Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing With A Partner

Writing is almost always challenging, especially if you’re writing something a bit foreign to you…whether it’s a feature drama, a children’s picture book, or a short film. That’s why writing with a partner attracted me to write two things I had never done before: a feature comedy screenplay and an animated web series.

I’m not a strong joke writer and I knew I needed someone who had punchier lines to help me with a feature comedy. When I approached Jessica a good friend of mine who’s naturally funny with an idea for a feature, I was a bit nervous. Would this affect our friendship? I had never written with anyone before, but I really felt like we could do this together, and that we could do it well.

Jess said yes and seemed very excited about it. We met up at a local coffee shop to talk about our characters and write descriptions for them. The next few sessions were devoted to our outline and eventually, our beat sheet. We met up once or twice a week to start writing the screenplay. I typed it out while we literally talked through each scene. There were several times when I wasn’t sure if an idea or a joke was funny, so just running it by my partner and getting feedback was good progress.

Although we finished writing the screenplay months ago, I wanted to get Jess’s opinion on what it was like working with a partner. Whenever the subject of writing with someone else comes up, I share my experiences so I thought I’d get some insight from the two talented people I worked with.

Here’s what Jessica had to say:

“For the most part, I am someone who prefers to work alone. So when I decided to write a screenplay with a close friend of mine, I was uneasy about how the process would work. How would we be productive? What if we didn't agree on things? What if we hated each other's ideas? I really didn't know how it would work, but we had an idea worth writing, so I decided to give it a try.

“I was amazed at how well we worked together. We spent a few sessions just going over characters and a general outline. Then we came back and broke that down into a beat sheet. Before we knew it, we had a full screenplay sitting in front of us, just waiting to be written.

“It really was a flawless system. Sometimes we would get stuck on a joke and then would bounce ideas back and forth, drawing on each other's creativity, until eventually our mediocre joke transformed into something really funny.

“After writing an entire screenplay with a partner, I would happily do it again. I do think that the types of personalities are important though, and perhaps with someone else I may not have meshed as well. So, if you can find the right hard-working, dedicated, open-minded individual to write with, I say go with it! “

I also wanted to get some feedback from Molly, who is someone I often develop lots of film and television concepts with but we had never actually written something together. Since learning more about transmedia and seeing how popular web series had gotten, we decided to write an animated web series for women. We figured six webisodes would be a good start for the first season. Starting off with character profiles and springboards, we later split the writing in half: I would write three webisodes and Molly would write the other three. This process was a lot different than writing everything single thing together like I did with Jess.

After we had written everything, we sent each other our work for story editing. At first, we had different visions for a couple of the characters, but after a few meetings, we found ourselves on the same page again…

Once we shared the same vision, we met up and went through each webisode together, tightening dialogue, punching up the jokes, and making sure every scene flowed well and all the characters were true to form.

Here’s what Molly thought about writing our animated web series with me!

“Writing with a partner is a great way to meet deadlines and stay motivated. For me, this has always been a problem. However, since working with Lorna, I get things done when I say I will (most of the time!). Finding the right partner is really important. Try to find someone who complements your weaknesses and has a similar style of writing.

“For me, procrastination and motivation can be a problem. I talk myself out of problems instead of working through them. Lorna doesn't let me give up when we hit a roadblock. On the flip side, I find that one of my strengths is writing dialogue, so once we have the beat sheet (which I don't enjoy doing!) we are ready to go!

“Be honest, but objective. If you don't like something, figure out why. If you just try to be "nice" to each other all the time, you really aren't doing each other any favors. Before you start writing, make sure you have the same vision in mind. Use references to other shows, movies, plays, etc. to make sure you are headed the same direction stylistically.

“Also, sometimes you have to let the little things go. Unless you are adamant about a particular element in the script that perhaps your partner hasn't captured or gotten exactly the way you imagine, let it go. As in life, when writing with a partner, you must choose your battles wisely.”

And, for the record, I would absolutely write with both Jess and Molly again. Both experiences were fantastic…I learned a lot about what my strengths and weaknesses are and was encouraged to think about things in different ways. Writing with a partner can really open you up to other possibilities, which only enriches your own writing.