5 Conflict Management Tips for Screenwriters


Most screenwriters prefer to keep the drama in their scripts. Occasionally, when working with agents, managers, development people, producers, directors and actors conflict will arise. How you deal with conflict is a huge issue and most of us spend a great deal of time trying to get good at it. And even after we get good at it, it can still go awry. Here are five ideas to put in your back pocket should the need arise.

No. 1 — Get in Person

More and more business relationships are handled via email and other written communications. Logically, this should be great for you as a wordsmith but unfortunately it’s often not. The Internet, whether we’re talking about email or comment sections or blogs, is famously tone-deaf. This is important to remember every time you’re emailed a new batch of script notes. When you’re reading from the Internet, remember to cast everything in it’s best light. Get in the habit of assuming what’s being said to you is meant well. It probably is.

That may help you avoid some problems but not all. If things start to get confrontational, don’t wait too long before requesting an in-face meeting. Once you’re in the same room it’s easier to read body language and to create a reasonable back and forth.

No. 2 — Stay in Control

…of yourself. It’s the best way to not lose control of the situation. The only person’s behavior you can control in any situation is your own. If you keep your cool, others are likely to follow suit. So, don’t yell, become sarcastic, snappy, rude, or otherwise offensive. You need to remain professional and in control of your own behavior. It may not be very satisfying in the moment but in the long run, you’ll be glad you did.


Image from 123rf stock photos

No. 3 — Leave Your Family at Home

Everyone picks up their way of dealing with conflict (both good and bad) from their family. The thing is, the people you work with professionally have picked up their habits from their family. And your family’s way of dealing with conflict may clash terribly with their family’s way of dealing. The reason to look at conflict this way is that it help you see your own habits while explaining why those habits don’t necessarily work. It also helps you to understand and be empathic to the people you’re in conflict with. They aren’t bad people, they’re people who learned bad things. Yes, there are bad people in the world, but always start off giving people the benefit of a doubt.

No. 4 — Know When to Give In

The most important factor in whether or not to just give in is who owns the story. If you’ve already sold your script or you’re working for hire then you should plan to lose whatever conflicts arise. But don’t automatically give in. Part of what producers and development people want from you is your passion. That means you should fight for what you believe in. Sometimes the people you’re working for will be receptive to this and other times not. When you see that they’re not receptive, give in.

If you’ve made an attachment to your script and you still own your script then you have a different situation. You don’t have to give in if you don’t want to. Whoever you’ve attached may walk away, so you do have to consider whether you’re right or not. If you’re convinced your right, then don’t give in. Even if you fail you want to fail on your merits not someone else’s.

No. 5 — Learn from your Mistakes

Every day when you sit down to write, you should be learning from whatever writing mistakes you made the day before. The same goes for every time you have a conflict. Bring your experience to every conflict. At the same, be careful not to fight the “last war.” Make sure the things you’ve learned in past conflicts are appropriate to this new situation. Applying the wrong solution can mess you up as much as not learning from your mistakes.

So, hopefully, this is a very brief, tip-of-the-iceberg list will help to get you started. You’ll be learning about conflict throughout your career. But, as a writer, you’re already a student of human nature. Turn that honest gaze on yourself and make sure you’re doing the best you can.


Marshall Thornton has an MFA from UCLA in screenwriting. He spent ten years writing spec scripts and has been a semi-finalist or better in the Nicholl, Samuel Goldwyn, American Accolades, One-In-Ten and Austin Film Festival contests. As a novelist, he writes the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries. The eight book series follows the cases of a gay detective in turbulent 1980s Chicago. Marshall has also been known to write the occasional romantic comedy. You can find him online at marshallthorntonauthor.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @mrshllthornton

2 Replies to "5 Conflict Management Tips for Screenwriters"

  • comment-avatar
    Tasha Lewis June 16, 2017 (11:48 am)

    Thank you for this article. It complements the class “How to get an agent and manager” class.

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