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A Toast to Blake — and All Writing Partners — for the New Year

By on December 28, 2012 in Today's Blog
Blake signs his good friend's copy of "Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies"

Blake signs his old friend's copy of "Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies"

Guest blogger Howard Burkons has been a Producer and Writers Guild of America member for over 25 years. Among Howard’s latest projects are two backdoor pilots he is currently adapting from books by bestselling authors Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark — films that Howard will be Executive Producing in 2013 with his longtime producing partner, Brenda Friend, under their banner, Beantown Ranch Entertainment. The movies will premiere on the Hallmark Channel in 2013-14, and the one-hour series debut in 2014.

These projects follow two very successful films Howard also Executive Produced with Friend: Deck the Halls, which Howard adapted from the Higgins Clarks for Turner Network Television in 2011, and Smooch, an original story and teleplay that he co-wrote with Terry Spencer that premiered on the Hallmark Channel in 2010.

Howard (also with Friend) Executive Produced and did an un-credited rewrite on the award-winning Ron Clark Story, and was Co-executive Producer of John Q, starring Denzel Washington. Howard began his professional writing career as Blake’s partner.

Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends

Old Friends, music and lyrics by Paul Simon

Ever since BJ kindly asked me to start (or is it end?) the Save the Cat! year of 2012-13, Simon and Garfunkel’s tune has been running through my head, a song Blake and I referenced in a script long ago. Only then we were new friends, well, new co-workers anyway, as true friendship came later. At that time, we were all-work-and-no-play-“writing partners,” and all our togetherness was strictly work related.

It’s fitting, then, than after much thought, I have decided to make the focus of my visit to Blake’s site the dynamic of working as writing partners, or a “writing team” as defined by the MBA via the WGA website:

  • The MBA defines a team as two writers who have been assigned at about the same time to the same material and who work together for approximately the same length of time on the material. When it comes to credit, writing partners cannot divide their joint work into separate material written alone. The MBA does not permit more than two writers to work as a team unless the Guild has granted a waiver prior to commencement of writing services, or certain economic minimums are increased in cases of bona fide 3-person teams. If one member of the team is a production executive (director or producer), then there must be a collaboration agreement under terms approved by the Guild. In addition, the production executive may be required to fill out certain forms with the Guild. Please note that a production executive who gives instructions, suggestions or directions, whether oral or written, to a writer regarding the literary material generally does not fall under the MBA definition of a writer.
  • You should recognize that you have a choice in accepting work as part of a writing team. If you question the validity of the team collaboration, it is strongly recommended that you do so by contacting the Guild’s Credits Department at the time the writing is being performed. The Guild will not divulge your objection to the other person in the claimed team, or to the employer, without your consent. Do not wait until the time when the Guild is determining the credits to raise your objection.

Whew! Who knew? Certainly not Blake! Certainly not me! Because like most couples who jump headlong into a relationship, we did not give a second of thought to the rules and regs of teaming up. No, we just started writing, happy to have another voice in the room — a living, breathing human being to help us stave off the fear of failure we also never acknowledged, terror lurking just beyond the next “Fade Out.”

And for a long time, it was good. Hell, for me it was great, a true blessing. Blake was a real writer: trained, polished, brilliant, talented. I was the imposter: a sometime actor who talked a good game and through happenstance, would learn his craft at a true master’s side.

Specs followed. Dramas. Comedies. Action & Adventure. Even half-hour pilots spilled from our IBM Selectric. No sales, lots of bites. Pitches came next. Every genre, every market, and still no payday, but we remained undeterred, optimistic even, Annie-confident that the “sun would come out tomorrow,” that our time was near.

How, you ask? We had each other. And that’s the real secret sauce of being on a team for me: the comfort of knowing you are not alone.

Then we got some work; assignments long and short, funny and not; even landed a “video game” gig for a new VHS based platform from Hasbro and Warner Brothers; writing “interactive scripts” based on the Police Academy franchise we smartly titled: Police Academy 4.0

And one day, the sense that we were in this fight for fame together just wasn’t enough and we were done. Too much struggle + too much ego + too much face time = get out before I start to hate you.

