Screenwriters on Collaborative Authoring

I can’t believe I’m shilling for The Sports Guy again, but there’s a great excerpt from an interview he did with Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the screenwriters for Rounders, on collaborative authoring (emphasis mine):    (KGI)

Simmons: Let’s talk about the whole “writing as a team” thing. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, because I always think I’m right, because I like getting credit for everything I write (which used to drive me crazy when I was writing for Kimmel’s show)… but I can’t imagine co-writing ANYTHING creative with another person. I think it’s like having two alpha dogs on the same basketball team; it just doesn’t seem like it should work. Plus, I would never be able to be productive with someone else in the room — I’d always end up having sports arguments with them, convincing them to play a video game or make an online wager, getting distracted every time they make a phone call, farting on them when they weren’t looking and so on.    (KGJ)

And yet, you guys have made a career out of writing with one another. Are you surprised you lasted together this long? Are you like an old married couple at this point? Can you finish each other’s thoughts? Have either of you thought about branching off on your own at some point? Or is it like having a fantasy partner in a roto league, where you’re actually better off with a second person because you can bounce ideas off one another and talk each other out of the bad ones?    (KGK)

Koppelman and Levien: First of all, we have one overriding rule. We’ve had it from the beginning and it is unbreakable: No PlayStation, Xbox or GameCube in the office. Because we know, with all certainty, that the day we start playing Madden at work is the day our career ends. And you’ve hit on another key to this partnership’s survival — there is no farting in the writing room. Because, again, to get started with this, is just to invite disaster. So just know if you come to our office and try to fart on either one of us, you’re in for a world of pain.    (KGL)

Look, as we said above, we’ve been best friends since we were kids and we’ve been completing each other’s sentences since the day we met (please save the Vito Spatafore inspired jokes, they weren’t funny when they were Richard Simmons jokes.). As far as alpha dogs working together, we don’t model ourselves after Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. On good days we try to operate like Pearl and Clyde. Or at least like Chief Jay Strongbow and Billy White Wolf. We have a wealth of shared experiences: we’ve watched all the same movies, listened to the same music, read the same books. When we write a script, we usually agree on how it should go. If we don’t, the resultant conversation generates a better idea. It’s true, there’s lots of sidebar chatter that distracts from the work. If Tiger wins a major on a Sunday, Monday is a wash until lunch. Also, in contrast to the “no video game” rule, there is always a football around. In fact there have been labrums torn throwing post routes during breaks in shooting.    (KGM)

We have each done some individual work: Levien has published two novels and Koppelman’s a widely published essayist. But filmmaking is a collaborative process and our collaboration starts right at the beginning. Frankly, you’re thinking about this all wrong, worried that someone else might get credit for a laugh you created. When you left Boston you were a man. Now, LA has made you Johnny Fontaine-soft. ACT LIKE A MAN! Imagine how productive you’d be if you had a partner. And as far as us sharing credit for lines goes, you know, Simmons, which one of us wrote that last line. But we’re happy to share the credit/blame. In fact, none of our favorite lines are our own, they are always the other guy’s.    (KGN)