On Collaboration–Manda Whitney

KATIE WRITES: I’ve been a big fan of Manda and her blog and Errol for, oh well, since the Nanowrimo Musical came out. (My favorite song is “Neil Gaiman Tweeted Me.”) So cajoling her into writing something for Imagine This was one of my greater triumphs. She’s in the middle of filming a new webseries right now, so I’m even more honored that she had time to write in the middle of all that! Definitely check our her stuff at the end of the post–it’s a shining example of what creative blogging looks like!

Disclaimer: all images blatantly stolen from Manda’s blog due to procrastinating on formatting until it was too late to beg for some to be given freely and captioned according to my own sleep-deprived judgement.

So you have a great and amazing idea that you want to turn into a book/film/videogame/macaroni art. It is the sort of idea that never leaves your head, an idea that you want to share with the world. Then one day as you are sitting with your friend thinking about your idea, you share it with them, and lo and behold they get excited too. And as the two of you sit excitedly talking about possibilities, you realize that it only makes sense that the two of you should work on this great and grand idea together.

Welcome to the world of collaboration.

Errol

This is Errol. Yes, that is a grown man on a swing.

I’ve been collaborating with artists for years. This is really no surprise coming from a theatre background, the most obvious collaboration there is. A couple of years ago though I teamed up with a crazy dude named Errol and the collaboration has intensified. Errol and I have worked on many projects now: video skits, webseries, reviews, a game, and are now in the process of producing another webseries called Sidekicks. And with each project, I’ve started to think far more about about the subject of collaboration.

I’ve seen the awesome things that can happen when a group of brains get together to bounce around ideas to produce a singular piece of work. I’ve also seen what can happen when those same brains get too stubborn and things begin to fall apart. It not only derails the project, but has the potential to crumble friendships as well.

I’ve learned a lot of valuable things from these experiences, things that all potential collaborators could benefit from. So I am sharing them with you fine readers and hopefully you too can use them to not only survive but fully enjoy your collaborations (if you are looking to survive Errol however, that’s a whole other blog).

1. You are going to have to learn to compromise.

Not sure what's actually going on in this picture, but it looks like a very good example of Errol telling Manda to change something. If I told them to pose for a picture for this blog post I think it would look like this.

Not sure what’s actually going on in this picture, but it looks like a very good example of Errol telling Manda to change something. If I told them to pose for a picture for this blog post I think it would look like this.

This one seems obvious, but it’s the one I find people have the most difficult time accepting. You have an awesome idea. You bring it up with your friend or friends, who would love to work on it with you. It’s a vision you’ve been developing in your head for some time, and in your brain you have a perfect picture of how your story/production should unfold.

Guess what. It’s going to change.

As I said earlier, the more people you have involved in your project, the more ideas are going to be flying around the room. Even just working one on one with a partner though, it becomes apparent very quickly that they will have their own thoughts about the story.

They might have issues with the decisions that characters are making. They might have alternate endings that they feel make it a more coherent narrative. They might even just think a joke doesn’t work.

This is actually a good thing. There’s a saying in theatre: “If you want to make good theatre, you have to be willing to kill babies”. Harsh? Sure, but a saying that could be applied to almost any creative endeavor.

When Errol and I work together, on this webseries for instance, there has been a lot of compromises that had to be made in the writing process. Jokes that worked in earlier drafts suddenly didn’t work anymore. Errol cut down lines that I personally loved but which made episodes too long. And then he would come up with an entirely different ending to what we had originally worked out.

Sometimes, admittedly, it was hard to see those words I slaved over hacked and slashed and adjusted. But at the same time, upon seeing the new product I realized it was for the better. Always be willing to listen to your partners. The end product may not be what you had envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be amazing.

That being said though…

2. Know when to stick to your guns

Stick to your guns. Even if that means twisting your collaborator's arm.

Stick to your guns. Even if that means twisting your collaborators arm.

This one is iffy as well. There’s a fine line between knowing when you’re just being stubborn and knowing when your idea is something to stand up for.

Sometimes it’s big things. Early in the process of the webseries, I sent out a draft of our script to about ten different people. Two of them were extremely bothered that the two characters, a straight male and a straight female, do not fall in love. One of them flat out said that the script wouldn’t work. And while there ISN’T a lot of television you see where a straight male and female don’t fall in love at some point, it was something that I was adament to stick to.

Other times it’s small things. During the filming process my director gave me a direction (you know…that thing that directors do…). He is a friend of mine. I trust his instincts immensely. And yet something told me to fight him on this particular direction and I told him so. Errol was actually surprised I dug my heels in as much as I did. But it was a character choice I felt strongly about, and thankfully my director is also someone who is willing to listen as much as he is to give out orders.

