Michael and Phil discuss what it’s like to work with a writing partner, how to choose one, and what to look out for. Dive deep into Michael’s background with his partner Sivert Glarum and what they did to make it in Hollywood.
Michael’s Screenwriting Course – https://michaeljamin.com/course
Free Screenwriting Lesson – https://michaeljamin.com/free
Sivert Glarum’s IMDB Page – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0321770/
Stephen Prestfield’s Book – https://www.amazon.com/Nobody-Wants-Read-Your-Tough-Love/dp/1936891492
Warner Bros. Writer’s Workshop – https://televisionworkshop.warnerbros.com/writers-workshop/
Glenn Martin, DDS on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8hzMh1WQ6t5dwbnNop2fVA
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting by Skip Press – https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Screenwriting-3rd/dp/1592577555
Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio’s Screenwriting Website – http://wordplayer.com/
I’m always reminding myself of the basics. Cause it’s really, it’s funny. I remember when I was on King of the hill, having a conversation with Greg Daniels who later created the American version of The Office, but I said, Greg, there is no Writing 102. It’s all Writing 101. And he’s like, “Yes! That’s it.” Writing one. It’s all writing because it is, everything is all, it’s all the basics.
All right, everyone. Hey, welcome back today. We’re going to talk about working with a partner and how to find one and had a, had a, why you want one or why you don’t want one. And because I’ve been working with a TV, writing… A partner, I’ve had a partner for Jesus. We’ve been together, you know, close to 30 years. I don’t want to date myself. It’s maybe, oh, maybe almost that many years. And so we always work together. His name is Sivert Glarum and we always work together. That’s how a partnership is, but it’s tricky, it’s a tricky thing, finding a partner. So I thought I’d elaborate on that for anyone who…
I think it’s an interesting topic, especially for someone like myself where, you know, I’ve… I definitely see the value of a partner, but I also see a lot of… My experience with having to rely on other people from group projects in school, down to actually trying to lean in and trust that someone will follow through on their end. My experiences have not been great.
Yeah. It’s a marriage. And like, marriages are not always easy. Not, not, not everyone’s meant to get married to other people. So it’s really, you know, I think I got lucky, um, in comedy, it’s probably more, it’s more advantageous to have a writing partner in comedy because when you, when you say something funny, you don’t know, it’s funny until someone else is laughing. You may think it’s funny, but you know, until someone, your partner laughs, then you go, okay, that must be funny. Um, and I’ll just talk about how we met because when I talk in comedy, it’s, there’s so many ways. I guess when we, when we met, we were team… We were teamed up, uh, in comedy that like some people have partners and its common to have a partner. It’s common not to have a partner, but when you have a partner, you literally split a salary for the rest of your career.
But, but it does make you, it, in theory, it gives you the advantage of getting hired more often, because you’re kind of getting two for that. You’re literally getting two for the price of one. And especially when you get high up levels, you’re then you’re running a show. And now, you know, when you are a showrunner that you have so many responsibilities. It really helps to have someone else take some of them off your hand. And if you don’t have a partner, you gotta do it all. You know, so that’s, but like I said, it is tricky because you have to get along and like you’re pointing out, do you, you have to, you know, you have to really get along with this person. You just have to carry your weight.
I think that’d be interesting to get, I’m sure we’ll get into this. I think it’ll be interesting to talk about kind of your division of labor as you’re going through the process of how you’re writing. Uh, you know, I, I’ve heard of different processes based on different writing partnerships, whether, you know, it’s the, the Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garrett process of they just assign scenes. So one person takes odds and one person takes evens and as they send them back, they’re continuously rewriting each other. So by the time they’re done with draft one, they have 20 rewrites done. Or is it that one of you sits at the typewriter or the, excuse me, not dating myself at all, sit at the computer and like type it out while the other one dictates or does it take turns? That’s an interesting…
And I’ve seen partners do it both ways with the way we do. We literally write everything together. So we will sit at the same at the, at the, uh, you know, computer and one will look at the monitor and the other will be at the keyboard and we literally type at the same. So, you know, the one, I tend to be the one who does the typing, uh, mostly because I’m a better typer than S. It is, um, and frustrating to no end when I’m watching him struggle to put a word together. But, uh, but sometimes he’ll do it. And I, you know, I I’ll loss it and watch. And so, uh, it’s nice. It’s nice to have someone drive the boat a little bit, but I’ll talk about how we, how we met. We were, uh, I was signed by an agent and, uh, my, you know, few years out of college and was a very big deal for me.
