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the topic of Ghostwriting came up today in my film music class. This topic got me thinking about the ethical implications of Ghostwriting, especially when it comes to film scoring.
What are your opinions on Ghostwriting for film?

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Can you explain a bit more about this- is it employing others to do all the scoring for you and then taking the credit, or just getting a helping hand with some aspects of orchestration etc ? What does it usually involve ?
Yeah its the act of employing a composer to do the work for a film or tv series and taking all the credit.
Though it doesnt happen in concert composing (Well I hope it doesnt) it happens a lot in Film and TV composing.

Their are various different ways it happens:

Sometime a composer is hired by a director and due to his/her busy schedule they might not be able to score the film, so instead of not accepting the job, they hire another composer (often with out the knowledge of the director) to do the scoring for them. However that composer does not get the credit.

Other ways that a ghostwriter might be used is if a director hires a composer that has a "shop" (a collective group of composers that write for one person). The director usually know that when they hire said composer that they are not just hire one composer but several, however none of the other composers involved will be credited to the film.

Their are mostly likely other ways that composers employ ghostwriters, but keep in mind this is not like hiring an Orchestration or a copyest. This is the act of a composer to hire another composer to write the music for a film or TV series and taking some or all the credit for the music created. This isnt a strictly music phenomenon, it happens in almost every created field to art, literature, to even speeches. Heres the wiki page on the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostwriter

The Ethical question that raises is not just is it unethical for a composer to hire a ghostwriter, but is it unethical for a composer to accept that job as a ghostwriter?
Ethics aside, it is unkind to ignore the person or people who really do the work. In 2010, it is inexcusable to not give proper credit.
A composer who ghostwrites is working: and not at fault.
when you ghostwrite something, is there typically a legally binding "gag order" on you, that you cant later claim credit for it?

I think a lot of people would do the first one for free, just to get their name on the screen credits or in the fine print somewhere... so they can point to it, as proof of their professional status...
usually not, I dont think its really necessary. It would be your word against theirs, and if its a big name composers and you try to take credit for it, you might just get laughed out of town whether or not its true.
And usually there is no credit given to the ghostwriters. So its hard to put one on your resume when your name is no where on the movie.



Sean E Duvall said:
when you ghostwrite something, is there typically a legally binding "gag order" on you, that you cant later claim credit for it?

I think a lot of people would do the first one for free, just to get their name on the screen credits or in the fine print somewhere... so they can point to it, as proof of their professional status...
Danny Elfman and John Williams seem to be a great role models for how to credit and work with additional composers, which they do very rarely as opposed to those composers who drive down schedules to the breaking point by relying on team scoring. Here's the best practices:
A) Only take on jobs where YOU have time to compose ALL the music. This means 2 to 3 months. The masters can only do 1 to 2 minutes per day on average, and that is just the composing, while other people are orchestrating (this does not mean arranging or ghostwriting, see definition below).

B) Follow AFM definitions of composing even on non-union jobs. Handing ideas to your "orchestrator" to finish still makes them a co-composer at most, an arranger at least. Is your composition fleshed-out vertically? Horizontally? If you have people adding horizontally, they are composing, unless they are just repeating your sections.
From the BASIC THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURE AGREEMENT:
"(a) Orchestrating is defined as the art of assigning, by writing in the form
of an orchestra score, the various voices of an already written composition
complete in form. A composition is considered complete in form when it fully
represents the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structure.

(b) Prices quoted in this Section refer to orchestration only and must not be
interpreted to include or apply to creative contribution such as reharmonization,
paraphrasing or development of a composition already complete in form.
(c) Any alteration of or addition to the structure of a composition is
defined as arranging.
The price charged shall be subject to individual negotiations, but
shall be in addition to the orchestrator scale.
(d) Sketching is an additional service and the payment therefor shall be
subject to individual negotiations between the Producer and the musician."

C) If all you can compose are the themes, take credit for "Themes by" as in the case of Harry Potter 2. Don't take credit for composing the score. If you unexpectedly need additional composers due to unforeseen time constraints, credit them for their cues, as in the end credits of Nightbreed where Shirley Walker is credited with "Charge of the Berzerkers". Put it in your contract that any additional composers will be credited.

Don't take on work that you need to exploit other people to complete, even if that means you never score a feature with a 2 week deadline in your life.
Lisa... is such a situation, I would think the person would rather beat a path to your door, and your bargaining position as "ghost" would be immense. Having become a goose that can lay golden eggs, you would be in a natural position to obviously demand credits in the future.
I see what you mean... on the surface, it appears sinister... an established big name, commands a six figure per job... then just farms all his work out to unknown underlings who do all the work, and mr big takes all the credit and 90 percent of the cash...

but, even under THAT sinister scenario... the people paying for the 6-figure work would quickly smell a "deal" by going directly to the ghost. After all, the ghost is doing al the work anyways...

