Writing Partnerships: Feed the Fire

By Michael Schilf · November 20, 2010

I’ve been with my wife for over a decade; we have three beautiful children and have worked hard to stay happily married. And anyone in a long-term relationship knows that maintaining a “happy” marriage is no easy task. But my wife is not the only marriage I strive to preserve. I also have a writing partner.

I didn’t always have a professional marriage, though. When I was first starting out as a screenwriter, my first three scripts were mine and mine alone. But then came Greg, who pitched me an idea for a biopic about Rollen Stewart, the infamous Rainbow Man, known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at American stadium sporting events during the 1970s and 1980s. We wrote the script but never worked together again.

Next was Richard, who came to me with an idea to write a screenplay inspired by the true story of the American Orphan Trains of the early 1900s, the forerunner of the modern-day foster care system. We wrote the script but never worked together again.

After that was John. The two of us collaborated to knock out a commercial rom-com about a nice guy who turns to a scheming lady’s man to transform him into a womanizing jerk in order to win the girl of his dreams. And not surprisingly, we wrote the script but we never worked together again.

Clearly, there’s a theme here, but it’s not the obvious and incorrect claim that “writing partnerships don’t work” or that they “don’t last”. The truth is that none of those three writing experiences were negative in any way. We never worked together again simply because there was never another project on the horizon.

Writing partnerships fall apart not because two writers are in constant battle over every script detail. They fail mostly because after the project is complete, “something doesn’t happen”. The script isn’t optioned, it’s not sold, and the writers haven’t started developing something new. The fact that something didn’t happen was exactly why my first three writing marriages failed, but I was lucky, because in screenwriting, three strikes does not mean you’re out.

Eventually, I met Derek, my fourth and current writing partner. And over the past six years, we’ve co-written and co-developed three features, three sit-coms, one reality show, and one web series, as well as started our own production company and created The Script Lab. It hasn’t been easy, and we’ve certainly had our fair share of disagreements, but we never stopped feeding the fire.

The secret to a successful partnership is to have lots of ideas and to never stop working. Get all the pots out and turn on every burner. Never wait to begin the next script just because you haven’t received feedback on the last one. Always be writing, always creating, always developing, always tossing as many coals into that fire as you can. Because eventually, you’ll build a blaze that somebody wants to see.