Heywell Film Scripts Blog

Comedy. Drama. Horror. Suspense. My life AND my scripts.

Collaboration Heaven and Hell

Posted by bobheske on December 16, 2006

Collaboration Cartoon

Collaboration. It sounds like a friendly, congenial word, doesn’t it? Like marriage, it can have it’s blatant downside. Like a lemming jumping over a cliff.

I’ve collaborated three times in my not-so-brief writing career. With mixed results. Following are a few life lessons – and some tips – before you take the plunge.

The Sheep in Wolve’s Clothing.
The first person I collaborated with I met at a video store. He was a manager and well, since I was in there four to five times a week it was clear we both shared a passion for movies. We met at a fast food restaurant and pitched our ideas. He seemed professional enough – dedicated, well-spoken, with a theatre background. We shook hands and agreed to help each other take a beloved script idea to the finish line and share in our mutual success.

That was the only good part of our collaboration. “The Dream.” My writing partner never got past Act 1. There was always a distraction to keep him off course. And what he had for Act 1 was full of typos and bad writing. Meanwhile, I thought I was plowing along pretty smoothly. Then he introduced a third party into the mix to share a percent of whatever success we had. It wasn’t because this person was creative, a screenwriter, or even a film buff. He needed someone to do his spellchecking and proofread his writing. I went along because … well, I was stupid.

Then, after he had been to my meager home, out of the blue he decided we were close pals and asked to borrow money. Twice. The first time I let him borrow a small amount – about 1/3 of his original “asking price”. The second time I plumb said NO!

The final straw was when I hired a lawyer to draft a collaboration agreement. (Yes, I know we should have had one going into the agreement – but did I already say I was stupid?) Entertainment lawyers don’t come cheap. I found a way to subsidize the cost between myself and another writer I was collaborating with (see story below) – figuring it would save this gentleman some money by splitting legal costs three ways.

Au contrair.

When I sent him the bill, he chastised me via email about being wasteful and reckless with his money. He told me that he’d pay me back on a payment plan (his passive agressive way to meter out punishment, no doubt) – a six-month payment plan, in fact. This after he’d just gotten a good job and bought a new car for 20 g’s.

It was time to say “buh-bye.” We exchanged emails confirming in writing the end of our partnership. He sent me a final note (full of typos) telling me that my script was far from market-ready and that I was far from professional. (BTW – He was half right: the script needed a serious re-write, but it has since received considerable interest.)

In the past three years, I fear my old collaborator chum has fallen off the screenwriting map. I Googled his name once and saw a posting of him kvetching at a town meeting. Perhaps he’s found his calling after all. As for me, not seeing him again has been a happy ending to an otherwise waste-of-my-time tale.

A Buddy, A Bad Breakup, and Booze.
My second collaboration actually happened around the same time as my first. After a particularly bad relationship, I went to my friend’s house and in a drunken slobber proclaimed: “I love stupid. In fact, I’m going to write a movie about it and call it Love Stupid!”

My friend, also being a bit tipsy, high-fived me (actually, he missed) and said, “That’s right … and I’ll do it with you!”

We signed a collaboration agreement. He never asked to borrow money. And he’s still my friend.

He actually stuck by me for several rewrites and we recently optioned the script. We also collaborated on a second comedy that was based on a phrase his girlfriend (and now his wife) picked on me for including in Love Stupid – “Bingo Bango”.

“Bingo Bango? Ha! Nobody uses that type of language?”

“Oh yeah, you stupid #@#$% … I’ll write a script and make Bingo Bango common lingo! And you’ll never mock me again!”

Footnote: Actually, I didn’t really have the balls to say “#@#$%” … and, sadly, my friend’s wife continues to mock me to this day.

Now we’re hoping to option the second script. Sounds like a fairy tale marriage, right? Not really. The downside is this:

    Like Avis, I tried harder but…

I wrote the treatment for both scripts, and pretty much had to bust my friend’s balls to get his scenes done. “OK, OK … I’ll write the scene. Put down the riding crop!” he’d tell me after I berated him over the phone, via email, and in person. He actually stopped taking my calls for awhile because I was such a pain. “Look, you’re more serious about this while I consider it a hobby,” he told me. Which was fine but our collaboration agreement had me getting 51% and my hobbyist buddy getting 49%. For the second script, our agreement was more in line with me getting 65% and my friend 35%. Still, it’s been an unspoken sore spot that I came up with the story idea and structure, and probably could have written the scripts faster by myself.

    We collaborated, now we’re considered an item

Recently I got a manager on the West Coast who is trying to get me a bonafide top-notch LA agent. The only problem is my manager likes my comedy writing the best (even though other producers like my horror and drama scripts) … so the samples he wants to send have – you guessed it – both my friend and my name on it. Like it or not, Hollywood considers us a team. This is definitely something to consider if you write a script or two with a friend, but want to forge your own identity down the road.

I’ll close by saying I’m grateful to my friend for sticking with me to finish the scripts. He added real value to both scripts. And his sense of humor complemented by own. Plus, he’s been very fair and open as we sit down and talk to people re: optioning our scripts. Still, I’m the one doing all the heavy lifting to get the scripts sold. So, a word to the wise: when you form a writing partnership, make sure you share a passion as well as a friendship.

Teaming Up for Low-Pay & “The Experience”.
My most recent collaboration was with an animator/scriptwriter friend whom I met online. He introduced me to an indie producer who needed a polish (more like a rewrite) of an animated feature film that had been through several drafts and already had 50% of the funding in place. I agreed to a low paycheck and worked every night for a month (which was tough to do with a colicky newborn in the house). In the end, the project turned out pretty well – although I’m not sure how much of our “polish” will make it to the final draft.

All in all, it was a valuable lesson and showed me that I could do a professional polish on someone else’s labor or love. Plus, my co-writer friend and I felt we improved the overall product and respected each other’s creative input. Not too shabby. If there was a gripe, it would be that I felt I put more time into the rewrite than my collobarating partner who was busy juggling other projects (and who got more pay because his producer friend got us the gig). Still, my collaborator was a conscientious, affable, and talented writer so, in retrospect, the gripe is pretty minor (although we both agree that next time we work together – it will be for a BIGGER paycheck).

So what do I think of collaboration? Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ain’t. And, if you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a bit anal/obsessive when it comes to screenwriting. So maybe the moral is:

I’m the one who is the shitty person to collaborate with. Stay away!

The bottom line: Collaboration has its rewards and punishments. You’ll be spending hundreds of hours on your feature – better make sure the partner you chose is up to the task. For those brave socialable souls that dare venture down the collaboration path, here are a few simple rules to consider:

    Know who you’re writing with
    Make sure you share both talent and passion
    Sign a collaboration agreement first
    Make sure you both commit as much time to marketing as writing
    Record all expenses, and reimburse each other prompty
    Always be fair and, if you must break up, do so amicably

One Response to “Collaboration Heaven and Hell”

  1. Wonderful, what a weblog it is! This web site presents useful data to us, keep it up.

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