7 Things You Need To Know About Co-writing a Screenplay

– Guest post by Geoffrey D. Calhoun

Co-writing is something that every screenwriter needs to do in their career at least once. It will improve your writing by leaps and bounds. There’s nothing wrong with being a lone wolf, but you miss out on the beauty of collaboration. The moment when you are in sync with a writing partner is a feeling that is difficult to describe. It’s like the Tibetan proverb of explaining the taste of an orange. You can’t. You have to taste the orange. It’s experiential.

Like any relationship, getting to the point of sympatico with a fellow screenwriter can be difficult. There are plenty of horror stories out there about abandoned projects because writers couldn’t work together. The secret to successful co-writing is to treat it like a partnership and not an arrangement.

1. Collaboration Contract – Protect yourself and the work

First things first, we need to get a contract signed. It states the amount of pay, writing credits, and contribution both of you will have on the agreement. This is a must. Never take a handshake. The best of friendships have been lost because of money or credit being mishandled with a project. You can download a standard contract from the WGA here.

2. Define the relationship – Set the boundaries and expectations

Many screenwriters blindly jump into co-writing. Someone gets a great idea and brings in a co-writer without the relationship being defined. Two or three drafts later, they are at each others throats and the project falls apart. Being passionate about a project is fantastic, but be smart about it. Define the working relationship between the two of you by what you expect the other writer to contribute. Is one the engine and the other a wheel? Is this a 50/50 split? Have that conversation. Yes, it will be awkward and uncomfortable, but ultimately necessary. This will help to reduce any friction between the two of you when things get stressful. And they will get stressful.

3. Compatibility – Matters more than you realize

How well you work together defines how easily the process will go. Find someone that can bring skills and talents to the table that you particularly lack or are weak in. This works two-fold. First, they will obviously balance out the script. Second, you will be able to learn from them as you work together and improve your own skills as a writer.  Constantly pushing ourselves to become better is something all of us should be doing. When I find a writer that I want to collaborate with, I offer to exchange scripts and notes with them. We read each other’s work and give feedback. I tell them to be honest and not hold back. See, you can learn a lot about a person based on how they give notes, but more importantly how they receive notes. It’s a window into their soul. Are they bitter, resistant, argumentative, thankful, humble, or gracious. This will tell you if you can work with them or not.

couple typing

 

4. Trust & Respect – A must

Without trust and respect there is no partnership. They are the foundation of a solid collaboration. After we give each other notes and have decided we are compatible, I go one step further. I get to know them through several “creative” meetings on story development. Once we feel comfortable with each other, then I know that trust is building and it’s time to move forward with the project. You might ask, “How do you know when trust is building?” Simple, are they comfortable sharing things about themselves with you? Do you look forward to seeing or talking with them? And most importantly do they make you laugh? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are starting to build trust.

We don’t just want to respect our co-writer’s skill as a writer. That’s a given. You wouldn’t be collaborating with them if you didn’t respect what they can do. It’s about respecting their creative vision and keeping their “voice” in the script. This is something to really keep in mind during the rewrite. Especially, when it comes down to cleaning up the script and making it seem like one “person” wrote it. How do you make two separate writers come off as one? You do a draft together where you both comb through the script side by side and make it as clean and lean as possible. Eventually if you work with this person enough, you two will begin writing in a way that is almost indecipherable from one another. It will be as if one person is writing. That is when you hit that beautiful moment of sympatico.

5. Set the ego aside – The work is what matters

The work is what matters most. Not you or your ideas. The script. You can’t become too attached to an idea. This unfairly limits the contributions of your co-writer. You need to remain open. If you spend most of your sessions arguing with your writing partner about the story, then I’ve got news for you…you’re the problem. You need to step back emotionally from the work. Listen to what they have to say. It’s okay to disagree with them, but make sure you have a compelling reason why it has to go your way. Usually the best solution is something neither of you have thought of yet. However, sometimes you hit an impasse. That’s when it’s a good idea to have a “gimmie this one” rule. This is when you have a moment in the script that you feel very strongly about, and you must have it in. Your co-writer must respect the “gimmie this one” rule and you have to respect when they use it as well. Of course, these should be used sparingly on a script – once or twice maximum per writer.

