Monday, July 30, 2012

The music question that never stops being asked

Veronica asks:

I just read your blog on putting specific music in the script. There was one recent comment from someone who wasn't yet answered and I have the same question, pretty much. It was, "I am writing a script that is essentially centred around its music. The music, while mostly incidental bar a few exceptions, sets the theme of the film."

Think of 'Love Actually' and how there was a minute amount of specially-written music for it but the rest being actual songs. That's the way this one's written. I know Richard Curtis has earned the right to do that in his scripts but this script wouldn't have the same impact without the actual pieces of music specified as they set the mood of the scene rather than being truly incidental. How would one get this around a producer?

This is one of those tricky questions and I'm sure we'll get some disagreement here.  I'll reiterate the advice I usually give - don't fall in love with your musical choices.  Not only do those choices actually have to be cleared, but you might end up dealing with a director or a producer or a musical supervisor who sees it quite differently.

From your perspective, you're trying to tell the story in the best way possible.  If the music enhances that, great.  If the music is propping up a weak story, that's a problem.  For as much as the music in Love, Actually sets the mood, how many of those scenes really need that specific song?

Is it absolutely necessary for Hugh Grant to get down to the Pointer Sisters?  Couldn't it just as easily have been Pat Benetar?

"All You Need is Love" is a great choice for the wedding number, but is that the only song that could have been touching there?  Could "Rainbow Connection" have worked in a pinch?

And you'll find no bigger fan of "Christmas is All Around" than I, but I think Billy Mack is such a fantastic character that you could have put any pop Christmas song there and have it work.

So that's why I advise you not to lock the music down too specifically in your script - and I REALLY don't advise putting multiple songs in there.  If there's one song that you really, absolutely want to name, fine, go for it.  (Though I'd suggest covering your ass by saying "Billy Mack sings 'Christmas is All Around,' or a song like it).

While we could all list a few hundred of our favorite movie moments involving licensed music, I'd venture to say that the music itself is the make-or-break element in that moment.  It's the garnish.  The moment you are relying entirely on the sentiment attached to an existing song to prop up your scene with cheap sentimentality, you take one step closer to being a hack.

So look at your script really hard.  I'm talking really hard.  And ask yourself straight up.  Do I really need this song?

Do you?

WHY do you need this song?  What is it doing for you that your scene isn't doing on its own?  Is the song really necessary - or is it a cheat?

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a musical using my own lyrics, but with music cribbed from the early '60s (that's when the movie happens). I connected the music to my script via youtube links.

    And -- here's where my experience is relevant -- even though it's probably the best thing I've written in screenplay form, everyone is so put off by the music associations (no matter how obscure they be) that I can't even place in a contest with it. My other stuff, which doesn't have nearly the impact, places consistently well above the musical.

    So the phobia that the movers and shakers have about copyright extends all the way down to the wettest-behind-the-ears $10-a-read contest hack. Like big fish, like little fish....