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Old 01-06-2019, 01:48 AM   #1
LauriD
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Default Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

I recently had what turned into a rather heated discussion on Twitter with a writer who was looking for someone to "collaborate" on a script with him. He said that he had a "great idea" but that he knew that his own screenwriting skills were lacking.

I suggested that he hire someone to help him, and directed him to this site, among others. He took umbrage at this, and said that he wanted to find someone who believed in his idea as much as he did (and wouldn't expect to get paid for helping develop it).

So I was wondering where other people draw the line between partnership/collaboration (good) and unpaid development services (bad). Or is it more of a spectrum?

I've written about screenwriting teams:

https://www.moviemaker.com/archives/...dshed-partner/

I also used to maintain a thread on the Amazon Studios forum with more than 1000 writing "gigs" that were basically "I've got a great movie idea. Write it for me for free and we'll share the profits."

What's a legitimate request for collaboration/partnership, and what does each party have to bring to the table?

On the other hand, what's a request for free writing services?

How valuable is a "great idea" as currency, when only one collaborator is doing the bulk of the writing?

When presented with an "opportunity" like this one, how would you approach it?
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Old 01-06-2019, 07:15 AM   #2
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

I'm nobody and I've been asked to collaborate on script at least a dozen times. (On a different forum, when I was more active.)

The first few times I was asked I thought they thought, I was pretty hot stuff. (It didn't take long to figure out they were asking everybody on the board.)

So, I bit a few times at first. The hardest part was to get them to let you know what their "great idea" was. Eventually if you could wring it out of them, the idea was not-so-great. Often it was only a scene -- or a tricky, twisty beginning that could go anywhere. When you would ask them where it actually was going, they usually had no idea.

It's easy to see why pros and near-pros won't touch even responding to this kind of thing, with a 200 foot pole. "Your script has a man and a woman who fall in love? -- so does mine -- you stole the idea from me!"

They also were always asking how to copyright their "great idea". Because "thousands would steal it" if it was revealed.

Eventually, when asked, I'd tell them that writers get a dozen ideas before breakfast. You're going to have to learn to write or pay someone to write it for you.
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Old 01-06-2019, 09:21 PM   #3
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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Originally Posted by LauriD View Post
I recently had what turned into a rather heated discussion on Twitter with a writer who was looking for someone to "collaborate" on a script with him. He said that he had a "great idea" but that he knew that his own screenwriting skills were lacking.

I suggested that he hire someone to help him, and directed him to this site, among others. He took umbrage at this, and said that he wanted to find someone who believed in his idea as much as he did (and wouldn't expect to get paid for helping develop it).

So I was wondering where other people draw the line between partnership/collaboration (good) and unpaid development services (bad). Or is it more of a spectrum?

I've written about screenwriting teams:

https://www.moviemaker.com/archives/...dshed-partner/

I also used to maintain a thread on the Amazon Studios forum with more than 1000 writing "gigs" that were basically "I've got a great movie idea. Write it for me for free and we'll share the profits."

What's a legitimate request for collaboration/partnership, and what does each party have to bring to the table?

On the other hand, what's a request for free writing services?

How valuable is a "great idea" as currency, when only one collaborator is doing the bulk of the writing?

When presented with an "opportunity" like this one, how would you approach it?
The world is full of people who have "great ideas" for movies. In fact, there are times that I suspect that there are more "great ideas" for movie than that are actual people in the entire world.

So, here's the thing about "ideas" for movies.

Sometimes the "idea" is really clever and memorable -- and sometimes not so much.

I saw the last Mission Impossible movie and I really liked it. It was probably one of the movies of last year that I enjoyed more than any other -- certainly more than any other action film. If you asked me what the "idea" of the film was?

Well -- the villain from the last film had some nuclear bombs or something? Something like that? And the girl from the last movie was in it. And his wife was in it. And -- something like that.

The idea was -- Tom Cruise runs a lot and does crazy incredible impossible stunts and it's super fun and super exciting and that's why I liked it. That was the "idea."

For that matter -- what was the "idea" of Annie Hall -- it was the ups and downs of the romantic relationship between somebody a lot like Woody Allen and somebody else a lot like Diane Keaton -- and that's it. That's the "idea."

So -- tell me again what the "idea" is for your movie -- that I'm supposed to sit down and actually write?

There isn't a pro writer in the world who hasn't bumped into a well-meaning relative or friend (or ten or twenty) who has some "idea" -- only it actually never is -- because most people who aren't writers don't even know what an "idea" for a movie really is.

