On Collaborations [Or “Scripted Togethernessess”] – Pt. 2

Rich shows the other side of the coin… and it’s ‘heads’.  Or rather, ‘two heads’.

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Firstly: yeah, what he said [Part 1]. Co-writing works for us for a numbers of reasons and can yield advantages which might be worth thinking about if you’re a ‘lone-wolf.’ Or a lone Wilf.

Often Andy and I start work on HALF an idea and because there are two of us, it becomes a WHOLE idea… whereas if there’s just one of you, it might remain a HALF-arsed idea for a WHOLE lot longer. You might not even think it’s half an idea, just the beginning of a fragment of a teensy bit of an idea. But share it with your co-writing mucker and see what happens. Your co-writer has an idea that latches itself onto your first idea, which in turn sparks something else and before you know it, there’s a plot unfolding. And if nothing happens then you were right, it wasn’t even half an idea and you’d be better off moving onto something else.

Never under-estimate the value of having someone whose job it is to listen to you spout out your half-ideas and add useful suggestions about how to mould them into something whole or just into… something. Someone who can ask you searching questions like:

  • Why did the killer use the candlestick and not the rope / revolver / lead piping / mechanical egg-whisk?
  • Wouldn’t it be better if that character was an old woman instead of Tom Cruise?
  • Do we HAVE to have a llama in this scene?

Someone to work off, so that between you, you can tease out what the story, or scene, or character really needs. Or someone who will just say to you:

Er… No.

Sometimes you just need that. But it’s better coming from someone you trust, someone with a vested interest in making your manuscript as good as it possibly can be. The deal is of course that you have to put that trust in too. It doesn’t work if you get in a huff about your golden egg of an idea being cricket-batted by your writing buddy rather than transformed into a delightful soufflé. It only works if you aren’t too precious about your writing; if you are, screenwriting might not be for you in all honesty. This is a collaborative business and it pays to be flexible. Bend in the breeze. Like a ninja. A bendy ninja.

Having another PoV alongside your own is also an instant benchmark; you can tell instantly if your partner is excited by your suggestion, has suggestions of her/his own or stands staring at her/his shoes whilst tumbleweed rolls past with some plaintive harmonica. This is especially important if you need to get a sense of whether something is funny or not—much harder to do when you’re on your own, reeling off your one-liners to yourself to see if you crack up (or just crack).

ANDY:  …so it’s basically a Jane Austen-y type period romance that ends with a Mafia/Yakuza gun battle at a dolphinarium.

RICH: …??!?

ANDY:  Right.  I’ll just pop the old coat on and be off then…

Andy and I have been mates for more than 20 years, which helps. It means we share a sense of humour and frames of reference, most of which fall under guitar-bands, cartoons from the 70s and savoury snacks. This gives a kind of short-hand that helps us to short-cut rather than short-circuit.

But more than this, having a writing partner does make you GET ON WITH IT. Sure, play ideas ping-pong, act stuff out to see if it works, wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care… as long you’re being productive. When there’s two of you in the room, the process can take many forms. Even if one of you isn’t in the mood, you feed off the energy of your other writing ‘twinnie’. When I write on my own, the risk of an energy crisis is greater than an OPEC embargo – the ideas ping-pong has no ping, just pong, and the lure of noodling around in the Twitter-verse instead is too great to resist.

Having a mate to write with helps you encourage/cajole/beat great work out of one another and there’s definitely a sense that you don’t want to let your co-writer down… or let them write all the best bits.


Some chalk and cheese just feeding off each other’s cool and diverse ideas, yesterday.

Also, being in a team means the work tends to take shape a little quicker, though with one caveat: that you actually DO THE WORK. That means, no faffing* around, chatting about the footie, girlfriends, boyfriends, girl-boy friends, footie friends, or just last night’s drunken shenanigans**. Unless of course it leads to you actually writing a scene about exactly that. Co-writing can be great if it gives you more focus, but beware that it can derail your best intentions too.

It also helps if you divvy up the workload: if one of you is in full-flow on a full-blown flight of fancy, the other needs to grab pen/paper, PC, Dictaphone or camera to make sure the outpourings are recorded somehow, somewhere before they flutter away like rainbow-coloured sparkle dust in a gust of Satanic hell-trump. Or, if one of you does dialogue better, the other takes care of the structuring and scenic ‘book-ending’. And so it moves forward, as it does for me ‘n’ him, alternating the lead-and-follow:  Holmes and Watson; Bodie and Doyle; Terry and June.

