Screenwriting

Playing Nicely with Others

Writers in television take various approaches to their work. Some work best alone and prefer the solitude, and others write better with one or more partners. Many writers are on staff in a show and are a part of larger writing teams, usually from six to ten writers.  Television is a highly collaborative medium, so by talking to other writers and producers, joining a writers’ group or starting one, taking a class, and reading books about writing for television and emerging media, you can expand these vast creative horizons.

Partner writing for Television

Photo by: Muffet

Writing with a Partner

Having a partner with a different viewpoint can be a stimulating combination. You bounce ideas off one another, experiment with dialogue, and discover plot counterpoints and narrative beats. Often one person originates the dialogue and another acts as the wordsmith. Writers have varying skills, and when they’re combined collaboratively, the results can be exciting.

A script is a valuable commodity. If it sells, you can both be paid — sometimes, paid a lot. But before you pitch your idea, you and your partner must discuss the pertinent details of your partnership. For example, talk over how you’ll share writing credits, future percentages and profits, and who’s doing what aspect of the writing process. Write these details down in a deal memo, and sign it. This can prevent hard feelings or disagreements between you and your partner in the future.

Working with a Writing Team

A writer can be hired as a staff writer on a specific TV show, or can be a member of a group of independent writers. In both cases, a successful writing team creates the script from the many details contributed by each writer. On most established shows, the writing team is closely supervised by the showrunner who acts as the head writer and team leader throughout the life of the series.

As a staff writer on a show or series, you are likely to enter into a contract situation that spells out the parameters of your pay, credits, time frame, responsibilities, length and genre of the show, and so on. The WGA web site www.wga.org can give you specific pay scales for various writing situations. If you’re working on spec with an independent team of writers, clarify everyone’s specific responsibilities within the group and put together a deal memo between all the contributing writers.

Excerpt from Producing for TV and New Media: A Real-World Approach for Producers by Cathrine Kellison, © 2009 Cathrine Kellison. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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