Thursday, September 10, 2009

PARTNERS IN CRIME


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Lennon & McCartney, Martin & Lewis, Laurel & Hardy, Siegfried & Roy, Bush & Cheney (?!), Cheech & Chong… There are a myriad of partnerships throughout popular culture. Though I do not consider my writing partner, Chris and myself to be anywhere in the same league as the famous or infamous duos above, I am nonetheless one half of an ampersand.

A short while ago, in preparation for our latest writing assignment, we were asked by one of the producers how we function together as a writing team. In answering his question it made me realize that sometimes I take my professional situation for granted.

I had worked with many people before in different capacities with varying degrees of success but the idea of co-writing something had always kind of scared me. Part of my fear was grounded in hearing the horror stories of egos clashing like stags in the Spring. Mostly though (and I was too pompous to realize it at the time) it was because I was one of those self-absorbed fools that thought being a real writer meant toiling alone in a dingy apartment with nothing but my tortured artist’s soul and a bottle of JD to keep me company.

This was of course a load of B.S. and was an ego-driven instinct far more damaging to the creative process and it’s eventual results than the aforementioned pitched battle of antlered animals in heat!

Do Chris and I disagree on things? Absolutely! Do we lock horns and fight over ideas like our survival depended on it? Never, because it’s never about us as individuals, it’s about finding the best ideas and distilling them down to their core, examining them from different angles and ensuring they are the very best ideas for the context of the story. In short, the project always comes first.

When we begin a new project, regardless of it’s source, be it a crazy thought one of us has had, an idea brought to us by someone else or a fully realized property that is being adapted for the screen, we always begin in the same way. We get together and we talk about our gut reactions to the idea – how we feel about it, what it means to us, what we’d each like to see part of it. This invariably leads to an ever more excited geek-out session of “what if?” possibilities. Usually, these sessions involve us joking around, referencing favourite movies, remembering crazy shit that has happened to us in our lives and going off on wild tangents.

Coming up with creative gold is rarely the outcome here. In fact more often than not we come up with more ideas for completely new projects in these discussions. However, we always walk away understanding what the overall tone of the piece will be, what our individual goals are and what we each personally respond to on an emotional level with the project in question.

Sometimes one of us will go off and launch into the writing, sometimes we’ll immediately divide things up into manageable chunks. Usually there are sequences that we each have a clear idea of how to tackle and sometimes our unique strengths play more to certain sequences than others.

We both come from very different backgrounds and our personalities, to the outside observer would also seem wildly divergent. We both have very different writing habits but where we meet in the middle makes it all work: Our passion for storytelling and movies and our basic societal belief systems. Most of all though, we respect each other’s opinion and this is how our writing process is able to function.

When one of us has completed our agreed upon workload, we trade off and re-write each other. Thanks to our initial discussions regarding overall tone and emotional goal of the piece, we have a consistent map to work off of. Chris makes my writing better and I make his better and come the end it is usually tough for us to say who wrote what.

We have disagreements along the way on every single project but by maintaining a clear vision of what the end product should feel like, we are able to argue and dissect ideas without ever having to resort to ego-driven battles to protect our individual voices. Neither of us is too precious about our babies, and when we are, we make ourselves debate the pros and cons of the idea rather than the person presenting the idea it! Thankfully a satisfactory, not to mention amicable solution always presents itself.

There will always be “creative differences” when more than one person is involved with the act of crafting something. But when “creative differences” cause individuals to part ways (often scarred for life!), this has nothing to do with the craft and everything to do with ego and personal insecurity.

As with any relationship, be it professional or otherwise, know who you are walking alongside and most importantly, make sure you both have the same goal in mind and the same core values at heart. Be honest. Be respectful. Communicate with one another.

Though we both spend a lot of time doing the physical writing sitting alone in our apartments, at least we can pick-up a phone. At least we have a lifeline that doesn’t have Jack Daniels’ name on it!

Having someone else to bounce ideas off, give you a boost or pick up the slack when you’re suffering the invariable bouts of insecurity and droughts of creativity is invaluable. I’m proud to be an ampersand and consider myself very fortunate to be a partner in crime with Chris.

Until next time folks...