Monday, July 07, 2014

Guest blogger: David Isaacs

Never let it be said I don't provide equal time.   When a reader asked for David's comments regarding our writing partnership he graciously filed this: 

In answer to a question to Ken about writing partnerships, one reader, curious to hear from Silent Dave, asked if I could chime in on the subject. So here goes.

After reading Ken’s take on the subject I would second, as I more often than not do, his points on having a successful writing partnership. The freedom to trust one’s own voice, and yet hold respect for the other guy’s opinion are cornerstones of any good writing team. “My way or the highway” is an attitude that will sink a partnership very quickly.

I will occasionally pitch or joke or make a story point I feel saves the day… sometimes it does and I’m the hero for that moment. However, it can happen that my brilliance is a met by my writing partner “with the jaundiced eye of rabbinical scholar”. In other words, he has a problem with it. That can be a sobering moment, cause when I said it I didn’t expect a lukewarm reaction. So now I have to defend it, not to mention that I’m a little resentful that it’s about to be picked apart by the ungrateful bastard. Still, I started writing with this obsessive prick because he was about the funniest person I’d met to that point in my life and if he doesn’t find my line amusing or my story fix cogent, there could be something about it I’m missing. So, for the sake of the script itself, maybe I should hear what the jealous SOB has to say. Now I may not ultimately agree, but once again, for the sake of the script, which is everything, it might be better to try another alternative. One we can both agree on. Some would say that is compromising, and I wouldn’t disagree on principle, but strangely, for us anyway, putting our heads together almost always results in a better line or story fix.

You usually team up because you both figure two heads are better than one. So why abandon that when things get tough?

Work with another person as long as Ken and I have and you are bound to run into problems and life situations that test your partnership. We’ve had some -- a few shouting matches along the way, and some chairs and tables have been turned over. Things got so tense once that I saw Ken, who no one is ever going to mistake for The Rock”, rip a LEATHER script binder in half in one motion. That was one scary, superhuman feat. I thought at the time, if he could do that to a cow skin he could crush my head like a grape. Luckily he was angrier at the actor than me.

Through it all though, we never took things personally for very long, and that, I think was the key. We both always recognized the value of the other guy to the bigger picture of turning out good work.

I wish you could have seen Levine tear that binder. It was fucking mythological.

Thanks, David.  Note to other writing teams:  rip a leather binder in half.  You'll get your way a lot more often after that. 

17 comments:

Colin said...

Ungrateful bastard? Obsessive prick? Jealous SOB?
All in one paragraph?

I'm screwed. Apparently my ideal writing partner was my ex-wife.

Donald said...

Ken:

Not a question, but a recommendation. If you haven't picked it up yet, be sure to get Mike Sachs' new collection of interviews with comedy writers, "Poking a Dead Frog." Bruce Jay Friedman tells a great story about how, for one week, Natalie Wood was his secretary. I thought of you.

Johnny Walker said...

Hilarious post! Filled with some great truths and useful advice, too. I liked these bits especially:

"You usually team up because you both figure two heads are better than one. So why abandon that when things get tough?"

"Through it all though, we never took things personally for very long, and that, I think was the key. We both always recognized the value of the other guy to the bigger picture of turning out good work."

Insightful advice from someone who's lived it. Thanks for sharing it.

Can we get David to answer a question every week? :) (If so, here's mine: What was your time like on MAD MEN? What was the room like compared to others you've been in? What was working under Matt Weiner like?)

Wayne said...

Fascinating post, David. Thank you.
I just watched video interview here.
http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/william-link#
William Link with longtime partner Richard Levinson created Colombo and much more.
He describes partnership as like marriage without sex.
Says yes, you have fights but they aren't productive. It's better to flip a coin or take turns and settle.

OTL said...

I *really* want to know the circumstances behind your tearing that leather binder...

Scooter Schechtman said...

"...we never took things personally..." Past tense? Like an ex-spouse?

Michael said...

Did you find that one of you was better at writing dialogue for specific character(s)?

Igor said...

David, after looking at the photo of you and Ken, and reading your post, and with all your years together, it got me thinking...

If Ken ever needed a kidney, would you give him one of yours?

And if so, then... What's with the hair?

I mean, Ken - Can't you help a writing-brother out?

Charles H. Bryan said...

You know we want to hear what led to the tearing of the leather binder. It might not be a great story, but how bad can it be? It ends with a comedy writer tearing a leather binder in half.

Do they even make leather binders any longer? I'm asking because there's no way I'm going to Google that phrase.

Alan said...

You guys are still the best. Thanks for the insight David.

Alan Duke

Joseph Grazier said...

I wish I had someone to write with, I bet it's an enjoyable experience, more fun than alone.
Which shamelessly segways into my question... (Can you ask questions on any day? Is Friday just when they're answered, or asked as well? Let's see)

When I write for the sheer purpose of getting some practice done, I find my work tends to be less humorous than when I simply write for pleasure. How do you draw the funny out whenever you're not 100% "into" writing at the moment? I hope this doesn't sound ridiculous. Thanks and have a good one, Ken.
David as well, I suppose.

Wilton said...

I once got in the elevator at universal and there was bill link. We had offices on the same floor, so I knew him well enough to say hi, which I did.
A moment passed. I figured that was it. Then he said "hey John. You want to know the secret to good writing?"
You bet, I thought. I was already happy that he knew my name. This was going to be a huge bonus.
Bill smiled, leaned in, and whispered.
"Own the negative."

Anonymous said...

Wilton said...
I once got in the elevator at universal and there was bill link. We had offices on the same floor, so I knew him well enough to say hi, which I did.
A moment passed. I figured that was it. Then he said "hey John. You want to know the secret to good writing?"
You bet, I thought. I was already happy that he knew my name. This was going to be a huge bonus.
Bill smiled, leaned in, and whispered.
"Own the negative."
==============

Can someone explain the above joke to me?

Anonymous said...

Just want to tell David that I fully agree with him regarding the overuse of "what?"

I see it too much now, and it needs to be stopped. Even on "Louie," a show I like, he keeps having his characters say "what?" like mental patients.

People generally DON'T do that in real life. That's why actors many times look like they struggle to make it sound spontaneous. Writing "what," not always, but too often means the writer has run out of steam, and is tossing a brain fart to the actor to deal with.

Anyway, David, you're not alone on this one.

Be strong, buddy.

Wilton said...

"Own the negative." As in don't be a writer for hire, own your own show, the only way to make truly obscene amounts of money from writing.
Not really a writing tip, that was the joke.
Sorry.

Anonymous said...

What’s with the picture of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Crichton?

JT Anthony said...

This seems to fit: own the rights to the script like a photo negative (the photographer or Co. typically owns the rights to reproduce the image and gets paid for it). In music, those that own the song rights are far wealthier than the musicians that just play the music (unless you're in the band, U2. They apparently split profits four ways, which seems to remove jealousies and in-fighting).