Scriptwriting Collaborations: A Look at Partnerships

You might not have considered taking part in a collaboration. As writers, we’re very individual people, going at it as lone wolves, isolating ourselves between four walls to write and plot and scheme and essentially, go mad. But what happens when we actively share the madness with another writer? Below you’ll find out the main benefits of doing so.

Many writers who have stayed together, have become successful together. It’s all about finding the process that works for both of you.

Divide up your writing tasks

Writing together lightens up loads in every sense. You can each write to your strengths. Each writer can focus on their fortes, rather than agonizing over their downfalls. At the beginning of a collaboration, if you each outline your strengths and weaknesses (Who’s better at character-building? Or Script format?), then you can each perfect your craft, and learn from the other in your weakness. It’s a win-win situation. If you do this well, you’ll also be waving goodbye to any writer’s block, as you won’t be stuck in a rut with your biggest weaknesses–you’ll have someone there, battling them alongside you.

You build up a tolerance to feedback and (constructive) criticism

This is VERY important in the film industry. If you’re a person who’s hyper sensitive about tweaking so much as a sentence in your script, this won’t last for long with a writing partner. If uncomfortable at first, you’ll build a hardened shell to your partner’s suggestions and won’t hesitate in changing major plot points at least five times a day. Your script won’t suffer for it (quite the contrary in fact) and you’ll both find that honesty will lead to stronger scripts. You forget about your ego, and focus on the good of your story and the well-being of your writing partner.

This being said, you probably will occasionally argue with one another–especially when it comes to cutting favorite bits or beloved characters. This is totally normal however, as disagreement is a vital and integral part of the screenwriting process. But, argue your case nicely and then move on.

Adding hype and excitement

Once you both break the ice, you’ll inevitably end up having a whole lot of fun. What with jokes, writing prompts and endless title brainstorming, writing will become such a social act it won’t even feel like work anymore.

Writing is a lonely exercise

You’ll have your own creativity support group to go to. There’s nothing worse than feeling lonely and misunderstood about your writing, not understanding why it’s not going anywhere. But with a writing partner who essentially wants the same outcome as you do, there’s no one better to understand you. Having someone in the same situation as you takes the terror right out of your job (in this case script) prospects.

Dual Brainstorming is more effective

Someone else’s enthusiasm is contagious, not only will it lead to better brainstorming sessions, but you’ll find yourself so wrapped up in the world you’ve created with your partner, that the rest of the real one may even cease to exist–the ideal state when you are creating. Writing with someone else is essentially the WD40 to rusty brain gears.

The Writer’s Workout is better designed for Two

Creating a long-term plan in which you write for a period of time every day is far more easily accomplished when you have established appointments with a partner you don’t want to cancel. Plus, as lone writers, we generally carry out quality control every time we finish a segment of a script, or maybe even at the end of the first draft, inevitably stretching out the time it takes to improve it. When writing as two, the quality control is ever-present and ever-functional. It happens naturally as we go along, listening to the other person’s ideas. This makes way for changing things on the spot, and so by the time you get to the draft-stage, you’ve got yourself a far more solid script.

Yin and Yang: Two Imaginations are better than one

As lone writers, we are often blind to the gaps in our story, to the gaping holes in our logic until it’s too late. With another writer looking over your shoulder however, you’re more likely to catch any uneven stuff before you send it off into the ether.

Here are a few scriptwriting partners who have all taken collaborations to a whole new level:

Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona, Fargo. Apparently their screenwriting process works like this: One will write an initial scene, pass it to the other where he will then continuously try to outdo the first in any way he can:  plot, characters, building tension. This helps push them to break boundaries and create better scripts.

Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman. Annie Hall, Manhattan. Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman would outline the script idea together, the finer points of each scene, and then Woody would go away and write the draft. And then it would be a back-and-forth scenario of tweaking and polishing and walking around New York City discussing it.

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead. First of all they created “Flip drafts” for their screenplays before they even started writing the script. These were story-board type breakdowns of each scene, including major characters, camera shots and key events. This helped them have a clearer idea of where to begin in their script.

The Duffer Brothers perfected their Stranger Things scripts, by first imitating their 80s idols like John Carpenter as well as M. Night Shyamalan. By combining other people’s elements, tone and styles, they developed their own unique voice which unequivocally shines by itself.

Finding the “write” partner

First and foremost, most script collaborations are between people who know each other fairly well. From best buddies to spouses to siblings, there are a whole lot of writing partners you might not have considered. If you don’t have anyone who moves around your social circles who writes, then you most definitely need to change that.

