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Can You Write Screenplays Being Agile? (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a look at how a popular framework used by companies to develop and release products can apply to screenwriting. Part 1 is here.

Here is the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

We’ll pick up starting with the 3rd principle or core value:

Customer collaboration
over contract negotiation
Customer collaboration involves prioritizing working with whoever you’re writing for especially early on. Essentially, it means, an antagonistic relationship can develop if there is no roadmap before the customer or if any feedback is earned earlier on in the process.

For screenwriting, this can mean receiving some notes before a draft is completed, being open to changes, bouncing ideas between you and the producer/yourself/writing partners/sample audience. Contract negotiation may mean rewrites, or changing deadlines. While these may be inevitable, they should not be looked at with dread but rather a realization that partnering will help ease both parties as it’s put here (“customer” would mean a producer, or anyone you’re writing for, and “development team” would be the screenwriter):

 “Using an agile approach in practice, you experience a partnership between the customer and development team in which discovery, questioning, learning, and adjusting during the course of the project are routine, acceptable, and systematic.”

There is something to be said about too much collaboration which may look like trying to please everyone or diluting your voice/vision into a generic or unfocused script. But I’d say in this case that the best way to apply this principle is to respect the feedback from others (perhaps with some exceptions) and to get the words down knowing it’s a “work in progress” that will inevitably require edits.

Responding to change over following a plan
This was partially covered above, but the openness involved in accepting change can not only mean changes to content but changes to deadlines.

In other words, any writing job may involve timeline changes, such as a moving deadline or even an additional one. An example: a screenplay’s deadline of 1 more month to complete a first draft may be better served by first implementing a target date of 1 more week for Act 1.

There’s perhaps nothing more paralyzing than completing a first draft and so again, finishing is high priority. However, any collaboration and feedback along the way can help keep a writer and the “customer” in sync, on a path together where time may be saved in the long run. Some plans were meant to be improved.

As far as changes to content, if you’re midway through your rewrite and you have the chance to get feedback now, consider it. It may help unlock a better story instead of stubbornly adhering to a plan or outline for its own sake.

Now that all 4 core principles/values have been covered, I’ll take the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

And adapt it to work for a screenwriter:

Working with people over a perfect system
Getting it done over preparation and “research”
More frequent partnership over wait-and-see approach
Adapting to changes over following a plan

In conclusion, there are some ways in which agile core principles/values can apply to screenwriting. Doing so requires discernment though as frequent and earlier collaboration, feedback, emphasis on getting things done and being adaptable can mean many things. But if you are a writer and find yourself constantly procrastinating, frustrated with not getting feedback earlier, or figuring out the perfect plan, exploring this framework can lead to better breakthroughs and smarter work.

Michael Kim
Questions? Comments? Write me at InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com

Mike has traveled thru every department at InkTip. He now directs Product at InkTip. Besides music jamming, he likes trivia, whiskey, and trivia & whiskey.

Written by: Mike Kim
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