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Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Be Collaborative

Your mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open.

In no other form of writing is collaboration as important as in screen- writing. It’s so engrained in the way scripts become movies that without this attitude, no screenwriter, unless he’s a genius, can become successful. Once you receive interest from a producer to turn your screenplay into a movie, you will have to collaborate with development executives, directors, and actors. If you’re difficult to work with, no one will want to be around you and you will develop a negative reputation that will hinder your screenwriting career. Collaboration is crucial.

Gerald DiPego: It’s a whole skill you have to develop apart from writing. Call it compromise, negotiation, or debate. You spend a lot of time in development, trying to do your best to explain and defend the material against harmful ideas, but at the same time you have to stay open to the good ideas. Some people shut down and say, “The hell with them! They’re all stupid.” That’s not going to work. Then again, you can’t sit there like a stenographer and accommodate them because that will kill the material.

Derek Haas: You have to be willing to collaborate. Screenwriting doesn’t end with “fade out.” You have to be willing to work with producers, studio execs, directors, actors, cinematographers, stunt coordinators. If you think you’re just going to type the words and the movie is going to reflect exactly what you wrote the first time, you’re in the wrong business.

Michael Brandt: If you have a partner, it makes it much easier to collaborate. We’re constantly rewriting each other. Our one rule is: just make it better.

Aline Brosh McKenna: One of the reasons I picked screenwriting as a career is that it’s collaborative. So when I think of a new project, I also think about who my collaborators might be. And I usually have at least one primary collaborator on every project, whether it’s a producer or director attached to the project, someone who can see the same movie I’m seeing, who has the same sensibilities about the project, who I can shoot small questions to or have conversations with to get me over the rough patches. That’s enormously helpful. The more people you have, the better the experience.

Terry Rossio: I love collaborating with writing partners. It takes a team to make a film, so why not start with a team? That one decision naturally builds in a dozen key safeguards. You’re less likely to work on a project that is of limited interest. You’re less likely to procrastinate. You’re less likely to work on something that has already been done. You’re less likely to miss a key story problem. When working on a story together, neither person will have the answer to the problem alone, but somehow together you arrive at the answer. One plus one can equal three. One downside, though, is that the work takes about twice as long. It takes time and energy to reach consensus.

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