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Stephen Schwartz on Stage versus Film Writing

Stage and Film Writing Q and A

From ASCAP interview in Playback
What is the major difference between writing for the theater and writing for film, if there is any?

First, the similarities are obvious: trying to tell a story through the use of song, furthering the plot, illuminating character, revealing emotion. They're all the same whether you're doing a stage musical, or an animated feature or a television musical. The differences are the differences of the media. For theater one tends to write a lot more songs. A musical will have anywhere from 15 to 42 songs. Children of Eden, I think, has 42 songs. Some of them are 20 seconds, but nevertheless. The animated feature, I think, to date, with the most songs is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I believe that has eight songs.

So it's a difference in quantity, and therefore a difference in the function of the songs. Because the songs are more like tent poles in the animated features and television films, they hold up majorportions of the work. The rest of it is done through dialogue and visuals.

And that's the other thing with film that you need to be very aware of: the visual possibilities of what you're doing. You cannot have a character just stand still and sing in a film. The most effective moment in a Broadway musical is likely to be the leading character standing alone on stage, and you hit him or her with three spotlights, and they sing for about five minutes, and the house comes down. You cannot do that on film, something has to be moving, constantly, visually.

It's why in the film of Funny Girl, for instance, when Barbra Streisand sings "Don't Rain on My Parade," they had to put her on a tugboat, and she went by the Statue of Liberty. They have to do lots of things to compensate for the fact that she's just singing, basically, the same emotion over and over again. I have this joke which I've often told: If you're going to write a ballad for an animated feature, the character better be going over a waterfall in a canoe. You've got to think in those terms.


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