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Screenwriting : Popular Songs in an Amateur Screenplay by Jess Paul

Jess Paul

Popular Songs in an Amateur Screenplay

I wanted to pose the question to screenwriters both of and above my beginners' status: what's the protocol for including copyright music references in a feature screenplay? Is it viewed as unprofessional? Would it hurt a screenwriter's chances of winning a contest or selling the script? My screenplay involves modern music themes and culture. Having considered the easy solution of recruiting lesser-known acts for an attainable, realistic soundtrack for a low-budget production, the movie still references popular acts and songs as part of the plot and even movie title. Though still being polished and a ways away from being in the final draft, the script has been deemed pretty solid and likable with the likelihood of being filmed on a low budget... except for maybe the music rights. Very interested to know ANY THOUGHTS! And, if a similar post has already been discussed in Stage 32 Lounge, please LINK ME to the thread. Thank you guys! Jess Paul (Actress and Screenwriter) http://jesspaul.net

JessPaul.net
JessPaul.net
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Jess Paul

Hey guys, I appreciate all the feedback! BUT I want to specify something: the songs I want to reference are dealing more with music history and culture more than mood (totally my fault for not communicating that correctly!!) But, think more "Almost Famous", where the bands or songs were built more into the plot and characters than to simply set the mood with a soundtrack. Ultimately, it would be important to reference the specific songs or it would change a huge portion of the plot. In most cases, the actual songs don't have to be played. Other thoughts? Thanks!

Simon King

Anytime a screenplay gets TOO specific it draws attention to the fact and raises eyebrows among readers who can move the project forward. They just see budgets increasing! Should you leave it out? No, not if you feel it is imperative to have the reference in but be prepared to defend it and don't go overboard with 15-20 different references since each one is a copyright issue waiting to be a massive problem.

Brent Jaimes

I wouldn't ever have a character sing, hum or whistle a specific tune. Often times, a scene description references a character doing something as music plays in the background and the music can help set the mood. Usually, the instruction is to write something like "Barbara works out hard and fast as a death metal anathem, like something from Pantera blasts over cheap speakers". There you go.

Simon King

Just watching The Other Guys and in that film actual TLC lyrics are used/quoted and the band is referenced. So...

Jess Paul

Thank you for all of your input, guys! To just answer questions from the comments, there are only about 2 or 3 songs I'm looking to reference and they are referenced in the dialogue because of their historical/cultural significance or a play on the lyrics.

Jess Paul

My main reasoning for posing the question on Stage 32 is I only recently considered submitting my feature for a contest. Like I said, I'm an amateur screenwriter who's learning more about the process and industry all the time. My first feature is named after and plays off of a well-known song and its lyrics. I never planned to DO anything with the script and am now questioning if its even producible. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not sure if the song can be replaced or it will throw off the main thread of the characters, plot and over-all comedic punchline. I suppose it will come down permission/ copyright factors before the movie could ever be green-lighted.

Brent Jaimes

The question was about referencing songs in a screenplay-is it unprofessional or would it hurt one's chances. The answer is yes in the first case and probably as to the second. Unless it is imperative to to the story line the rule is that you don't refer to a specific song. That mostly occurs in the description. "The boys grab their boards and run toward the swelling surf as the Beach Boy's "Surfin' USA' plays on the radio." No. It's the province of the director to make those choices, it's bad to put the idea in one's head that a particular piece of music can be used and it's not proper format to do so. You can "suggest" that "classic 60's surf music plays as..." That is how you do that. If you write an awesome script that will be overlooked. But the rule is not to do it. So what if you saw a show or movie where a character mentioned, sang etc a song. You have no idea if that was in the script or added by the director or the producer etc.

Jess Paul

Thanks Laura! Thank you everyone for your advice!!

Allen Wayne Ray Jr.

You have to copywrite both your music & your screenplay separatley, thhrough the WGA. That's where you start. Try to find out what's up?

Jess Paul

@Allen Actually, that might lead me to another question while we're on the subject: when is a good time to register a screenplay? Though the script has been completed for a while, it is still going through many drafts and edits. When is it OK to register my story?

