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The Key to Collaborative Screenwriting

Updated on January 15, 2016

Collaborative Screenwriting

Hey screenwriters out there! Have you tried writing collaboratively, yet? Some folks might tell you it's a nightmare for a number of reasons. Others will tell you it's pretty fun. Most of my experience have been writing solo, but for the past year I've been collaborating as a writer on other writer's projects. I think it's fun! Here are 5 Tips to make your collaborative writing project run smoothly.

  1. Only collaborate if you want to. If you have a project that is yours, and you're not ready to share, don't. Work on projects that you feel would benefit from having another writer onboard. If friends are asking you to collaborate with them, they more than likely have enough distance from the project to accept another viewpoint and accept your creative feedback and contributions.
  2. If you're being asked to help write another creator's project, listen, learn, or read their full concept or scripts, first. Before you add your creativity to the project, you need to understand their motivations and inspirations for the work. When you're in that first meeting with them about their project, don't focus on what you could bring to the project, listen for what they want to convey with the project. Your job will be to help them achieve that goal, and the means to which you help them achieve their goal will be through your creative contributions.
  3. If you are the creator of the project and you're bringing another writer in, it helps to know where you want the other writer to focus. For example, on the first collaborative project I worked on this past year, the director/producer/writer of the project wanted a writing partner to help, specifically, with raising the steaks for his short film, and help with the dialogue. When you know what you want the other writer to work on it helps the other writer to further understand your vision for the project. If you can stand back and critique your own work and tell the other writer what you think needs work, the other writer will understand how you envision the project as a whole, and can focus on bringing those specific areas up to standard.
  4. Use collaborative writing software. My favorite software for collaborating is WriterDuet. It allows you to write on a script simultaneously with other collaborators. It's just like any other screenwriting software that formats your scripts into the right format like Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft, but WriterDuet is free to use online, and also allows you to invite other people to see the script. You can make them an admin for the script, or just leave them as a contributor. You can allow them to edit, or change settings so that they can "view only." Using collaborative writing software makes the technical aspect of collaborating much easier. The stress of production, can be hard enough as you're laying track for the next episode of your web series, so having an easy way to access the scripts you all are working on takes away from this particular technical stresser.
  5. Understand your deadlines and schedules. You're not working solo, so your usual schedule, or way of doing things might need to shift. Talk to the other writers about your process. Some writers work better alone, and others love being in the same room and talking it out in real time. Understand differences, and address them as you find a way to work together.

Writing Credits

Did you know that the term "and" and the sign "&" have different meanings when used to describe writing credits?

The word β€œand” indicates that the writers wrote separately, and an ampersand (β€œ&”) denotes a writing team.

For more writing credit rules, read the Screen Credits Manual.

Knowing what writing credit you're aiming for will also help in a collaborative writing situation. Study the Writer's Guild's Manual to find the title that best describes what you're doing for the project. That way if at any point you feel you are taking on a job you did not sign up for, you can remind your producer or the other writer that you agreed to be a script doctor, not a story writer, to give a very loose example.

As an independent freelance screenwriter, you might be asked to join projects that already have a writer, and are in development for the web (which is a medium that everyone can take advantage of), but the writer has a background in another form of writing. When you agree to work with the writer on the screenplay, they may not understand what that means. So explain to them that you are willing to take their existing story and write it in the form of a script. Then explain why this is necessary. Explain that in a script, each page is a minute of time on a screen. Also explain to them how that minute of time on the screen translates to production time.

If you have experience working with professionals on a set, you'll understand how much time goes into shooting each scene. This isn't necessarily your job as a screenwriter to know, or explain, but when you're working with independent producers or new producers, it might fall on you to remind or explain to the writer with which you're working, that the script form is important to stick to for these reasons.

Screen Credits Manual

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Recap

  1. Only collaborate if you want to.
  2. If you're being asked to help write another creator's project, listen, learn, or read their full concept or scripts, first.
  3. If you are the creator of the project and you're bringing another writer in, it helps to know where you want the other writer to focus.
  4. Use collaborative writing software.
  5. Understand your deadlines and schedules.

It's helpful to know what title you're aiming for before, or early on in the collaboration process. If you know what title you're writing under, it helps if you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel that you are writing more than you signed up for. For example, you might have signed on as a second screenwriter to help in reforming the existing script, but once you start working you see the expectation was something more along the lines of story writer, to give a very loose example.

Study the Screen Credits Policies and see just how many different jobs there are for writers. Find the one that best fits what you are doing in this collaborative process, and communicate the responsibilities you want to take on to the other writers. This is helpful for those working with new producers, or independent producers.

When working with independent producers or new producers it may fall on you as a writer to explain why screenwriting form is so important.

Writer Duet

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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      2 years ago from California

      Great tips! I'm currently in the negotiating phase of a screenwriting collaboration, so this is really helpful. I typically work solo so I'm a little nervous to work with someone. Whaaaaat. But I think WriterDuet might be a perfect tool in this situation. Thanks!

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