September 6, 2014

Tips on Finding & Working with Your Screenwriting Soulmate

Typewriter
Screenwriting is a long, hard, lonely road, but how does the process change -- for better or worse -- when you work with a writing partner? Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde10 Things I Hate About You) share what collaboration looks like during each stage of their writing process, as well as the creative benefits of legal pads and Margarita Fridays.

Collaborating on a screenplay used to seem like voluntarily jumping into the seventh circle of hell to me. I'd think, "I'm already experiencing the crushing creative pressure and otherworldly levels of frustration that come with writing in general, so why would I want to bring along a buddy to witness me being a hot mess?" However, once I worked on a script with someone that shared my love of whiskey and gallows humor, it became apparent that a good writing partner can truly help not only your project, but also you as a screenwriter.

But there usually has to be some structure. As McCullah and Smith point out in the video, they have rules and guidelines when working together to make the entire process run a little more smoothly, which would certainly benefit you as a writer, even if you write alone.

Don't wear pants.

Daily, I do this. Writing should be done when you're comfortable and able to process your thoughts. For some, that means writing at home away from the noise and crowdedness of a café. For others, that means brainstorming over a beer while lounging in a recliner you've had since your sophomore year of college. If you're collaborating, find a place where the both of you can let it all hang out.

Watch tons of movies, duh.

This is said over and over again not because screenwriters are running out of stuff to say, but because it's so damn important. Watch. Movies. Period. Watch ones from the genre you're working on. Watch ones with characters you think resemble yours. Watch ones with similar running times so you can take note of its structure and pacing.

Write by hand first, then transcribe.

I've fallen into the trap of writing and editing my screenplays simultaneously -- and on a writing program on my computer, so I can't even see the edits I've made! Switching to writing on legal pads has changed me as a writer. Truth. Writing by hand allows you to not only see all of your trains of thought (even the ones that lead to total failure), but it also keeps you from dealing with one giant Frankenstein draft that is the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. all in one. It also helps, if you're writing with a partner, to avoid stepping over each other's ideas.

Choosing a writing partner is like choosing a spouse.

Though I still prefer to write alone, I still bring my drafts to one particularly awesome fellow screenwriter who puts them under her infallible scrutiny. She's honest. She gets my jokes. She knows my tastes. She's patient with my scatterbrained approach to brainstorming and knows the right answers to the questions, "What do I mean?" and "What am I trying to say?" She knows what I want to write before I ever write it, which is the equivalent of finishing each other's sentences. (Adorable, I know.) So, find someone who gets you, your humor, your sensibilities, and your personality -- and who's a funny drunk. (You should provide/be all of these things for your partner, too.)

Do you collaborate when writing screenplays? Share some helpful tips in the comments below.     

Your Comment

15 Comments

"Don't wear pants" is pretty much the best advice that could ever be given for any activity in life.

September 6, 2014 at 2:36PM, Edited September 6, 2:36PM

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Brynn Sankey
Cinematographer
370

I tend to stick strickly to boxers. The free-er the better.

September 6, 2014 at 3:44PM

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Brandon Kelley
DIT/Director
485

I really appreciate this article.

Amongst my writing friends I've always kept an eye out for anyone who I feel would be a good fit with my writing style.

Recently I've decided that I'm too selfish to write with someone else and what I'm really looking for is someone to keep me focused/working on the script.

My current solution is my mom. As funny as it sounds, whenever I'm visiting my parents, my mom enjoys helping me with my writing. This is as simple as asking questions about thing she doesn't understand and forcing me to explain all aspects of the story to her, as she isn't well-versed in storytelling or story format. It's been a blessing and I've been able to plot my story far more efficiently.

The other great thing is that she is a very good representative of the general public, not to insult her, but her lack of knowledge when it comes to film techniques and tropes helps me to make sure that I'm not overlooking anything just because "I know what I'm doing."

What does this mean? Well maybe the wife, boyfriend, flat mate...that's always been "interested" in your projects might be a good person to bounce ideas off. I've found it to be groundbreaking in my process.

