How to Find the Right Screenwriting Partner

By Olivia Brennan

Delving further into the idea of working as a writing partnership, Olivia Brennan spoke with previous Shore winners & writing partners Joshua Johnson and Jamie Napoli, and Ella Roby and Lachlan Marks, in detail about their creative process and the challenges and benefits they face working as a writing partnership.

How to be a Screenwriter

Jamie Napoli & Joshua Paul Johnson

Olivia: Can you talk to me about your creative process, and what is the greatest challenge you face writing as a team, and how you overcome this?

Jamie: Our writing process involves a fair amount of very polite arguing, but we both had to realize early on that disagreeing about things is an important part of the process. When one of us is passionate about an idea and the other is on the fence, that’s a red flag that usually signifies either we’re not communicating the idea properly, or we have deeper divergence in how we’re seeing the story. The brainstorming and writing sessions where we strongly disagree often end up being the most productive.

Josh: Because the nature of writing is abstract, we inherently have separate visions in our minds at the start of a new project. That’s a challenge solitary writers don’t have to wrestle with. But through pitching the ideas, exploring them, explaining them, and using references from books, movies, music, etc. we ultimately get onto the same page with each other in terms of the tone and voice. The result of that rigorous process is a clearer and more coherent vision than we would have executed individually.

Olivia: Now we’ve covered the challenges, can you discuss the benefits and what you enjoy most about writing as a partnership/team?

Josh: When writing alone, often at times hitting a wall with your idea can lead to procrastination and hopelessness, but working as a team is a wonderful antidote to those obstacles. Whenever an issue comes up, it is incumbent upon both of us together to resolve the situation whether it be a potential plot hole, inconsistent logic, issues with character arcs, etc. the problems that inevitably haunt everyone suffering through the writing process. There are many times when one of us feels like things are falling apart, but the other is optimistic. That helps. We work through the slump together and figure out the core of what’s not resonating with the material.

Jamie: Having spent a lot of time writing on my own and staring at a blank document in silence, it’s amazing to have somebody to bounce ideas off. Josh and I are very fortunate in that we have similar taste and sensibilities, and yet we’re different enough in our approaches that we can cover each other’s blind spots. Writing as a team also gives us the opportunity to come up with cool team names, like $LUGLINERS and WRITERS ON THE STORM. We’re still trying these out and we’re open to feedback.

Ella Roby and Lachlan Marks

Olivia: Can you talk to me about your creative process, and what is the greatest challenge you face writing as a team, and how you overcome this?

Ella: I’d say that most of our challenges are writing adjacent, rather than writing related. The writing part goes smoothly. I think if you bring mutual respect and zero ego to the process, you create room to disagree knowing it won’t be taken personally. Everything stays collaborative without becoming combative. It’s easy to find a writing partner whose ideas you like but whose opinion you don’t respect, and that’s a trap. You need to know that if you disagree on something, your partner is going to give proper weight to your opinion because they believe that if you think it, then it’s at least worth considering, rather than dismissing it outright because deep down they think you don’t really know what you’re talking about. And the flip-side to this is that if your partner does just outright dismiss something, you know it’s because it’s a bad idea and not because they think you’re “dumb” or, you know, “a woman”.

Lachlan: I’d say scheduling. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of exciting writing opportunities within our team and outside of it at the same time in the past 12 months. These on top of work, travel and family commitments mean that getting both of us available at the same time to do the serious dual-brain stuff like plotting can get difficult sometimes. I think we’ve resolved this by allowing ourselves to invest some proper resources into getting out of town for 4 or 5-day blocks, just to have some extreme focus on a project, which means we can marathon the tough stuff together and then we can splinter off and tackle different jobs separately. Once we’re writing a screenplay, our back and forth feels egoless and we’re usually on the same page or committed to finding a more exciting page if we’re not.

Olivia: Now we’ve covered the challenges, can you discuss the benefits and what you enjoy most about writing as a partnership/team?

Lachlan: Mostly choosing and ordering food. That and those occasional moments where I’ll say an idea out loud that I’m sure any normal person would be horrified by and Ella is somehow not only really into it but also immediately has a way to expand on it to make it even more despicable. Those are good.

Ella: Breaking story as a team is my idea of a good time. It’s faster and easier. We’re very different to one another so we approach brainstorming and problem solving from different directions, because of this the places we arrive at are often much more strange, surprising, and dark places than we’d get to on our own. Also, having a writing partner somehow helps legitimize sitting around all day making things up. See, it’s not a scam! There are two of us!

 

Ella and Lachlan are currently working on their winning TV Pilot SMALL TOWN which is in development at Scripted Ink. They are also finalising an untitled Post-Apocalyptic Thriller Feature which they will sending out in the second half of the year. You can follow Ella and Lachlan on Twitter – @otherellaroby & @LachlanMarks

Joshua and Jamie’s latest feature script is called THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE. It’s a family adventure story with Mischief Entertainment producing. You can follow Joshua and Jamie on Twitter – @jpjohnson0 & @jfnapoli0

Olivia Brennan is a 28-year-old screenwriter & blogger. You can find more of her articles covering industry interviews, writing craft & filmmaking tips over at her blog Into The Script, and you can follow Liv on Twitter as @LivSFB