[The Graduate]: Collaborating in a Writer’s Circle

Is collaboration the key to unlocking the potential in your stories? The straight-forward answer to that is “of course!” But it took a while for me to learn the true power of collaborating with other writers to see a story through.

by Marie Setiawan tumblr_m8rr5hmyxU1rpp54xo1_500

This week I was invited to the screening of a feature that I had the privilege of being a part of from its very foundations. Looking back at its long and arduous journey in the making, I thought back to when I started to walk in the footsteps of a screenwriter. It all began in a filmmaking workshop held by Information and Cultural Exchange in 2010 where I was introduced to Billy Marshall Stoneking – our mentor in screenwriting – and seven budding filmmakers (whether we were writers or directors). From the very get-go, we’ve established our little writer’s circle and collaboration began to create seven different short films, all from different points-of-view, different walks of life, and creative differences. This was my first collaborative experience, where building the foundations of your story, plot, and characters became both rewarding and difficult.


The Art of Collaborating and its Rewards (or Tribulations)


Many writers keep their babies close to their heart, but only few would keep it away from the feedback it deserves. Why deny the potential of your story? Following Billy’s thought on screenwriting, your story becomes a part of you – almost a treasure. And with that comes a subconscious thought (or an awareness) to protect it and shield it from the eyes of others. Personally, collaboration opens you up to a number of opportunities to see how your story fares from another point-of-view. Personally, a lack of collaboration can be seen as a fear that another’s eyes would tear it apart and shred what work you’ve already put into it. Stories that need layers to shed eventually get placed on the shelf to collect dust, for those who can’t continue on. But the beauty of shedding these layers is bringing the story back down to its very core – the truth behind all the junk that shrouds it.

Working and sharing ideas with other fellow writers is a wonderful yet trying experience. The past few years stepping into screenwriting has taught me that. And with that, there are three advantages I’ve found that outweigh the criticism of others when it comes to storytelling and scriptwriting within a collaboration.

1. Reacting to the Read
Waiting for a fellow writer while they read your script? Watch them every now and then to find any initial reactions they may have while they are reading. I’ve found it easier to discover (or roughly estimate) at what points of my story they had the urge to crack a smile, pull a frown, or even chuckle (whether for good or bad). At first, I felt self-conscious of what others thought of any of my creative choices. Now I embrace the thought that I was able to move them in one way or another.

2. Listening to the Initial Thought
When any collaborator/writer/editor/family member gives feedback, it can be a daunting thing. Did they understand your story? Or are they still unsure as to what is going on? Their first thoughts to your story are the most important pieces of feedback you’d get from them. The initial thought and their first impressions tell you, as the writer, what they got from your story, making them your first point of contact as the audience. By listening and processing the first things that come out of their mouths, it can help you understand what aspects of your story they’ve gotten the most of – whether that is on a visual perspective, or a storytelling aspect.

3. Creating a Dialogue
After the read and the first load of feedback, creating and sharing thoughts between yourself and your “audience” at this stage can help create an understanding about your story. It isn’t all about enforcing your vision, but creating the bridge that can help make them understand your point-of-view. I’ll admit there had been times where I would try to make others understand where my stories came from – not to the greatest extent either. It’s all about sharing your thoughts and being open to receive feedback and their point-of-views as well.

These are just small things I’ve made clear to myself when I share, but it has helped me take that next step into screenwriting when I can freely let my stories go into another’s hands and not be paranoid about finding and discovering the core of my story – to shed away layers to find something new.


The Product of Collaboration – The Fruits of Labour

Now, almost a year later in the works (two years after the shorts had premiered), a feature appears. Due to the writer’s circle and collaborating with six others, we’ve all discovered a common theme that strings all of our films together into a cohesive piece. With that, the prospects of a feature built on the very foundations of these short films was a possibility. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but working with others, whether it is in the writing stages, the production stages, and even through to post, collaboration is key.

So, why elephants?

– Marie Setiawan

MarieMarie Setiawan is a film graduate from the International Film School Sydney, as well as a UNSW Alumni with a BA degree in Media and Communications with Honours. Writing is her passion, but she also enjoys many things on the side such as reading, watching films, and is an avid gamer of sorts.

She also tweets for The Story Department with a small crew.

Leave a Comment