And she blew a lot of smoke up my and she’s like, I signed one baby writer a year and, uh, I make a star out of that writer this year. You’re the guy and congratulations. And I was like, wow, I’m on cloud nine. And she’s like, in three years, you’re going to be running your own show. I was like, oh my God running. I don’t even know if I can write a, you know, an episode of TV, but running. And then, you know, when the smoke cleared a couple days later, I was curious about what had happened to the previous baby writer before me. And so I got through there, I guess, through their assistant, I got the name of this guy and I called them up. He was actually two years before me and I called him up and I was like, Hey man, what, what show are you running?
Cause you obviously must be incredibly successful. And he’s like, dude, I work at a record store. And, uh, so he hadn’t gotten staffed at all. And so we decided to team up, we had, there are two reasons to team up. Uh, one, I, I, I knew enough then to know, like I was, it was hard. I knew, I knew enough to know that I didn’t know enough and that we traded scripts. I was like, man, this guy is, this guy is a better writer than I was. Even though we were both signed independently and I was hotter than he was in terms of, I was the new flavor of the week for this agent. And rather than compete against each other for the same job we teamed up. And, uh, and that’s how we, that’s how we became partners.
So, so how did you broach that conversation of, um, what do you think here? Is this something that you want to do together? Like how did that conversation?
Yeah, I think we were both interested in writing with a partner. He like, he had a partner many years earlier who decided to get out and become a socialist, uh, that how Sivert describes it. And so we were both open to the idea and, you know, we kind of met and we hit it off. We were coming from similar backgrounds. We’re both from the east coast. Sivert a couple of years older than me, but, you know, close in age, we both played the trumpet and, you know, grade school, that kind of thing. Right,
Right. Mastering it in heaven.
Yeah, but a lot of partners are just, they, you know, they tend to be, Hey, we were friends in college and we both want it. I know that happens a lot. And so let’s, let’s go out to Hollywood together and become writing partners. So that often, that often is the case. Sometimes you see a husband and wife has a writing partner.
I’ve, I’ve seen that, um, a couple of times, some pretty big names or writing partners in our couples. So, so, okay. So that’s, I mean, that’s a fascinating topic. I was literally just listening to, I was out on runs for our show yesterday in post-production and I had to just drive all over Hollywood and Burbank multiple times. So I started listening to a Steven Pressfield book. He wrote The War of Art, um, Turning Pro… A bunch of stuff. He he’s a screenwriter who did the novel of a Legend of Bagger Vance, and also wrote the film is multiple time bestselling author been in the industry from the advertising background. And he’s got this other book that I never read. And it’s um, No One Wants to Read Your Shit. Pardon that? Yeah. Interesting. That’s the title. And his whole point is you have to understand whether you’re in advertising, writing novels, writing screenplays.
No one wants to read your shit. And, and so you shouldn’t be like surprised when no one gets around to it. And ultimately it has to be that good that they want to read it. But he talks about how he got partnered up with this big name. And ultimately he felt like he wasn’t getting a lot of the credit for what he was doing because he was the writer and the other guy was the name. And his agent sat him down. Once he said, you need to understand that right now he is the known deal because he’s had hits with his other writing partner. He’s had hits with you. He’s the common denominator. You’re a nobody. So you need to understand your role here. Now, obviously your situation’s a little bit different because we were both young baby writers who partnered up, but it sounds like there’s even a little bit of that because you were the hot thing for you, right.
