Claudia Johnson & Matt Stevens co-authored Script Partners: How to Succeed at Co-Writing for Film & TV. Their latest feature, Ruby, has been optioned by Invitation Entertainment. Follow them on Facebook.Full bio.
As you look for the right writing partner, look for someone with similar sensibilities to your own. Do you want to tell the same kinds of stories? Do you share the same writing goals?
For Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Shrek; Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), it was their shared sense of story that brought them together, as well as their shared career aspirations to be screenwriters, something Elliott strongly recommends in a partner. He jokes on their website Wordplayer.com, “Try to avoid getting a partner who wants to be, say, a convicted murderer, or worse, a performance artist.”
A shared sense of story brought us together too. But it was our same sense of humor that bonded us as co-writers and friends. Such is the power of humor in creating human connection. And good collaborations.
In fact, a shared sense of humor may predict, as nothing else can, a closeness and compatibility in your writing partnership.
Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone (Intolerable Cruelty; Man of the House) told us they gravitated toward each other because of their similar “whimsical perspective.”
ROBERT: The guy cracks me up. That’s always been really helpful. In writing comedy. [Laughter]
MATTHEW: If Rob says something, and I laugh, it’s funny.
ROBERT: That’s a good sign.
MATTHEW: That’s a good sign. It goes in, and of course, it’s manipulated till it’s not funny anymore. [Laughter]
Their sensibilities, from humor to work habits, became so fused that they called their partnership “the Vulcan Mind Meld.”
For those looking for a partner to co-write comedy, Larry Gelbart (Caesar’s Hour; M*A*S*H TV series; Tootsie) told us at his Beverly Hills home, “Say something that you think is comedy, or you know to be funny, or try out your favorite joke, and if the other person doesn’t laugh, run do not walk to the next candidate! The same rule [about shared sensibilities] applies to a pair of writers who want to do drama, action, whatever, except without the laughs. What do you like? Who do you like? Which movies? Which this? Which that?”
Or what—or whom—do you dislike?
“It’s probably more important that the two people share the same dislikes than the same likes,” Marshall Brickman said, an opinion that clearly informs some of his and Woody Allen’s greatest comedic moments (the professor pontificating about Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall leaps to mind). “That is, it’s better if you hate the same things, rather than like the same things. It narrows things down a little.”
Our shared dislike—okay, hatred—of hypocrisy fueled the writing of our first screenplay, Obscenity, a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. And our shared hatred of racism and social injustice fueled the writing of our most recent screenplay, Ruby, about the wrongful conviction of Ruby McCollum, based on Claudia’s documentary feature, The Other Side of Silence: The Untold Story of Ruby McCollum.
So for all the likes and dislikes you and your partner may share, it’s good to have “a dissimilar taste,” as Gelbart put it. “You can be yin and yang. It’s okay if the other person’s take is interesting and it opens you up a little, and presumably the reverse is happening.”
That brings us to the second crucial quality to look for in a writing partner—complementary strengths—which we’ll explore in our next post.
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Writing Partnerships: The Essentials to Finding Your Match