You and Your Writing Partner Need a Collaboration Agreement


by Angela Bourassa

At the recent ScriptFest in Burbank, entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner was on hand to guide new writers through the complicated legal issues surrounding screenwriting. He had a lot of helpful insights on option agreements, steering clear of libel lawsuits, and recommended reading for screenwriters (check out his book list at the bottom).

Larry also had a lot to say about the collaboration agreement – a written document signed by both you and your writing partner that stipulates the terms of your partnership.

Now, you may be thinking, “My writing partner and I met in high school. We’ve been best friends since puberty… There’s no way we need a contract.”

If your writing partner really is your best friend, then hopefully you’ll never need to rely on your collaboration agreement, but it’s still important to have one. And if you write on a team of three or more people, or your partner is someone you just met, then you really, really need one.


Let’s go over some of the points that should be covered in your agreement, all of which should make it clear why this piece of paper is so important.


Very few writing partnerships are actually 50/50 splits. Often one person is the one who is actually writing, and that can make a big difference in the energy and creative input invested. So rather than get into fights down the line about who’s not pulling their weight, put down on paper what you will expect from each other. It might be a commitment to a certain work schedule or to a certain number of writing hours per week, separately or together. Maybe one of you will be responsible for the first draft and the other for the first rewrite. Whatever works for you, write it down.


If the division of labor isn’t equal, should the money be? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the answer is, better to figure it out before you have an offer on the table. You’ll probably decide on a percentage split, but you might also include factors like costs incurred during the writing process, i.e. who paid for the office? or who paid for the research trip?



If you simply can’t see eye to eye on a script and go your separate ways, who gets to keep working on the script, if anyone? Technically, ideas can’t be owned, but the notes and script pages and recorded brainstorming sessions you had with your partner absolutely can be.


If one partner dies, becomes seriously ill, or has some other sort of life event that prevents them from working on the project anymore, what happens? Does the other partner get to continue working on the project? Does the partner who drops out still get a percentage of the sale?



Does one partner have veto rights, or do you both have to agree before accepting an option or sale agreement? Who is the deciding factor?


This one may seem silly, and it is, but that doesn’t mean people don’t fight about it. Figure out what order your names go in early on to avoid frustrating fights down the line.

Once you’ve figured all of this out, write it down, date it, and sign it. If you want to be on the safe side, get it notarized or talk to an entertainment lawyer.

epstein620Learn more about Larry Zerner and get answers to your basic screenwriting legal questions by visiting his website or tweeting him. And, as promised, here is Larry’s list of recommended reading for every screenwriter’s legal/business education:

  1. The Writer Got Screwed – on the legal aspect of screenwriting
  2. Writing Movies for Profit – on the business of writing movies
  3. Adventures in the Screen Trade – classic look at Hollywood in the 60s, 70s, and 80s
  4. Breakfast With Sharks – great book about dealing with agents and managers
  5. Down and Dirty Pictures – on the Weinsteins and the rise of the independent film

2 thoughts on “You and Your Writing Partner Need a Collaboration Agreement

Add yours

  1. I wrote a screen play and asked an acquaintance if he could help me put it into the proper format. He passed away so I sent his wife a copy of the play. Made several attempts over the past couple of years to get in touch with her and nothing. What do I do?

    1. I’m a bit confused by your question. You didn’t send her the only copy, did you? If you still have the screenplay safe and sound in your possession, I think you just let go of the copy she has and don’t worry about it. If she has the only copy, well, then I guess you keep trying her and let her know how important it is to you. Maybe include a self addressed stamped envelope to make returning it as easy as possible. I hope this helps!

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