Co-writing a script with someone may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however, in some cases, magic happens, and it becomes a whole tea kettle. If you’ve ever considered co-writing a screenplay with someone, this article is for you!
In my career, I have co-written a couple of screenplays and everything that is in this article is what I would have wanted to know before starting to work with another writer. This would have saved a lot of “have no idea how to proceed” moments. So, if you are giving some thought to teaming up with a co-writer at some point, this article is for you.
The main point is that when you write with someone make sure that you like their creative mind and their writing, since the screenplay will ultimately showcase both of your voices.
1. Have The Same Screenwriting Software
I cannot stress this first point enough: make sure you both have the same screenwriting software. That may sound obvious, but in the first screenplay I co-wrote with a friend of mine (who’s also a talented writer), we in fact did not have the same software, and it created a few nightmare scenarios. My co-writer was still rolling on some old school (probably from the 60s) writing software and I can now add on my resume “fixing scripts and fastest copy/paste person in town”, so I guess I should thank them?
Believe my experience, life is so much easier when you use the same writing software. Also, it’ll keep everyone saint and will save your friendship or work relationship with your co-writer. Bringing us to the next essential point…
2. Respect Your Co-Writer And Communicate Clearly
You might not be friends with your co-writer and simply work with them because they’re super talented and you’d like to have a project together or any other reason. But more often than not, co-writers are good friends in life or at least, they become good friends through co-writing a screenplay since that is the ultimate collaborative sport.
Whatever your relationship with your co-writer is, communication is absolutely key. You do not want to team up with someone you are not fully comfortable talking to. Sharing your ideas and your writing, especially in the early stages, can certainly put you in a vulnerable spot.
When we brainstorm ideas, some are terrible ideas but it helps to put them all on the table. So, you want to work with someone that you don’t mind saying totally nonsensical ideas in front of, and that won’t judge you when you do.
Most likely, your working relationship with your co-writer will go beyond writing the script. You’ll pick each other’s brain daily and most likely will find yourself texting or calling often, most of the time it’ll be work-related as you’ll always be bringing in ideas for your project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up sending each other memes and anything else that us creatives do when procrastinating (hah!).
Most of the time, co-writers bond goes beyond the writing of the script. Having similar goals and work ethic is imperative as well.
So, once you have found your person, it’s time to get to work on that script!
3. Find An Idea
Of course, everyone starts the process with an idea. When you are writing with a partner, this process is not only streamlined, but becomes such a unique creative process that opens up the door for so many more ideas to come to fruition.
When you work with another writer, it’s quite unbelievable how one can come up with a general idea that within an hour or two becomes an almost fully fleshed concept through bouncing ideas off each other and elaborating on them.
4. Develop Your Characters Early
Next, I would advise to come up with your main characters together, their names, personalities, backstories, etc., as well as some key moments or events that you both feel are imperative to the story and the character’s development. Then start working those key moments into scenes, and sorting out the scenes into acts, much like you might do if you were writing by yourself.
5. The Writing Of The Screenplay
Now for the real fun to begin! I’d like to add that this is not the only way to do it, but this method has worked really well for me when I have been co-writing.
Someone, let’s say you in this scenario, will write the first 10-15 pages. The other one will then read it, make notes of what they think works and what they think could be changed, then I suggest getting together on a Zoom call and discuss the pages.
Then it’s the other writer’s turn to write, but while they’re writing the next 10-15 pages, the first writer will go back and make any necessary adjustments to their first pages.
And you will repeat this process until the first draft is complete. What is really great about this method, is it’s basically as if you have a 2nd draft already completed when the script reaches “Fade Out.” And it’s a super-fast way to write.
For the second draft, what I suggest is to reverse the pages. So say you wrote the first 15, have your co-writer start the first 15 when rewriting/editing. Just like that, you’ll guarantee that both your voices become one and that it doesn’t feel like we read two different screenplays depending on who wrote what page.
And of course, during the rewrite, read each other’s work and discuss it as you go. This way, both of your voices are intertwined throughout the entirety of the script. It is helpful if one of the co-writer is one of those “grammar freaks” (that’s never me).
That writer can make one final pass over the entire script to look for grammar or formatting errors (I would recommend avoiding your co-writer as they proofread the script if they’re very particular with grammar since they will let you know of every single error you both made and they will drive you crazy).
Once the final edits are made, I would advise you both to give the script a final read from beginning to end and discuss any plot holes in the story or anything you aren’t 100% sure about and want to change.
Then, before you take your script out to producers, it’s always helpful to share it with a few trusted people and get their feedback and decide if you want to make any changes based on that.
Then take this one out and hop on to the next script!
6. How Do You Copyright The Script?
The process is pretty much the same as if you copyright a script that you wrote alone.
Choose between the Writers Guild of America copyright system or the US Copyright Office and then fill out the application.
At some point, the application will ask for the name of the writer and give you the opportunity to add another writer.
That’s where you’ll add your co-writer making you both the owners of the copyright.
7. What Happens If You Sell a Script As A Co-Writer?
Usually, you do 50/50 on everything that you earn for the screenplay. If a producer comes in and wants to buy the script, you will most likely share the profit with your co-writer. Make sure that that’s clear between the two of you before you even consider co-writing a script.
Now, that’s for the income. But let’s say you win an Oscar for your screenplay. You won’t get two statues just because you’re two people, so consider having Mr. Oscar travel from your house to your co-writer’s house on a regular basis since you’ll both want to show off your prize.
8. How Does It Look On The Title Page?
Usually, the rule according to the WGA is that when you co-wrote the script together at the same time (same period of time) you will write
Your name & Co-Writer name
If you both wrote on the script at different times, so say you wrote the first draft and your co-writer made consequential changes in the second draft, you will write it as such
Your name and co-writer name
But be aware that that also means that you are the main writer and the co-writer came in later on to rewrite or make changes to the script as is considered the second writer.
9. Can You Still Write On Your Own?
Actually, I always recommend pushing a solo writing career first. It can be difficult to get representation when you are in a co-writing team and some producers are wary of co-writers and think that it’s double the trouble (versus double the talent) especially when comes the development and notes process and they sometimes bring in a fresh writer for the rewrite.
However, with producers, it doesn’t matter as much as it does with managers or agents. When you reach out to representation, make sure it is with a script you wrote alone, or use your co-written script to try and seek representation together as a writers’ team, but that will make you become a duo, more than you being a solo writer with some co-written scripts. Be aware of the difference.
Additionally, when it comes to television, if you are staffed with your co-writer you will both get paid the price of one writer in the room, so again you’ll most likely split 50/50 on what you make. That’s another thing to be aware of.
Ultimately, there is no manuscript for how to co-write! Different things work for different people. If you have never written with a partner before, I would recommend giving it a shot, especially if you want to explore new genres or feel stuck on an idea for example.
Worst case scenario, if co-written turns out to be something you hate, you can ditch your co-writer pretending you “wanna be an accountant again, writing’s just too hard” (haha – don’t do that!)
Happy co-writing, folks!