A couple screenwriting questions

I’m working on my first screenplay and I don’t have any professional training.

Can I write in a specific copyrighted song into one of the scenes? How do I know if the song could even be used? It’s an electronic song from an obscure European artist (I’m American). The scene is written to fit the particular song.

Can I write in specific potential filming locations? I already have a single family house chosen that I found on Google Maps Street View. It’s very striking and it’s unlike any of the other houses around. I also have two other houses chosen for other characters.

One of the houses I found is right in front of a massive industry building/structure. I don’t want to give too much away it’s the kind of location seen in movies. A good example being Back to the Future where Marty’s house is right next to transformer towers. They chose that particular house over all the others nearby for that reason.

As I writer I want to work in certain songs and locations because they add so much to the atmosphere. How do I know if the houses could be used or even the states where I want it to be filmed? What if it turns out to be Georgia or Canada as the filming location?

Is this the job of a screenwriter to do this? Is being detailed with specific songs and locations more well received or is it unneeded effort? Maybe I’ve found better locations than what location scouts could find or have songs that are unknown or know about some particular rare car.

I am not your lawyer. Before taking any action that could affect your legal position, you must consult a competent lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction.

What do you mean by “write in”? If you mean that there will be a script note saying something like “Michael Jackson’s recording of ‘Human Nature’ plays during this scene,” then there’s no infringement, because you haven’t used any protected expression. (Just putting it in the script doesn’t mean that there will ever be an actual film that uses the music.)

If you reproduce the sound recording or the lyrics, however, that might be infringing. If you don’t show anyone your script, it’s very unlikely that anyone will bring a copyright infringement claim against you.

If any work using expression from the song is ever produced, a responsible party must contact the copyright owner and request permission and obtain a license. Specifically, for a recording to be used in the soundtrack of a film, what is required is a “synchronization license,” or a “synch license.”

It is your burden to find out where such information can be found. Just because it’s an obscure European artist doesn’t mean the rights aren’t registered in the United States. You can check with licensing agencies. Google “licensing synch rights” as a start.

As I said before, this doesn’t become an issue unless someone actually films this script. Many many many scripts have to be rewritten when music licenses cannot be obtained. Plan for this.

You can write in whatever you want. That doesn’t mean a resulting film will use the locations.

A screenwriter can make suggestions if E wishes. That doesn’t mean any resulting film will actually use those suggestions. Licensing music and obtaining locations are very complicated. It’s best to let the professionals do their jobs in that regard.

You might want to read through one of my all-time favorite SDMB threads.

You may not have quite the same issues as the OP of that thread, but the detailed responses from people in the industry about the process of screenwriting and getting your script to the screen, especially the information about copyright and what details to include in your screenplay, provide direct answers to some of your questions.

My screenwriting teacher told me that, as a scriptwriter, you can’t really know whether the rights to a particular song can or will be obtained, so don’t specify. Better to describe the general type of music as a way to give the feel of the scene.

Same with locations. At this point of the movie making process, only specify what is directly related to the story. Don’t say a house gas a basement if the story requires a basement. A story involving rich people can be in “a mansion,” but a detailed description of architecture is unnecessary. Even specifying a city might not be wise sometimes.

Also avoid including much in the easy if camera movements. That’s for the shooting script which id dinne after the film is greenlit and had a director and DP.

Adding that stuff in adds extraneous material to your script, making it longer and more confusing to read.

Know now that if you are able to sell your script, it can and will be changed in both major and subtle ways. Find inspiration in individual songs or buildings, but those probably won’t make it into the finished film.

As it happens, we have a forum specifically for questions about the arts. This’ll probably work better in Cafe Society, so I’ll move it there for you.

…the short answer is: you can do whatever you like. Its your script. You can cast Tom Cruise and Scarlett Johansson. Open with the Eagles and “Hotel California.” Set it in the Oval Office. Or in space.

But a script like that is unlikely to sell. It is unlikely to get made. But there is nothing that stops you writing it.

The long answer is: when you’ve finished writing your script, what is it you want to do with it?

Do you want to sell it and have someone else make your movie?

Then the level of detail: the exact song, the exact location, these things are no longer in your control. You’ve written a writers draft, not a shooting script. You’ve provided the production team with a “rough blueprint.” The Director and the bean-counters etc then takes over, and turns your blueprint into something that can be made into a film.

Nash, Patrick. Short Films (Creative Essentials) (Kindle Locations 382-383). Oldcastle Books. Kindle Edition.


They would decide what music to use where, or what locations to use. The rights to the music or the location get negotiated at this stage. Its all out of your control.

So if you have scenes in your screenplay that absolutely must have a certain music track: it would have to be an exceptional screenplay for someone to want to buy it. It the hallmark of a screenwriter with “no professional training”.

You could of course make the movie yourself. Most short films are made this way and you would retain almost all of the creative control. But then you are worrying about raising finance, getting people interested in your movie, finding a crew, getting the rights to the music and the locations yourself. This is a lot harder than it sounds.

I would reccomend buying the short-film-screenplay book I linked to earlier, and read it cover-to-cover. (Not an affiliate link: I’m currently studying film and this was our required text, and was very helpful to my studies)

Wow, that is a great thread, with a huge amount of very sensible and relevant advice for this thread’s OP.

I wonder if *Squish *ever realised his vision?

Sadly, apparently not, but there is a sequel in which he talks about more of his big ideas.

Wow, those threads seem like red flags for delusion.

There was a sequel to the sequel, but that was cornfielded after people began to critique details of his projects (found at the link still listed in his profile) and he went totally apeshit, threatening over multiple posts to sue the board administrators as a whole, the moderators as individuals if they were going to moderate him in any way, and individual posters for being critical of his work.

It was never outright stated, but from clues in those last two threads, I’m pretty sure that his big world-changing idea was that he imagined that it would be nice to have VR contact lenses, therefore he thinks that he has invented VR contact lenses.

I’m a Cinematographer, not a screenwriter. But gosh I’ve handled a lot of scripts. As mentioned above- you can write anything you wish. Getting it up on the screen is another matter.

I’m not sure you need to hedge your bets. What you need to do is write, write, write. And try to find books written by screenwriters who understand the process.

The Jaws Log, by “Jaws” screenwriter Carl Gottlieb is a gift. With clarity you are taken through the process on a landmark film.

I also recommend On Writing, by Stephen King. He’s crafted a few screenplays in his day in addition to all of those great novels.

Write and write and write. Explore the form. Find copies of screenplays on the Internet. Watch the movie, follow the script. Look at how the words on the page were worked out on the day, on location. ( Or on a set ).

Frankly, all of the palaver about rights and lawyers is unnecessary. IF a script gets picked up, IF it gets re-written until it’s Production-Ready, IF it gets shot and IF the Director & Producer actually want the songs, then the studios lawyers work on the rights of use. Simple as pie.

Write whatever you want to. Fair to say, the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s film “Goodfellas” is so awesome because the studio PAID for the music. The stunning songs in “Almost Famous” were likely easily obtained at a fair fee because a lot of the songs were actually covered by Cameron Crowe during his time as a rock writer. And so on.

Write what you want.