Screenwriting : Suggested songs in your Screenplay by J Medina

J Medina

Suggested songs in your Screenplay

I've been told this is a BIG "no-no", but when I write screenplays, I mention songs that may go with the action on screen. Even before Tarantino, I always liked the link between music and film, and thought the songs chosen(if any) could have a big impact on the "feel" of your script. Now, I realize there are copyright issues and that a director or producer couldn't give two squats about what music you, as the starry-eyed screenwriter, would want in your film, but do you guys frown on this practice when writing your own stuff? I find it helps me to shape the tone I'm looking for in certain scenes. I even go as far as to create my own soundtrack for each screenplay in my iTunes library. lol. Am I nuts?

J Medina

Every time I hear "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone, I think about the title splash in "Guardians of the Galaxy". Music can add so much, IMO.

Dan MaxXx

that is amateurish. just write a great story. they have professionals call COMPOSERS. that is their job.

J Medina

Thanks for your cheerful advice. LOL. sheesh. Lighten up, Francis.

William Martell

The big problem is that not all music is available (the Coen Brothers first film, BLOOD SIMPLE, had to change their music from theatrical release because they couldn't get video rights!), and every studio has a music division... and they love to use artists they rep so that they can make money twice. Though no one kicks you out of Hollywood for suggesting some song in your script, it's usually a waste of words. It is a huge mistake to require some song for the scene to work... because if they can't get the song, the scene won't work.

Pierre Langenegger

"am I nuts?" Yep ;) But seriously, don't waste your time, however you can always include stuff like: Bob flicks the radio and an upbeat 80s number pounds out of the car stereo.

Jorge J Prieto

Jaime: You are not nuts. Now, that you should not do it? You got your answer from many here. William is a Pro,so he is right. I did it on a screenplay that requires music, is part of the story and is also set in early '80s. I needed to hear the music and songs of that year even though its out of my control, unless like you mentioned, I meet Tarantino. Lol. Hey, you never know :)

Geoff Hall

Jaime Personally, I do write music cues on the screenplay, but that's because I'm directing it too. And before anyone sees it, I check the availability of the track.

Donald Brady

I think of all my stories through music. I listen to music and imagine the scenes. For instance I created a space drama where I imagined all sorts of battles set to music, kind of in a Star Wars fashion, and from there I developed actual plot and content. I was enthusiastic enough about it that I went on several facebook groups devoted to music and showed my comic and I was able to get permission from several good artists to use their music with my project. Now I'm going to be using their music for a kickstarter video to try and obtain funding. Therefore I think music can be attainable if you try hard enough, even if you're a poor college student like me. I also have soundtracks set in iTunes, it allows me to keep track of where the plot will go so that I can later script it out.

Geoff Hall

Hi @Donald, You're right. I think musicians are more amenable and approachable than we think in this litigious culture. I believe as well, that if they see you are producing something of quality they'll want to be associated with it. After all, it's good publicity for their work too. And well done to you for geting your project up and running.

Shelly J Buckman

Amazing. This is sooooo helpful! I'm new to this site but seeing this discussion was wonderful for confirmation. I wasn't certain whether or not I should add suggested music to my Screenplays but I most definitely USE music to write. It truly does help set a tone or bring up emotions that I would otherwise not be feeling in my everyday life. In fact, there are times when music can inspire me so deeply that it erases blocks I might be experiencing.

Dan MaxXx

^^^ listen to the pros. don't use music or camera direction. thats amateur writing especially for a screenwriter trying to sell a spec script. tarantino can get away with using music because he is tarantino, a writer/director. Read a script by him. there is very little stage direction, just all dialogue. his scripts read easy.

Al Hibbert

I say yes. First draft put the songs in there- especially if they help you create the mood for the scene. I am co writing a TV series and the music has helped immensely. We are also writing original music for the show. On the re write I've taken all of the songs by other artists out. But, they are gong to be on a list of suggested music, which they can decide whether to use or not.

