Creatives around the world just logged their third month of sheltering in place. Despite the fact that working from home is the norm for many, you’ll agree that this solo routine’s getting a bit stale. Why not spice things up with a remote collaborator, then? Misery loves company! Take it from us: two creatives who couldn’t be from Diff’rent’er Strokes (though we are both obviously eighties babies).
We’ve worked closely together – apart – on screenplays, documentaries, sitcoms, and stand up routines for the past two years. For now, we’ve only lived in the same city – Cape Town – for one month. Shimmy’s proudly South African and Meghan’s apologetically Canadian. Beyond time zones, we bring widely divergent personal and cultural views to our virtual writing room’s table.
Here’s some unsolicited advice to help you find and keep your artistic better half. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to collaborate on your next project with someone who broadens your horizons. As Ethan Coen says: “Two heads are better than none.” And he only worked with his brother, what a coward!
Top Five Tips for Sustainable & Fulfilling Remote Creative Partnerships
1. Find your fit
Easy to say, but hard to do. Like in hiring, dating, or J.J. Abrams’ ‘Lost’ – ‘fit’ is a mysterious amorphous smoke-monster that cannot be grasped or articulated. As Patron Saint of Funny Women Nora Ephron said pre-courtship: “I knew the way you know about a good melon.” You’ll know in your gut that your prospective partner ‘gets it’ and more importantly ‘gets you.’ Now, it’s on you to ensure that things are set up for success. Sadly, chemistry ain’t everything, kiddo.
2. Communicate consistently, constantly
While this might appear patronizingly simple, it’s the toughest trick to pull off. For some strange reason, mammals like us believe that our minds are transparently readable and that our perceptions are identical. Take time to talk it out. By ‘it’ we mean everything, always, and often. What platform works best for meetings and how frequently do we want’em? What’s the best tone for this project? What would this character do in a pickle? Chop it up.
3. Define your roles, slow your roll
It’s about as fun as drafting roommate agreements, but mercifully free of toilet seat etiquette. Like all real pursuits, outlining who does what, when, and how is hard. Doubly so for shy, passive, people-pleasers. Rewire your defaults if you must, cause there’s no martyrs allowed in Duo Town! Get brutally honest about your strengths. One loves punch ups and the other prefers story; one shines ‘in the room,’ while the other tracks notes and workbacks; the combos are endless and always negotiable. Test, adapt, refine, and perfect. You got this.
4. Judgement Day, A Terminator
We’ve all received criticism. Since our brains are like Velcro™ with negatives and Teflon™ with positives, you can rhyme that critique off like your fav karaoke jam. All the more reason to be especially careful when giving notes on your partner’s concepts, characters, dialogue…anything. Just. Be. Kind. Everyone’s process is different, especially (re)writing. When starting out, put it ALL out there, let it marinate, see what sticks, and surprise yourselves. Same goes for self-talk, cause we’re our own harshest critics. The kinder you are about your output, the more practice you have terminating those useless judgmental tendencies.
5. Present a United Front
Outside of your local laundromat, you shouldn’t publicly air dirty laundry. A solid creative partnership is deep and complex. It combines the roles of collaborators, business partners, allies, muses, champions, mentors, mentees, editors, therapists, and friends. When you present to execs, peers, audiences, or anyone, anywhere – be on the same page and stay there. If something trips you up in front of others, file it away for a private conversation later. Then, reaffirm your commitment to communicating, being non-judgmental, clarifying your roles, and staying grateful for having the rare, dumb luck of finding a creative partner who’s a great fit.
We wish you all the best on your upcoming adventures in collaboration. Sometimes it’ll feel like a slog: agreeing to disagree, picking your battles, checking your ego, and finding alignment aesthetically and practically is tough stuff. Trust us, it’s worth it. With the right partner the sum is always greater than the parts. Go out of your way to find someone who brings a different background to the table, who challenges you, and shares your weird, warped sense of humour. Working with your clones may seem appealing, but never forget the important lesson of Michael Keaton’s tour-de-force performance in 1996’s ‘Multiplicity.’ Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, put yourself out there, and start seeking out your creative compeer.