Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Asking another writer to collaborate

I got this email about a week or so ago:

Let me start by saying that I do not consider myself even a remotely professional writer. I pulled together some funny stuff that has happened in my life & put it into a "script". I am a great story teller not so much a writer. I have faith that people will find hilarity in my story I just need help getting it to them. I'm thinking maybe a collaboration??? I will be more than happy to send a sample for you to see if it's something you'd be willing to read. Please let me know your fee & hopefully we can work something out. 

The person who sent it may have been well meaning, but this is the kind of email that writers hate getting. But don't take my word for it - hear what screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe had to say about this on this edition of a Broken Projector podcast (the relevant material starts at 20:45):

I've probably covered this on the blog before, but there is so much more to writing than just coming up with the idea. Hell, in most cases getting the idea is the easy part. The hard part is breaking it down, structuring it and putting in the time at the keyboard. Pro writers don't want to work on your idea - they have plenty of their own. Usually, when a writer wants to collaborate, it's going to be with someone they know and THEY will be the ones to initiate contact.

This particular email has the additional red flag of the author informing me that they aren't really a "writer" and then invites me to read what they have done. Well gee, when you make it sound so enticing...

I'm not interested in collaborating with writers who aren't as good as me, and I'd bet most writers would agree with me on that statement. In any partnership, there are bound to be areas of screenwriting where one writer's strengths are greater than the others, but I've never seen a successful collaboration where one writer was vastly ahead of the other writer in development.

An email like this really says that the author wants to ride the coattails of a better writer. I probably don't need to explain why so many writers find that concept offensive.

20 comments:

  1. Being an aspiring writer myself, one of my friends who is "full of ideas" wants to collaborate with me but does not care to read other scripts or even study the craft. It's unnecessary to her because she knows she can just write what's in her mind. Needless to say, I am not jumping at the chance to work with her, but I wonder how many people don't take screenwriting seriously just because they consider themselves qualified since they watch a lot of movies.

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  2. I'm so sorry for the way my email came off. I assure you I am not looking to ride on someone else's coattails. I have worked very hard & read multiple books about screenwriting although I don't think that qualifies me as a professional it does make me somewhat knowledgeable about the craft. I have been working on my script for 3 years & take it very seriously. The story is written I just need someone to help me properly format it & give me some helpful advice. I'm not located where I can easily find screenwriters or even people that are interested in helping me so I've turned to social media for help. Thank you for taking the time to read my email & respond & again I'm sorry for the way it came off I realize now after re-reading how it would be considered offensive.

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  3. To Kristine, if you need help formatting it then I suggest software like Final Draft of my fave, Fade In. And if you need someone to give you advice (notes) on what you've written, I suggest you join a screenwriting forum for that. May I suggest - http://theblackboard.blcklst.com/

    I hope this helps!

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    1. Forget Final Draft, Movie Magic is better, easier to use and more importantly, cheaper.

      I will never understand why FD became the standard.

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    2. Amen on FD vs. MM. If you recall, MM started as "Script Thing." The program was simple and most of all, NOT "arrogant." The folks at the company's own customer support actually answer the phone and talk with you! I've tried both and MM is by far the superior choice.

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  4. Not talking about Kristine specifically but there are a lot of people out there that think that writing a screenplay is 50% cool idea/50% actually writing when it's actually 3% cool idea/97% writing.

    You see these offers on Craigslist all the time. "I've got a great concept for a script and a few notes written down, I just need someone to put it into a screenplay. We'll split everything 50/50." Gee thanks, I'd love to spend the next two or three months writing a screenplay based on some notes you came up with in the shower and split the proceeds (which will come from my work, since you have no idea how to sell a script) 50/50.

    Do people say this kind of thing to other writers? Would you dare say that to a novelist?

    Eitan
    @eitanthewriter

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    1. I will say I started out thinking the 50/50 but when I really started getting into & reading about it & studying it I do have to say ur right about the 97/3 but I plan to stick with it.

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  5. I've actually run into major problems writing with a friend. I seenm to be leading the charge during everyone one of our writing sessions. She types the screenplay and I pitch her ALL the ideas. We have been working together for the last month and I have written our entire script. I give oit homework assignments with the hope that she will contribute during the next session but she never does. I flat out asked her why she can't come up with anythinh and she says she needs time to think about things, she can't come up with ideas on the fly. She's used to outlining things a million times before she begins to write.