Shelly J Buckman

@Dan @Al - Dan I've actually heard that ... don't add music. In fact, don't add camera direction, nothing. Just make sure it's a smooth, compelling read. The Script will speak for itself. Besides, once it's out of your hands, they'll likely have their own way with it anyway. I agree ... as far as actual submission goes. However, Al makes a good point using it for ones own personal use. I've posted to this lounge somewhere that I'm nearing final draft of my first screenplay. I'm very near submission so I'm going over this lounge and connecting with Writers so that I can better navigate through all of this. Perhaps one of these days I'll be able to get away with all the extras in my submitted scripts but, for now, songs or anything else are for my own personal use and it helps significantly.

Jordan Evans

I used songs in my horror script. In some cases they'd work for the scene. In other cases no. The point of using a song for me is to capture the character's taste in music and also establish the feel of a scene. This inspiration can help those creating the movie to understand a writers vision. I find it stupid to throw a script in the trash because a character put on their favorite song. Don't tell me big no no.

Dan MaxXx

scripts that sell - clean, easy read, written by a WRITER who knows his/her job . scripts that don't sell - overwritten, lots of stage direction, camera & acting suggestions, tries to reinvent the wheel. a really good script is character(s) in action. that's it. characters in action. u dont need a music score or soundtrack. thats just stupid to do in a spec script by a newbie.

Al Hibbert

If you break a rule you better have a good reason why you did it and it better work would you agree with that Dan?

Dan Guardino

Jordan. It might be stupid for someone to throw a screenplay in the trash because the screenwriter decided to add music it but that's where it could end up if it is a spec screenplay.

Dan MaxXx

@Al yes, Al. there are no real rules. whatever works but most people here are at GROUND ZERO. they are the bottom of the pile. spec scripts go to a Reader. U have to get pass the Reader before u get to the Agent or whoever writes the paycheck. forget about Quentin tarantino. Q T can write on wet toilet paper and Agents would kill to read his scripts.

Al Hibbert

Dan, I agree that on a 'spec' script (which I've never tried to do before), it would probably be important to stay pretty close to the format the the other episodes were written in. My point is only that in general, if you're doing something 'original', on the first pass you should write and it flow, if you hear a song in there put it in. But, by the time you go to sell it, on the final draft, it shouldn't have specific songs or very many camera directions. Unless you're QT.

Shelly J Buckman

@Dan - Your comments, at least the ones I've been reading, are very hard nosed and I love it! Yes, so many of us are at Ground Zero and your understanding of that seems to be driving these comments. It's a given that we've got a handle on the creative side or we shouldn't be writers but the business end of the stick ... getting that first read ... we have NO leeway. We can't afford to break ANY rules. You keep reinforcing the basics ... step 1, step 2, step 3, period. Just wanted to say it's helpful. Keeps me on point. Thank you!

Dan MaxXx

@al people should do their homework and read scripts by professional writers. there is very little music or camera direction. Just be the Writer. write the story.

Al Hibbert

I try not to contradict people that know what they're doing, like you obviously do. But, you didn't get my point.

Dan MaxXx

music can be a 'character' in scripts but on paper, on pages, if a music reference is used constantly as suggestions, I'd give up reading. separate the script from the finished movie.

Andrew Bruce Lockhart

if music can change what your food tastes like (It can) imagine what it can do to what you write? I can't listen to music when I'm writing.. well maybe classical that I don't know...but otherwise I steer clear. If I imagine a scene I don't hear music or sfx. I try and see the plot or character development and where what I am writing is taking that. The music is someone else's baby that once I've finished with my millionth draft I am sure I will have an opinion about :-)

Geoff Hall

When thinking of writing transitions or directions, some may find this article of interest. http://nofilmschool.com/2013/05/5-tips-screenplay-transitions-improve-sc...

Geoff Hall

And here's an example from Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction'. Mia and Vincent dance to Chuck Berry's "YOU NEVER CAN TELL". They make hand movements as they dance.

Shelly J Buckman

@Geoff Thanks for the link!

Dan MaxXx

lol no one here is tarantino

Dan Guardino

A friend of mine worked on Pulp Fiction. The rights to the music were already secured when he wrote that.

Dan MaxXx

the Writer should consider it takes 2 or 3 years to fast track a script into a movie . make sure your 'soundtrack' songs won't be dated in the future.

Jody Ellis

I don't think Tarantino can be used as an example for ANYthing when it comes to screenwriting. The man does whatever the fuck he wants and has been able to break all the "rules" for years, because he paid his dues and earned his stripes. While I love his films, I'd never use any of his screenplays as examples of "oh he did this so I can". He's TARANTINO. We are not.

