The writers of “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” are… awesome. Not only do they write terrific scripts, they also use terrific software for their collaborative writing process… (drumroll please) WriterDuet! Alisha Brophy and Scott Miles were kind enough to answer some interview questions posed by WriterDuet’s (awesome) intern Nathan Berkowitz.
When you launch a new project together, how do you decide what topics and characters you want to explore? Does one of you present a firm idea, or do you bounce thoughts back and forth?
The best ideas come from Scott starting a sentence with, “We could never do this premise, but I was thinking…” And then Alisha gets obsessed with the idea and insists that we write it. We keep a list of ideas so there is always a pile of concepts to choose from. Other ideas come from challenging ourselves while driving around between meetings – “you have five minutes to come up with a premise based on that street sign. GO!” A lot of them don’t work, but sometimes there’s gold in just free-associating ideas. There’s a lot of streets in LA.
Do you find yourself sharing work evenly at most points in the screenwriting process, or does it fluctuate? Do you each have certain specialties when it comes to screenwriting?
From logline to outline to beat-sheet to pages, we are working simultaneously. It truly is a partnership and there is no separate ownership over ideas or characters or script elements. We realized early on that you can’t distinguish skills. We’ve heard other writing teams say things like, one person is the “dialogue person” and another be the “ideas person, etc.” We believe that each writer has to bring 100% to every element of storytelling. But, we of course have our strengths. Alisha will throw out jokes in order to keep characters grounded. Fortunately, Scott’s brain is like an algorithm that can create replacement jokes on demand.
What was your writing workflow like before you discovered WriterDuet? What are the biggest differences in that process since you began using WriterDuet?
Before WriterDuet, we’d work together on the outline and then split up the scenes into reels/sequences to go off and write individually. Then came the dance of trading off sections, rewriting each other, back and forth until we were happy with the results. It took FOREVER. Now, we’re both in the same document, video chatting as we go. Still working on different scenes, but if one gets stuck, the other can jump up to the scene and we’ll talk it through. So in ten minutes, we can find a better version of the scene, a process that might have taken weeks when passing files back and forth over email. And because we’re discussing in real time, talking through all the versions the scene could be, our first drafts end up closer to third drafts due to the time we’ve saved working from the same doc.
Do you typically make changes to a script separately, or do you prefer if your partner is online when one of you is working on the script?
We’re always either video chatting or (preferably) in the same room physically, both laptops open, working in WriterDuet. With comedy, it’s especially important to have someone there to get an immediate reaction. If they laugh, it stays. Scott has learned how to differentiate Alisha’s laughs because her reaction to a joke in the script and a funny online gif are quite similar.
As comedy writers, do you both have to laugh in order for a joke to stay in the script? How do you decide if something is both funny and necessary to the story?
We both have to think a joke is the best version for it to stay. If either of us bumps on it, than we talk through why. This conversation lasts as long as it takes for us to find a new line that doesn’t bump. The conversation is never persuading the other one into agreeing to it, but instead, talking through why it feels wrong. These discussions have two outcomes. Either the idea stays but it’s given new context that now makes it work, or it’s thrown out and replaced with a new, stronger idea. We both individually stand behind every line in every project. Fortunately, we have a similar sense of humor– which is probably the most important quality in a comedy collaborator.
What is each of your favorite scripts you’ve written together? Have you ever worked on a script one of you was passionate about but the other wasn’t as into?
Our favorite is whatever we’re currently working on. Probably because it takes SUCH commitment to a premise to see it through to the bitter end, especially knowing you’ll be diving back in for rewrites, that it has to be your favorite in the moment or you’d never finish. It better be the funniest, most dramatic, most tragic, most whatever thing you’ve ever done. As for passion, we have to be equally 100% behind an idea or we couldn’t write it. When we start shaping ideas to become scripts, an equal amount of who we are gets thrown into the mix, so it feels personal to each of us.
What was the most challenging disagreement you’ve had as writing partners? How did you (we hope) resolve it?
We get asked this often and everyone seems let down by the answer. They’re probably hoping for some drama, but we’ve only had one drawn out argument. It was over a joke in the first script we wrote together. We both were absolutely convinced that the other person wrote it. To this day, neither of us can even remember what the joke was, but it won’t stop us from bickering over who should take credit. (Scott: It was her.)
(Editor’s note: if back then they’d been using WriterDuet, which tracks exactly who wrote what, when, they would know the answer to this question. Sorry for not creating it sooner!)
The only other topic we’ve disagreed on was whether our focus should be tv or features. But, we’ve solved that by simultaneously working on both. And the business is currently open to writers straddling that line. So, we are both following our passions.
What is some advice you have for writers just beginning a partnership?
Be a goldfish and quickly forget who initially had which ideas. Think of your suggestions as clay. As soon as an idea is spoken it becomes fair game for both of you to twist, build on, or throw away. This is a mix of metaphors but if it helps, just picture two goldfish sculpting together.
That’s it! Much thanks to Scott and Alisha for their time and excellent responses. Now that you’ve learned from the pros, go forth and be a goldfish sculptor. And win the Nicholl. And always… be awesome.