Sign up to a screenwriting class, attend a meet-up, (at the very least) join a Facebook Group with screenwriters. Advertise your need for a collaborating partner and don’t be afraid to tell people you want to write together. Chances are they’re just too shy to suggest it.  Challenge yourself! It might just be the best thing you can do. You won’t know until you try it.

 

The Elevator Pitch, Loglines & Taglines

What is an Elevator Pitch?

An elevator pitch is your script’s concept, boiled down to a bite-sized portion of words. Also known as loglines, they’re a bit like short sales pitches; they’re a two or three sentence long summary of your script’s plot–and they’ll dress to impress.

What does this mean? It means you’ve got to sell your script in an innovative and appealing way–be it for your intended audience, your agent, a producer, an actor… In the film business, a day won’t go by in which you won’t need to be pitching to someone about something related to your script, so it’s always good to have your elevator pitch handy. It’s got to be something that catches their attention, gets them thinking, and most importantly, gets them begging to know more.

Elevator pitches are called that because it should take you no longer than the time it takes for an elevator to reach whatever floor your ‘pitchee’ is going to (supposedly). The term came from the Hollywood myth that script writers used to catch execs and producers in their building elevators on purpose to pitch their scripts, and not only did the phrase stick–but you won’t get far in the world of scriptwriting without hearing this jargon being casually thrown about.

The good thing about an elevator pitch–painful as it is for a socially awkward scriptwriter to voice–is that it can help you shape the success of your script. If you manage to generate some interest over your pitch, you know you’re on the right track (or at the very least you’ve got a way with words, always a useful trait for a screenwriter). If however, you’re rejected flat on your face, then at least you can go home, cry a little, then start over. Cut scenes. Shape new ones. Polish old ones. Kill your darlings–there’s a reason that’s a time-old piece of advice. And then you can try again. And again and again until your script is ready, and you’ve a new, improved pitch to try out on someone else. Pitching scripts is like testing the waters, and the more people you meet and talk to, the more your networking circle grows.

Loglines

They’re practically the same as elevator pitches, but they won’t be written by the scriptwriter (at least not usually). They’re extremely difficult to write, and highly underrated. To create a logline, you’ve got to compress 120 pages of script into two sentences and each word has to equal its weight in gold: Loglines have got to summarise, intrigue and sell themselves.

These are the short blurbs you’ll see as film synopses in cinemas and TV guides, in Netflix descriptions and on the back of DVD covers. Loglines will give very specific information about the film without being too explicit–but divulging enough so that your audience knows what the basic plot will be about. We didn’t all go to watch Stephen King’s IT thinking it would be about happy clowns, we knew he’d be a sewer-lurking weirdo.

As a scriptwriter, you can follow a logline’s guidelines to form the staple of your elevator pitch. Loglines are usually made up of the following:

  1. Your main character.
  2. The obstacle standing in the way of their goal (antagonist).
  3. A twist that makes your story unique.

If you hadn’t tried it already, coming up with a 90 second elevator pitch is tricky enough even when you know your story inside out. So the first thing to do in order to get your pitch tight and concise, is to layout the building blocks of your plot, and then play around with the wording. Write a simple summary of your script first, even if it’s bland and boring. Then start playing with the words to make it sound a little more exotic.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of successful loglines.

Titanic: A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea.

Pulp Fiction: The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Blacksmith Will Turner teams up with eccentric pirate “Captain” Jack Sparrow to save his love, the governor’s daughter, from Jack’s former pirate allies, who are now undead.

Liar, Liar: A fast-track lawyer can’t lie for 24 hours due to his son’s birthday wish after disappointing his son for the last time.

Groundhog Day: A weatherman finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again.

Chicken Run: A dashing rooster and the hen he loves lead a daring escape from a poultry farm in 1950s England.

Note that it doesn’t have to be super wordy, in fact it’s better if it’s not; be clear and concise, and remember to portray the main setup and conflict.

Taglines

Taglines are short (sometimes only two or three words long) phrases used to reveal the film’s nature from an advertising perspective, expressing the film’s theme by using humour, irony, double entendres and wordplay. They create buzz and sum up the tone or premise of a film. A tagline sets up a strategic and effective direction for a film and is meant to be catchy. Sometimes taglines show a film’s twist in just a few words and are an important part of the film’s marketing in the way that they’re the “face” of a film.

Let’s take a look at a few:

Chicken Run: “Escape or die frying.”

Pulp Fiction: “You won’t know that facts until you’ve seen the fiction.”

The Addams Family: “Weird is relative.”

Liar Liar: “Trust me.”

Pirates of the Caribbean: “Prepare to be blown out of the water.”