September 6, 2014 at 3:53PM

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Brandon Kelley
DIT/Director
485

Brandon, your mom sounds amazing. Pretty sure my dad would get bored and start daydreaming about philly cheese steaks or building sheds until I was done.

V: What do you think, Padre?
Dad: Huh? Oh, it was good. I need to run by Home Depot; I'm starving.

September 7, 2014 at 4:46PM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I do the same with my mom as she writes plus, is extremely honest in her feedback. I also have a couple of screenwriting friends online I run my scripts to.

September 11, 2014 at 6:03PM

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Oriel Kerr
filmmaker, screenwriter, animator, illustrator
147

I always enjoy reading your articles V Renee, you add a lot off personality to your post, interesting to read. Fun collaboration these 2 have, I enjoy writing alone but coming up with ideas and brain storming with others is a great way to keep it fresh.

September 6, 2014 at 4:48PM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
775

Gracias!

My brain is New Year's Even in Times Square chaotic, so it helps to have someone there to direct the traffic rather than tell me where to go.

September 7, 2014 at 4:47PM, Edited September 7, 4:51PM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Great article. Very helpful.

One more thing I personally found useful is, collaborate with someone who knows absolutely nothing about filmmaking. Bouncing ideas off and getting the prespective of the general audience is key, perhaps THE key to making a successful product.

Find a representative of general public and talk to him/her. This is very helpful in all fields including cinematography, directing, colouring, effects, not just screenwriting.

We as filmmakers get caught up in our filmmaking bubble and many times forget that we're actually producing content for the common public, not for fellow filmmakers.

September 7, 2014 at 4:00AM

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Ebrahim Saadawi
Director, Physician (Radiologist)
254

Wow, working with a partner looks so much fun, so much more fun than working by yourself in fact. I should really try that some time. :) Awemsome. Thanks Renee. Great find as usual.

September 7, 2014 at 6:12AM

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Great tips here. Even though you might know some of the tips, it´s always a great treat to be reminded of the simple ones again when writing gets messy :)

I wanted a bit more about how to actually find your writing partner. Is it to watch tons of shorts/independent features to catch good writing, is it attending festivals or search film forums.
Maybe I misunderstood the title of the article or my ego just wanted it to be about that, since I´m personally struggling with my search.
But here´s an idea for your next article, V Renée :)

September 8, 2014 at 7:51AM

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Jonas Thorbjoern
Writer/Director
147

I think starting with reading and watching films is a great way to learn how to capture the elements of a good narrative. This especially holds true for specific genres.

Going to festivals or screenwriting competitions could also be a different way of finding a collaborative partner. In fact, you've just given me a tip--thanks!

September 11, 2014 at 6:07PM

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Oriel Kerr
filmmaker, screenwriter, animator, illustrator
147

Insightful article. I'd love to have a screenwriting partner for all the same reasons.

September 8, 2014 at 4:59PM

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Kyri Saphiris
Filmmaker
424

Great article, I'm looking for my screenwriting soulmate to light a fire under my arse when I'm stuck. :)

September 8, 2014 at 9:39PM, Edited September 8, 9:39PM

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Rob Rojas
Screen Writer
74

Finding a cinematic partner, someone who shares your vision not just on one project, but with cinematography in general, is the key that unlocks each and every door you were unable to unlock yourself. It was not optional for me, it was necessary. Pre-, shooting, editing, writing, it's all so much better than the two of us could ever have done by ourselves.

September 11, 2014 at 9:07PM

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Michael P Ellis
President, Result Films Inc
258

I hate (hate [hate]) writing by hand. It's slow to the point that I often can't get a full thought onto the page before I forget where I'm going with an idea. Or - and this is often worse/more frustrating - I scribble furiously and illegibly.

October 27, 2014 at 1:42PM, Edited October 27, 1:42PM

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J. Wendell Miller
Writer/Director
124