Reader Questions

November 13th, 2012 by

Time to open up discussion to your questions. Whatever issues or concerns you have about the craft of screenwriting, please post in comments.

Before you do, be sure to check this out, over 200 Q&A’s.

If you don’t find your particular question raised there, post here and I’ll be happy to give you my two cents worth.

9 thoughts on “Reader Questions

  1. Hi Scott, can you tell us more about pitching? Is there a specific way spec writers should pitch? If you are artsy (like I am), can you use visuals of some sort or music??

    Also, do spec writers ever get to be on sets/visit during filming? Is that ever something you could include in a contract if you sold your script? Do they ever get to watch/be part of the casting process?


  2. AC_is_On says:

    When writing a historical piece, in regards to dialogue, how important is dialect?

  3. WriterCarmen says:

    I would love to hear any philosophical thoughts you might have re: comeuppances and how they fit into satisfying conclusions. The fate of a villain.

  4. Scott,

    A minor music question here, but one that I’ve always wondered about:

    The standard advice for naming a particular piece of music you’d like to use in your script is: don’t.

    Okay – I get that. You might not get the rights; or it might be too expensive for the film’s budget; whatever.

    But what do you think George Lucas wrote (before he “was George Lucas”) in his American Graffiti screenplay in 1973? How did he handle NOT naming one of the very things – the rich music – that elevated his script?

    He’s got Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Bill Haley, etc etc pouring out of those T-birds and Bel Airs and into the evening air. Wolfman Jack does a turn. Pretty much solid gold for the 1950’s – very early 1960’s.

    Do you think that the record companies just happily said YES when approached by the producers?


    John A

    1. If I may chime in with my thoughts on this. You have to consider the time period American Graffiti was made. Licensing songs to movies was not new, but it was still not near the industry it has become since. This was one of the first movies that relied on a soundtrack consisting exclusively of licensed songs. This was unusual at the time and gave Lucas trouble when trying to get financing for the film.

      The costs of licensing songs and the legalities surrounding licensing has changed significantly since then. Basically, record companies have become more savvy when it comes to making money from the film industry and the costs for licensing music has risen enormously. That’s one reason why it is not recommended to include specific songs in spec scripts today as the chances of getting that specific song are slim, like you said. And you also run the risk of getting a reader who don’t know the song you include, or maybe doesn’t like it. Unless it’s crucial to your story you should avoid using specific songs. Most of the time naming the style of the music will suffice to explain the mood and setting. But again, only if it’s necessary for your story and it should only pertain to source music – music that is coming from a source on the screen, i.e. a radio, television, a band playing at a wedding, etc. and not score music.

      Then again, if you have a a scene that needs a particular mood and a specific song will do the trick to engage the reader you can probably get away with it if you use it sparingly. If your suit-and-tie wearing protagonist enters a biker bar in the south and you write “Sweet Home Alabama plays on the jukebox.” that may say more about the setting than if you wrote “Southern rock plays on the jukebox.”

      This is from our friend Vicky Pedia in regards to the music of American Graffiti:

      The cost of licensing the 75 songs Lucas wanted was a contributing factor in United Artists’ ultimate rejection of the script, which the studio also felt was too experimental – “a musical montage with no characters.”

      Lucas’s choice of background music was crucial to the mood of each scene, but he was realistic about the complexities of copyright clearances and suggested a number of alternative tracks. Universal wanted Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz to hire an orchestra for sound-alikes. The studio eventually proposed a flat deal that offered every music publisher the same amount of money. This was acceptable to most of the companies representing Lucas’s first choices, but not to RCA – with the consequence that Elvis Presley is conspicuous by his absence from the soundtrack. Clearing the music licensing rights had cost approximately $90,000, and as a result there was no money left for a traditional film score. “I used the absence of music, and sound effects, to create the drama,” Lucas later explained.

      $90,000 for all those songs. That’s chump change by today’s standards.

      On a semi-related note, here is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a script in regards to song placement. From Election (1999) Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor:


      Paul is in the driver’s seat of his hitching big-wheeled PICKUP TRUCK. His door is open, and his radio blasts a SONG carefully selected to boost soundtrack album sales.

  5. Thanks, Teddy. I appreciate it.

    John A

    ps: and just think of the reverse: what do you think American Graffiti would have been like WITHOUT those 75 top hits? Say, with a studio band, instead? Think that Star Wars would have followed?

    1. Oh yeah, no question those songs contributed to the film’s success. Much like the Easy Rider soundtrack a few years earlier it was one of those instances where the film sold the soundtrack and vice versa. This was not something new, of course, but before this, just about every soundtrack album had been of music written specifically for the film. These two movies really started a new era of soundtrack albums that consists mostly or entirely of licensed songs.

  6. Any suggestions on where to go for legitimate copies of produced scripts?

    Certain Web sites seem to regularly get hit with cease and desist orders making it hard to see the text versions of favorite films.

    As a new student of the craft, seeking out specific examples seems like the best way to learn.

    For example; I’d love to know what Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday looks like on the page as a four-minute monologue feels like an impossible that to make interesting in text.

    However, many sites are giving up on providing these texts. I guess as a follow up question, why don’t the studios capitalize on the digital age and try to figure out how to sell PDFs of scripts for eReaders since they own authorship of the material?

  7. Any tips on handling prelap sounds? It’s an effective cinematic tool that makes scenes flow together nicely, and I wanted to know if I’m using it correctly on the page. Here’s what I currently have in my script:


    A sliver of moonlight cuts through the room. Ida sleeps. Arthur lies next to her. Wide awake staring at the ceiling.

    SOUND PRELAP: A spirited town hall meeting in progress.

    JONAS (O.S.)
    Order! Order!


    Jonas bangs his gavel on the desk. He is flanked by four older gentlemen with well-worn faces. The room is filled to the brim with townsfolk. Arthur and Ida among them.

    ANGRY MAN #1
    Damn it, Arthur! You’re the only one holding out!

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