FINDING THE RIGHT WRITING PARTNER: Plays Well With Others, Part 9

Claudia Johnson & Matt Stevens co-authored Script Partners: How to Succeed at Co-Writing for Film & TV. Their latest feature, Ruby, has been optioned by Invitation Entertainment. Follow them on Facebook. Full bio.

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Since collaborative writing is such a close-knit creative relationship, you have a greater chance of working successfully together if you’ve worked out the bugs of being together. How you behave in good times—and bad. During arguments, for example (a subject we explore more fully in Script Partners: How to Succeed at Co-Writing for Film & TV).

Disagreement is an important part of the creative process, so crucial to any collaboration that Andrew Reich (Friends) recommended looking for “someone you’ve had arguments with or you know you can settle things with without throwing tantrums. If you’re casual friends, how are you going to deal with each other in an argument?”

Script EXTRA: Finding the Right Writing Partner – Collaboration, Part 1

This may sound like a minor thing to consider when choosing a partner, but it’s intricate interpersonal stuff that comes from knowing the person, your relationship, and yourself.

Peter Tolan (Analyze This and Analyze That with Harold Ramis) told us he can’t argue. He can’t even say, “No, that’s not good.” And he considers this his greatest weakness as a collaborator. “In a successful collaboration, you’ve got to be able to argue,” he said. “I mean, you’ve really got to be able to say, ‘I don’t like this and here’s why. Here’s why this doesn’t work.’ And you’ve got to hope too that the other person is open to hearing that.”

He doesn’t mind when people argue with him (he can take it, but he can’t dish it out), and he admires writing partners like Ramis, who argued with grace and wit. “We had a very playful collaboration,” Tolan said.

One of their arguments occurred while writing the remake of Bedazzled (an average schmo, played by Brendan Fraser, swaps his soul for a series of wishes granted by the Devil, Elizabeth Hurley). Tolan told us he wanted to include a joke where Fraser’s character goes the Devil’s dance club for the first time. “And there’s a guy just standing there with a really big rooster. Fraser asks, ‘What’s that?’ and the guy says, ‘Guess.’ And that’s the whole joke. It’s obvious he’s asked for a very large cock.”

After all, Tolan reasoned, given the opportunity, every guy in the world would ask for a very large, er, rooster. The first time he pitched the joke, Ramis laughed—because Ramis thought he was kidding. Then Tolan pitched it again. “I said, ‘Hey, what about that idea?’ Harold looked at me like we’re not doing that. So it was, you know, playful. It was funny. But he definitely had a list of what he thought would work. That wasn’t on it.”

Script EXTRA: Asking What and Why – Story Begins with Defining Desire 

So what should be on a list of things to consider when choosing a partner is how well you both deal with disagreements and other sticky situations. That knowledge, of course, can only come from knowing each other and how you relate under pressure. Success in show business may rely on who you know, but creating a successful collaboration relies on what you know about who you write with.

That includes respect, as we’ll explore in post #10, this series finale.

More articles by Claudia Johnson and Matt Stevens

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