Thursday, May 8, 2008


Kevin, Mr. Smith, sir, this interview recently ran on both online and in their newsletter. Thought you might find it interesting.

Working Successfully in Collaborations

You always hear that the movie world is a collaborative business, but most writers don't know that a lot of the writing that goes on here is also collaborative.

Here are just a few examples:

- You've been hired to write a script by a Studio or Producer.

- You team up with a Director on a script that is their idea.

- You are hired to do a rewrite of another writer's work.

- You work with an A-list actor to rewrite ONLY their part.

Once you make it in the Biz, chances are you'll do at least one, if not all of those. And many of you will make "Assignment writing" your primary source of income.

So I'm presenting an interview today that came from such a collaboration. This is from an Independent film, but these same points hold true for paid assignments with Studios. The sooner you learn these key points, the easier it will be for you to become a writer that Industry players pursue.

The film is MATCH.DEAD (Match dot Dead). Jon Bonnell is the director and Alyssa Alexandria is the writer. As you read this interview, I'll put in notes to add information or expand upon what is being said.

Please play careful attention to the notes.

HAL: Jon, Aly, can you give us some background on each of you?

JON: I've had three screenplays produced, and filmed five different films this year in some capacity, three of which I directed. Now I'm doing MATCH.DEAD as director/producer, which Aly wrote.

ALY: I started screenwriting five years ago and my first class with you, Hal. My biggest project right now is with NEHST Studios and Larry Meistrich in New York. It's a feature that I wrote in ProSeries 7 and I took it through the rewrite class as well, which was probably one of the reasons it did as well as it did. It's in production. I'm not supposed to mention the budget but it's a very large budget. I'm very proud of NEHST Studios and how they've handled everything. They have been amazing with me.

HAL: Where did you two meet?

ALY: Jon put out a request for a script for a low budget horror film and I responded. However, I didn't respond with a script. I responded with a pitch and said I could write a rough draft in a week. He responded back and we started writing.

HAL: So, Jon, behind the scenes what was your experience?

JON: I put out a call to quite a few different places as well as the ProSeries Alumni that we were specifically looking for a low budget genre feature to go direct to DVD release. It had to be able to
be done on a small budget, which we outlined. I needed limited cast, limited locations, everything about that to keep this as tight as we possibly could. I had funds already established going into this, so I knew what the budget was that we were trying to hit. So, I put out that call. I had probably received three dozen scripts. Aly's was most appealing because she came back and said, look, I want to work with you to get exactly the story that you want with all the constraints that you have, and here's my idea for a story.

NOTE: So this collaboration began with Aly pitching a High Concept and making a promise. Notice that the promise is to be completely collaborative. She said she would work with Jon to get EXACTLY the story that Jon wanted.

If you're wondering why a writer would do something like that, there are many reasons. First, Aly recognizes that the director is going to spend a lot of time and money making this movie. Second, she gets an amazing benefit -- a movie that is ready to go into production
the moment the script is done. That means an instant IMDB credit and the chance to see her writing on the screen within a few months.

Third, she gets the experience of doing another movie. And finally, she creates a very strong relationship with a director who is moving up in this industry.

BTW, Jon is also a very collaborative director who loves to work with people to make films. So it is natural for him to be more interested in someone else with the same values.

JON: Of the 30 submissions, Aly was the most appealing because she said, I want to work with you and work in your constraints to get something that we're both proud of. At that point, it was a pretty much a done deal. It helped that she was less than an hour's drive away. So we were able to actually meet face to face. She took a crack at it before we met, so I got an idea of her writing and I got an idea of the story that she wanted.

ALY: It was definitely a collaborative effort. I sent him the first draft in three days and he came back with some amazing the feedback and some amazing twists and turns and different takes on it which I incorporated immediately, and he just loved it. Jon pushes you when you write and because he's a director and an actor and he's a screenwriter, his feedback is a tick up from what you normally get.

He has a really well rounded vision of the film, and it's all about the film. Not so much about me writing it or him directing it. It's the whole package. It's about the end result of the film. That's always what's most important for all of us. So, together I think that it only took us about two weeks after the feedback and it was done, and it was amazing.

JON: I think it was 10 days to the day from start. We literally spent a day, probably 6 to 8 hours going through outlining this story beat for beat, not worrying about the dialogue but working out to the characters and plot points and everything else. And like she said, three of four days later, boom, I had the rough. It was back and forth a few days with notes, the story itself was intact and we were ready to go.

I like working in a give and take environment. Everyone throwing in ideas and actively listening and building off the conversation. Alyssa was great in this respect. If I felt we were off track and reigned in the scope or, the reverse, felt we needed to go over the top, she kept step with me.

NOTE: Notice the collaboration. She's writing. He's giving feedback. They're both working together with the same vision and throwing ideas back and forth. Notice that their focus is on the completed film -- not on arguing over minor details. Also, notice the speed at which the
script was completed. That really is possible when the vision is shared and both are intensely focused on the same destination.

Later, you'll hear how this process changed Jon's view of screenwriting.

JON: My vision from the beginning was that story is the key. It isn't about the all the other aspects of a typical direct-to-DVD genre-type piece. It's not about blood, or body parts, or swearing, or whatever. All it is about is story. Everything else will come. But if the story is not there, we didn't have it. Everyone that has read the script before we even started production was immediately sucked in because the story was so good. That's really helped us.

HAL: Sounds like it worked out for both of you.

ALY: It was great. Jon is such a professional.

JON: Working with Aly was just amazing. It truly was what a collaboration or writing partner is supposed to be like. I don't think I'll ever look at working on a screenplay the same way ever again.

NOTE: As a screenwriter, that is what you want directors saying about you. It creates the kind of reputation that builds careers and long term working relationships.

HAL: Both of you took the ProSeries. Any comments on it?

ALY: Yes. That's how I started. I believe that's what took me the farthest in my career. Everything that I've learned in the ProSeries I've kept with me, it has staying power. I still use it today. I have it on my bulletin boards. The rewrite process is looking at me as we

JON: Yeah, I would say the same thing about the ProSeries. I've kept all my notes and everything from it, and all the emails and the lessons. I constantly go back and review them. And on top of that, the ProSeries Alumni community has just been great. I've made all kinds of contacts and friends through that group as well.

ALY: The ProSeries taught me how to deal with professionals in this business. There are no excuses. Learning to write a screenplay is only half the battle. The other half is about being in
a meeting -- focused, streamlined, and thinking in High Concept. I learned that from you.

TWO RECOMMENDATIONS: First, if you haven't already experienced a collaboration like this, start thinking and planning to have one in the future. Start imagining yourself in a supportive
collaboration and setting the mental processes into motion.

Second, please be as supportive as you can of this movie. Every time one person from this group succeeds, it opens up possibilities for others to succeed. And if you can help spread the word in
some way, please feel free to do so.

MATCH.DEAD is just finishing up production. You can keep up with it at these pages:


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