There are approximately seven billion people on Earth, and for every one of those there are at least two aspiring screenwriters in LA. When I first moved to LA I was in screenwriting workshop with seven of them.
I don’t know how many people were in the workshop in total, I know this particular program (not the MFA) accepted anyone willing to pay them the almost six-thousand dollar enrollment fee, and I was put in a class with seven other people. Our only job during the nine month program was to write and finish two scripts, no constraints on quality or originality.
Only half of us came anywhere close.
The four of us who stuck it out went on to continue in our own private writing group, until one of us left for New York and eventually another of us put her writing career on hold for a while while she’s raising her little girl (soon to be girls, plural).
Which left me and Chris.
Chris has an acute sense of humor, and a natural skill at writing absurd situations and patter-heavy dialogue. His early screenplays were filled, even at their darkest, with a wry sarcasm and creativity that blew me away.
In our class together, the whole time I was reaching for the most high-concept idea I could think of, and bending everything around it in a cascade of trope-inversions with the ruthless efficiency of a terminator, I often felt the characters becoming secondary to the plot they were caught up in, and I wished I had Chris’s ability to instill each character with a unique and natural voice so they wouldn’t feel so interchangeable and lost.
I have a whole different set of strengths We probably seem similiar from the outside, being a pair of quiet white guys, but Chris and I don’t have much in common, either in terms of our natural writing sensibilities or our tastes and hobbies. What we do have in common is a respect for the craft.
In the years we’ve known each other, Chris and I have bonded over our obsessiveness about the placement of a line of dialogue, or whether a scene we both love is really necessary, whether a subplot wraps up too early or too late. He’s the only person I know who writes as much as I do, and who cares as much as I do about getting better as a writer. Its no coincidence he’s the only other person left of our initial group.
As the last two survivors of our “crew,” Chris and I have moved increasingly into each other’s orbits. I’ve learned a lot about how to make my writing funnier and clearer by writing with Chris in mind as an audience, and I’ve seen Chris’s writing become more high-concept and ambitious.
We’ve become each others fans and hype-men and, recently, we’ve become writing partners. After four years, we’ve finally gained enough familiarity with each other to lean on each other, and to make work that is more interesting by being filtered through each other’s viewpoints.
Right now we’re working together on a script about alien so we can send it to a science-fiction screenplay contest with an upcoming deadline. The parts of it I wrote are fun and scary and easily the best work I’ve ever done, and it was only possible because the characters had already been established, and their journey laid out by Chris before I ever touched it.
When we trade drafts back and forth, sometimes we rewrite scenes, and sometimes we gut them. I’ve removed or killed off some pretty funny characters, just because I thought it would improve the pacing and raise the stakes. He’s erased monologues and elaborate set-ups and pay-offs I’ve written for the same reason. Its constant compromise between our two visions of the story, and I think its only possible because we’ve been working alongside each other for a while and know each other well enough to have built up a considerable trust in each other’s judgement.
So there may be 14 billion screenwriters out there. But in my personal experience, 75% of them are going to decide to do something else eventually. Those of us left will be judged not just by our tenacity. We will be judged by how well we innovate and how well we collaborate with each other, and here I like my odds.