Blake, having a rough time with the WGA strike and his father’s death, knowing that I would likely try to stay our inevitable divorce if for no other reason than I was more of a hanger-on type than he, left a “Dear Howard” note on my door and fled Los Angeles for the beaches of Santa Barbara, where he would regroup and come back strong.

I sulked for a while, cursed him for “leaving me,” then refocused on my producing persona, turning to production work as my way of avoiding the reality of facing the blank page without my partner, Blake, at my side.

Time passed. Blake became the “King of the Spec Sales,” with features his domain, while I ended up slugging it out in the world of the MFT, a career choice that has lasted, miraculously, to this day. Every few years we would reconnect; once for an assignment to reboot an old spec for a chunk of change, and several more times when someone who knew us when wanted the team back together again. And every time, almost like magic, as if we had never parted ways, the rhythm and dynamism of our relationship would surface and take hold. Yes, “crazy wonderful” is the best way I can describe my time with Blake.

Of course as loyal followers of Blake, you know that he worked with other writing partners, too, some enjoying great success, others not so much. And based on the conversations I’ve had with these lucky few, I’d say they all feel the same way: Writing with Blake was a gift!

Post-Blake, when it came to writing, I found I wanted – hell, needed – the security and energy of a partnership. Sadly, other than Blake, only two partners in a half-dozen profited from our time together. Not the best odds. But for me, well worth the effort, as writing is not the “most fun” one can have with a keyboard. I like(d) being on a team.

And you have to if you are going to take on such a close relationship, because you will likely spend more time per week with your writing partner, than you will with your life partner. Which takes commitment.

In return, beyond the comfort and support that comes with knowing someone has your back, you also get the benefit of another writer’s talent, vision, humor, experience, and their skill at creating, selling, and marketing yourselves and your content — a true win-win if you are winning. Of course, you also get to share in their dating adventures, divorces, childcare issues, substance abuse troubles, etc., a price you must be prepared to pay for letting someone else into your life.

All in all, the bottom line that I have found, both among other writing teams I know, as well as the majority of my former partners, is the overriding consensus that being half of a writing team doesn’t suck if you are making money together, and quickly sours when you are not.

So there you have it – an unscientific, totally anecdotal look at one of the oddest oddity’s of show business known as the “writing team.” If it suits your personality, I heartily recommend the habit. However, if you are a brooding, must have silence or blaring music, lock me in a room and leave me alone type, then please disregard the preceding.

Lastly, if you will allow me one small indulgence, I leave you with the rest of Old Friends – shared with love for my dear partner Blake…

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today?
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears

Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

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  1. speedo says:

    Thank you Howard… for the trip down memory lane.
    Oh to have Blake with us all for one more phone call, text, logline email…. It’s hard to believe that he left us all 40 months ago to carry on. His encouraging words continue to echo as I plough through visions of story.
    Thank you again.
    Namaste Speedo

  2. Bradford Richardson says:

    A TOAST then. Beautifully remembered, and shared, Howard.
    Thank you, Bradford

  3. Howard…beautiful. I miss Blake everyday as I face my keyboard and try to remember the lessons he taught me, and the excitement in his voice when I really “got it.” And that song happens to be one of my favorites, too–it becomes more and more meaningful as I grow older.

    We were blessed to have Blake in our lives. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  4. Forrest says:

    A Toast, to Howard, for a great story. And to Blake, you’re still missed. 😉

  5. Perry Hall says:

    This message from Howard comes on the same day that I discussed my new writing partner with my wife. “Yes honey she’s 40 and a female actor.” I’m male and 66. “Oh she has to be young and good looking to pitch our work and the fact that she has been in a couple of films is wonderful.” Help me out here, writers. If I have a partner who is just just like me, what good is that? If Blake were here he would have at least 20 reasons why this partner is the perfect fit.

  6. Melody Lopez says:

    @perry…I’m not Blake and can’t give you 20 reasons but I think working with a female perspective and voice will add distinction to your dialog and help ensure the character dynamic will seem plausible and fresh…

    and thanks Howard… your honesty was so refreshing and your openness so generous

  7. Annie says:

    Absolutely beautiful Howard. Tears in my eyes… and yet a smile on my face – and in my heart. Thank you.