Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Writing alone or with a partner?

The process of writing has come up a lot these last days.  Of course it's hard to find appropriate visuals to go along with that.  So, as longtime readers of this blog know, I resort to Natalie Wood.  She looks cute in short hair, doesn't she?   Anyway, here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post. It’s from RyderDA after last week's announcement that my play is being produced by the Falcon Theatre:

Your new play "A OR B?" is by you and not the longstanding team of Levine & Isaacs. In a successful partnership, how do you know when to "go it alone" and when to take a project on as a team?

I can only speak for my partnership, of course, but here’s how we worked it out:

When we write scripts together we always do it head-to-head. Done it since our first spec and we continue to work that way today.

But early in our career, when we got on staff on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW and MASH and started getting numerous script assignments, we decided that once each year we would work differently. I would write one act alone and he would write the other. We’d then combine them and do a polish together before turning it in. The point of this exercise was to give both of us confidence that we could write by ourselves. All these years we’ve worked together, we’re partners out of choice not dependency.

We’ve also believed that partners need to give each other room. Over the years one or both of you might want to pursue other interests. One cockamamie writer I know wanted to become a baseball announcer. I don’t think he would have done that had the other partner not felt secure that he could take on assignments on his own while the goofy one was in Syracuse waiting out rain delays.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both writing alone and with a partner.

For me, it’s way more fun and more social writing with someone else. First of all, the burden is not all on you. The key is finding someone you trust, of course, but it takes a lot of pressure off when your partner can come up with the big jokes or story fixes. And if your car is in the shop, you always have a ride.

The downside is that everything has to be talked out and agreed to beforehand. When I write by myself I like the freedom of just trying something – writing a run without having any particular conviction. Just riffing. Often times I’ll end up discarding it. But I enjoy the luxury of just being able to try something without having to justify it. And along the way, some good things will result, things that might surprise even you. I’m writing more from an instinctual and subconscious level. There’s a lot more trial and error. For example: in writing my play I keep a separate file of scenes and dialogue I’ve discarded. The play is about 90 pages. The reject file is 50 pages (and counting). So with the added experimentation comes a lot of Sunday strolls down dead-end streets and over cliffs.

There’s also the danger of losing your objectivity. This is another area where a partner really helps. When I write something on my own I always give it to a few writers I really trust to get their input. When David and I write a script together, if we’re both happy we’re confident enough to turn it in.

To return to your original question (finally), how do you know when to do a project alone or with your partner – I think it depends on a number of factors.

Is this subject matter you’re both passionate about, or does one partner have a real feel for the subject matter while the other couldn’t care less the meat packers union in the mid 1930’s.

Do you feel confident tackling this project without the help of your partner?

Is the story something deeply personal to you?

There are times you have to be pragmatic. You may not make a sale on a project unless both partners are involved. If you’re a team you’re a known entity.

Availability: Are both partners in town, or is one across the country about to call that night’s Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs game?

Do you need to get the script in quick? Two can write faster than one.

Is your partner driving you crazy and you just need a break before you kill him?

Do you think your car is going to need a lot of time in the shop? In other words, do you drive a Jaguar?

I’ll end with this: David and I recently wrote a pilot script we had sold to a cable network. David is currently a fulltime professor at USC, has a number of outside TV projects; I have my play, books, blog, directing, radio projects. We hadn’t written a script together in well over a year. And yet, when we began it was like we had just finished our last script the day before. The pace and shorthand we have developed with each other fell right back into place. We had a great time writing the script. No matter how many other projects I have, there’s no way I’m giving up that process. That’s the fun part.

18 comments:

Hamid said...

Can't wait to hear the announcement about your new pilot. I know you said you'd leave it to the cable network to announce it, but can you give us just a little hint of what it's about?!

Scooter Schechtman said...

In tonight's episode, Ken stuggles with guilt after a play he wrote without David becomes a hit. Elsewhere Natalie complains that Ken isn't using any bikini shots from the late 60s.

Dan said...

Is it just me, or does Natalie's neck look unnaturally long?

luciuspaisley said...

As a fan of Natalie Wood, do you think a movie like THE GREAT RACE could be made today? Either in the same form, or as a remake?

Rick Wiedmayer said...

What does one do in Syracuse while waiting out rain delays?

Covarr said...

Natalie Wood is cute, but this picture makes her look like an emu, the way she's twisting her neck. A really attractive emu.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a guest post or two from David on his views of the same subjects

Wayne said...

Natalie Wood. 1956. Cosmo.
Bangs Throughout the Ages?

She's cute even as a pageboy.

thomas tucker said...

Oh hell. Now all I can see is the neck!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Covarr: actually, with the long neck and short-short hair she looks more like Audrey Hepburn than the way I think of Natalie Wood.

wg

Jim said...

Yup, that neck's really weird. It kind of reminds me of the fake neck that Mythbusters made when they were trying to decapitate a pig by throwing sheets of glass at it.

chuckcd said...

I would've gone with a picture of the 2 actors from "Adam 12".

Dixon Steele said...

I just googled her and yes, that is her neck!

Gorgeous....

Tony said...

Probably my least fave Natalie pic.

mmryan314 said...

Ken- Leaving the Natalie Wood comments aside- I find it amazing how you both work together to create wonderful scripts. I had a partner in a business once- we had a similar chemistry and that makes the difference. Still great friends today.

Roger Owen Green said...

The first grownup movie I ever saw was West Side Story. Just saying.

Cap'n Bob said...

Publicity departments often retouched photos to hide flaws or emphasize assets. To me, this looks like someone touched up the photo to make her neck look longer.

Her face id perfect as is.

Cap'n Bob said...

Her face IS perfect...

Why don't I learn to poorfread?