Monthly Archives: September 2015

Collaboration II

piano four hands

On my last blogpost I wrote about my collaboration with scriptwriter Gerry de Hoogh. I had asked her to send me her own thoughts about collaboration in general and ours in particular. For her, co-writing can work – and be inspiring, and result in better stories – if two conditions are met: that the writers respect and trust each other and that they place the story above their ego.

Writing means putting yourself in a vulnerable position. You risk doubt, despair, rejection, not because your geniality may be misunderstood for rubbish, but because your rubbish may pass exactly for what it is, in other people’s eyes and in your own’s. Writing in going one step forward and two steps back, as Gerry puts it, and you must be willing to share all those setbacks with your partner. You must be willing to get naked in front of your partner, and cherish his or her own nakedness too.

Story must come first, and egos are best left at home. My idea, your idea – what matters is what is best for the story. It can be hard to let go of an idea you have fallen in love with. Gerry recalls insisting that the cause of death of a certain character be a strike of lightening. I disagreed, but allowed her to have her way – it was a detail, it felt like a waste of time to fight over it. But now she wants the cause of death to be an ordinary disease, having realized that this serves our theme better (at last! J). I am, too, guilty of slowing us down by bringing up the same idea over and over – this magnificent scene of our main character erring in town along with the cow he had just rescued from the slaughterhouse. I remember how Gerry started our skype conversation right after I included this scene in the treatment once again – (stern voice) “I think we have a problem”. Looking back, I also identify moments in which one of us did point in the right direction but allowed the idea to be discarded just so that we could both get there, or somewhere else, when the time was ripe. Again, as I stated below: in co-writing you may lose some sparks but you gain solidity.

In the particular case of our tandem, Gerry defines herself as more “mainstream” and me as more “arthouse”. I guess I agree: I did contribute the most original ideas, and also the most dead-ends and nonsense. Gerry kept us and the story down to earth. Our complementary skills and drives are an asset in our working relationship.

Collaboration

zwei-liebherr-bagger

I have written a 12-page treatment for a mystery thriller, together with my co-writer Gerry de Hoogh. The project is now on hold – the producer is sending it out to potential directors. I am happy to be standing at this crossroad right now, waiting to see how it unfolds, feeling confident about the future and grateful for the chance I have had. This was my first serious experience of collaboration. I have been wanting to dissect it for a while, in order to gain some insight about myself as a writer.

When we started working on “The Farm “, now renamed “The Souls”, less than a year ago, I had no expectations whatsoever. I longed for a “click” between us, but I was happy enough to be working with a partner instead of exclusively alone. I had experienced the “click” a long time ago, with a television editor in Portugal, when I was a beginning journalist. In the editing room, hours would go by like we were surfing them, effortlessly; I was never disappointed, always fulfilled. We were editing minor little clips, and still these grand metaphors fully apply (nostalgia may be playing a role here, though). Anyway: I didn’t experience this often afterwards, and cannot really pinpoint what was it that made it be that way. I understood that in making things work and doing your work, you cannot count on this kind of relationship; you must develop the skills that allow you to communicate and negotiate in an effective way, instead of blaming dissatisfaction on the “lack of chemistry”, like if human enterprise was based on pheromones.

My experience of collaboration with Gerry certainly was no love affair. It was more like mature relationships are supposed to be: based on pragmatism, realistic expectations, listening to one another, reacting thoughtfully, making compromises, giving encouragement and recognition, discussing and agreeing on methodology. (I only wish I could do just as well in my marriage J) Sounds all very wise and reasonable, but can you actually be creative – have that burst, find that breach – in this kind of setting? Indeed, apart from a few moments while when talking to one another something unexpected would pop up, most of the creative matter, the raw material, came to us when we were alone. I, for one, have to say that I have rarely felt so “inspired”, so blessed with ideas, than when working on my on on this project. The gist of our work together was about weighing and fitting together those findings.

As it turned out, I contributed more ideas about plot developments than Gerry. Gerry would be there questioning those ideas, assessing them according to theme, genre and audience. Sometimes this would infuriate me: in my point of view, we had to allow ourselves a maximum of freedom in those early stages of story design, to ensure surprise and originality. If you want your soufflé to rise, do not open the oven door to see if it is rising! I had the impression we were often interrupting the rise of our story by measuring it to see if it fitted this or that canon of scriptwriting. But I came to realize that my stance for freedom was sometimes a way to hide behind the story, not wanting to take the risk of, in the process of classification that Gerry so insisted on, realizing that I actually didn’t know what the story was all about. I do have a tendency to get lost in complexity and, in shame, not wanting to be rescued.

Gerry lives in Rotterdam and I live in Amsterdam. The cities are only one hour away by train, but to save time and money we did a lot of meetings via skype. In the office where I work there is a large closet that has been turned into a sort of phone booth. If you make a call, you’re supposed to step in there in order not to disturb the others. I spent many hours in that closet, and have now a special fondness for its dim light and cardboard smell. So many heated – always cordial – discussions happened in there. With constant negotiation, some freshness was lost, some spark, but a lot of clarity and solidity gained.

Besides her prudence, her pragmatism, her thoroughness, her relentlessness, there are two things about Gerry I particularly appreciate: her entrepreneurial spirit and her loyalty. This is not just about writing a story together – it’s an enterprise, it’s a socio-economic endeavor. Like most of us, she’s not comfortable calling producers that she never met – but she does it. She developed this smart strategy of calling them between 9 and 9:30 in the morning, when they’re not into the day yet, attending to their ongoing projects and answering other phone calls. They have time to talk, they are fresh, and so is she. She had our project read by 4 producers in less than 4 weeks. The phone call thing is just an example of this spirit, this not allowing yourself not to do what has to be done.

I call “loyalty” to the comforting, nurturing feeling I get from the fact that she keeps constant contact, is interested in all the spheres of my life and goes out of her way to help me or encourage me or whatever I need. This attention and care (like in mature couples, again) really give substance to our working relationship. I hope I am honoring what I am receiving, and that our project’s developments allow us to pursue our collaboration – even if divorce ensues, one never knows, I will always say it was more than worth it.

Gerry promised to send me her thoughts on our collaboration, so – more on this subject soon.