But we always, ALWAYS, take turns making the tea.

[* faffing is a word. Yes it is.]

[** also a word. Official.]

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As always, if you want to know more about our scripts or wish to explore the possibility of filming one, have a browse through our LOGLINES section or strike up a conversation via our contacts in, er… CONTACTS.



Pints And Productivity: 1 Skype Call, 2 Lagers, 3 Scripts

Not a ‘lads-mag’ Jane Austen but a look back at how an online chat and a couple of postprandial meal softeners took us from 0 to 3 scripts before closing time and the last of the Bacon Fries…

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We’d arranged a Skype call with director John at 7:30 to discuss the progress of two of our shorts as well as the finer points of life, work and funding in John’s fresh new Glaswegian fields. We rattle through the preliminaries in a few short minutes:

  • the scripts are still sexy;
  • a production team is being assembled;
  • Scotland is supernaturally cold;
  • John’s bed is supernaturally messy (cheers, Skype…)

John distracts us from his tousled duvet with an eminently sensible plan for funding and filming going forward then advises he’ll be shooting low-to-no budget in a month or so with his new team: do we have anything ‘dialogue-y‘ we could punt his way for two characters in a single location…?

Not at 7:45 with full tummies and an eyeful of ‘crime scene’ bedroom we don’t, but give us some pointers and we’ll see what we can rustle up.

John likes what we do so bats the creative ball deep into our half of the court. He chuckles through our funnies in the right places for the right reasons but he’s also big on ‘dilemma’ and disarming twists and switches. He’s worried he’s being too vague in sketching out what is admittedly a pretty sketchy wish list but we don’t see it that way: give us a pirate hat, a lolly stick and a kilo of cubed beef and we’ll give you the daring deeds and hairs-breadth ‘scapes of buccaneering wooden terror Captain Stroganoff. It’s just got to be short. And cheap. And half the cost again.

DIRECTOR: So what have you got I could shoot in a day?

WRITER: The 25th Century. A space station perched on the outer ring of Saturn. Two gigantic space millipedes…

DIRECTOR: Okay, let me just stop you there a second…

In a final, inadvertent master stroke before returning to the remains of his detonated digs, John forwards over two headshots of actors he’s eager to work with and gives us plenty of time before the shoot to mull everything over. Now we have a spare couple of pub hours and some smouldering publicity portraits to pin a few stories and situations on. Lining up a couple of cold-filtered imagination lubricators, we make short work of making short works.

Between Premier League predictions and strategic micturitions (possibly not a real word…), we flesh out two single-location comedies and a spellbinding little dramatic short that owes much to Rich’s willingness to wipe the smile off what started life as a cast iron belly laugher but ended up with a sizeable lump in its throat. Thinking only in shillings and pence, we cook up an irritable vampire, a double-booked werewolf, a private investigator obsessed with the photographic clarity of a cheating husband and a cosy, cuddly conflab about home improvements that’s anything but. All this at 10:00 from nothing whatsoever at 7:30.


Captain Stroganoff – Benedict Cumberbatch perhaps…?

As writers, it feels great to be able to layer something as substantial on so disjointed a collection of bones in so short a space of time. However, much as I love the image of the fast-thinking, finger-clicking screenplay ninja, looking back I realise just how much was already ‘there’: a director who connects with our writing style; a host of shared ideas and fragments finding new reasons to be thrashed out; a couple of faces to stick in a room and characterise; crisps and lager. The movie-making cogs may at times move slower than a lazy glacier handcuffed to a radiator handcuffed to Terry Waite, but the wait on one project shouldn’t detract from the excitement of beginning another. Next time out we’ll hit the cognac on empty stomachs, set fire to the director’s bed and hammer out an award-winning, multi-season series about a bunch of pals living together in the same West Village apartment block. Perhaps we’ll even call it ‘Pals’.

As for Captain Stroganoff, he’s way too meaty for the shorts.

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As always, if you want to know more about our scripts or wish to explore the possibility of filming one, have a browse through our LOGLINES section or strike up a conversation via our contacts in, er… CONTACTS.