The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a must-read article on my former Good Machine partner James Schamus. The author, Carlo Rotello, does a thorough job on the difficult task of capturing most of the complexity that makes James someone that is fun to collaborate with: he is not easily defined, has many interests (sometimes conflicting), and enjoys deeply both the process and the product. People so often look for people they get along with to collaborate with; I think that is is mistake. Harmony may work in other types of relationships, but in a creative one, it is a formula for mediocrity. If you truly care about the end result of your work, you should look for someone you enjoy arguing with to partner with.
Rotello sums up our Good Machine partnership by defining David Linde as the business mind, Schamus the intellectual, and me "Hope, an advocate of radically decentralized media democracy, was the revolutionary;". I like how that sounds, but what really worked at Good Machine, and in other creative relationships, is when people can argue clearly and without ego for what they feel will make a story work best. Trust is the next most required ingredient in a successful partnership, quickly followed by a willingness to accept that you may not be right (that non-ego thing again).
Good Machine had a great number of really smart and passionate people working together who realized that if they spoke up and advocated clearly for what they believed in, they could get things done if they were able to work REALLY hard. Everyone spoke up, but also learned how to listen.
Arguing about creative choices should be a fun process, because you are chasing a truth and an ideal. The challenge is making sure the participants are all chasing the same thing. When partners start chasing different outcomes is one of the ways things go wrong.
Collaborating among producers though is different from the collaboration between a producer and a director, or a producer and a writer. I have had the good fortune of collaborating with A LOT of producers. When producers collaborate and recognize that they lifted the project up and made it better, you know you'd always like to do it again together. That result does not always bring the same result with other categories of collaborators.