No matter if you’re new to Hollywood or have been in this industry for a while, you probably heard of the term “ghostwriter.” You might even have been approached to ghostwrite a story or have hired a ghostwriter yourself (or considered doing so).
In general, ghostwriting is any writing you do without credit. Ghostwriting is a form of writing that can take place on a screenplay, TV pilot, novel or article and that is done by a writer who will not get credit for their work.
And it’s a big thing in Hollywood. Chances are, your favorite movie was actually written by a ghostwriter. Yep, it’s just like that. So let’s dive into this somewhat secretive business!
What is Ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting is a form of writing that can take place on a screenplay, TV pilot, novel or article and that is done by a writer who will not get credit for their work.
More often than not, someone comes up with an idea but has no clue on how to turn that idea into a screenplay, or at least how to write it into a script. So they hire another writer to write their idea for them, while they get the credit on the final product.
In our industry, you might get hired to write a pitch deck, an outline, a treatment or an entire movie. It’s also common for writers to hire a ghostwriter to rewrite their script.
There are a lot of writers who write things for other people to put their name on, and they’re not complaining, since the paycheck that comes with ghostwriting is usually considered a good one.
Does that mean the people who hire ghostwriters don’t know how to write themselves? Well, not necessarily. It’s common for talented writers in Hollywood to be extremely busy, and they might hire a talented writer they know to ghostwrite something for them.
It could also be that a writer has a good script already but doesn’t have the time or knows how to polish that specific script. So they hire a ghostwriter to do just that.
How Do You Get Ghostwriting Jobs?
To be a great ghostwriter you need to understand that while the person who hires you doesn’t write the script themselves, they still have an idea and a unique voice. As a good ghostwriter, you will be able to duplicate their voice into the script you were hired to write.
Now, that’s how to be good at it. But how do you actually get hired?
Getting hired as a ghostwriter is not an easy task. You need good connections. You need to know people. You need to be networking a lot.
If you really want to focus on ghostwriting, consider creating a website where you market yourself as a ghostwriter. This will definitely make you look more legit than most out there and once you write a script that your client likes, you will most likely be ghostwriting many more.
Ghostwriting is a smart way to be making money while getting better at your craft. You’re basically getting paid to write, even if that means you don’t directly get credit.
If you do eventually want to be known, you don’t want to get stuck being a ghostwriter forever, but it’s definitely a smart move if you need the money and want to work on your craft.
However, know that just as its name indicates, you will not get credited on the project you write. That means that even if this script you wrote ends up being produced or wins an Oscar, you cannot disclose that you are the writer who actually wrote it.
If you want to be a ghostwriter, you cannot get offended or mad if a movie you wrote makes it big and the person who hired you gets all the praise for it. That’s the name of the game when you are a ghostwriter.
What’s The Difference Between Ghostwriting and Co-Writing?
When you co-write a screenplay, you write with another writer who will also get credit for his work on the screenplay. Most of the time, you will split whatever money you make from the writing and the co-writer owns copyright on the script too.
Meanwhile, with ghostwriting, the ghostwriter doesn’t get credit for the writing done on the project, no matter if he wrote 10% of it or 100%. The ghostwriter doesn’t own any rights on the script and if money is being made, they don’t get a cut (unless a contract states differently).
A ghostwriter also usually isn’t allowed to mention that they wrote on the project, unless a contract states otherwise. But most of the time, it’s a secretive kind of thing.
How Much Are Ghostwriters Paid Per Script?
It really depends on your level.
Beginners to mid-level ghostwriters can make anywhere between $1,500 to $9,000 for a screenplay.
Meanwhile, established writers in Hollywood can easily make $60,000 or more per script.
If you seriously consider ghostwriting, I would suggest charging by the page (some ghostwriters charge between $5 and $50 per page). If you don’t know what price you should set per page, you can think of your hourly rate.
What do I mean when I say that? Think about how high your hourly rate is. Say your hourly rate is $50, calculate how many hours it would take you approximately to write a first draft and here’s your quote for the entire project.
What Does The Ghostwriting Contract Look Like?
As far as the contract you will submit to your client, make sure that the payment schedule is clear. You might want to ask for half upfront and half at delivery, you might want to include extra if a rewrite is necessary, or work with one third upfront, one third midway through and one third upon delivery.
There are no rules but make sure that the contract is clear when it comes to payments and when the client can expect to get his first draft.
No matter what amount you ask for, make sure you get a percentage of that amount when you get started.
How Do You Find Ghostwriters?
Now, you might be in a position where you consider hiring a ghostwriter for your own project. Maybe it’s because you don’t have the time to write it yourself, maybe you don’t know how or maybe you need someone to do a rewrite on a script of yours.
There isn’t one set place to find ghostwriters, but with a google search you can dig up quite a few websites who will give you information. Some websites are put together by the ghostwriter directly, others are put together by some sort of companies who let you get in touch with an award-winning screenwriter to hire as a ghostwriter.
Since you will most likely be spending at least 2,000 to 4,000 dollars on a ghostwriter (who’s not a big Hollywood name), you want to make sure that you can get as much information about who they are and what they did as possible.
Now obviously, they will not be able to tell you the name of what they wrote if it was ghostwriting, but ask for samples of their writing or anything else they’d be willing to share.
Always make sure that you know how a person writes and how they can elevate your work before you consider hiring them as a ghostwriter. Be extra cautious since this isn’t a cheap venue, although it can be a great one if you cannot do it yourself either because of your busy schedule or because you aren’t sure how to write the best version of the script idea you have.
Famous Movies That Were Ghostwritten?
That’s impossible to say, unfortunately. But I’m sure you’ve heard rumors of some fantastic movies that were written by someone who did not get credit for it.
Now, while we don’t know what famous movie was ghostwritten, we do know that some very talented artists in Hollywood did uncredited writing on scripts that turned out great.
Since that’s not a secret, we wouldn’t call this ghostwriting. It would more so be considered a script doctor.
What Is a Script Doctor?
A script doctor is usually hired by a studio to rewrite some aspects of a script. It can be a character’s background, a piece of dialogue, the pacing or anything else. It’s not ghostwriting but since the work of a script doctor often constitutes of less than 33% of the writing of the script, they do not get credit for their work.
The WGA rules that in order to get writing credit on a script, someone needs to write at least 33% of the script.
It’s well known that studios hire several writers to make passes on a script and many times, these writers stay uncredited since they only do parts of the changes (less than 33%).
Carrie Fisher who is well known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars has written (uncredited) on many movies such as Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), Hook (1991) and Sister Act (1992).
Shane Black, one of the most prominent screenwriters in Hollywood, wrote on Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) for no credit.
And sometimes, that leads to a little bit of drama too. M. Night Shyamalan who’s known for The Sixth Sense (1999) and Glass (2019), did uncredited work on the movie She’s All That (1999). Unsurprisingly, the writer who’s actually credited on the movie did not like Shyamalan’s statement and went on to say that none of that was true – but the movie producer confirmed that M. Night Shyamalan did indeed do an uncredited pass on the script that actually got the movie greenlit.
Now again, it’s impossible to know what screenplays in Hollywood were ghostwritten, but we do know that it is a common practice.
Remember, while ghostwriting is a great way to pay the bills and work on your craft, it requires a lot of networking and can definitely get in the way of you writing your own projects.
So if you’d like to, explore this option but always remember to find time to write your own scripts that can further your writing career and for which you get on-screen recognition.