Skip to main content

Top 10 Film Writing Partnerships

By Noelle Buffam · April 18, 2011

It’s a phenomenon that is still hard for me to wrap my mind around: the screenwriting partnership.

I admit it. I have a hard time writing ANYTHING when there is another human being within a 1-mile radius of me. So, it’s no wonder that my isolated brain cannot fathom the actuality of screenwriting collaborations.

I like to think that screenwriting partners are a different breed of people. Surely, they are very different than myself. More patient. Less moody. Bursting with creativity. You would have to have some of these characteristics to make it work, right? I mean two people, with two separate brains and two separate ideas, creating a single story in a cohesive way… that’s pretty amazing.

Perhaps it’s just a case of yin and yang. Maybe it’s just two people that use each other as a creative sound board. Whatever it is, it works. Some of the greatest films started when two people partnered together to create a screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles for Citizen Kane, Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman for Annie Hall, Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco for Crash.

Complied below is a list of the Top 10 writing partnerships in Hollywood. This list doesn't just salute one-time collaborators (ahem… Ben Affleck and Matt Damon). It takes a look at the brave souls that partner up time and time again. And while I admit that the term “writing partners” conjures up images of myself in a divorce-like battle (“You can keep the characters, but I get the plot!”), these writers prove that sometimes two minds are indeed better than one.

10. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright

Simon Pegg is really cool. And although I would feel justified putting him on any list due to his coolness factor, his partnership with Edgar Wright secures him a validated spot on this Top 10 List. This motion picture partnership started with the 2004 hit Shaun of the Dead. After working together on the sitcom Spaced, Pegg and Wright penned the screenplay that would become a critical and financial success. Next, Pegg and Wright spent 18 months creating a script for Hot Fuzz. The film was released in 2007 to much success. Olly Richards from Empire magazine stated that after “almost a decade together [Pegg and Wright] are clearly so comfortable in each other’s presence that they feel no need to fight for the punchline, making them terrific company for two hours.” While they have yet to win an Academy Award for their work, this screenwriting duo earns the TSL award for “most-likable-and-fun” writing team.

9. Duplass Brothers

Yes, this is the first of three sibling writing teams to grace our list. By the way… why is it always brothers? Aren’t there any creative sister teams out there? Anyway, Jay and Mark Duplass hit the scene with the film The Puffy Chair. Part of the Mumblecore movement, it was screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award. In 2008, the brothers released Baghead to critical acclaim. Then in 2010 the Duplass Brothers released Cyrus. The film was given mostly positive reviews, and was well received at Sundance. Jay has said that they will “keep doing it the way we do it. We’re gonna shoot raw and improvise a lot. Just keep doing what we think we do well.” And they do it well indeed, as Jay and Mark continually prove their presence in the indie film world.

8. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of the most famed French directors. His collaborations with Guillaume Laurant have produced films such as Micmacs, The City of Lost Children, and most famously Amelie. It is said that Jeunet and Laurant work so well together because they are able to recognize each other’s strengths. Jeunet has said that “Guillaume is very good with dialogue, so he writes the dialogue scenes and I write the visual scenes; it’s like a game of ping-pong.” It seems their relationship really works. Their film Amelie won best film at the EuropeanFilmAwards; two BAFTAAwards(including Best Original Screenplay), and was nominated for five AcademyAwards.

7. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel

Not only do they have the most creative names on the list, but Ganz and Mandel have a long and prosperous career to boot. Ganz and Mandel first teamed up with fellow Happy Days alums Ron Howard and Henry Winkler for the low budget comedy Night Shift. Then in 1984 Ganz and Mandel then went on to make the romantic comedy Splash. The film earned the pair an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and secured their working relationship for years to come. Since the duo teamed up, they have written over a dozen films including City Slickers, Parenthood, and A League of Their Own. Not only successful in their own films, Ganz and Mandel have become staples in Hollywood as “script doctors” – known for their “reliability and fast turnaround time.”

6. Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

I guess having money troubles is always the worst thing in the world. After all, if Jim Taylor hadn’t been all out of money, he would have never moved in with Alexander Payne, and they may have never started their screenwriting partnership. Yes, it was as roommates that the pair wrote Citizen Ruth. Then with some money he won on Wheel of Fortune (no joke), Taylor entered Tisch School of the Arts. During his third year there, Citizen Ruth was picked up and the duos career took off. From 1999-2007 Taylor and Payne wrote five more films: Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, andI Know Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. I know. That’s only four. They also wrote Jurassic Park III... we’ll just ignore that one. Bad dinosaur sequels put aside, this duo has earned their spot… not to mention an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film Sideways.

5. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

Alexander and Karaszewski met at the University of Southern California when they became roommates as freshmen. The pair graduated the School of Cinematic Arts in 1985, and soon became a screenwriting powerhouse. In 1994, Alexander and Karaszewski convinced Tim Burton to direct their bio-pic about Edward D. Wood Jr. In six weeks the pair wrote the script for Ed Wood. The critically acclaimed filmed spurred a series of offbeat bio-pics. The screenwriting partners went on to write The People vs. Larry Flint (which earned two Oscar nods) and Man on the Moon. While the screenwriting team will forever be remembered for their unusual bio-pics, the twosome still work together today. Their next project due out in 2012 is Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters.

4. Farrelly Brothers

Yes, another brother duo. However, while the Duplass Brothers thrive in the quirky and understated, the Farrelly Brothers go to the other end of the spectrum. Peter and Bobby Farrelly are responsible for writing the classic film Dumb and Dumber. Not only that, but the brother team wrote such hits as Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, and most recently Hall Pass. These brothers are both praised and criticized for their slapstick style of humor. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Farrelly Brothers have made their mark on cinematic culture… I mean can you sing “Mockingbird” without doing an impression of Lloyd and Harry? Didn’t think so. Their next project set to be released in 2012? The Three Stooges. How appropriate.

3. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson

There will always be a special place in my heart for Wes Anderson… and subsequently Owen Wilson. Wilson, who is more famous for his acting than for his screenwriting skills, has said in the past that he never wanted to be an actor, but a writer. Anderson and Wilson met at the University of Texas in Austin. Soon the two penned Bottle Rocket. In 1996 the film was released and despite critical acclaim, only earned one million dollars. After getting a foot into Hollywood, Anderson and Wilson went on to write two of Anderson’s most famous flicks: Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. The films defined Anderson’s style and launched his career as a prominent director. While the two have yet to rekindle their screenwriting bromance, their writing relationship proved to be the foundation for two very prosperous careers. As Wilson says, “… how strange this all is. Something that began as a little idea in Austin, that Wes and I just walked around talking about between ourselves, has turned into all this."

2. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Although you may not have heard of these screenwriters, no doubt they have influenced your life… or more specifically, your childhood. Writing partners Elliott and Rossio are responsible for films such as Aladdin, Shrek, Antz, Treasure Planet, Little Monsters, The Road to El Dorado, and The Mask of Zorro. However, Elliott and Rossio are not only animation giants, but are responsible for penning the hit Pirates of the Caribbean. The pair went on to write the rest of the Pirates films, and Rossio even signed on with Disney to write a 5th installment (Really? Another one? I know, right?) of the franchise. While you may dispute the creation of yet another Pirates movie, it is no doubt that this writing team has helped create some of the most memorable and influential film characters of all time… whether it be an eye-liner wearing pirate or a big, green ogre.

1. Joel and Ethan Coen

Ah. The Coen Brothers. The creme de la creme of sibling teams. In my book, any person that as a child made a film entitled, “Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go” is pretty awesome. The Coen brothers may have started with Kissinger, but since they have written cinematic achievements including but not limited to: Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Though, No Country for Old Men, and most recently True Grit. Meditate on that for a moment. All of those movies. Written by the same guys. Got it? Good. Yes, it is an abnormality that a writing team can create so many films that carry such cinematic weight. The brothers seep a sort of eccentricity that makes them kind of fascinating. Known for finishing each others sentences, the pair is often called the “two-headed director.” The nickname stems the tendency of actors working on a Coen film to ask a question of either Joel or Ethan, yet both brothers give the same answer from both. And while I don’t really collaborate with my brothers other than trying to scheme our parents into buying a margarita-making machine, we do sometimes finish each others sentences. Most recently, a friend was remarking on the “bad movie” True Grit. I started with, “The Coen Brothers…” and my brother finished “…don’t really make bad movies.”