It was the hot, but he was trading. Cause we traded scripts. I’m like this guy really is a really good writer. I could tell just from reading a script, like he was, he really understood story structure. And, um, he had, he had sold on his own, an episode with his previous partner an episode of the wonder years. So it was like he had, he did have a little more, you know, he had one under the belt and I had none of the under the belt, but the truth is like, and I remember in the beginning there was a struggle between us in terms of, we didn’t know how to trust each other. And, and of course I wanted more of my lines in the script and his lines and, you know, back I kind of thing. And then as you get older and more mature, it’s really that ego goes out the window.
And it’s more about whoever pitches the line that will get you home sooner. That’s the one you’ll do, you know? It’s like, I don’t really, if it comes out of his mouth, great, that’s great. Let’s use that one. I don’t really care. And I think he feels vice versa. It’s like, um, and often, you know, we’ll do a rewrite on a script and he’ll want to cut a line and like, no, no, no, no, that’s the best line of the script. And it’s his line, you know? And he’s, you know, so I’m fighting for his stuff and vice versa, you know? So
It’s interesting. Yeah. Yeah. So the pride dies as you become a pro is really what I’m hearing.
Yeah, I think so. It’s also like in the beginning of the novelty of seeing your words on TV, it was like, oh my God, my lines are on TV, millions of people. And then, uh, you know, that gets, it’s not that it gets old, but you’ve become accustomed to it. And then you’re really, it’s really more about just doing the work and finishing the work as opposed to like your ego, you know?
Okay. So you obviously knew he was, he was engaged cause he was obviously working on the stuff, but for people who are considering teaming up, aside from the benefit of, you’re more likely to get staffed, you have someone to vet your jokes or your story against to kind of tell you whether or not it’s good. How can you tell whether or not someone’s serious? Like someone’s a good partner.
The thing, cause we were both, we were both signed by the agent. So we were both, um, intent on breaking into Hollywood. So, you know, so it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like a fluke or it wasn’t like a Lark, neither one of us. Like it was a Lark and we were both around the same time. And Hollywood, we were both like on a struggling PAs and we would work on the weekends. We were both very committed. So after work and on the weekends, every day we met and we wrote spec scripts over, you know, wrote and wrote and wrote. And so, because he was a couple of years older, he was also a little bit more hungry, a little more desperate. It was like he had to make a, this happened now. And so we both had that same work ethic in terms of like, and I was young, I was a little younger, but I was also like, I want to, I want it now. I don’t have any patience. So was like, we have to hit this now. And so it was a sense of franticness and, and uh, urgency. And it wasn’t like there was no plan B for either of us. Hmm.
So how, how, how long after your partnered, did you end up, uh, selling something?
I think, um, I’m trying to remember it. Like it was, we wound up selling an episode of Lewis and Clark that I helped get, because that was my, I, we sold it to my, my, uh, my bosses. I was working as their, uh, assistant at the time. So I got that because, you know, they were my bosses and that might’ve been a couple of years after we were writing, but then it took another couple of years before we were able to get staffed on our first job, which was Just Shoot Me. And so it took a few years. And in between then we also got into the Warner Bros. Writing Program, which really did nothing for our career, but you know, it was something, so it took a few years of struggling. And I remember like at that age, the years feel like decades, especially when you feel like, you know, um, you know, I should be doing more with my life. So yeah.
Yeah. So, so the reason I asked that is because what you’re describing is everyday after work and on weekends, you’re practicing your craft. So you’ve talked about in other episodes is a writer writes. That’s what they do. If you wrote something a year ago, you have written, but you are not actively writing. And so what I’m hearing you say is, even though you had agents, which the big misconception is you need an agent to break into Hollywood and that’s that’s what does it for you that didn’t help? Nope. And then even then you put in years of effort to make it to your first staff job.
Yeah. And the first spec script that we wrote together, it was a friend’s I think it was a first one. It made me minimum the first, it was one of the first. And, but we just kept on writing specs. We probably wrote maybe eight or so specs together, maybe more of show like anyway, ironically it was at first, I think it was the first spec, a spec script that we wrote together that wound up getting work for us years later, it was a really good, uh, spec, but like, we just didn’t quit. It was like, well, write another one, write another one, you know, let’s get better. You know, so, and I’m, I haven’t looked at it in years, but I’m sure I’d look at it. Go, Ooh boy, it’s not as good as I remember it. You know? Cause you get, you get better as, as you get older.
