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:
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.
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.
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.