Felipe Grossi Togni

Thank you Jess, for asking this question. I have a screenplay and I added music to it. Sometimes I'm in the car listening to a CD when flashy ideas cross my mind and I feel tempted to make reference in the screenplay when I'm writing. Now I see this may not be the best choice. I agree with Jacqueline when she said the dialog as well as the action set the mood and with Dan when he said it's not the writer the one in charge to pick the music, and hell! All of you are right. Maybe I'll clear the references.

J. Alberto Leyes

Bad idea, do not do it, sale your screenwriting first and then if you have the chance pitch the music. This is conceder a very amateurish move by the big studios.

Jess Paul

I've learned so much from this post- very glad I posed the question! I do however think mine is still more of a different case than most here are discussing. The music I've chosen is not playing in the background, the movie is titled and referencing a song and period of time in a bit of a satirical way. UPDATE: I just this morning was trying to find a related example and came across a 2012, bombed Juno Temple flick called "Jack and Diane". It referenced the Mellencamp song in the title and seemed to loosely follow the narrative but added a twist to the story. I guess the fact that this movie was made in a way answers my question. I did however just learn about this movie and I still need to watch it. Hopefully this will help others on this post! -JP

Jess Paul

I'm not planning to direct it: I don't know nearly enough about that craft. In a fantastical scenario, I was hoping to act in it as one of the characters, but I figured I'd cross that bridge and consider my place in the filmmaking when it came to getting it produced. Like I said, learning more about the industry everyday. It sure isn't always "billboard moments"and "dreams come true".

Jess Paul

Thanks for this reference, Laura! I'll check out Scriptnotes!

Brent Jaimes

Ok, I know I should walk away but... A lot of folks on here have said that a director or producer reading your script won't care if you reference a popular song in dialogue or the description. Probably true. And optioned, produced, represented writers consider some screenwriting rules to be ridiculous. Again, probably true. But you aren't an optioned, produced or represented screenwriter are you?. A director or producer will not be the first to read your script. It will first be read by a reader, a story analyst or an agent's assistant. And, gentle reader, those folks care very much about the "rules" of screenwriting. Bogged down with hundreds of scripts to read and little time to do so, they tend to toss scripts that flaunt these rules to the bottom of the pile. The common belief is that if you haven't taken the time to learn and follow the conventions of screenwriting you probably haven't written something that is very good. This may be a mistake, but the first scripts to be read will be properly formatted and follow the conventions of the craft. And yeah, those scripts with an email cover stating that the attached script was a quarter finalist in the recently completed Nicholl screenwriting contest do go to the top of the list. These readers think that if your script did well in a major contest that maybe your it is better than someone who, say, did not do well in a major screenwriting contest. But you go right ahead, gentle reader and submit your script in a three ring My Little Pony sparkle binder so it will stand out from the others with their plain title pages. Ignore 12 point new times roman type in favor of the splashy brush carlson script. And by all means, write pages of detailed description for the director, mention popular songs and even suggest actors for the roles. You, gentle reader, are a rule breaker!

Simon King

I 100% agree with everything Brent said. His words are spot on. With one exception... the font should be Comic Sans.

Simon King

Two thoughts to add to the mix... First, we would all love our work to be timeless. If you reference a Lil' Wayne song in dialogue then five years from now no one will know what you are talking about. Referencing a Beethoven song would be more appropriate. Second, making the mistake of including a musical wish list in the action makes zero sense. Just because YOU think that OMD song sets the perfect mood for the scene means nothing to the director/producer who feels the scene needs a Who song to set the mood.

Brent Jaimes

Resistance is futile. Laura, you are right. Even if we could show you a studio with a RULE etc. etc etc you would show that it's not a rule, it's not even a studio. Again, Laura is right on this. Whew, now this thread can go to bed.

Brent Jaimes

Laura, ok, you are right. Good point, well taken, the voice of experience backed up by EXAMPLES. Isn't that enough for you? Both sides of this question as to whether or not it's acceptable, illegal, helpful or hurtful to have a character reference a popular song in dialogue or to reference a popular song in description or action has to have been exhaustively answered. Oh, "snark void of fact is lame". Is that a hard and fast rule or can I get away with some factless snark now and then?

Simon King

Fight! Fight!

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