I am Legend: “The Last man on Earth is not alone.”

 So what have we learnt?

Elevator Pitches describe your script and are used as a selling tool to engage the (financial) interest of an executive or a producer or for casting. Loglines are marketing tools devised to sell the film to an audience, and taglines are small hooks placed on film posters and film descriptions to appeal to the individual, often in the form of a word play or witticism.

As hard as it is to write an elevator pitch, it’s important that your script matches your pitch. So if you have changed your elevator pitch a lot, and digressed from your actual script story to make it sound more interesting, you might just want to reconsider tweaking your script. Writing elevator pitches is an important writing exercise for anybody, as it helps single out blatant problems in your script you hadn’t noticed before. So no matter what, it’s all good practice!

 

The Quadrant System

 

Everyone likes a good story. And arguably, story is the determining factor to “make or break” a film, often prevailing over other elements. But even the greatest of stories needs to be told properly. When it comes to films, as it is an audiovisual medium, there are plenty of devices at the filmmaker’s disposal that aid storytelling. Particularly speaking of the “visual” side, there is obviously, cinematography. While heavily linked to other visual elements such as production design or an actor’s performance, cinematography also influences these other elements, to the point that it can shape them. In particular, cinematography is comprised of components such as composition, which is a basic tool in terms of storytelling, especially when mastered.

In the same way there are different set structures that can be used to mould a storyline when script writing, there are also basic set rules for composition. Some of these rules are for example, the “Golden Ratio”, the “One-Point Perspective” or the “Rule of Thirds”.

The first is based on the Fibonacci Sequence and can be found in nature and the human body and has been used in countless works of art and design. This ratio has proved to be very pleasing to the human eye, therefore using this sequence as a reference when framing, it is possible to get an interesting shot or picture straight away.

The second is immediately associated to Stanley Kubrick, who used it widely throughout his filmography, eventually becoming one of his staple framing techniques. It consists of creating a single vanishing point, by framing in a way so all the lines converge on that same point. This creates a sense of depth, as it adds a third plane to a two-dimensional picture.

The “Rule of Thirds” is an imaginary grid that stems from dividing the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The dividing lines form nine boxes with four intersections, which can be used for reference when framing. In fact, a very common practice is to place important characters or objects on these intersections to emphasise their importance within a shot. Like with the Golden Rule, this is also a way to create an immediately interesting shot, as it is also visually appealing.

Beyond the Rule of Thirds

Learning the basics of these rules and then mastering them is very important, like gaining a solid knowledge of the basic techniques of any craft. It is then, when these can be taken to the next level, which might mean departing from their more traditional use to bend and break them for effect. This takes us beyond the Rule of Thirds, to an apparently simpler approach at first sight, but that in reality contains a lot of potential as a storytelling tool. If instead of dividing the frame into thirds, we divide it down the middle both vertically and horizontally, we get the “Quadrant System”, a grid with only four boxes instead of nine. With this grid as base it is possible to achieve unconventionally framed shots that can give life to a scene. Especially when it comes to highlighting a character’s situation or to delve into its personality, thoughts or to convey certain feelings to the audience. The TV series Mr. Robot makes a constant use of this method. In this show, characters are often “awkwardly” placed in the corner of the frame, which increases the amount of negative space, i.e., the space around and between the subjects of an image. This makes characters seem small in comparison to their surroundings, which conveys feelings of isolation, loneliness and powerlessness.

Furthermore, the high amounts of negative space produce a jarring effect on the viewer, especially since characters are “out of place” in the frame, and therefore this creates visual tension because we are not used to it.

In addition to negative space, visual tension is also comprised of gazing direction and breathing room. Gazing direction is the way in which the character is looking and breathing room is the distance between the character’s head or face and the edge of the frame. Both can be combined like in the following picture to create visual tension. In this example, placing Elliot so close to the edge of the frame with so little breathing room creates a sense of unease and discomfort.

Another use of placing characters in the boxes can be to establish dominance. When two characters share the same box it usually signifies confrontation. In a dialog, this can represent a power struggle between the two characters.

A similar effect is achieved by dividing between top and bottom. In this show, another way of representing characters’ insecurities and doubts is by placing them at the bottom of the frame, and making them small in comparison to their surroundings.

When defining the cinematography based on this system, it is important to be aware that not every single shot might need to be framed in an unconventional way, therefore it is important to know when to use this technique, in favour of storytelling. A combination of asymmetrical (or unconventionally framed) and symmetrical shots might give the visuals a right balance and will boost your story by having the right contrasts when emphasising particular aspects of the same in regards to characters, feelings or moods and even places.