Writers considering a career in motion picture or television often prefer to write their own material. That’s great, but the reality is Hollywood’s a collaborative town. Eventually, the writer will have to work with others like co-writers, producers, actors and directors.
A writer has the best chance at making a living as a screenwriter or television writer if the writer is open to collaboration, and knows how and when to use a writing partner or a ghostwriter.
Most writers prefer the solitude of translating their thoughts to paper, while others prefer bouncing ideas off a writing partner. Finally, there are writers who know they have a weak spot, like dialogue or plot development, and deal with it by bringing in a ghostwriter.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to discuss the pros and cons between a ghostwriter and working with a writing partner.
WRITING PARTNER – PROS
Having a writing partner can be a real lifeline for a writer, especially if the writer needs to be inspired and motivated to write long-term to complete the daunting task of creating a motion picture or television pilot. The writing partner can be someone to lean on when the writer hits a roadblock or simply wants to quit.
A writing partner can also lessen the completion time compared to going it solo. The writers can divide up the work and finish in record time. And the writers can divide up the project based on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A writer with an ear for dialogue can handle the speaking parts, while the other writer might focus on plot and execution. It can be a win/win situation.
When it comes to marketing, the writer has a partner to share in getting the word out and promoting the script for a sale. If the writers have a pre-signed, legal agreement (a must!), the actual sale could be a breeze and the writer has the perfect co-writer already lined up should rewrites be necessary. It can seem like the perfect arrangement, but like anything in life, there are cons to consider.
WRITING PARTNER – CONS
The two areas most writers should be aware of when working with a partner includes equal division of the work and the legalities.
If one partner seems to be carrying most of the load, delivering large chunks of the project, while the other dabbles, the script could be in trouble. And so could the partnership. Decide up front on who does what and set deadlines.
The biggest obstacle we’ve seen at Extreme Screenwriting between writing partners is the legalities. While most partners have a written agreement to share equally in the sale and royalties from the project, few consider the sale itself.
Case in point (based on a true story), writing partners we’ll call Sally and Martha, get a meet-n-greet with an A-list actor’s production company for a comedy screenplay. Much to their delight, the actor himself attends the meeting and makes an offer of $250K for the screenplay. It’s their dream moment, or is it? Martha was a go with the deal, but Sally, who had a background in directing commercials, wanted more. She either wanted to direct the motion picture or she wanted more money to the tune of $1million. Sally wouldn’t budge and after several weeks of trying to negotiate with her, the deal fell through. Note: To this day, Sally has never sold a thing and Martha went on to do two motion pictures she wrote solo.
Extreme Screenwriting’s Advice: If a writer wants to work with a partner, discuss the partner’s expectations for a sale up front and consider getting it writing.
GHOSTWRITING – PROS
Aspiring writers often have no idea that the entertainment industry uses ghostwriters and are probably more familiar with the term ‘script doctor’. The difference is a ghostwriter fixes a script without the benefit of a credit, which is usually done at a higher-than-normal pay rate (in exchange for their silence). Where the ‘script doctor’ often takes a credit, sometimes equal to the original writer, and can be referred to as a co-writer or script editor.
But who wants to be rewritten? Nobody! But it happens every day in Hollywood. A script gets stuck in development hell and if the producer decides to stick with the script, the producer will bring in a second writer. Producers often don’t want to have to pay residuals to two writers or they don’t want to step on the toes of an established writer, so they’ll call in a Hollywood ghostwriter.
Extreme Screenwriting advocates never letting this happen to your script in the first place. Be honest with yourself! If you know your dialogue is weak or could use polishing, then hire a ghostwriter! The ghostwriter will work with you to maintain your unique style and voice. If you don’t do this, a producer will and you WILL NOT be part of the rewrite process. It’ll become what the producer wants – his voice and his style! Yikes!
A-list writers already know this and often work with ghostwriters to make sure any weak spots in a script have been cleared and the script is ready to film BEFORE marketing the script! Doing a preliminary strike to avoid being rewritten is a major pro to hiring a ghostwriter! Ghostwriters can be hired to beef up weak areas, polish scripts, do page-one rewrites or write the entire motion picture or televisions pilot!
And savvy aspiring writers have learned a smart tactic to finally completing those half-written scripts is to hire a ghostwriter!
However, some might argue that the biggest benefit with using a ghostwriter is not having to share the credit, sale money or royalties with that writer! You gets the perks of having a partner, while reaping all the benefits!
GHOSTWRITER – CONS
The most obvious con is that you didn’t write part of the script, but who’s going to know? Nobody, unless you tell them.
A second con is the cost. The cost can be substantial. There are ghostwriters in town that charge thousands and tens of thousands or even into six-figures (studio-level deal). Most aspiring writers can’t afford this. Or can they? Extreme Screenwriting advises writers to seek ghostwriters that charge in the $5K range and under. For example, a polish might cost between $499 to $1.5K, while a full rewrite should run the writer around $2-$3K. If it’s a script from scratch, that’s the full $5K. This is the amount Extreme Screenwriting charges and we base it on 5% or less of an average sale totaling $100K. That’s fair considering what the writer can make from a potential sale.
Another con is if the producer still wants more rewrites! What then? It does happen and we advise the writer to agree upon a set ‘minimal’ fee to have the ghostwriter step back in (the producer will never know) and do any tweaks after a sale. This post-sale rewrite fee can be agreed upon in the initial Ghostwriting Literary Deal Memorandum. Give it a 3-year expiration date and hit the market with the confidence that you can cover any edits the producer might demand.
Extreme Screenwriting’s Advice: If you know you have a writing weak spot, then use a ghostwriter to bring the script to market ready status.
Whether you use a writing partner, a ghostwriter or go it solo, we wish you many Happy Writings!