Right. So, so there has to be a committed, uh, commitment to craft and professionalism is ultimately a good vetting benchmark for this. Are these people willing to work as hard as I am?
Yeah. And it’s not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not like, Hey, let’s, you know, let’s try this on a Lark and let’s try, hopefully we’ll sell us. It was like, no, no, we both want to become writers, professional writers. We will not going to stop until we get there. We’re going to work our asses until we do.
Yeah. Yeah. Got it. Okay. All right. So similar goals, hard work, work ethic, all those things. Yeah. Are there any red flags that you can think of, “Hey, this is probably not a partnership that’s gonna work out.”
Yeah. I mean, like I said that the ego part of it, I also think part of our, what made us a good team, especially in the beginning was in the, in a comedy writing room. Usually, you get classified as a joke guy or girl joke guy or a story guy. And if I were to, I was definitely a joke. I and Sivert, it was probably a story guy. And so we had complementary skill sets and now, but years later, um, I’ve definitely moved towards the, towards the story person as well. It’s like, cause the jokes, jokes are fun and it’s like, it’s like a lot of sizzle and you get a lot of credit and people love the joke guy, but the story person is far more valuable and it’s a skill that’s way more important to have, uh, than just being funny or jokes. Those are disposable. Really.
That’s a note that I’ve seen from industry professionals that I know personally is, um, if you don’t understand story structure, you don’t know how to lay out a story. It’s not helpful.
Yeah. And, and I sh no one does when they start out. Nope. Everyone thinks they do. And they don’t. I mean, they’re very, they’re very few people who are born with that innate skill and they rise up to the top very fast. The rest of us have to learn it. And it takes a long, you know, it takes a while to learn that. So
Got it. And to your point, like, even though I’ve seen this, like you taught me this stuff, you have it in your course. I’ve probably seen you teach story structure the way you break a story. And in any room, I still catch myself on a first draft thinking, why did I just bulldoze that, uh, that plot point right there? Like why, why did I step over that story point?
Yeah. And I make the same mistakes all the time too. Like I’ll sometimes all I’ll read my work or what, you know, you need the distance, uh, some time to, to look at your working a wait a minute, this is why what’s going on here because you get lost in the weeds and you have to go always go back to the basics. I’m always reminding myself of the basics. Cause it’s really, it’s funny. I remember when I was on King of the Hill, having a conversation with Greg Daniels who later created the American version of The Office and he was my boss on king of the hill. And I impressed him with something that I said, which was odd and it would impress him. But I said, Greg, there is no Writing 102, it’s all Writing 101. And he’s like, “yes, that’s it! Writing 101.” It’s all writing. Cause it is. And everything’s all, it’s all the basics. But I think people will, there are people out there who will try to sell you Writing 102, because they can make a buck, but it’s all 101 right. But you have to master that part, you know?
Yeah. The 102 does not help you because 101 has the mastery. Yeah.
It’s like advanced screenwriting, advanced screenings, all basics, you know? Okay. Yes. Master the basics.
Hi guys. Michael Jamin here. I wanted to take a break from talking and talk just a little bit more. I think a lot of you guys are getting bad advice on the internet. I know this because I’m getting tagged. One guy tagged me with this. He said, I heard from a script reader in the industry. And I was like, wait, what? Hold on, stop. My head blew up. I blacked out. And when I finally came to, I was like, listen, dude, there are no script readers in the industry by definition. These are people on the outside of the industry. They work part-time, they’d give their right arm to be in the industry. And instead they’re giving you advice on what to do and you’re paying for this. I mean, that just made me nuts, man. These people are unqualified to give my dog advice. And by the way, her script is, is coming along quite nicely.
