Screenwriting and Music…

Question: Do you listen to music when you’re writing? Do you think it can help or hinder the creative process?

Ok, so I’m in the middle of writing this crazy SciFi feature which I was just notified of a few days ago, and started writing promptly thereafter (which I have about 9 days to finish) and I ran across this little gem of a question which I wanted to answer right away (which also gives me another excuse to procrastinate more). To put it simply, YES. I definitely listen to music both while I’m writing and while I’m conceptualizing a story. Music is a BIG part of my life, I listen to all kinds of music from rock to pop, classical, and TONS of movie soundtracks. To be honest, I’m a little bit of a sucker when it comes to quality film scores of all types.

When it comes to the relationship between music and writing, at least for me, I often find myself flipping through hundreds if not thousands of songs while conceptualizing a story and actually building a playlist of sorts of music which both moves and inspires me that I feel relates to the story I’m trying to tell. One thing I love about film scores is that the best of them are written for an emotional mood or specific character moment within a film, which, unlike classical music, or most music with lyrics (at least for me) truly speaks to me when I find just the right track for just the right moment in the story I’m trying to write. If you were to sit in the room with me while I’m writing (which would be terribly distracting by the way, and would never happen) you’d find that I’ll often put a specific track (or tracks) on repeat while working through and writing (or conceptualizing) a specific scene where I’m trying to portray a specific emotion or event. This would probably drive you nuts if you were sitting in the room with me since you’d have no clue what is going through my mind, but to me, when I hit just the right line of dialogue or just the right moment and read it back to myself with the music playing, I can tell it’s just right. I’ll admit, I’ve spent hours, even weeks compiling just the right set of songs to “write to” (and they are often a combination of genres that each speak to different characters, emotions, or moments in the story… rock for action moments, strings for heavy drama, or exact opposites when the scene calls for it) I try to mix it up as much as possible, depending on the film I’m trying to write. I often find I focus on one musical “sound” for each film.

One other note of interest here is that since I also direct most of the screenplays I write, so the music I listen to while writing then often becomes the “temp track” of the score for the film during post-production, since I know the music fits the mood of what I was aiming for precisely. Then the final original score of the film is written based off of the same temp music which I send to the composer with the cut of the film, so he can see (generally) what I’m looking for musically in each moment. Again, the music in the final film is NOT the music I listened to while writing, it is completely original, written for the film, but it is often based off of my initial tracks.

So, all that just to say, YES, music plays a huge role in the writing process for me, and often finding the right music can mean the difference between writing a crappy and/or bland moment or a truly moving one. It honestly has less to do with the specific music I choose and more to do with how the music affects me emotionally; it puts me in the mood to write what my characters are feeling.

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