Collaborating in a creative environment can be a real challenge—especially when you share the same role. But sometimes, the saying is true: two heads are better than one and writing a screenplay with a partner can be an amazing experience!
In screenwriting, we’ve seen several successful dynamic duos over the years. Admittedly, many power teams are brothers (Duffer, Coen, Nolan, Farrelly…) but that certainly isn’t necessary for blockbuster team projects—like Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix and V for Vendetta), to name a few.
Read on to learn some key pointers for working with a partner (and maybe consider sending this article to your own writing partner!).
You can’t talk about partnerships without talking about partners. Assuming a studio or production company isn’t asking you to work with someone specific, how do you go about choosing a creative collaborator?
Good collaborators will each bring a different perspective to the table, but be able to get behind a common vision.
As they say in business, if your partner agrees with you 100% of the time, you might as well work alone. You need someone who is going to challenge you to look at material differently and approach topics in a new way.
A simple but effective way to determine if you would be good partners is too just chat. Meet up in a coffee shop and talk story. See if there’s chemistry and it flows, or if you can’t get anything off the ground.
This step could happen before or after the ideation stage, depending on if you create the idea together one person brings it to the table. But regardless, you’re going to want to start the roles and credits conversation early.
Roles refer to the balance of the partnership. Is this an equal partnership? Does one person ultimately own the project? If you “break up,” does one person get the project? Is one person just helping to come up with ideas and the other person writing?
The answers here are incredibly personal and unique to your specific situation. Unfortunately and fortunately, there’s no correct way to go. When you decide, think about the dynamics you want—do you truly want to be equal collaborators, or do you want one of you to manage the project?
Credits refer to how each writing partner will be credited on the screenplay (and hopefully, title card!). If you plan to both ideate and write, it’s generally best to do an “and” situation— ”Written by Sara and Sam.” If one person is going to take the lead in writing, you can do something like “Written by Sara; Story by Sara and Sam.”
When possible, it’s always best to get this agreement in writing—if for no reason other than it ensures both of you are on the same page and there is no confusion later.
Many times, one writer will approach another with a specific story idea in mind. But not always!
If not, then typically, something will have drawn you and this partner to work together in the first place—a shared interest, a compelling mix of perspectives, a mutual passion for a specific theme, etc. Spend some time chatting with each other and let an idea grow organically.
During this phase, you’re primarily considering big story pillars like:
It’s important that you have clear and concise answers to each of these questions before moving on. Typically, this kind of work is best done either in-person (or over a video-chat, if in-person isn’t possible) because it requires very organic, creative, free-flowing thinking. You should be building on one another’s ideas—after all, that’s why you teamed up!
Once you feel confident in your answers, you can use collaborative planning software to track all of your ideas-to-date. For example, Arc Studio Pro allows you to create cards for each character, major location, and storyline. Take the time to put your work onto them to keep everything consolidated!
Once you lock on an idea, you have the heart of your script. It’s time to give it a skeleton.
As screenwriters know, outlining and planning is where the vast majority of the story choices are made. It’s when you decide the character and story arcs, where you map out your major beats and twists, and where you ultimately decide how your story will resolve.
Many story partners find it’s helpful to start by developing in-depth character bios, complete with backgrounds, flaws, inner-needs, and more. Knowing your players is a great way to be sure you and your partner are on the same page.
During this time, you’re also concurrently creating a beat sheet together (typically in a shared document) and filling in all the details you already know from your ideation phase (that should at least include protagonist, inciting incident, and objective—if not more). To fill out the rest, you and your partner can open up a creative dialogue where you toss ideas out—no idea is a bad idea!
(Practically speaking, keeping shared online documents is a great way to stay organized and collaborate. As your story evolves, your materials will grow and change. Collaborative tools are useful for this purpose as they allow you to time travel through your ideas and work, as well as share them with your partner.)
Once you have a defined beat sheet, you can start fleshing out the details, sequences, and connecting scenes. Fill it in piece by piece like a puzzle, and slowly the story will come together!
Now that you’ve got your outline locked, it’s time for the fun part: writing.
If you and your writing partner are co-writers (that is, equal credits) and you both plan to write, it’s time to come up with an attack plan. Realistically, you aren’t going to sit side by side and take turns pushing keys. Instead, consider these standard arrangements:
There’s no right or wrong answer, and hopefully, by this point in your collaboration, you and your partner will have a pretty good idea of how you plan to divide the writing work.
Fortunately, collaborative screenwriting tools make it super easy to write together and give feedback. For example, on Arc Studio Pro, partners can:
Something important to keep in mind at this point is boundaries: once you make your writing arrangement, stick to it! Allow the other partner to tell you when they’re ready for your input or to discuss.
By now, you know the basics of screenwriting with a partner! Remember, each partnership is going to be unique and involve a bit of giving and take. After all, unique perspectives, opinions, and story sensibilities are what makes a partnership truly great.