Finally! Our profession gets its own movie, thanks to a novel written by Hannibal Lecter creator Thomas Harris. We should be flattered that the mind responsible for one of the most compelling characters of all time thought of our profession as worthy of a novel, and that Hollywood finally gave us our due.
I finally got to see “Ghost Writer” on a recent flight and thoroughly enjoyed it. For one thing, it adds a little glamour to what we do, and in the movie, the titular ghostwriter, played with wry perfection by Ewan McGregor, gets a nice hefty paycheck of ten million pounds to ghost the memoirs of former British PM Adam Lang, played with heavy creep factor by Pierce Brosnan. Famous client, great pay, and the manuscript is already written…by the previous ghost, who died mysteriously.
This is where fiction and fantasy enter in. The movie, while true to the spirit of what we do, is about as realistic as TV cop or medical dramas. I personally have never gotten an assignment because the previous writer died. (In fact, as a previous blog post points out, clients are far more likely to do a vanishing act.) I also have never gotten such a notorious client as Adam Lang, who’s under investigation by the International Court for war crimes in the Iraq War. (But who’s to say it couldn’t happen?) I do have clients with stories that can tear you up, but I’ve never been thrown into an international controversy. Or been the potential witness to dirty deeds. (Thank God.)
However, I found that “Ghost Writer” treated the profession with respect and accuracy in many ways. To wit…
1. Tough deadlines. The Ghost is given a month to polish and finish what his predecessor started. Granted, this month of intensive exclusive work includes complete in person access to the client. After the media frenzy reaches the remote American island where Lang stays, the ghost writer gets to sleep and work in Lang’s residence. Useful for meeting deadlines…even if The Ghost may literally face life and death meeting his.
2. Research. Although my research has taken my projects down unexpected paths, with the clients along for the ride, I’ve never gone to the extremes The Ghost does. His efforts in piecing together what happened to his predecessor efforts prove the value of researching a client…Also, his insistence on clarifying the timeline of his client’s political activism prove to be the kind of tenacity you need as a ghost writer.
3. NDAS. I have been under a code of silence, but never been told, “the manuscript is not to leave this room. It is not to be copied.” Still, client confidentiality is a hallmark of the business.
4. Bad openings. Lang’s manuscript starts with his family history! McGregor’s utter frustration and disbelief are spot on when he reads the opening.
5. Personal entanglement. So many of my clients become my friends, and in many respects it’s like adding a dozen or more family members. However, there’s something sinister and codependent in the way that McGregor’s character gets entangled with Lang, his wife, and Lang’s admin/mistress.
6. Reading between the lines. The Ghost meets with Lang’s enemy, an MP who advises him the previous Ghost coded a chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer phoenix message in the manuscript. Proof positive that an eye for detail is necessary in this profession!