I've been writing for thirty years and sometimes I don't even know that an idea of my own is necessarily going to work until I've actually sat down for a few weeks and tried to work it out at length.

So when an elderly aunt has an "idea" which is -- there are so many funny things that happen in our retirement community -- that would make a great movie.

Well, would it? Maybe it would. It's not as if you couldn't write a comedy that takes place in a retirement community -- but "funny things in a retirement community" -- isn't an "idea" for a movie -- any more than "gun fight-y happen in an old western town" is an idea for a movie.

Okay -- here's an idea. African-American Sherlock Holmes and Watson. High concept. Great. Somebody want to "collaborate" with me on it? What is it? Where does it happen? What's it about?

It sort of sounds like an idea. It could be an idea. Maybe there's something there. It certainly isn't anything that I would ever write.

I literally just came up with it a second again. Am I desperate to protect it? Is it "mine?" Well, in the sense that I just thought it up, I suppose it is. But legally, it doesn't really belong to anybody because -- as I'm sure somebody has -- or should mention, "ideas" as such, aren't subject to copyright.

Nobody owns the "idea" for a story. Not only do you not own the "idea" for that story you just came up with, even if you just take the "idea" of any story, even one that's under copyright -- just the naked "idea" -- that's not copyrightable.

That is -- the idea, in the sense of "African American Sherlock Holmes."

Now, if I actually wrote the script, and there was more to it -- real characters, real locations, real situations -- a real story - and somebody was to appropriate that -- then they would be violating my copyright.

But the "idea" alone, that belongs to nobody -- not until I take that idea and express it in some fixed form -- a story, a treatment, a screenplay, a movie, something.

And a "fixed form" isn't simply me writing the words, "African American Sherlock Holmes."

So this whole community of people who seem to think that "collaboration" consists of them bringing "the idea" and someone else bringing "the writing" somehow amounts to equal weight on the creative scales is monumental delusional.

The person doing the writing is bringing everything to the table that is legally copyrightable.

Like it or not, in legal terms, the person with the "idea" is bringing nothing to the table.

And just for the record, I have never known a professional writer who didn't have plenty of ideas of his/her own to write, in the absence of a paying gig.

If nobody's paying me to write, I will happily write my own spec scripts based on own ideas, which, if and when I sell them, I get one hundred percent of whatever they sell for.

If you've got an idea and you want me to write it -- then hire me, the same way that producers who have a book or an article or a life story that they want adapted to the screen hire writers to adapt them. People have done it in the past and may yet do it in the future.

Because people who don't know how to write and have come across a story that they want "written" but don't want to sit down and write it themselves -- they're not writers.

They're producers -- at any wannabe producers. And producers don't get to "collaborate" with the guy who's actually doing the writing and call what they're doing writing.

So if somebody is insulted that coming with an idea doesn't make them a writer -- well, here's a bit real life.

A number of years ago, I got a call from a relative of mine. Quite a smart guy, in some ways. He's a lawyer. But he was also a big fan of Seinfeld (which was on air at the time) and he really wanted to write for Seinfeld.

Well, not exactly. He had "ideas" for Seinfeld episodes - so what he wanted was to -- pardon the expression -- collaborate. He would give me his "ideas" for the episodes, which I would write, presumably in consultation with him.

Then we would submit the episodes in question, the producers would then buy then, he imagined, and thus he (and I suppose me as well) would go on to because writers on Seinfeld.

Well, given then he was family (actually my wife's family) I went on to explain a bit as to how professional comedy writers' rooms were staffed and also how Seinfeld was, at the time, the most popular sitcom on TV and that there was simply no was that either of us, even given my then professional credits in features, would allow us to submit material to them, even if they were looking to staff at the time -- which they weren't.

I said this to him because, you know -- he was family and what's the point of getting into an argument?

What I wanted to say to him was more along the lines of -- hey, funny thing, what with you being a professional lawyer because I've just had an "idea" for a brand new legal defense -- so I was thinking, I'll give you the idea for the legal defense -- you use it the next time you go into court -- and then we'll split your fees.

And if that sounds to you as completely ridiculous on its face as it no doubt sounds, you'll have the tiniest inkling of how ridiculous this entire conversation about you having "ideas" for Seinfeld episodes and me writing them and submitting them and us sharing the credit and money sounds to me.

And thus I say, broadly to every single person who wants a professional writer to use their skills -- skills perfected often over thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of hours to take some notion that just popped into your head and devote who knows how many more hundreds of hours to turn it into a professional piece of work - and that presumes the virtually microscopic possibility that your "idea" might even be worth adapting -- just don't.

