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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Writing Partnerships

If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'.
--Adolph Green and Betty Comden as Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain

Wavers know that the Wave-inatrix is unapologetic about my love for Singin' in the Rain. It's not just the singing. Or the dancing. Or Gene Kelly. Or Donald O'Connor - although, in my opinion, Make 'Em Laugh is among the best moments on film ever - no, it's the DIALOGUE.

Written by the legendary partnership of Betty Comden and Adolf Green, Singin' in the Rain is so rich with great dialogue, it makes my teeth hurt. Don't get me started on great dialogue from other movies - the list is just too long, but Green and Comden were the longest creative writing partnership in Hollywood. And they weren't married. Then of course there was Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, who together wrote The Apartment, Love in the Afternoon, Kiss Me, Stupid, Some Like it Hot and more.

Today Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are a powerful writing partnership and of course there are more - many more - that the Wave-inatrix could list if I weren't too lazy and sunburnt from Palm Springs to research. But you get the point, Wavers - there are writing partnerships in Hollywood that have been extraordinarily successful and productive.

But being in a writing partnership isn't all sunshine and roses. It can be the most powerful, fun, dynamic way to write a script - and it can also make you want to claw each other's eyes out. I had a writing partner who wrote two thrillers with me and I'd do it again in a hot LA second. In our case, my partner and I shared a great deal of mutual respect, a similar creative process and completely complimentary skill sets. But even we had our moments.

Being partnered with another writer is a lot like trying to make a marriage work. You have to communicate well, respect each other, be patient and accept each other's frailties and strengths without too much ego-involvement. Easy, huh?

My partner and I were (are) lucky; we have monumental respect for one another and perhaps because we are both older (and by that, I mean being past 40, having been through divorces and bullshit and the general humility that age brings) it isn't that difficult for us to set aside ego and put the story first. When we write together, we are a dream team: a man, a woman, an East Coast novelist, a West Coast d-girl - we got it all. And we like to laugh. Maybe it's an age thing, but we don't take our writing that seriously. Seriously enough - don't get me wrong, but not so seriously that we can't find the process a little bit funny sometimes.

But again, we are lucky. I know writing partnerships who have had to go to couple's therapy. I know, I know, you probably smirked a little when you read that. But I've seen it and I've seen it work.

Some writing partnerships are here and there, by project. Others are (in intention, anyway) career-long pursuits. I do think, Wavers, that it is important to have written a fair number of scripts on your own before partnering. It helps you develop YOUR voice and YOUR strengths. Also, do you want to be joined at the hip with your writing partner forever? Don't you want to be able to do your own thing sometimes? What if your partnership breaks up? What if you want to write a script your partner isn't as into? If you get repped as a partnership, you are now a package. You must have your own material to bring to the table as well. That is, if you would like to have the latitude of working together and independently as writers. And that's not a door you want to close in terms of rep, rewrite gigs, etc. Why box yourself into a corner?

When thinking about choosing a writing partner, ask yourself a few questions:

*Does your potential partner have writing chops that are at least equal to your own?
*Are you ready, willing and able to suspend your ego and acquiesce on certain points?
*Do you trust your partner's creative judgment and abilities?
*Can your partner represent you and your project well in a room?
*Is your writing partner as available as you are to write?
*Can the two of you spend more time writing than analyzing your differences and arguing?
*Is your creative process similar to or at least complimentary to your partner's?

Writing partnerships can be powerful, enthusiastic and highly effective. Or they can be an exercise in frustration. Make sure you have your own chops first; don't write with a partner so that someone can save you or make it easier. Write with a partner if together, you produce writing that is greater than the sum of its parts. Don't be afraid to write alone - don't be afraid to write together. Just write.

It's all in service to the story - not your ego or your insecurities. Many a good partnership has fallen apart over creative differences and different work styles. You need to agree with your partner that ideas you've developed together belong to you both and that if you do split up, nobody is going to take the jointly dreamt-up ideas and run with them. My partner and I have a partnership agreement and an entertainment attorney who works with us on our various projects.

I am currently writing a thriller on my own. Because I have to do it. I know I could do it faster and probably better with my partner, but I need to make sure my thriller chops are everything my partner taught me about the genre. We may write together again. In fact, I'm fairly sure we will. We're taking a creative hiatus and writing individually at the moment.

For many, a writing partnership sounds like a special kind of hell, for others it is a volcanically productive creative endeavor. But like everything in life - everything is a trade-off.

Don't write with a partner because you're coming from a place of fear; that you can't do it on your own. Write with a partner because you both just have so much fun writing together that you can't resist. Wavers should know by now that the Wave-inatrix is all about living life joyfully. If you aren't having fun writing - something is wrong. You need to stop, assess and find the joy and the pleasure in the process itself.

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PJ McIlvaine said...

A writing partnership is like marriage. When it works, it's great, when it doesn't, it sucks!

Julie Gray said...

That's God's truth, PJ. It really is.

2nd2Nun said...

Loved this entry. Been blessed to find someone who I work well with. We each have our own individual projects and then our partner projects. It's fun stuff!

JPS said...

I have been flattered to death (even though all allusions to age need to be, ahem, toned down, if you catch my drift), and would like to chime in by saying that my work with Julie was not just fun and productive (and potentially profitable), I learned from working with her in ways that made all the screenwriting books superfluous. She made me a better a screenwriter, full stop.

And, Julie, if you're looking for another thriller, have I got an idea just waiting to be turned into gold!