Attention blossoming screenwriters who think screenwriting is a solitary art form: Read Script’s article Anything but Elementary: Sherlock Holmes by Ray Morton with additional reporting by Bob Verini, and realize, as Editor in Chief Shelly Mellott put it, “It is better when we all work together.” Morton’s article breaks down four different credited writers’ contributions on the new Sherlock Holmes movie, as well as how various directors contributed at different stages of the project and how much Robert Downey Jr. contributed on his own, too.
I think it’s an illuminating exercise to see how one writer can be brought on to solve a particular problem another writer couldn’t. Sometimes, it takes more than one perspective, more than one brain. Sometimes four. I hear writers complain all the time about how scripts get “rewritten by other writers” and about how they could “never work with a partner” and sometimes it seems like any time they have to leave the confines of their room and their laptop, they might breakdown because they have to actually speak to another human. If you want to write solo, people, write a novel!
Look, there’s nothing wrong with writing alone all day, huddled up in a room with the shades barely drawn — we all do it. But my point is if you’re writing screenplays for the movies, you’re eventually going to have to collaborate. That means taking notes from directors, producers, maybe even working with another writer. Personally, I love getting rewritten! I get rewritten everyday by my writing partner. The best challenge in the world is to write something that doesn’t get sent back to me rewritten, but that comes back untouched. That’s when I know I’m on my game.
I echo Derek Haas’ sentiments he shared in Script Girl’s column about writing with his partner, “Working together makes us better at collaborating…” Now, I’m not saying you have to have a partner to be a good screenwriter obviously, but I am saying you have to be a good collaborator to be successful in the screenwriting business. In order to fund my writing career, I worked as an editor for many years in Los Angeles, and nothing annoyed me more than other editors who said “I can’t stand when the director stands over your back giving notes.” But they’re the director! Of course they should be doing that! Personally, as an editor, that’s a lot more exciting to me than sitting in a room editing by myself.
My point in all of this isn’t to say that we should all be happy when we get rewritten because I’m sure it burns really badly when you’re feeling wonderful about your work only to see it turned into a big, steaming pile of shit based on some seriously misguided studio notes — handed down to the new writer who just replaced you. My point is you need to step out of the cave. Bounce your ideas off your peers, get notes, and practice collaboration. Because the people getting these jobs today are the ones who learned this a long time ago.