The Pros and Cons of Writing Screenplays with a Partner

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Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins in ‘The Shape of Water.’ Photo courtesy: Fox Searchlight.

Parasite. The Shape of Water. Legally Blonde. Election. No Country for Old Men.

What do these titles have in common? All these films were famously written by screenwriting duos who were writing partners. The writers for the above films are Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Vanessa Taylor and Guillermo del Toro, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, and Joel and Ethan Coen, respectively.

If you’re currently writing solo and lamenting your slow or limited output, you may want to consider collaborating with another writer whose work you respect. If you both share the same sensibilities and adore working in the same genre, why not give it a try? It’s possible to increase your output or finish that one screenplay with the story problems you just can’t figure out how to resolve.

Writing with another human soul will take compromise and negotiation. But often times, two brains are better than one. Here are the pros and cons to being half of a writing team.

Pros

No. 1.   Get out of your own head

Most of us have an inner critic, or that voice in our heads constantly telling us that what we’re writing isn’t good enough, funny enough or marketable enough. By collaborating with another writer, it’s easier to circumvent that voice by listening to your writing partner’s voice instead. It’s instant feedback! And you can provide the same support and feedback to your partner as well. Remember, writing is rewriting so as soon as you can get your first draft down on paper, the most important work can begin.

No. 2. Faster output

Once you’ve collaborated on an outline or beat sheet, you can divide and conquer the workload. Some writing teams divide up the script in 10-page increments, so Writer A would write the first 10 pages and Writer B would write page 11 to 20, then exchange for punch ups or additional dialogue, etc. Other writers, particularly comedy writers, sit side by side, using software like Writer Duet or Final Draft that lets you collaborate on the same draft in real time (via the internet). The benefit of comedy writers sitting together is that the writers can try to make each other laugh – a way to test out your jokes.

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in ‘Legally Blonde.’ Credit: MGM.

No. 3. Finding a balance

We all have a unique skillset when it comes to writing screenplays – for some of us it’s story and plot, others excel in character or dialogue. The more you write with your partner, it will become clear what part of your writing can use a boost. If you’ve ever gotten a note that your writing is “too broad” or “a character needs more development,” hopefully your writing partner can pick up the slack and create more nuance.

No. 4. Artistic and emotional support

Hollywood is a difficult place to make a name for yourself. It’s cutthroat and uber competitive – even the most successful writers experience major downs between the ups. Having a writing partner to provide emotional support is an excellent strategy for navigating showbiz’s turbulent waters. Sometimes just having someone to say, “Hey, I believe in you!” can make all the difference.

Cons

No. 1. Disagreements are inevitable

Each writer brings their own experience and world view to a screenplay. It’s easy to get stuck in your own way of seeing things and be reluctant to give up control. If you suspect you are a “control freak,” push yourself to explore the ideas your partner is offering. If you can keep an open mind, you might just find that some of your partners ideas work better than your own. Remember that you are collaborating and that takes compromise.

Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong in ‘Parasite.’ Credit: Neon

No. 2. You’ll never execute your exact vision

If you have a very strong vision for a film, especially if you’re planning to direct, understand that going into a writing partnership is like sharing your child with the other parent. Both parents rear the child and leave imprints (or scars). But you owe it to the child to let the other parent contribute at least half. Same with your screenplay. Both writers add flavor and tone so don’t collaborate if you see this as a pitfall to your grand vision.

No. 3. Splitting the money

You will split any screenplay sales with your writing partner, after the agent, manager and lawyer take their cut, and that can leave you with a lot less money than you had hoped to earn. But if just getting to the place in your career where you’ve sold an actual screenplay is good enough, it’s likely more sales will come.

Have you ever written a screenplay with a partner? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments section below.

 

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Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

1 Reply to "The Pros and Cons of Writing Screenplays with a Partner"

  • comment-avatar
    David Baird December 30, 2020 (9:30 am)

    I have a writing partner and it’s wonderful. We are helping each other become better at our craft. We are able to look at things differently and bring value to each script we write. We compromise and grow from it. We each have our own separate writing projects too. His success is my success and my success is his success.

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