I knew of the practice in th context of published fiction, didnt realize it existed in music. In the world of fiction, its more the case of Mr.Big using his name to make all the money, and farming the work out to younger, starving writers who have no chance on their own name. And, never get the chance when they cant get any credit for their work. Its very typical when someone finally lands a serial novel gig... you write th first few installments in the B-grade action series... and you have th rest ghostwritten while you try to get some other project off the ground.

I thought composers and musicians were so "concerned" about who gets credit for what, that it didnt exist... thanks for kicking aside my illusion, LMAO
There' no reason for ghostwriting other than artistic and professional dishonesty. It really doesn't matter about the money or how much acclaim the music gets from awards, etc. It's simply defrauding fans of your work, as well as, in some cases, your employer.

A composer is not a carpenter. Their music is appreciated from an artistic standpoint, and there's an emotional connection between an audience and an artist. If an artist passes along someone else's work as their own, there's a trust that's been broken. Casual moviegoers will not care who wrote it, but fans of your music will, and they are what make you worth anything to anyone but the client. Your work has to be worth something to people other than the client, or you're just a house painter.

As for being a ghost versus using ghosts. They're both pat of the same artistic fraud.

The reliance on ghosting has undercut those with something really special to contribute to a project by shortening expected schedules, increasing expectations of unlimited free drafts, and generally making scores sound more standard and less unique.
well yeah... in music I can dig its better, the way you describe it... in fiction, as an unknown writer you dont have a choice but to ghostwrite when the chance comes. Sure its still voluntary, but, it virtually guarantees you never rise up thru the ranks. For fiction, name is everything. You cant get an advance unless your established, and cant get a good editor who has ability to shop stuff around either... once you take the thousand dollars to do the ten thousand dollar job... you're goose is cooked.


Its always "interesting" to learn what goes on behind the scenes in various creative fields, business wise.

Hmmm... I'm tryign to balance out "name" vs "content" here... Is it more important that the music be beautiful, or, that "John WIlliams" or whoever's "branding" is on it... oh well...
Lisa, with all due respect, you are not an industry insider anymore than anyone else here. What you're claiming is true for many composers, but not all. The true masters of film music composition have made sure they have ample time to do the job themselves (1-2 minutes per day with 10 days for creative buffer), crediting additional music composers as composers.

If you're considering ghostwriting or hiring a ghostwriter, do not do it because you think it's a given in the industry. It is not true. Those who partake in ghostwriting on either side will try to tell themselves that even master composers like John Williams and Danny Elfman use ghostwriters, but anyone who's studied the craft, full sketch scores, interviews and scholarly articles know otherwise. They also know that many composers, such as most of those from Hans Zimmer's studio DO use ghostwriters, as do many other hacks who hoard assignments by using factory methods to promise shorter deadlines and more free drafts. Sure, it's legal, but it's cheap. The total payment divided by the number of man hours in those cases is exploitative. There is a reason composers who write a few themes while getting a "Music by" instead of "Themes by" credit, like Zimmer, will always have legions of detractors, and John Williams will not.

I only use these big names as broad examples, but your career path will determine how far you can go. Some people don't have any desire to be honest with people who love their music. Zimmer has proven you can make money with the ghostwriting business, but at a cost to reputation. Who do you want your role models to be? What's the ultimate goal, just to make money and write music, or to actually build a body of work that is worth more than it's usefulness to your employers? 2 paths, not equal. And even if the money and work is all you're interested, you can still do without the ghosting.
Calling an artist "a business" is only looking at one very mundane aspect of what they do. A collective like Remote Control doesn't make this big business, they lower the perceived value of what individual film composers do by treating it as JUST business.They came in after other, greater composers made this big business. Now it is becoming a generic service, like lawnmowing. Diminishing returns by lowering standards to those that any beginner can emulate with a little practice.

Even if one wants to go by pure business justifications, ghostwriting and team factory composing costs films money by saddling the film with a less effective score. It also costs composers money by dividing a single person's creative fee. There's profit to be made by selling cheap, mass produced goods that don't last, and there's profit to be made by selling quality, well built goods that will last. The latter are a better investment for filmmakers, who are very conscious about long term profits and a digital download and home theatre marketplace. Disposable teams of composers for cheap, generic, ultimately dated, disposable films. Master composers for well crafted, legacy films. Unfortunately, ghostwriting and team scoring has become more commonplace thanks to places like Remote Control, and they're starting to compromise the quality of some otherwise pretty good films.

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