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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The spec I'm writing is for House, which makes great use of songs, having a montage in almost every episode. Even when there is no montage, the lyrics and/or tone of the music playing in a scene are clearly chosen very carefully.
a) Who on the staff chooses the music? Are the writers involved with this at all? The showrunner? Do they just give direction ("Something jazzy"... "Something about unrequited love"), or do they ask for a specific song?
The showrunner will usually tell the music editor what he's looking for. If he has something in mind, and a big budget, he might get a specific song. Usually though, any song you've heard of is too expensive. Currently they're pondering releasing The Wonder Years without its period music because the rights are too expensive. As a writer below showrunner, the music isn't really in your department, unless it's source music. ("A record player starts up. It hits the grooves on a drippy '70's song.")
b) How is this different when you're writing a spec? I'm assuming that when writing a spec for a show that almost always has a montage, you have to write in a montage. Do you specify the song, or just the type of song? If you specify the song, should you quote a few lyrics so that the reader knows what you're trying to get across?
With a spec, you stay away from music as much as possible. If there's always a montage, you specify the events in the montage using the format that's standard for the show, but you don't really talk about the music.



I'm going to try to disagree with you here, Alex. In my opinion, the goal of a spec is to show exec producers/showrunners you know that particuliar show and you can write that show.

Using 'House' as an example, to describe a montage yet not suggest a song to play under it seems like you wouldn't be showing that you know and can write the show.

One episode last season about a young girl with terminal cancer had Elvis Costello record a version of Christina Aguilera's song "Beautiful" specifically for the show, and both versions play as bookends for the episode - and the song/lyrics were tied directly to the themes.

If this 'story' had been someone's spec, and the writer imagined the episode with those songs as bookends, would it not be to their advantage to write that in and 'show their stuff'?

By Blogger wcdixon, at 3:37 PM  

I think that putting "Let's have Elvis Costello cover Christina Aguilera's song 'Beautiful' would have (a) left a number of readers mystified what that was supposed to sound like -- I'm not up on my pop music, that's for sure -- and would have made the writer seem like she didn't know who does what on a show.

But I could be wrong.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:42 PM  

Just don't do it folks.

Save yourself the headache of pissing of the showrunner or network executive with suggestions that aren't the writer's job. You look amateurish if you do it - just like if you put art on the cover of your script.

All of the music for any TV show or movie is chosen by the Music supervisor. That is THEIR JOB. They work with the director and the producer to find the right music for the budget.

If you have to reference music do it in such a way as to leave the production with options:


Katy and Jim writhe in the front seat of his Dad's Buick as a soft tune from the 50's floats from the radio and gives voice to their passion.

As Jim makes a run for "2nd base"...

(purplish prose to be sure, but you get the point. There's options there)

Let's put this to rest and find a first or production draft of that HOUSE script. Is there specified tune over the montage? Or perhaps (and the more likely scenario) they rewrote the script to address the lyrics in that Costello -Aguilera song after the fact?

By Blogger Cunningham, at 10:24 PM  

Agree with Alex. It seems spec writers tend to lean too heavily on the explanation of "But the show does this, so I can do it in my spec" as a crutch. The show has the latitude to bend the rules that a newbie writer doesn't. With the "Beautiful" song example, had that episode been written as a spec, I doubt the music cue would have produced anywhere near the same impact that you get from the aired ep, but it could have been a stumbling block for many readers. Why would you risk it? My two cents.

(Sorry for the deletion. Merely wanted to edit comment.)

By Blogger procrastinatrix, at 11:02 PM  

I wonder if COLD CASE might be the exception here, as the show's signature is flashbacks paired with one song each. This coupling is hard-wired into the show's style, rather than the music just accompanying a closing sequence as on, say, LOST or RESCUE ME. The production scripts for COLD CASE call out the specific song titles.

By Blogger Kira Snyder, at 11:31 PM  

No clear winner here...I don't necessarily disagree with Bill, Alex, and Raz - it's not a bad thing to play it safe - and I'm well aware that Music Supervisors and Showrunners/Producers are those who find the music...but that's for a show/episode going into production. We are talking about a spec here - a spec from a series that shouldn't end up on the desk of anyone at that particular series.

You write specs to show those in charge at other series that you can write tv, and know and can write an episode of a series they are familiar with (like 'House' or 'Cold Case').

So you could write: "Slow catchy pop song plays under opening sequence of young cancer victim getting dressed..." or you could write: "Young cancer victim applies makeup and dons cool wardrobe to haunting strains of Christina Aguilera's 'Beautiful'...."

Would that really hurt you?

By Blogger wcdixon, at 12:11 AM  

I'd leave out the Christina Aguilera ref. Just describe what the tune sounds like. That way, if some old fogey is reading it -- or some jazz fan, or country music fan, or Peter Gabriel fan -- they'll know what the hell you're talking about.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:20 AM  

Music will play a very important role on The Black Tower, and I've taken great steps to establish relationships with various recording artists from across North America, most of whom are willing to provide existing songs for the show, and make the occasional appearance as a musical guest star. Famed Canadian World Fusion/Rock star, Jeff Martin (former lead singer of the internationally successful band The Tea Party), has offered his talents in writing/performing my show's opening/closing credits theme music, and is willing to lend a few already existing songs in his repertoire to the show’s soundtrack. Jeff's also open to the possibility of writing a few original songs for the show's expected four year run. Of course, all of this is rights pending -- and trust me, I know I'm going to paying a hefty fee for Jeff's services, despite the fact that we're friends. If you go to my MySpace site, you'll see a "Friends" list full of musicians -- everyone from retail clerks with dreams of fame to million CD selling recording artists -- all of whom want their work to be featured on my TV series.


By Blogger Kelly J. Crawford, at 1:35 PM  

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