Al Hibbert

This is an interesting discussion because several points of view have at least some validity. I agree with the Dans in that in most cases a script shouldn't specify songs. But, in some instances, I think it would be totally valid. Tarantino integrates his choice of music into his plot. I know a guy who writes parody songs, and he said it usually isn't too hard to get the rights to use music, and usually not too expensive- But you do have to ask permission.

Dan Guardino

A screenwriter is responsible for telling their story. If a specific song is part of the story itself then it should go in the script. If it's not then it shouldn't. It can be hard and in some cases impossible to get rights to a song. The cost to secure depends on the song and how much of it you are using and if you are going to use the actual recording. Several people can own the rights to one song so they aren't always easy to get.

Jorge J Prieto

Let's give QT a break from this thread and move on to Spike Lee. Did anyone see , "Summer of Sam?" The music set the tone of that infamous decade. But, like Jody said, Spike also paid his dues.

Dan MaxXx

Nobody here is Spike Lee. And he cant get funding for his movies. On a positive note to all Agents in Hollywood, i heard the grapevine that Quentin T is taking notes. He s come back to earth after a so-so movie, The Hateful 8

Jorge J Prieto

Dan Max: Did you like The Hateful 8? Haven't seen it. Lol, you are right about Spike. I worked for 8 years in a movie theater and one thing that used to detoured audience from Lee's films was when they asked me, "how long is the movie?" Answer: "3 hours" Customers: What the F..change my ticket."

Al Hibbert

Regina told me something a while back that has really stuck with me. She basically said that in TV especially, you have to leave a little room (I'm paraphrasing here) for the show runner and other people to do their jobs. Sometimes though, as was mentioned in the link in her post, the song can be the inspiration for the scene. Music, film and TV are joined at the hip, and music can magnify the experience a lot. A few good songs can set the mood for a whole series.

Jorge J Prieto

Regina is right. With screenplays you have to leave room for other artists to do their dance. You have to trust. Script writing is also understanding that the the business people funding the project have the right to an opinion.

Dan MaxXx

@Jorge I luv Spike Lee movies.. and I wish I had 1/4 the talent QTarantino has. When u read a Tarantino script, his dialogue JUMPS off the pages. People quote his dialogue in pop culture. genius. it aint his music choices why he won an Oscar on his 2nd movie. Hollywood tried for years to copy QT with crappy films like Smoking Aces or Guy Richie english movies. anyways, newbie writers, go ahead, add sound tracks songs to your scripts. I approve. It helps my own scripts. Your crap script goes into the trash before mine. Woohoo! I am winning.

Al Hibbert

Are you really Charlie Sheen?

Dan MaxXx

@Al Charlie Sheen has/had $50million in his bank. I ve been to his mansion. nice guy. Rich. Write a good script or hit TV show and u can have a mansion and never write again. just hire writers and take credit for success.

Al Hibbert

You know I'm just kidding, Man. You have some good advice. I haven't disagreed with you on anything. What if a story is about a specific musician- what do you do then?

Dan MaxXx

@Al . i dont know . u are writing about a specific (famous? ) musician. I would say to stop writing that story. u are not famous enough as a writer. U need leverage. Power. Money. Maybe an Oscar to get music rights before u start writing. I think someone recently tried to make a Jimmy Hendrix movie without his music in the movie.

Richard Willett

I have to say I sort of recoil from the number of you who are saying things like "None of us is Quentin Tarantino," "None of us is Spike Lee." How the hell do you know? I would say, Jaime, that it's a good idea to suggest music sparingly in your script, but if it really speaks importantly to the tone and mood of a scene, do suggest it, but say "something like" before the title of the song. And as for anyone tossing my script because I broke a "rule," may I remind all of you that this is the movie business and not the Nazi Party? Jeezaloo!

Al Hibbert

Out of ten hours of the first season of the TV show that I'm co writing right now, there was 10 minutes worth of music that I 'wrote' into the scripts. We're now working on the re-writes, and I'm not including any of those tunes in the final drafts. If we sell the series, I'll give them a list of those tunes, and show them where they should go. They can use them if they want to or not. One of the characters is a musician, and I wrote his songs.

