We’ve all heard the horror stories. Screenwriters who collaborate on a script, only to have their co-writer steal the project and get all the credit. Producers who hire people they trust, only to have them take the project totally off the rails. Friends who think it would be fun to make a short film together, only to spend the whole time fighting.
Finding a creative partnership is hard. So many filmmakers I’ve spoken to have shared that they have trusted people who ended up making their life hell. But just as many have told me how much they adore and rely on their creative partners, who consider them both business partners and friends. New 32 was born out of a strong, lifelong creative partnership, and many more collaborations have been born out of our time at the company. Making any kind of art with another person is vulnerable. It’s scary. But when you get it right, it’s so, so worthwhile. In an industry where there are predatory people and bad actors who take advantage of artists, how do you know when it’s a good idea to collaborate with someone? How do you know when someone would be a good fit for a long-term creative partnership?
The truth is, it’s hard to know for sure. But I’ve put together a list of signs that someone might be a good fit for you.
They treat you with respect
Let’s start with the most basic, most important quality in, well, any relationship. You should never work with someone who is rude to you, who doesn’t care about your feelings, who doesn’t value your input… basically, if they don’t treat you with respect, they’re not worth your time, let alone worthy of being trusted to collaborate on your art projects. If you meet someone and they don’t respect you, it doesn’t matter how talented they are, how popular they are, or how good their work is. Walk away.
What are the signs that someone is treating you with respect? So many of us are used to being mistreated that it can be hard to tell. A person who respects you shows that they care about you with their words and then back that up with their actions. A person who respects you talks about your work with care. They show basic courtesy and prioritize your comfort and enjoyment. They respect your boundaries and have boundaries of their own; for example, they agree that you need to have a contract in place to guide your work together (which, to be clear, you do.)
You can count on them
Someone can be wildly, unthinkably talented, they can have encyclopedic technical knowledge, they can be the nicest person in the world… but if you can’t count on them, they aren’t the right person for you to collaborate with. You want a creative partner who does the things they say they’re going to do. Life happens, of course; you want to be understanding of family emergencies, health issues, and factors like neurodivergency and past trauma. Keeping your expectations reasonable–and specific to that person–are key. But if someone has a pattern of flakiness or unreliability, they aren’t the right creative partner for you.
Think of the friend who offers to pick you up from the airport, the colleague who always shows up to after-work drinks and lets you vent about your day. The family member who you can call when you’re upset and you just know they’ll answer. Your creative partnerships should have the same feelings of trust, comfort, and ease. Don’t settle for less.
They inspire you
Think of the cinematographer whose work captivates you, the writer whose words make you tear up, the actor you can’t take your eyes off of. Your creative partner should inspire you as well. Your brainstorming sessions should feel exciting, not draining. When they send you a script they’ve been working on, you should feel invigorated. When you get on set together, you should feel exhilarated by their suggestions. This might feel like a really, really high standard to hold someone to, and I want to be clear: it is. But your art is beautiful, precious, and unique to you as a creator. If someone doesn’t inspire you, what’s the point of collaboration? Art–even if it pays the bills–is so much more than just a job. Treat it like it.
They make you better
When someone is respectful, reliable, and inspiring, chances are they are going to make your work better, just by being them. That’s because when you feel safe and excited about your work, the act of creation gets a million times easier. But there’s more to this: a good creative partner challenges you. Their sky-high expectations push you to do your best work. They are honest (yet kind) when they think something could use improvement. They take your collaboration so seriously that, like you, they want it to be the best that it can be, and they’re willing to work hard to make that better, even if it’s sometimes difficult or uncomfortable. If they are a good fit, you can both learn how to navigate conflict as it comes up, having awkward conversations when needed, give constructive feedback, and ultimately, you will grow together.
You share a vision
Like I said, you and your creative partner don’t have to be on the same page 100% of the time. That might actually get a little boring, and some gentle pushback is only going to make your work better. But, ultimately, you need to share a vision. If one of you wants to create a horror film and the other wants to make a romantic comedy, it may be hard to find common ground. If you both want to make a horror movie but one of you dreams of becoming the next Ari Aster and the other one wants to make the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre, collaboration is going to be difficult. Ask yourself this: are you inspired by the same things? Do you share the same hopes and dreams for the future of your project? Do you have a creative flow when you work together?
You have fun together
You already know that at New 32 we have a ton of fun working together. On set and even just in the office, we’re always having a blast. Of course, part of that is our commitment to healthy and ethical on-set conditions, which improves things for everyone. But it’s more than that; it’s that we genuinely like each other as people and have a great time when we work together. Basically, in addition to being colleagues, we’re friends! Things get stressful sometimes, of course, but we’re also able to goof around with each other while we’re getting things done. You and your creative partner should genuinely enjoy working together.
You have a good gut feeling
I know, this one is hard to quantify. I’ll be the first one to admit that “trust your gut” is sometimes frustrating advice to receive, especially when your intuition can be muddied by trauma, anxiety, and self-doubt. But I think learning to tune into your intuition and then trusting it is a vital skill for everyone, but especially for artists who are putting themselves in the vulnerable position of trusting another human being with their innermost self. And, essentially, that’s what having a creative partner is. It’s opening yourself up to scrutiny, to disappointment, even to heartbreak. If you’re risking all that… don’t you want the vibes to be good from the get-go? If someone makes you feel weird, or uncomfortable, or like you can’t trust them, politely decline to work with them. There’s absolutely no shame in that. Not everyone is the right fit, even if you can’t articulate why.
There we have it, my guide of how to know when you’ve found the right person to become your creative partner. What would you add to this list?