and character development.”
- “Our mission is to develop and write two original sitcom pilots and spec two currently airing sitcoms with the goal of becoming staff writers for a network sitcom.”
Don’t take for granted that you share the same goals. Put it in writing.
4. Specify Your Roles
Every partnership is different. You may have a complete 50/50 sharing of all aspects of the creative process. You may have leadership in a certain area (e.g., structure/breaking the story) and your partner leadership in another (e.g., dialogue/jokes).
The point isn’t to concretize exactly how you will each behave for all time. It’s to identify strengths, weaknesses, and expectations to make it easier to succeed.
5. Handle Problems While They Are Small
Just like in any relationship, communication is key. If something is bothering you, speak up. It’s rare that ignoring something makes it go away.
Often, the thing that is bothering you, if worked through, could result in a creative breakthrough or a stronger partnership.
6. Keep Looking For Ways To Improve
Every now and then, it can help to have a meeting where you don’t discuss anything creative but instead focus on your partnership.
Ask yourselves questions like these:
- What has worked well?
- What hasn’t worked so well?
- What methods do other partnerships use that we’d like to try?
- Do we need to make any adjustments to our contract?
Partnerships that are maintained in a thoughtful, transparent way are more likely to result in a strong, profitable relationship.
Two For One
Hollywood executives love writing partnerships: it’s getting two brains for the price of one.
So I’m a big fan of writers teaming up–provided that they’ve set themselves up to win. Writing with a partner not only results in greater opportunity for creativity, but also can result in dynamic pitches.
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