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Check Your Ego at the Door: Tips for Creative Collaboration
Everyone loves each other at the Oscars. You never really see cat fights on camera or behind-the-scenes feuds made public because that would spoil the fantasy. As anyone who has worked in a close creative partnership knows – it’s not always such a pretty picture.
Tina Fey, Martha Plimpton, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Edie Falco, and Laura Linney (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Creative collaboration, whether it’s in the arts or business, can beinspiring, fun, and invigorating, and it can push you to new and exciting places professionally and personally. It can also give you an ulcer, bring on insomnia, and lure you into occasional daydreams about tearing up your collaboration agreement or your LLC paperwork and throwing it in your partner’s face, and then storming out the door while the pieces of paper flutter into their lap and they realize the error of their ways. (They’re probably having the same daydreams about you, by the way). Because you signed paperwork before starting this beautiful creative endeavor right? Please say “yes.”
Every collaboration has creative aspects. If you’re teaming up to start a financial consulting business, there’s a certain level of creativity – logos, a company name, branding. I’ve collaborated in creative partnerships that involved making comic books, films, and writing, and the end goal is the same as any business: A product that can be bought, sold, processed or make you a ton of money. Or, a product that fulfills you creatively and looks great on your resume. Either scenario is a win. Here are some tips for navigating creative collaboration and avoiding an unwelcome, stress-induced ulcer:
1. Sign on the Dotted Line: For most collaborators, signing a contract right off the bat is a no-brainer. Not so much for “creative types.” We paint and sing and dance. What we do is ethereal so why do we need to taint it with confusing, mundane legalese? Because you’ll get screwed if you don’t that’s why. I’ve made this mistake. It’s hard talking about money and who gets what and who owns what. It’s uncomfortable. If you’re worried about offending your partner or sounding greedy or petty – stop worrying and get the uncomfortable stuff hammered out. Get it out of the way and then you can move forward in a productive, healthy way.
You can ask for a lawyer’s help, or if money is a factor you can ask around on tracking boards or groups you belong to. I’ve gotten free legal advice by sending a message to a tracking board for women in film. You probably have the resources at your disposal, so don’t be afraid to ask around before you throw a chunk of money away. Don’t be afraid to tackle the unpleasant things first – sign that paperwork. Six months down the road, you’ll sleep easier knowing it’s in place. Trust me.
2. Listen: Like any relationship, this is a must. It’s not always so easy, right? You get an idea in your head and you’re sure it’s The Way. One of the best things about collaboration is that you can make each other better. You raise each other’s game, if you’re not a stubborn egomaniac about everything. Even if you’re convinced your idea is IT, open your mind and listen to your partner’s idea. More often than not, they’re right, and your separate ideas together will be better than you imagined.
3. Accept Their Style: Opposites attract in love, and that’s true of creative collaborators too. I’m insanely impatient and like to DO, and some of the best partnerships I’ve had are with people who are infinitely patient and like to THINK. It’s not always easy to deal with a vastly different working style, but if you take deep breaths you might just learn something. I’ve learned that it’s OK and even wise not to jump head-first into things at times, and I’ve shown partners that over-thinking a decision can sometimes be detrimental. It’s not your way or the highway – you’re a team, right?
4. Know When to Walk Away: The beginning of a creative collaboration is always like the beginning of a relationship: You’re giddy, excited, the possibilities are infinite and the two of you will rule the world! Then you realize they like to start work at noon instead of ten and they leave dirty dishes in the sink. The honeymoon phase ends and you’re having those fantasies about ripping up your LLC paperwork. Sometimes, you just need to take a step back rather than make a sudden, dramatic decision like dissolve the partnership or strangle each other because your disagreement about your business card font has sent you into a tizzy. Depending on the nature of your business (if you have tight deadlines obviously you can’t just take off for a month) you might need to get some perspective. Step away for an hour, a week, a month, and see where you’re at. Then jump in again – with an open mind and your paperwork in place.
In the film world, intense creative collaboration usually involves a big group of people working and living together 24/7 for weeks or months on end. Fights break out, tears are shed, people exclaim, “I’m never speaking to her again!” in the makeup trailer. Then they see the final product, realize what they’ve accomplished, and everyone at the wrap party loves each other and can’t wait to do it all again. That’s creative collaboration at its best.