Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: Getting that music number out of your system

I'm pretty sure that I've written before about how in my first screenplay I was determined to use Phil Collins' In the Air Tonight as part of a slasher killer scene. I plead guilty to totally starting with the song and then writing the scene around that. I'm not proud of it, but every writer makes these missteps when the start. I'm just glad I got it out of my system.

And I'm sure every single one of you has THAT song that you've just been dying to put in a script. Maybe you've got the scene but don't have the script. Maybe you've got both but the script was totally written in service of the song. Either way, share with us. Unburden yourself. Get it out of your system.

So share - what musical scene do you need to get out of your system before it ends up in some bitter reader's line of fire?


  1. Though it goes against my rule of not discussing scripts while I'm working on them, I have a music specific.

    My current spec my main character whistles a song that's been in public domain since long before I was born. It is his trademark and repeats throughout the story.

    Can I get away with that?

  2. I've used "Cream-esque psychadelic rock" on a car radio to lend some atmosphere without getting too specific.

    When teaching screenwriting, I explain to my students that, in general, naming songs in your scripts is a bad idea for the following reasons:

    1) If the song isn't immediately known (or gist-able) to the reader, then the description is useless. 1a) No, people don't want to do homework while reading your script to fill in the gaps. Especially if they're not totally in love with the script already--getting to that point is hard enough.

    2) Everything thinks their musical taste is the best. And the coolest. What you listen to is personal and important, I know. But that doesn't mean that anyone else cares or is impressed. (I step lightly when explaining this reason.)

    3) It's lazy. If you're letting a song do the heavy lifting in a scene, then you're short-changing yourself as a writer. Dazzle me with your writing, not your musical taste.

    4) Unless you're producing, directing, scoring, costuming, etc., the movie, it's probably a bad idea to tell those departments what to do. That's why you don't read scripts that say where the cameras go and have costume sketches stapled to them. If you do plan on controlling every aspect of your script, then go ahead. Then there's no one to get annoyed or veto your decisions.

    Sidenote: how awesome was the moment in Kick-Ass when the gatling gun jet pack makes its appearance to the climax of Elvis's "American Trilogy"?

  3. Young people having fun to Fatboy Slim's "Funk Soul Brother".

  4. I used Ozzy's 'NO MORE TEARS' to visualize the beginning of a script. I do that quite a bit, but I have no delusions about keeping the song in.

  5. Bowie's Life on Mars. I always remember to take it out before I show the scripts (yes, more than one) to anybody, but one day I may get drunk and crack.

  6. Since I can't resist a shout out, I name some of my characters and setting elements after modern progressive metal musicians instead of using their music for song cues. Nobody is going to make a movie with music by Dream Theater or Spock's Beard, but the movie won't suffer if the protag's co-workers are named Portnoy and Morse and they work at Petrucci Software Inc. Regular viewers won't care, while viewers who recognize the names will get a nice little smile out of it.

  7. I want to do a bitter finale to 'The Show Must Go On" that culminates in a character jumping off a roof.

    But in a fantasy genre where there's a tiny shred of hope that they might fly.

    Wow, that really is terrible, isn't it?

  8. A married couple argues during sex. Al Green's Love and happiness plays while opening credits roll time lining pictures of a tumultuous married couple.