Is This the Beginning of a Beautiful Partnership? - Complications Ensue
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Q. I wrote a script with a writer I know. Now an agent is interested in repping us. But I really hadn't planned to make this a partnership. He has a very different sensibility than I do. What should I do?
This is why you don't co-write a spec script unless you're open to being partners with someone. No one will hire you based on a co-write, unless they can hire you both to co-write.

However, "different sensibilities" = good. If you had the same sensibility, there'd be no point to being partners. Lisa and I have partnered on a bunch of things. She's good at having lots of ideas, teen girl characters, and goofy comedy. I have not so many ideas, but I'm good at structuring a TV show out of an idea. She thinks like a girl. I think like a boy. I'm a genre fan. She's not. We work well together.

Granted, we're married. But we wouldn't be writing together if the writing partnership didn't work out.

The big drawback to a writing partnership (unless you're already married) is you get half the pay. For everything. Even staff salaries.

The other big drawback is that you're stuck with another person in your writing life. Great when you click, lousy when you don't. And sometimes you won't.

The key question is: are your writing partner and you a significantly better writer than you are alone? If the partnership is even 25% better than just you, you might get 200% of the work and pay. How much better were Lennon and McCartney together? Since you wrote a script with the other guy that an agent wants to read, it sounds like the partnership is a much better writer than you are solo, at this point in your craft.

The second key question: is the other partner sane? If you're in a partnership with a crazy person, it is something like being married to a crazy person, without the makeup sex.

(I would say "do try not to hook up with your writing partner," but aside from being futile advice, I'm not sure it's even good advice. Lots of husbands and wives write together.)

A third question: do you two motivate each other to work harder than you would work on your own?

If you're just starting out, bear in mind, you can always get a divorce later. At that point you'll have to write some solo specs to prove you can write -- but that's what you'd be doing now, minus the script that got you the interest. So no loss there. In the mean time, you can learn a lot from working closely with someone who thinks differently than you. You might learn how they think; you might just learn that you can't duplicate how you think and therefore need them. And you can rack up credits for your resume.

Now, if you hadn't already written a good script together, then I'd say you're taking a pretty big gamble. If the partnership doesn't work out, you have to throw away all those spec scripts. It may take a few tries to find a person with whom you have creative magic. I've partnered on writing with many people, but I can think of only two where we really complemented each other, and one of those was awful on a personal level.

So make sure the other writer is at least as good as you are, and that you genuinely like being around that person. Make sure their work ethic is at least as good as yours. And spend a few days talking through the story before you write anything down, to see if your minds mesh in useful ways. You might be spending the next couple of decades together.

In big decisions like this, always pay attention to your gut reactions. You know things about people that you don't know you know.

(For more about writing partnerships, check out my books!)

UPDATE:
Are you really bound to your writing partner for life? I noticed that Bill Oakley is no longer co-running "Sit Down Shut Up" with Josh Weinstein, even though they've written so long together.
You can always get a divorce. But if you've been working with a writing partner, breaking up is akin to getting a divorce. The longer you were together the worse it will be. Your sample scripts are now semi-worthless and you'll have to write new solo ones. You'll have to retrain yourself how to write well without a partner. And whoever is doing better a year later is going to feel guilty about the other partner who is now losing their house. They may feel abandoned if not betrayed. And if the partnership was good, you'll miss the other guy, and you'll want to run a scene by him, and you know you can't because that would only reopen old wounds. Bill and Josh may not be talking any more.

Or, hey, they might get together again. You never know.

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2 Comments:

Are you really bound to your writing partner for life? I noticed that Bill Oakley is no longer co-running "Sit Down Shut Up" with Josh Weinstein, even though they've written so long together.

By Blogger Morley, at 6:34 PM  

The one thing I'd add is that everyone writes specs at the beginning. If you don't want to write with this partner, go write some stuff on your own. If your partner didn't exist, that's what you'd be doing anyway. And if this agent likes your partnered stuff, there's a fair chance he'll like your solo stuff too, right?

By Blogger Amanda, at 6:55 PM  

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