NMS
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:16 AM   #4
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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So this whole community of people who seem to think that "collaboration" consists of them bringing "the idea" and someone else bringing "the writing" somehow amounts to equal weight on the creative scales is monumental delusional.
That's exactly the point I was trying to make on Twitter.

If the issue comes up in future, it will be nice to be able to point people to this thread.

So leaving aside the case of "I've got the idea, and you do all the writing," what balance of skills/work can lead to a productive partnership/collaboration?

I know of some situations where writing partners alternate scenes or sequences, but both do roughly half the actual writing.

In other cases, one partner might be better at plotting, and the other partner better at dialogue.

If a stranger comes to you and says they want to collaborate, what do you want them to bring to the table?
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Old 01-07-2019, 12:36 AM   #5
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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Originally Posted by LauriD View Post
That's exactly the point I was trying to make on Twitter.

If the issue comes up in future, it will be nice to be able to point people to this thread.

So leaving aside the case of "I've got the idea, and you do all the writing," what balance of skills/work can lead to a productive partnership/collaboration?

I know of some situations where writing partners alternate scenes or sequences, but both do roughly half the actual writing.

In other cases, one partner might be better at plotting, and the other partner better at dialogue.

If a stranger comes to you and says they want to collaborate, what do you want them to bring to the table?
Exactly. In the real world, collaboration should be between two people who can each bring equal (or nearly equal) value to the table. Sometimes in business, in a group collaboration, someone with more experience is the senior member and directs the collaboration.

In screenplays, the "great idea, I don't know how to write person" brings nothing (or next to nothing) to the table and wants to be the senior member.
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Old 01-07-2019, 04:20 AM   #6
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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If a stranger comes to you and says they want to collaborate, what do you want them to bring to the table?
A paycheck, a contract, or a good meeting with creatives who are already on board.

I have enough of my own ideas to write, that I don't need someone else's just to write a story. A stranger would have to come to me with an extremely credible path to production before I give them a piece of my life -- especially for free.
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Old 01-07-2019, 01:20 PM   #7
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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That's exactly the point I was trying to make on Twitter.

If the issue comes up in future, it will be nice to be able to point people to this thread.

So leaving aside the case of "I've got the idea, and you do all the writing," what balance of skills/work can lead to a productive partnership/collaboration?

I know of some situations where writing partners alternate scenes or sequences, but both do roughly half the actual writing.

In other cases, one partner might be better at plotting, and the other partner better at dialogue.

If a stranger comes to you and says they want to collaborate, what do you want them to bring to the table?
I think that there are as many different ways to collaborate as there are writing partnerships.

The key point is that genuine writing partnerships consist of two, (count 'em) -- TWO professional writers.

Each writer may bring different strengths to the table. One may be good at structure, or plotting, or developing character or at dialogue, or coming up with memorable business or solving story problems.

Back when I was working at Laurel, there was a writer that I always liked to work with, even though I knew that his scripts would always come in with problems -- and that's because I knew exactly what the problems would be and I knew that they would always be easy problems to fix.

He always great ideas and his scripts came in with the plotting rock solid -- but with really terrible dialogue.

So I knew two things -- he would never be able to fix the dialogue because that just wasn't his thing -- but I also knew that the dialogue thing was easy. I could bring on a second writer to do a dialogue pass or I could do it myself and we'd end up with a really strong episode.

So -- in principle, this guy was one half of a potentially great writing partnership if he could only find somebody who was really good with dialogue.

So -- just one example. There are lots of others. Some writers just feed off of one another. They don't work well alone in a room.

As with anything else, it's whatever works.

NMS
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Old 01-07-2019, 09:18 PM   #8
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

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It's easy to see why pros and near-pros won't touch even responding to this kind of thing with a 200-foot pole.
The ten-foot pole is more easily wielded and thus it is the national standard for maintaining one’s distance from an unpleasant thing, even a skunk.

It’s all well and good for writers and non-writers alike to have ideas; they are the germ of the finished movie if it goes the distance. But to make the idea a tangible, salable thing, it must be written, and for that you need a writer.

If I’m to work as a writer for free, it will always be for my own projects, despite the fact that I, too, may not ever be entirely satisfied with them.

Last edited by TigerFang : 01-08-2019 at 07:35 PM.
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Old 01-07-2019, 09:39 PM   #9
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

Here’s a link to articles on Screenwriting Partnerships.
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Old 01-09-2019, 01:21 PM   #10
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Default Re: Partnerships, collaboration, "great ideas," and writing for free

Ideas are cheap. I find them in my bowel movements every morning.

Great manuscripts and screenplays that are actually marketable are a very different thing.
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