Screenwriting: How To Write a Musical Sequence

In screenwriting, musical sequences in films often randomly show up in places throughout the script. And, sometimes these sequences have very little to do with what is going on in the film. Unlike standard scripts, the dialogue through the rest of the film usually has nothing to do with the musical number.

Step 1: Understanding Types of Musicals

Musicals can be broken down into four types: all-sung, operas, integrated and un-integrated. All-sung musicals mean that there is no dialogue; the entire script is sung. Operas are usually film adaptations of a stage opera even though some can be written for film. Un-integrated means that the entire film is about one artist, and the viewer will watch a montage of their work. While these three genres have been done in the past, they are not as popular as the integrated musical format.

The integrated musical format makes the singing part of the dialogue and sometimes part of the plot. In the later case, however, it is harder to make musical numbers fit into the plot. For this reason, musicals are often seen as one of the most unrealistic genres. The audience just has to believe that random people will start singing along with the main character, and they have to believe that somehow these people are all hearing the same music.

Further, the musical numbers do not actually advance the plot. They are inserted almost in addition to the plot. In fact, some numbers do not even have any relevance to the action that had just taken place in the previous scene. Integrated musicals require a bit more suspension of disbelief than normal.

Step 2: Adding Musical Numbers to Scripts

As mentioned previously, musical numbers can be randomly inserted throughout the plot. So, when it comes to writing the screenplay for musicals, they are pretty much done the same way as standard screenplays.

A screenwriter is not going to be the one writing the music and lyrics for the musical number. That is the responsibility of the lyricist and composer. The screenwriter simply has to make space for the numbers within the screenplay.

For example:


                                Oh, what a glorious day. The sun is shining. The birds are singing.

JULIE, MARIA and JENNIFER walk up holding each other and then embrace WILMA. Music starts playing. The four girls start dancing around (insert musical number here).

The only difference between the standard screenplay and the musical screenplay is the parenthetical (insert musical number here). After that has been added, the screenwriter can continue on with the rest of the plot and dialogue.

Step 3: Modern Day Musicals

While musicals were the cash cow of Hollywood through much of the middle of the 20th century, the popularity of musicals has waned in recent years. Hollywood still makes a few of them every year, but not as many in the past.

Other countries such as India, on the other hand, have a thriving musical film business. For example, Bollywood, the name given to the Indian film industry, releases many musicals a year, and the largest stars in India often are the stars of these films.