And oh, and I’m not done. Another thing when I work with TV writers who a new one, I’m writing staffs. A lot of these guys flame out after 13 episodes. So they get this big break. They finally get in and then they flame out because they don’t know what is expected of them on the job. And that’s sad because you know, it’s not going to happen again. So to fight all this, to flush all this bad stuff out of your head, I post daily tips on social media. You can find me on Instagram and TikTok and Facebook @MichaelJaminWriter. If you don’t have time, two minutes a day to devote towards improving your craft guys, it’s not going to happen. Let’s just be honest. So go find, make it happen. All right. Now, back to my previous rant.
So prior to COVID, I was doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu here in the valley with a guy named Romelo Barral and he’s like a 10 time world champion. He’s he’s a legend, like UFC fighters, train at his gym. And he’s just considered a master. And someone asked him the question what’s better. Is it strength or cardio? And he said, cardio, because strength will fail you every time like strength will fade and your cardio can endure. And it’s almost like what I’m hearing you say is understanding basics with story structure and storytelling. Those fundamentals are the cardio to everything else. It’s the engine that keeps you running.
Yeah. And, and like, so few people really want to study that because that’s not fun. You know…
And that’s not sexy. And you know, it, it definitely feels at times it feels contrived or feels formulaic and what I don’t think people understand and that I’m slowly learning is that is ingrained in us as a, as a species. It’s whether you’re talking Joseph Campbell or you’re talking, you know, um, other psychological profiles in this stuff, like, uh, Jungian archetypes that storytelling comes from thousands and thousands of years of storytelling. And that’s why Homer told his stories and the similar structure. And that’s why Shakespeare did. And that’s why we do.
Yeah. And it’s just because it feels right. Something, it just feels right in your bones, but that’s not to say it’s cliche. Like you can always make cliche choices that you see a mile away. I mean, but you, if you follow the structure, there’s plenty of creativity within those, within the points. So it doesn’t feel cliche. You know, there’s still a lot of choices that you can make and mistakes that you can make along the way. But if you have the structure, it really helps. It’s like a house, you know, the houses you can decorate any way you want, but the house needs to have these things to stay up and not fall down.
Yeah. It makes sense. Yeah. Strong foundation. Right. You have to have it, the war house washes away. Yeah. So, so going back to the comment you made earlier, where you’re talking about this division of labor. So we’ve talked about that when you first started out and we talked about in the writer’s room as a Showrunner, as someone who has a show that you’re managing, what’s the division of labor for you and your partner when you become an Executive Producer.
Yeah. So that kind of started our first show that we ran together was called Glenn Martin DDS. And that was a little jem that no one saw and it was Kevin, it was animated. Oh, look at that. He’s got a, you got… I gave Phil a toy .
I’ve got your DVD right here.
You can go find that. I think it plays on YouTube or make no money. So you can watch, you can watch on YouTube for free. And that was with Kevin Nealon. He did the voice and Catherine O’Hara was amazing. Of course he’s hilarious. And Judy Greer that they what a cast we had. And, um, and so on, on once a week, I would have to, we’d have to record the actors and Sivert would stay in the writer’s room, running the rewrite or breaking stories for the next episode while I was on the soundstage, directing the actress. I have a, I’m pretty good at that. I’m… I’m a decent, uh, I can hear the voices and I’m, I’m pretty good at directing and expressing myself and trying to get pulling out the best, uh, performances from actors and Sivert is great at breaking story.
So it worked out, it worked out really well. Um, yeah, that kind of division of labor. But if, if we were only one of us, then that one, you know, something would have suffered. Someone would have not either directed the actors, the right person, you’d have to delegate to like a number two that you trust. And the fact that Sivert, and I’ve been working for all these years, like we know like we have the same taste cause we, so we, I can hear his voice. He can hear my voice. We know it’s, it’s rare that we disagree on, on, on a story point or, um, you know, our take, you know, so it’s a lot of trust and a lot of we have the same kind of brain even often. We’re, um, I don’t remember what we’re doing. Oh, we were, we were, um, uh, meeting on another show and, uh, we had, um, we had the same, we both had this favorite episode. We were talking about it later, like, oh yeah, that’s the episode I liked best. And he was like, yeah, I liked that one, the best two out of like the six that we saw and we’d liked it for the same reasons.