    I am frustrated because I am about to share writing credit with a typist. I've learned my lesson about writing with friends. I should have found out her writing style before I agreed to this venture. She's worked in a writers's room so I thought she'd be more prepared and used to pitching than me. I gave her too much credit.

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    1. That's why I was looking for someone I don't know to work with I thought maybe that would be less frustrating & more motivating. I have my script written just not formatted & I was just looking for someone more experienced than me to format & critique. I thought that would be fair.

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    2. DB - Are you actually dictating all the lines, or just pitching ideas? Because the person who turns ideas into actual pages is much more than a typist.

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  7. Kristine, if your script is pretty far along, you could consider paying for some development notes. The Bitter Script Reader did a post a little while ago about which ones are good. The Screenplay Mechanic is the only one I have bookmarked: http://www.screenplaymechanic.com/garage.html

    If it's not very far along, you could consider trying to take a screenwriting class somewhere. I did when I was first starting out and it got me through the first embarrassing mistakes of screenwriting efficiently and with a reasonable amount of privacy.

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  8. Possible outcomes of collaborating with non-writers:

    1) Script never gets past outlining because the non-writer is unwilling to change the idea to conform to certain industry standards. (ie. "genre-blending", too many characters, not enough plot, no clear problems to be solved, etc.)

    2) Script eventually gets done, but at an abysmally slow rate because non-writer needs convincing to change the story.

    3) Script is secretly finished by the writer while the non-writer pitches new idea after new idea after new idea. Writer then soaks the finished script in his/her tears and looks up LSAT study guides.

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    Replies
    1. I will check that out. Thank u so much for your help/ideas it is truly is appreciated

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  9. Before you pay for notes be aware that there are communities of writers out there that read and critique each other's screenplays. Zoetrope, Triggerstreet, and my preferred site Talentville. You read theirs, they read yours and everybody learns. I would definitely suggest you check them out, but it is essential that you at least know basic formatting so people don't open your screenplay, take one look and say, nope, too much work. Afterall, it takes a good three hours minimum to read and critique someone's work.

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  10. Here's an additional hurdle. I subscribe to the "Save the Cat" beat sheet. Others advocate other philosophies of screenwriting. You'll have to decide so you can speak the same language as a possible writing partner.

    And timing is everything, which makes comedy extremely hard. That takes such amazing ability---I would read up on that as well.

    Last, but not least, see if you can talk to crew members or even PA on a set. That will keep you from writing a script that has 20 different exotic locations (once you see a location move, you'll appreciate this) OR necessitate the "green screen of death" where the crew's eyes glaze over due to looking at a green screen all the time. Much better to set a script where neither of those are necessary, IMHO.

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  11. It's not just pros that have to deal with this. I've never sold anything and I've gotten requests to collaborate from total strangers. One was from a high school student! We were part of the same newly formed Meetup.com group and even though I had yet to attend a meeting, he messaged me through the group wanting to know if I wanted to work with him. I politely declined then fled the group in terror.

    My first attempt at collaborating didn't end well. We had a fun idea for sitcom, but I was a more dedicated writer (he was primarily an actor) and we had very different comedic sensibilities. We worked together for about two weeks before calling it quits.

    The challenge is finding someone on your same level who thinks and writes the same way you do.

    Right now, I'm working on a Web series with a group of friends. I'm set to co-write episode number five. I hope it goes better.

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  12. @Kristine - just to reiterate what K.Nicole Williams suggests - get yourself over to the BlackBoard, where there is a wealth of information and like-minded writers of all experience levels just waiting to trade ideas and conversation about all aspects of screenwriting. I am one of the moderators on the Boards (Mark Walker) and can assure you you would be welcome, if you haven't already joined....I have been on holiday for a week, so you may have joined up in the interim?

    We do run a notes exchange, and we try to operate on a give one get one basis when you are looking for a read....but this can be a great way of developing your knowledge and understanding of the craft through other people's work.

    So do pop on over, we are a nice supportive bunch (yeah, I know, I am biased) and would be happy to see you.

    (Hope this shameless self-promotion is okay with you BSR, don't mean to hijack the thread!)

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  13. The "collaboration" ads I especially cringe about are ones like [marginal grammar and spelling intended]:

    "I have this fantastic idea of a feature film. It will make people laugh and cry and it will make lots of money. I just need to have somebody write the script from what I want. I have a friend with a camera and we're going to shoot it next weekend. Your welcome to be on set. I will pay as much as $100 for the script."

    Okay, ya got me. I'm laughin'. I'm cryin'.

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