6. Figure out your style – Make it efficient

There are a myriad of ways to co-write a script. Some will pass scripts back and forth. Others will break up which scenes, acts, or even characters each writer will exclusively write. There have even been teams where one co-writer will dictate as the other types. Always do your outline and beat sheet together as a team. No exceptions! I prefer to write the entire script side by side with my co-writers. I feel it’s the best way. You have each other, right there and can constantly try out what works and what doesn’t in the moment. When I co-wrote my multi-award winning zomedy “Hipster Z” 😊, my co-writer and I used WriterDuet. It allowed us to write in real time and bounce scenes and comedy beats off one another. We knew what material was good, when we could crack each other up into fits of non-stop laughter. Then we would write the scenes in real time with WriterDuet, which was amazing. No other software even comes close to offering that. Eventually, one of us would plod forward in the script while the other would fall back to cleanup dialogue, fix formatting, and make sure the script was perfect. You can imagine how fast we banged out this screenplay!

There you have it, the fundamentals of collaboration amongst screenwriters. It has it’s challenges of course, with its own unique ups and downs. We are writers after all, we eat ups and downs for breakfast. Working with another writer can help you learn how to address your own weakness as a storyteller. Which forces us to grow and become even better ourselves. Eventually, you will get into that writing groove with your co-writer, where you play off one another and experience a very special feeling of bliss that comes with collaboration. Then you’ll know what an orange tastes like.

Till next time,

Geoffrey D. Calhoun is the founder of wefixyourscript.com where they provide script notes and feedback with a personal touch. Visit their website for a free 15-minute consultation.

WD3 Is Ready!

WriterDuet v3.0 is now public for everyone! It is time for you to move your account. Just a few things to keep in mind:

    1. Your active collaborators have to move when you move! So if you are working with a team, you may want to find a common time during which you can all move your accounts. Their accounts will be prompted to move to Beta if they go to a script that is shared with you. Changes will not sync otherwise.

    2.  Once your account is moved, you need to re-download the desktop application right away. 

Go to https://writerduet.com/beta to update your account to WD3. Going forward, your URL might say /script again but your account will still be updated (for example, you’ll notice a Drafts menu instead of a Plugins menu; Plugins are now under Tools). For the iOS and Android apps, you can find them by searching for WriterDuet in your respective app stores. If you encounter any problems, shoot us an email at beta@writerduet.com.

Thanks! Now get back to writing.
Sincerely,

The WriterDuet Team

WriterDuet v3.0 Is Here!

WD3 is the most exciting update that we’ve ever had. So if you’re not excited, you should probably seek professional help. Move your account here.

We recommend WriterDuet Pro, which in version 3 will (professionally) help you…

  1. Write on the go with the mobile application. Gone are the days of you having to stop writing while on the toilet.
  2. Organize and filter your script with the tagger. If you have a script that will be produced, you can tag props and characters. If you don’t have a script that will be produced, you can tag content that is bad and is probably what’s preventing your script from being produced.
  3. See when notes are added with in-app notifications. No more missing when your producer (see, we believe in you!) comments, or scanning the entire script with no idea which notes are new.
  4. Save content for later with the Graveyard, a separate script space that you can open whenever you need it. Copy/cut content to it with a simple shortcut.

But forget you for a second… the biggest features in WD3 are actually meant to help us. This update features massive structural changes to how we represent data, and is the gateway to a future of endless possibilities.

With the new internal layout in WD3, we will have the tools we need to turn WriterDuet into a world of multi-viewable, filterable, merge- and unmerge-able glory. We’re starting with branchable Drafts that can be accessed from within a script in one click. With this new tech, our goal is to seamlessly capture & enhance your unique creative process.

We want to help you write better scripts. We believe the way to make that happen is to give you tools that let you write freely without ever thinking about all the magic going on in the background. And when you need that magic… poof. There’s everything you ever needed.

As a reminder, WD Lifetime includes all upgrades for as long as you are alive (we hope that’s a while). So now is the best time to upgrade to WriterDuet Pro Lifetime. It’s a steal.

You’re literally stealing from us. Hurry up or we’ll call the cops.

Sincerely,
The WD Team

Introducing WriterDuet 2.9!

Hello Writers,

The WriterDuet Team has had all eight hands and four paws on deck for the past months creating our newest release: WriterDuet 2.9! This upgrade has involved a number of major infrastructure changes that allow for much greater flexibility and efficiency in creating new features and customizations in the future. Building from these, we have implemented the following new features already:

Free users:
1) Dual Dialogue can now be multiple lines long and include all line types.
Use Command or Control plus the number for each Line Type (e.g. Cmd/Ctrl+3 is a new Character line) to create new lines in your script without leaving the left or right column that you are in! Hit Enter to return to a normal, full-width line.