Right. Right. Do you feel like that’s innate or is that your taste has grown together over time? Like being partners?
Uh, it’s grown. We have a similar sensibility over time. Yeah.
Got it. Got it. So, so on the subject of working with partners, you know, you talked about people from college, you’ve talked about, you know, your agent in partnering with people, your agents repping. So you’re not competing against each other. Are there any other ways you can think of to come up with and find a good partner if that’s what you’re looking for? Like sort of like a writer’s dating apps.
Yeah. I have no idea. I imagine I would have no idea. I know people like in the course that I teach or that offer that, um, people, they reach out, they trade scripts that seems like could be, we have a private Facebook group. I dunno if anybody’s teamed up from that. But that seems like a decent way to team up with someone because you’re all serious about the craft. And you both have learned the language that I use in describing stories. So it’s kind of like you have the same kind of, you already have the same foundation a little bit. I don’t, you know?
Yeah. And then to your point, I think that that’s a very powerful indicator to me of someone’s seriousness in, you know, years ago, the first book I ever read on screenwriting was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting by Skip Press. And he had a couple of resources in there. One of those resources is WordPlayer.com and that’s run by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio who wrote like Aladdin, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Small Soldiers, basically every film… wrote on…, they basically every film I grew up with in the nineties and in the early two thousands. And they had a bunch of these articles back from AOL in the forums, right. And one of them was talking about professionalism and they said, you cannot call yourself a professional until you’re willing to invest in your craft. And that doesn’t mean scouring the internet, looking for free scripts. It means going down to a script shop and buying them or going on Amazon and buying a script, it’s finding that.
That’s something you do really well, by the way. Like you always invest in yourself. Always. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah. Well, I took, I took that note very seriously. And so I have, I had purchased many online screenwriting courses. I went to film school. I did all those things. And that’s one thing that I appreciate about your course. Is there’s, there’s almost like a paywall that kind of keeps the riffraff out. And it’s not saying that if you don’t have the funds, that you’re riff-raff what I’m saying is there’s a level of seriousness that comes with and making an investment in yourself. Yeah. And all of the conversations I’ve had, I’ve given notes on scripts to multiple people in that group. It’s, it’s super helpful. They reach out to me proactively and ask what they can do for me to read my stuff and
A nice, yeah,
Yeah, absolutely. And the cool thing is we’re also coming at it from the stories, from understanding how real writers break story in the TV, TV writers’ room, right. Like they’re, they’re analyzing say, oh, you missed this point. And I don’t understand how this pays off. And, and we’re, we’re speaking it almost like the same insider language.
Yeah. So yeah, that’s, that’s riding with a partner and, uh, it’s probably less important for drama, but for comedy, it could be, I think it’s really helpful. And, uh, it, you know, it’s something to consider something to, you know, explore perhaps.
Yeah. I love it. Thanks so much, Michael. I appreciate the info and the insights and thanks to everybody for listening.
Yeah. Thank you. Everyone. Talk, we’ll see you on the next
This has been an episode of Screenwriters Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin and Phil Hudson. If you’d like to support this podcast, please consider subscribing leaving a review and sharing this podcast with someone who needs to hear today’s subject. If you’re looking to support yourself, I encourage you to consider investing in Michael’s screenwriting course at MichaelJamin.com/course. I’ve known Michael for over a decade. And in the past seven years, I’ve begged him to put something together. During the global COVID-19 pandemic. Michael had time. And I have to say, I wish I’d had this course 10 years ago. As someone who has personally invested in most online courses, earned a bachelor’s degree, and actively studied screenwriting for over a decade, this course has been more valuable to me than most of the effort I’ve put in because it focuses on something noone else teaches: story. In his course, Michael pulls back the curtain and shows you exactly what the pros do in a writer’s room and that knowledge has made all the difference for me. And I know it will for you too. You can find more information at MichaelJamin.com/course for free daily screenwriting tips. Follow Michael on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @MichaelJaminWriter. You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @PhilAHudson. This episode was produced by Phil Hudson and edited by Dallas Crane. Until next time, keep writing.