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)

Purple Numbers: Optimized for Synthesis

Chris Dent has been having some good exchanges about Purple Numbers with Adina Levin and Phil Jones. I don’t have much to add, as I think Chris is spot on. Two comments struck me, though.    (IQV)

First, Phil claims that Purple Numbers are optimized for reading at the expense of writing. His point is that Purple Numbers, as currently implemented, add overhead to the writing process, whereas the pay-off comes for the reader. I emphasize as currently implemented, because we just haven’t gotten around to making them mostly transparent in the writing process. Hacking one of the WYSIWYG JavaScript text editors to support Purple Numbers should do the trick.    (IQW)

However, I really liked Chris’s response:    (IQX)

Yes, purple numbers do try to favor the reader and the act of reading, but not just for reading. They favor the reader so the reader may more easily do more writing. The whole point is for purple numbers and tools like it to be a generative force in the synthesis of new understandings.    (IQY)

Phil can write all he wants, and I can read all I want, but until I write down something that builds on what Phil says, while making chains of reference back through the many layers of context, there’s been no synthesis, at least not any that is available outside the confines of my own mind.    (IQZ)

Granular Addressability enables synthesis. Wanna know what makes blogs conversational? Permalinks, which are a form of Granular Addressability.    (IR0)

A lot of people don’t get this. I read The Sports Guy over at all the time (despite the fact that I hate all Boston sports teams with a passion), and at the past two Super Bowls, he wrote what called a “blog.” It sure looked like a blog, but in reality, it was just one-way publishing. Folks couldn’t comment on his entries, because they couldn’t link to any of them. I see this all the time with other major media outlets trying to jump on the blog bandwagon.    (IR1)

Which brings me to the second comment that jumped out at me. In his response to Adina, Chris wrote:    (IR2)

Clearly I am in far too deep with purple stuff: I need a translator. The above can be so much meaningless noise and I find little time to make things cogent.    (IR3)

I’m not the best proselytizer of Purple Numbers, not because I’m not proud of them (I am), not because I don’t value them (I do), and not because I can’t explain their value clearly (I can). There’s a tremendous amount of deep thinking underlying these little purple critters, and the implications are fascinating. But before you can understand any of this, you’ve got to care. And unless you’re one of those strange individuals who just gets it, you’ve got to try them before you’ll buy them.    (IR4)

A lot of folks think I invented Purple Numbers. Not true at all. I was one of those folks who didn’t care, one of the first in fact. Purple Numbers are an HTML manifestation of Augment’s granular addressability scheme, invented by Doug Engelbart and made purple years later by his daughter, Christina Engelbart. When I first started working with Doug, he kept insisting that all of our knowledge products on the Web have Purple Numbers. I didn’t think it was a priority, but I knew I could easily whip up a tool to generate them, so I wrote Purple to humor him. Then a funny thing happened. Once I had them, I used them, simply because they were there. Then I started missing them when they weren’t there. Then it dawned on me: These little purple thingies sure were darn useful. And I started thinking about why.    (IR5)

The point of my story is this: I’m perfectly happy to have a deep, convoluted discussion about some esoteric aspect of Purple Numbers. If you don’t believe me, try me. Or read my blog entries on the matter. But if you really want to understand why they’re so important, just give them a try for a month, then try living without them.    (IR6)