2) Copy, Cut, Paste, and Text-Select Operations are smarter.
Check out this video for details.

PRO users:
1) Shared Folders in the Portfolio!

Folders in your portfolio now have sharing options, controllable with the plus sign in the top left corner. Once created, any script that is added to that folder will be automatically shared to each collaborator with the permissions that you set. If you don’t have permission to share the script, a share request will be sent to an administrator, who can accept or deny the share request.

2) Two New Templates: UK Stageplay and Stageplay Compact!
Along with the new Audio/Visual and Virtual Reality templates (available for purchase here), we have a new UK Stageplay template and Compact Stageplay template (designed to look like a published play) available to all Pro users! Both feature the “CHARACTER: Dialogue” format on a single line; give them a try!

These changes will be in effect the next time you open WriterDuet.
Thank you and enjoy!

Sincerely,
The WriterDuet Team

WriterDuet Gift Exchange: Deals From Now Until Christmas!

Happy Holidays! 
Because WriterDuet customers are our true loves, we have lots of gifts to offer you this season!
From now until December 25th, purchases of certain WriterDuet products will be reciprocated with the gift of a free annual subscription to different products each day! In other words, buy a WriterDuet product to get a different one for free, every day from now until December 25th.
The combinations change every day, so keep an eye on the banners in WriterDuet or refer back to this post to make sure you seize the perfect opportunity:
December 14th: When you subscribe to WriterDuet MultiColumn, you’ll get a free year with the ReadThrough plugin.
15th: When you buy the HartChart Lifetime, you’ll get a free year with the ReadThrough plugin.
16th: Subscribe to ReadThrough to get a free year with WriterDuet MultiColumn.
17th: Buy the HartChart Lifetime to get a free year with WriterDuet MultiColumn.
18th: Buy WriterDuet Pro Lifetime to get a year of the HartChart for free.
19th: Buy WriterDuet Pro Lifetime to get a free year of WriterDuet MultiColumn.
20th: When you buy WriterDuet Pro Lifetime, you’ll get a free year of the ReadThrough plugin.
21st: Subscribe to Premium on this day to get a gift subscription to WriterDuet Pro.
22nd: Buy WriterDuet Pro ScreenCraft Lifetime to get the added gift of a year of ReadThrough.
23rd: Buy WriterDuet Pro ScreenCraft Edition Lifetime to get a year of the HartChart for free.
24th: Buy WriterDuet Pro ScreenCraft Edition Lifetime to get a year of MultiColumn for free.
25th: When you subscribe to Premium, you’ll get a free upgrade to the ScreenCraft Edition.
And may the merry bells keep ringing!
Sincerely,
The WriterDuet Team

Announcing WriterDuet Premium!

WriterDuet Premium is the ultimate package for your fully integrated screenwriting experience. In addition to all of the amazing features of WriterDuet Pro–limitless collaboration, mobility and revision tracking supported by powerful security and analysis–Premium benefits include these awesome enhancements and plugins:


Premium Support
With a direct line to WriterDuet’s development team, your questions, thoughts and ideas will be heard and dealt with as quickly as possible.

AutoTranslate
Translate your script into any language in a matter of seconds,
and then edit each script separately to perfect it. View as separate scripts or side-by-side.

ReadThrough
Bring your script to life by sharing it with voice actors, or by listening instantly with text-to-speech performance from a full cast of computer voices.

MultiColumn
Compose audio and video in side-by-side chronology, write scenes in parallel, or even write in our Virtual Reality template!

Subscribe to Premium here for the full power of all things WD.

And then get back to writing 😉

Sincerely,
The WriterDuet Team

P.S. If you’re more interested in our standalone plugins, each is also available for separate purchase. Just click on their links to learn more.

Austin Film Festival 2016

The WD team had a blast at this year’s Austin Film Festival. We shared some of our best and newest features, introduced WriterDuet Premium (coming November 1st!), flirted about some upcoming concepts, and most importantly, we spread the word about the world’s greatest screenwriting software through good conversation, good looks, and tee shirts (let us know if you want one)!

