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Writing Screenplays With A Partner (2 of 2)

butch sundanceAgents and managers love to represent writing partners. As I’ve explained, they have many selling points over an individual writer. Be careful, though, agents have been known to discreetly find out which writer is the stronger of the two. They’ll make it their business in case you split up, to stay with the stronger writer.

Another tactic writing teams should beware of is agents who intentionally try to split their teams in hopes of making ten percent of two salaries, instead of one. One of our agents tried to do this with us. It was after we’d established ourselves as a respectable writing team in half hour comedy.

I would suggest that teams don’t fall for this ploy. Having a talented partner will definitely come in handy when you need a script overnight, when you need to get new staff jobs, and in studio offices, at get to know you meetings and pitch meetings.

When writers decide to partner up, they need to agree on their process. How are they going to write, so they both get input? Some teams do it all together, break the story, write the outline, and write the script and polish it together, in the same room.

Some teams split the work in various ways. One member can write act one, the other act two, then they switch and rewrite each other’s work. This way each writer gets a pass at the rewriting their partner’s work; it’s fair, and it generally improves the quality of the script.
Some people outline together, but split the acts and write apart. The value of this is, both writers get good at writing alone.

When you’re working for a studio or on a TV show you and your partner might be required to write really, really fast. Splitting the script speeds up the process. Of course, the team does a final polish before turning the script in.

There are some writing partnerships where one writer takes a pass at a scene, then hands it over to the other writer, who then musters everything to improve on the scene, especially in terms of conflict and what it reveals about character.

Then they switch again, and again, each trying to outdo the other, until the scene is “perfect.” If you have time, and patience, that process has worked pretty well for some writers for example, Joel and Ethan Coen. They’ve got some Oscars to prove it.

In a lot of partnerships, one partner has strengths that the other doesn’t. For example, one writer might be good at story, and the other’s good at jokes, or one’s good with visuals and the other’s good at structure, or dialogue. One might be better pitching to studio executives. One might be a better typist or have a better handle on writing dialogue, spelling, and grammar.

When I worked with a writing partner, I didn’t mind writing the first act of a half hour comedy. The second half is more fun to write because the comedic premise has already been set up, so you just write funny scenes. I let my partner do that. It’s much harder to write funny scenes while you’re still setting everything up in act one. Of course we switched and polished together.

So partners with complementary skill sets have an advantage. However, two partners don’t want to be too different, especially when it comes to your scripts tone and quality. Otherwise you get arguments all the time.

You want a partner that’s got the same taste as you. You don’t want to be coming up with terrific stories that your partner doesn’t get. You both need to be able to look at different versions of the same scene and agree that one part is better than another part. You want a partner who can recognize why one joke is better than another.

Hopefully, both partners are flexible, can admit when they’re wrong, can appreciate each other’s contribution, and be resilient when the going gets tough, as it always does in Hollywood. I imagine being generally around the same age might help, too. I say that because most of the successful teams I know of were about the same age.

If you want to find a partner, keep an eye out when you’re networking, or in a writing class, or a seminar. You want to be on the lookout for someone who meets all the qualifications for a good partner. If you absolutely can’t make partnership work, keep writing your own projects.

Writing alone does offer several distinct advantages; you can always write where you want, you don’t have to explain, you’ll have nobody to argue with, you’ll get to see your unique personal vision fulfilled, without sacrifice, and when you do work, you’ll make twice as much money as the teams.

Think about it, look around for other writers with your interests, and I hope you do find the right partner.


If you’re struggling to finish a screenplay, or if you’ve started one and just can’t figure out how to finish it, call for a free phone consult from a veteran screenwriter.

Image credit: Creative Commons; Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid (1969), 2015 by Prayitnophotography, is licensed under CC By 2.0

Writing Screenplays With A Partner (2 of 2)

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The competition is fierce, in graphic design, journalism, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2016). Writing Screenplays With A Partner (2 of 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Jan 2016
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