Collaboration

15 May

Writers aren’t preconditioned to seek out collaborators. How many people do you want ganging up on the same sentence? I wouldn’t want to collaborate on a piece of fiction, although if the opportunity presented itself – if it made sense in some way – I think I could do it. There’s been some talk about contacting Tom’s agent about Tom, Michael and me writing a young adult novel based on Umzumbe Boys. Since we’ve already hammered out a script together, it’s conceivable we could create a cohesive fictional tone for the book.

When it comes to screenwriting, no matter if there is only one name on the title page, collaboration is inevitable. Since a film is so much about structure and story beats, there’s a positive aspect to collaboration. One writer may open the other’s eyes with a comment that enlarges the scope of the film, or reel the other in when a tangent throws the script off track (Michael calls these unnecessary tangents, “tumbleweeds.”)

Michael and I have tried a few different forms of collaboration. The way that works the best for us is to write a treatment, usually a dozen pages; then create a beat sheet with 55 to 60 scenes. Then we each take an act or a 15-page section and get to work, passing the pages back and forth until we have a first draft. Once the notes come in from readers and producers, we may hear comments about secondary characters not having arcs, or the ending feels too rushed – maybe there’s a technical detail that we got wrong. It’s a continuation of the collaboration process, with more people weighing in. If you’ve got your ego in check you can sort through the comments, utilizing those that make sense and rejecting those that don’t.

When I was twelve, I remember reading the Classics Illustrated comic book version of Cyrano de Bergerac. On page two there was a caption picturing Cyrano waving his sword around and saying something like, “If you alter one line of my play, the gutters of Paris will run with blood!”

With that attitude in Hollywood, Cyrano would be humping double shifts at a Western Avenue car wash.

(2005)

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