I’m adapting (or rather adopting) a fairly well-known Broadway musical. I’m starting to use a similar convention in a number of the songs. For example, in one song the action takes place in four locations: an apartment living room, an apartment bedroom, a boxing ring and a wedding altar. I have specific bits of action for each time we change location in the screenplay.
I’m sure when it’s shot and cut together those specifics will be thrown out of the window, as they are just a blueprint.
Question: How do I format for this without making the song twice as long as it should be? Can I set the locations with an initial slug line / scene heading and then use just a simple line of action to state when we return to that location?
Bigger question: The majority of the story takes place within this one apartment. Do I need a slug line/scene heading for each room or part of the apartment as the scene shifts from one to another? If not, the core of the screenplay will be one extremely long scene.
Musical numbers are a lot like action sequences: you’re trying to convey how it’s going to feel in the final movie, not beat out every little moment.
The first time you cut to a new location during the song, use a full scene header to establish it. After that, call in your best friend INTERCUT. You may also find yourself using straight cuts to sell the shifts:
And we hope you’ll sing along!
INTERCUT BOXING RING
I ain’t singing.
Script says you gotta!
A long pause. Music STALLS. Finally...
EXT. RODEO ARENA – DAY
MUSIC RESUMES as COWBOYS dance with lassos.
For your second question: Yes, break up the apartment into smaller areas for the sake of the script — and the sanity of everyone reading it.
In plays (and musicals), readers are accustomed to staying in one scene for countless pages. For screenplays, readers get antsy if any scene goes on longer than three pages. Even if it ultimately plays as one long sequence in the movie, let us experience it as smaller moments in the script.
Try to keep characters moving, and use scene headers to show when they’re in a new space — even if it’s a corner of the room just slightly offset from the other characters.