Writing with a Partner

By Randal Stevens · August 19, 2010

“So I’ve been working on this really intricate script idea.  It plays out in my head perfectly, but when I put pen to paper I just can’t seem to articulate exactly what I want to happen.  I’ve brought on a friend of mine to help me as a writing partner, but it seems like things are getting lost in translation and the script is changing in a way that I don’t like.  What do I do?  Do I tell my friend to screw himself and keep going at it on my own?  Or do I swallow my pride and let the idea evolve?”

– Trevor Adams / Grand Rapids, Michigan

So you’ve finally started writing but you’re not satisfied with the result?  Congratulations, Trevor – you’re officially a writer.  Welcome to an eternal damnation of never being happy with anything you’ll ever create.  I’m joking, of course, but I’m also kind of not joking.  Honestly, it’s hard for me to give a real concrete answer to your inquiry, because I’m not sure what kind of writer you are.  There are some writers out there who work best on their own and to bring in a writing partner, no matter how talented of a writer they are or how close of a friend they may be, is a bad idea.  However, there are also some writers who won’t write anything unless they have their writing partner with by their side.  Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote some of Hollywood’s greatest scripts throughout the 40’s and 50’s (The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, A Foreign Affair), but they also got into such heated arguments over the direction of their screenplays that one or the other would often walk out.  After they split, Wilder found a new partner in I.A.L. Diamond.  Wilder rarely wrote alone, and he’s one of the great screenwriters in history.  
I guess what I’m saying is, just because you write with someone and you don’t like the results doesn’t mean that the results are bad for the script.  Scripts change.  It’s a natural part of the writing/producing process.  I know that since it’s your idea it feels like your baby and moms don’t like other moms telling them how to take care of their kids.  However, you might not know what it takes to make your script the best it can be.  Your friend’s ideas may make your screenplay better.  As much as that might seem like a slap in the face, in the words of Marcellus Wallus, “You feel that sting, boy?  That’s pride fuckin’ with you.  You gotta fight through that shit.”  Your ego will tell you that only you know what’s best for your screenplay and more often than not, your ego will be right.  But sometimes it’s not and when that happens, you have to sacrifice it in order to get your script done.  
On the bright side, if your screenplay sucks, you’re got a great scapegoat lined up in your friend.  And if you become successful, you’ll have someone at whom you can drunkenly heave the bottles of Beefeater you recently drained.