I hear the expression “Trust your gut” a lot and that couldn’t be more true. The only thing to keep in mind is that just knowing when to trust your gut takes a lot of practice. When to listen to your friends, when to ignore them

3. Sometimes brains just don’t work together, and that’s okay

One time, I tried to write a play with my friend. We both love each other to bits and we both love the work that the other produces. When he suggested working together, it seemed like a grand idea that could not possibly fail.

It wasn’t. Oh, our friendship wasn’t affected. But it was obvious from day 1 that the two of us came from two very different creative worlds. He loved the deathly dramatic. I loved the goofy comedy with heart. He wanted the characters to have great epiphanies and emotional scenes. I was of the belief that a good laugh could teach just as much.

The thing is…nothing was wrong with either of our ideas. We just did not mesh on a creative basis. It was a valuable lesson for both of us. The person you work with, even though they will have different ideas, should be on the same wavelength as you.

Despite his tendency to pushy every nerve wracking button in my brain, I love working with Errol. We both have the same sense of humour, we both value the same themes, we’re both good at listening to each other and, even though I have to work through twenty thousand layers of anxiety to do it, we both have a drive to get things done.

If you’re going to be working closely with someone, you have to keep these things in mind. And if they don’t work out? It doesn’t necessarily mean the idea was bad, only that sometimes certain minds simply won’t mesh.

4. Every creative project, large and small, is a collaboration.

This is what collaboration on a film set looks like. Notice all the people doing separate jobs that work together to produce a coherent whole?

This is what collaboration on a film set looks like. Notice all the people doing separate, important jobs while the director stands around looking bored?

No matter what creative project you do, you are collaborating with someone. This is something that Errol recently hit me over the head with. It’s something I didn’t even think about, and it’s something I don’t think our society really recognizes.

We tend to celebrate the individual. We see words like “A Joss Whedon Production” or “A Neil Gaiman Novel” and we associate those works as the efforts of one person. And certainly, sometimes one individual will do a very large amount of work.

But no creative is ever alone in their process. Theatre and film require vast amounts of minds from multiple disciplines to make that final product work. Video games have writers and coders and artists all working together. Even novelists, a seemingly solitary career, have editors and publishers and friends who will be working with them to make that novel the best it can be.

The moment you involve someone in a project, whether it’s partnering up with a co-writer or getting someone to design your logo or even just asking a friend for advice, it becomes their project too. And I cannot stress how important it is to keep that in mind.

I have been guilty on more than one occasion of getting into my own head with my ideas and forgetting that I am not the only person invested in a project. This latest webseries was initially at least my idea, and for a while I felt I had to take sole responsibility for it.

Of course I was wrong. That kernel of an idea may have been mine, but the development of it belonged to so many people. It took my friends looking at me, almost offended, “Um…it’s our project too…we can help.”

Even this blog, written in the depths of my Cavern, has been sent to Errol to be looked over and cut. Well, that is the hope. I might not be able to tear him away from “Don’t Starve”.

So good luck with your collaborations. It’s one of the most fun ways to work whether you’re looking to be the next Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg or even just asking your friends for advice. Unless your creative partner is lactose intolerant and insists on drinking milkshakes. Then it’s not so fun.

Amanda Whitney-casting-031Manda Whitney is a Toronto based actor, writer, video game lover and eater of pie. After graduating theatre school and participating in various comedies and the occasional Canadian drama, she discovered that she could combine her love of comedy with her unhealthy obsession with video games to create her own work. Starting with a parody video on the popular and aggravating game Myst, she has since produced various videos poking fun at the multitude of games that exist.

In 2012, she joined forces with famed extrovert Errol Elumir when she asked him to help write a song. The two have since produced a webseries musical called NaNoMusical, a dating advice series called Dining & Dating, and are currently working on a new series called Sidekicks. When she’s not crazy busy writing or performing, Manda can be found playing far too many adventure games and watching British murder mysteries. You can watch her videos at www.youtube.com/wetangent. You can also read her blog at mandawhitney.com


Comments

On Collaboration–Manda Whitney — 3 Comments

  1. It’s true that everything we do is a collaboration. The thought had never occurred to me before, and it gives a very different perspective to projects now. Thank you.

  2. Makes sense… and I know you and Errol do great collaborations, so you’re worth listening to. 😀 That part about everything being a collaboration was telling.

    I end up not collaborating sometimes simply because it’s easier in some way… doing my own covers because it costs less (I do have some art and design in my skill set, so that’s my excuse), not asking for feedback because there isn’t time, avoiding working with someone because I don’t like the confusing kind of responsibility it gives me. 😛

    I’ve yet to intentionally dive into the world of collaborations, but this post will help me work through it when I do…

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