Collaboration In Screenplays – What You Should Know


Do more screenwriting minds can add up to a better film script?

However, a sticky situation arises when a film becomes successful. Suddenly a plethora of writers emerge claiming to be co-writers on the project, all wanting a share of the profits.

If there is an intention for screenwriters to collaborate on a project, then the co-writing claimants may have a case. Simply spitballing ideas in a conversation doesn’t automatically qualify you for a screenwriting credit.

When collaborating on screenplays, it’s advisable to have all agreements in writing. They’re much easier to execute in court than verbal ones.

Points should include:

  • Division of labor and how the money is split. In the absence of a written agreement, an equal split is the default position.
  • Who owns the story idea? Who will get the story credit? This is a matter of who came up with the story concept and who developed it. More often than not, it is a combination of all the credited writers.
  • What happens in the event of death or incapacitation of a co-writer? Have arrangements been made to transfer the intellectual property to an estate and its heirs. What decision making power does the executor of the estate have in terms of royalties and ongoing revenue and rights.
  • Who’s name comes first on the credits? This is something for the screenwriters to decide if there is equal screenwriting credit. Otherwise, you can play rock, paper, scissors,  go in alphabetical order or even a lucky dip.
  • Who has the final say on business deals. It’s common to have an external third party arbitrator when writing partners can’t agree.
  • What are the time points and delivery dates? What are the penalties if one partner does more work than the others? Are they enforceable?
  • How are non-writing duties handled? Who attends meetings? Who is the spokesperson? How are expenses handled such as travel and lunch meetings?
  • How are research duties divided? Who attends a court case to find out what legal proceedings look like?
  • How are penalties divided? What happens when one screenwriter doesn’t deliver or is constantly late.

There have been many successful writing partnerships, so it’s not all ominous. Many fall-outs between co-writers are due to creative differences.

You just need to chose your writing partners wisely and have a stable and mutually agreeable relationship.

I’ve heard of situations of harmonious situations where one writer dictates while the other types, scenes are divided and allocated to each writer, writers doing alternate passes of a script, one concentrating on dialogue while the other structure or plot.

The permutations to fruitful working relationships are truly endless.

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