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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Q. I imagine myself writing a screenplay that turns out to be oppressively overwritten but a story has been kicking around inside of me since the summer of 90. [Describes story elements.] There are some things that intertwine the two stories but- I lack the skill to do it myself.

How does one negotiate with a ghost writer or even find one worth negotiating with?
The term ghost writer describes someone who writes a book that someone else (richer or more famous) takes credit for. The idea is that people will buy the book -- usually an autobiography but sometimes a science fiction novel -- because of whose name is on the cover. The ghost writer is someone who needs the money and doesn't care about the glory.

These days there is so little shame for celebrities in hiring a ghost that the ghost writer often does get an "as told to Casper McGhostwriter" or "with C. McG" or similar credit, which means they're the person who came to the house and listened while Sarah Palin soliloquized.

The Writers Guilds of America and Canada both ban ghost writing. If a writer writes a screenplay, they should get their name on the movie or TV show. In the bad old days before the WGA, producers, directors, actors, and studio executives' nieces regularly grabbed credit from writers. The WGA came into existence as much to give writers the credit they deserve as to set minimum payments for writing services.

If you have a story kicking around your head that you can't write, then you can still be a producer. You can hire a writer, tell them your story, and guide them as they shape your story into your movie. Because you paid for the script, you own it. You can rewrite it yourself, or hire the same writer again, or hire someone else to refashion it. It's still your project, and you can sell it to a production company or studio with the requirement that you get an Executive Producer credit on the movie. You get all the creative involvement you can handle, but you give credit where it is due.

Some of the top creative producers don't write. Darryl Zanuck didn't write. Irving Thalberg didn't write. Joel Silver doesn't write.

You can also hire someone to co-write with you, although not every writer will agree to co-write when they're doing the heavy lifting.

If you don't have the money to pay scale, you can call UCLA or NYU or another film school, and ask a screenwriting teacher to hook you up with a talented student who hasn't yet joined a Guild. Generally good writers don't get very far before they join a Guild, but a few people elect to stay in the non-union side of the industry. As a WGC delegate myself, I'm not going to hook you up with these poor benighted souls, but you can find'em if you look.

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2 Comments:

"And sometimes a science fiction novel?" If I didn't know you were a genre fan, Alex, my hackles would be raised at the perceived slight, and I would be all primed for ARGUMENT ON TEH INTERNERD.

Unless you consider James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and probably Danielle Steele to be SF writers...

By Blogger CJ at Creating a Comic, at 12:46 AM  

I am just speculating that not all the science fiction novels credited to the casts of the various Trek shows are their own work. There seem to be a lot of them. But I could be wrong.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:58 PM  

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