Monday, November 1, 2010

Results of the Collaborative Writing Project aka "Project Wilson Phillips"

It started a few months ago. I had three teams of writers ready to participate in our round-robin style writing exercise. The rules were fairly simple. I’d kick things off with ten script pages, then throw those pages to the next person in the rotation of each team. When that person was done, they were to send me their pages and I would add them to the screenplay and pass that work forward to the next person.

As there were three teams, I tried to think of an appropriate code name for this little project, and immediately started thinking of various trios: Larry, Moe and Curly? Too obvious? Huey, Dewy and Louie? Better, but still not esoteric enough.

Wilson Phillips? Perfect. In the trio of second generation singers sired by members of The Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, I’d found my team names: Carnie, Wendy and Chynna. Though many immediately identify them with their hit: “Hold On,” I tend to favor “Impulsive,” which I would say is one of the greatest forgotten songs of the early 90s. In fact, I like it so much that ages ago I tried to shoehorn it into my second script before I was smart enough to realize I shouldn’t do that.

Ah, the Nineties...

But back to the project. The rules were pretty basic. Each writer was supposed to add 10 pages. This ended up being a bit of a loose guideline. Some fell just short, while others ended up going slightly over. One or two even ran into trouble when the spacing in their program resulted in their submission being short when reformatted to match the others. Overall, everything more or less went to plan.

Each writer had a deadline of one week. Again, this mostly worked though one team in particular seemed cursed by delays brought on by illness and fickle spam folders. Everyone got a list of instructions, some of which are reprinted below:

“Yes, and?” style of improv rules is encouraged. A writer may not deny or unfairly undo details established by other writers in previous pages. However, shocking twists are encouraged so long as they don’t violate the spirit of this rule. In other words, it’s totally fair to reveal that a seemingly-paralyzed character has actually been faking all along (so long as the character’s paralysis isn’t reinforced in a scene where he’s alone and would have no reason to lie), but one cannot decide on p. 30 that the action really is taking place in Denver when early scenes have been written with it set in New York.

While I’m not going to tell you what you can’t do, try not to close any doors without opening some new ones. (In other words, don’t kill off all the characters and destroy the city in a nuclear bomb blast unless you’ve laid the groundwork for the story to continue somehow.)

I also warned them:

These first ten pages are not the greatest thing I’ve ever written. It’s hard to write the opening to a story without any idea where it’s going, and it’s just as hard to write a good opening that doesn’t box the story in too tightly in one direction. After all, since we have three teams, I wanted enough material established in the beginning so that we could end up with very disparate scripts.

So here’s a fair warning: these first few pages are laced with traps. You’re going to see things in there that you may have heard me rail against in the blog – or at least the suggestions of those things. It’s not my intention to have all of these turn out as compilations of the worst screenwriting clichés ala BALLS OUT, though. If that’s where the process takes us, so be it. But don’t forget that it’s totally fair to subvert those clichés and spin things into a completely original direction. My “cliché” set-up could play like brilliant misdirection if it’s followed by brilliant plot twists that go in a new direction.

In theory, I had the easiest job of this whole competition. I had a blank slate as I started my ten-pages and could set up anything without having to worry about the consequences.

In theory.

Over the next week plus, we’ll be taking a look at each of the three scripts that resulted. Tomorrow I’ll explain what I was trying to accomplish in my initial ten pages, and later in the week we’ll hear from many members of the teams as they talk about their goals for their pages.

Team Carnie is up first and you can find their script here.

Special thanks to Nate Winslow for helping me set up the file hosting for the scripts this week.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I commented earlier after reading the first half of the script. I found it interesting how every character's story developed in comparison to the script I worked on.

    Having now read the full script, I really want to read comments from the writers, especially the last one...

  3. Glad to help! Looking forward to reading these bad boys.

  4. Looking forward to reading this. :D