I recently “tweeted” the following message:
@scriptdreric Just read a few scripts where writers include the exact song they’d like to hear… Thoughts on this?
Expecting only a few responses, I didn’t check back right away.
An hour later, I had over thirty replies! Thanks, people!
Most of you were right on the money: Including specific songs in your script should be avoided.
I agree: It’s not only a legal complication for whoever is buying your script, but also takes away from the job of either the director, music supervisor, or both.
Why not let the people who do this for a living decide which music works best?
But Eric, what if the song sets the tone of the scene?
Well, if it’s really needed you might write, “…a HARD ROCK SONG blasts through the barbershop…” or even, “…a HAIR-BAND MONSTER BALLAD explodes out of the kitchen speakers…” You might even reference the type of band you’d like to hear: “An 80’s style, GUNS ‘N ROSES type guitar solo rips through the PA system…”
But it’s best to avoid lines such as, “The radio plays ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns ‘N Roses…”
Why? Because if you are using a song to establish the tone of the scene – but are flexible about the specifics on the song* – not everyone will read it that way. Some people will think you need THAT EXACT SONG. And why wouldn’t they? Most people – including some producers, gasp! – really value the screenwriter’s vision, and take all of their suggestions very seriously. If the screenwriter suggests a song, well, perhaps the script won’t work without the song. And if the producer has no way of getting the rights to the song, well, we’d better PASS on this script…
Is that over-thinking the case? Maybe. But better safe than sorry, right?
The other reason you shouldn’t put specific song titles in your script is that it makes you look amateurish. Readers are looking for ANY sign that the writer doesn’t know what they are doing.
Now, if your script is PERFECT, and you have a song or two specified that fit with the scenes, I wouldn’t sweat it. If, however, you have a green cover on your script with a drawing of your protagonist AND use song titles? Well, I’d start looking through the recycling bins of Los Angeles for copies of your work.
Hope that helps.
* If you INSIST that a certain song must be in there, and no other song will will work, well, you’re not treating filmmaking as the collaborative art it is. Unless of course, you plan to write, direct, and produce the project on your own. Then hey, write whatever you’d like!