Film Courage: Lee let’s talk about writing partnerships…is it just like finding a good roommate? Is it nothing like that?
Lee Jessup: No. It’s like buying a house together and committing to living in it for the rest of your life.
Film Courage: Hhmmm. Okay…
Lee Jessup: Writing partnerships are mostly tragic. They mostly end in divorce. You know I do work with a couple of partnerships that have been consistent through the years that have been successful but it’s two partnerships that have lasted from the dozens that I’ve seen break up over the years. Some of them were quite successful together. So if you chose to participate in a writing partnership you have to really understand what it means to you, to your body of work. Effectively the moment that you hit with a script written with a partnership with another person, everything else that will be expected of you will be expected in corporation, in partnership with another person because you and this other person have been able to create the secret sauce that made a great script, that birthed a beautiful child (if you will). And so when you consider writing partnerships you really want to consider what it means for your body of work. Are you willing to discard your previous body of work or not doing anything with it should you hit in a partnership. Are you willing to write more than one project with that partner. Because the agent or manager is now going to take on the partnership, not an individual writer. Oftentimes they don’t want to get involved in the drama of the partnership breaking up. That can be very unattractive. I have a TV writing partnership that just broke up where the agent told the two writers who broke up “Either I take both of you on individually or I take neither one of you on individually.” So even broken up, the writers had to make sure the other impressed in order to keep the agent for both of them or else they both lose. Because the agent just didn’t want to get involved in the politics and didn’t want to have to choose. So you really have to consider whether you and the writing partner want to write the same type of material, if you have the same vision. So if one want to write film and the other wants to write TV and that’s all you want to write, that’s going to be a problem. The only way you can really vacillate on a partnership is if you’re writing together on television but you’re writing alone on film. Then you have a little more wiggle room.
“[Writing partnerships] have to supplement where the other is weaker. They have to bring the best out of each other. They have to push each other. They have to be able to fight. Certainly you don’t want to writers that do the exact same thing together. Because then is the partnership the sum of its parts or is it less than that? So you want to compliment one another where the other is weak.”
But in general I find that reps either want to rep the teams or the individual, not both. It’s the same with producers who want to work with the team who brought them a beautiful previous project. So you really have to consider what the partnership is, what the partners bring into the partnership. So you really want to think about how does the partnership balance out. Are we good for the distribution of work? Are we going to be good for the next 10 years? If one writer is going the heavy lifting and the other writer is just giving notes are you going to feel okay about it in 5 years when your writing partners is collecting your money just for giving you notes? Do you have an idea of what you want to write in 10 years in terms of genre, in terms of the space you want to be in? All of those things need to be thought through. You need to get the terms of the partnership on paper because the truth of the matter is, most partnerships do go south.
Film Courage: I’m thinking of what I call the “Two Steves” (Apple’s Wozniak and Jobs). So possible if it was two Steve Jobs, it would not have worked. But because they both (Jobs and Wozniak) had these two different skill sets, it worked. And so two writers almost have to be polar opposites for it to work?
Lee Jessup: They have to compliment one another. They have to supplement where the other is weaker. They have to bring the best out of each other. They have to push each other. They have to be able to fight. Certainly you don’t want to writers that do the exact same thing together. Because then is the partnership the sum of its parts or is it less than that? So you want to compliment one another where the other is weak.
Lee Jessup: No! A lot of writers that I work with tend to look to writing partnerships because they don’t want to write alone anymore because it’s just comforting to have someone waiting for pages on the other end, because they’re finding it tougher and tougher for them to try to push a script through, why don’t I do it with a writing partner? I find that most writers go into a partnership that way without taking a step back and saying “Am I really ready to step into a creative marriage here?” Some of them do. Most of them don’t. I’ve had partnerships that have sold multi-million dollar scripts and then broke up because the relationship was so difficult.
Film Courage: Why at that point?
Lee Jessup: Because the writers can stand each other at that point because they hate each other because they couldn’t think less of each other’s creative talents. Because it was never a positive relationship to start with. I had one relationship that had a feature film get greenlit where the two writers just could not get along. One was incredibly abusive and condescending and kept insisting that he was doing all of the work when the other was really doing the brunt of the work. And they just didn’t want to go through that again. So I’ve seen writing partnerships break up with a lot to lose. And I think it’s not for nothing, like I said I’ve also seen writing partnerships succeed but I think it’s where the partnerships come together with a point of view of doing this from the long haul as opposed to let’s try it out. Really thinking about it as a long term relationship as opposed to “We’ll test the waters and then consider.”
Question for the Viewers: What are your thoughts on writing partnerships?
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