Saturday, March 11, 2006

On Collaboration

Last year, three other writers and I collaborated on what we thought was a timely and very creative adventure/mystery. However, we got so frustrated with each other that at the end of seven months, we were at an impasse on our fourth draft. We had to step away from the project for a awhile.

What was our problem?

Well, we weren't in agreement on that either. The screenplay began as an exercise in collaboration and was meant to last only a weekend. The four of us were relative strangers when the project began. Each writer took a turn writing a few scenes and then passed the story on to the next writer in a 'round' until the story was complete. At the end of the exercise, we were each so caught up in the story that we decided to complete the screenplay. That was a year ago. The screenplay is still incomplete.

The entire process was a recipe for failure but we were too excited about the story to see the flares in front of the cliff, so we just took turns falling off. There were several snags in our collaboration, but in my opinion, the two biggies were:

(1) No agreed upon outline -- That was a nightmarish circumstance probably akin to trying to build a house with no blueprint. Lack of an agreed upon outline sealed the failure of our project because by the time we got around to outlining the story, some of us already had other ideas about the direction the story should go.

(2) Character development -- We divided up the development of character profiles but life kept interfering with some of our writers and many of the profiles weren't written. Those that were written were not met with unanimous approval.

The lessons we took away from the exercise were worthwhile and valuable -- things like learning to write on a deadline, spinning off someone else's idea, and developing a uniform style. But collaborating the way we went about it was worse than when my eighth grade teacher teamed me up with three jocks to do a history project. Naturally, I wanted something clever and cerebral that would help me get into that honors class I never seemed to qualify for. They wanted something that would explode. As for the four of us screenwriters, we were very nearly enemies by the time we finally took grown-up pills and sent ourselves to separate corners for a time out.

Now we're leaving our corners, shedding our dunce caps and preparing to start over on a draft we hope will lead to completion of the screenplay. I'm genuinely excited about it because I really like the story. But, before we even start the next draft, we'll agree on the outline and agree on the character profiles.

Sure we will.

Maybe we should just write in a few explosions and call it a day.


derek said...

Sorry if this is old hash but I just found your blog. Very cool, BTW.

I feel your pain about collaboration. And while I think you're probably right about the reasons it didn't work for you, I can tell you from experience that sometimes it won't work out no matter what. And there's only 1 reason. People sometimes just don't see eye to eye.

I just finished collaborating on a script with 3 other writers. I'd collaborated before with 1 guy, and the results were relatively painless. But I knew which issues to hurdle.

So we agreed to a full outline, a pretty detailed treatment. We sussed out the characters and all the beats. All we had to do was put it to paper.

A draft was turned in that, while not perfect by any means, was pretty solid. Then it went to shit. Then it got fixed. Then guess what? Shit again. Seems 2 people had VASTLY different ideas of what the movie was than the other 2. Which boggles my mind since we had the outline, the characters, the story, the beats, the tone, the look...

Sometimes preperation isn't enough.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

That's so similar to my experience, it's spooky. But I also wonder, aside from how my group made obvious mistakes, if four writers is just too many?

derek said...

It started with a sort of "who wants in" kinda thing, and ended up with 4. Then when we sat down, we originally agreed that once we got a draft we liked, it'd be locked.

Unfortunately, people started messing with it (I think) not because it needed it but because they realized they wouldn't get writing credit on it if they didn't, only "story by" credit.

Ego strikes again!

But I did learn something. If you're going to collaborate, surround yourself with people who only want what's best for the story, not what's best for them.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Ah, sounds like a portion of John Nash's game theory in A Beautiful Mind and very good advice.

derek said...

Thanks. BTW, just out of curiosity, where in Texas are you? I'm here in San Antonio.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I'm in the DFW area, but family is from San Antonio. Was born at Fort Sam Houston.

derek said...

Small world, huh? :)