Al Hibbert

I was actually thinking about writing a script about the greatest kazoo player of all time, Norman Sprinkelbaum.

Dan MaxXx

@anthony i just remember , the filmmaker who made the jimmy hendrix movie without music is an Oscar Winner.

Al Hibbert

I've seen a bio pic on Jimmy . I thought it was pretty good.

Dan MaxXx

jimmy hendrix movie grossed $300K at box office. $300K! normally, people lose jobs and homes after that disaster. but since its John Ridley, he walks away to another movie

Dan Guardino

I wrote a screenplay based on a man that had some hit records back in the 1960's. He wrote the songs and his band performed them. Some of the songs have been used in movies including Pulp Fiction. I included some of the songs in the script I wrote but there is no guarantee we will be able to secure the rights to his songs. However, this was not a spec screenplay and I would never have used the songs if it was a spec.

Geoff Hall

I agree with you @Richard. It's funny how we are encouraged to find our own style, but then there are a thousand rules thrown at us saying we can't do this or that! And yes, when last looking through the mirror darkly I found I wasn't Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino, I'm glad of the revelation, because I don't want to make movies like them. Well said!

Geoff Webb

If you reaaaaly want to add music write 'something like 'Peaches' is playing on the radio'. At least it adds the nuance that you realise they might not get the rights. Personally I wouldn't do it unless it was part of the actual story - all your suggestions on music, costume, camera angles will be IGNORED. People are employed to do those jobs not you. Plus it's a distraction from the flow of your story.

Geoff Webb

That's right, I wouldn't mention the song (unless it was important) because it's not relevant , what matters is what's going on in the story.

Bill Costantini

If I feel a specific song is central to a scene, I'll name the song. If not, I'll write something like "cool jazz plays in the bg."

Dan MaxXx

if people want to learn, read the script and watch the movie, Hudson Hawk (bruce willis). The Songs are a "character/plot device".

Carl Plumer

My script just says, "Irish Punk music plays, similar to Dropkick Murphys" so I'm not really saying what song it should be, but trying to give a hint of the flavor that I'm imagining in the movie in my head.

Dan MaxXx

@carl the problem is Readers dont know "Dropkick Murphy" from "Maroon 5"; unless the song is a key plot/character , use generic stage music descrption for background ambience.. check out the movie GHOST (patrick swayze). They use a song as plot device and a soundtrack

Mark Vincent Kelly

Soundtrack in iTunes while writing, sure. Soundtrack in the script, definitely not. I can think of a very rare occasion where it was necessary for the story. But of the 100's of scripts I've read I can only remember it working ONCE. Those are some tough odds

David Taylor

I have one piece where a hymn is crucial. Other than that - nope.

Shelly J Buckman

@Mark - I had commented on this thread earlier on but it seemed as though the continuing dialogue had become a bit rote. Then I saw your post regarding reading so many scripts and that the majority do NOT have music added. It occurs to me that, of the many, many scripts I've been reading, I have not seen music added either. I'd say that pretty much sums it up. Don't add them unless they are required as part of the actual story. Thanks for the comment!

Erik Linthorst

I suggest you loop the song into the story, thereby justifying its presence. You wouldn't write what song plays over a montage, but if your main character loves the Violent Femmes, and she puts that song on as she pops in her ear buds, then that bleeds into a montage, nobody will gripe about you being specific about what she's listening to.

J Medina

Thanks, everyone! My screenplay is actually titled after an old 80's tune, and the song itself works it's way into the screenplay quite significantly.

Al Hibbert

Is it "my Sherona?"

J Medina

nope.

Michael L. Burris

Anymore I write a soundtrack in lyric form and don't care if it is ever realized or produced. I like the parallel and it makes the story better especially when they are all original lyric. I'm inspired by music already produced as well but the practicality of putting it in the script: Come back to it after the moment of inspiration has fleeted or seemed like that revelation like no other and see if it remains as powerful. If it is any way less powerful, abandon it.Music can be mood, tone dependent on varying mood, tone of self, especially true creatives. It may in fact come around to be idealistic but then how are you going to make others see and feel the idealistic that strikes a chord specifically in you especially when getting scripts out there, read and noticed is already extremely difficult ?

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