THE TAKEAWAY

While the panels were profound and diverse, there was a common message within them. From sitcom writers to professors to directors, all advice about developing tone, networking, or finding success fell back into a familiar central theme: work hard, and all else will follow.

But what does it mean to work hard? Here is what we perceived:

1. Write constantly
Literally don’t stop, unless it’s a question of health. Especially don’t stop writing when the going gets tough–nor when the tough gets going–because that’s when you are improving most rapidly.

2. Read constantly
Somehow, you should also read scripts constantly. Multiple very successful writers, such as Paul Feig, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, and Christina Hodson were script-readers early in their careers. Luckily, you can find innumerable high-quality scripts online and follow in their footsteps immediately. Here is a great article to start. Beyond scripts, there is magic to be summoned from myriad books, short stories, and plays.

3. Don’t get distracted
Put WD in Full Screen mode and leave your phone in the bathroom (unless you write on your phone, or in the bathroom). It is important to inspire yourself and build an education from sources like Screencraft and the Scriptnotes podcast; however, only do this as a supplement to the act of doing a whole lot of writing. For more tips on that, see #1.

The whole team is a lot smarter after this year’s Austin Film Festival, and unbelievably inspired. More than anything, our takeaway this year is the clear truth that WriterDuet is the right choice for writers around the world. The best way to spread the word: Just. Keep. Writing.

Because passion is contagious. Like whooping cough!

Sincerely,
The WriterDuet Team

Interview with Nicholl Fellowship winners Alisha Brophy & Scott Miles

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.

You should upgrade to WriterDuet Pro!

I haven’t done much hard-selling of WriterDuet’s Pro version, but lately I’m realizing it’s in the best interest of free users to encourage them to upgrade. Why? Because purchasing Pro helps them in many ways. Without rattling off dozens of great Pro features, here’s a simple explanation why you should upgrade:

  1. It supports the product. WriterDuet is my full-time job, but it could be so much better if it were several people’s full-time job! If you value WriterDuet, giving us money to expand development benefits you.
  2. You get offline access to WriterDuet. I know you may be ~always online to write, but guess what: servers are terrible beasts and they are not always online. In fact, this post is spurred by some downtime we had today. And while I’m very disappointed by any server issues, if you have offline mode you’ll be largely unaffected (since our real-time data servers continued run fluidly, even collaboration still worked for Pro users).
  3. You get additional backup options. WriterDuet certainly has its own backup solutions, but it is always smart to have personal backups. WriterDuet Pro has options to automatically save to Google Drive, Dropbox, and your hard drive. While WriterDuet’s backups and infinite revision tracking should protect against loss of data… take responsibility for your own scripts, and make sure you are backing them up regularly.

There are tons of other reasons, but I’m highlighting the ones I think are most important to many people: accessibility of your work, reliability of the service, and improvements for the future. I’m very happy to offer a free version of WriterDuet, but if you appreciate what we’re doing over here (offering the best screenwriting software at a reasonable price), please upgrade to WriterDuet Pro today.

Revision tracking!

WriterDuet has had infinite revision tracking for a while, but there were a few things it was missing. Well, not anymore! It’s the most powerful revision tracking system of any screenwriting software… or possibly any writing software, period. Here’s a quick run-down of its features:

  • Revisions are always tracked without ever enabling change-tracking or saving a backup file. You can always view changes by date/time and writer(s), including text that was deleted (optional). You can even retroactively mark these changes as tracked in a revision.
  • Multiple revisions can be tracked at once, which means (for example) you can track a colored page revision for production while also tracking edits for a collaborator to review.
  • Manual marking/unmarking changes for specific revisions. Thus you can make changes under two revisions and your partner can unmark your changes in one of the revisions as they review them, without unmarking the change in another revision.
  • Either statically viewing all changes in the script (with deleted text), or use live-updating mode to see changes as they happen. Standard *’s go in the right margin.
  • Collaborators can either view/track the same revisions, or different ones. Thus you can be on a production revision (e.g. Blue) but also track your own changes independently.
  • Revisions can be ignored, which makes them essentially inverted – changes under that revision will not be displayed even if they’re part of another revision which is.
  • Arrow keys and shortcuts are available to go up/down the changed lines, without having to scan your script for asterisks.
  • You can even see the entire history of an individual line!

WriterDuet’s revision tracking does everything you need for production rewrites, reviewing collaborators’ work, and keeping a record of your own changes.

In other words, revisions = solved.