I had some questions about copyrighted materials. I know you have to pay the recording companies for the rights to songs. What if I have a character singing Foreigner’s "Urgent" in the shower? Will I get sued?
In the same vein, can I have a character argue the merits of McDonald’s Big and Tasty or will I have Ronald’s team of lawyers calling me up? I know different films have portrayed companies negatively before, most memorable (in my mind) being RAIN MAN, which had Tom Cruise proclaiming "K-Mart sucks!" But I don’t know if that was somehow approved by K-Mart or not.
Here’s the difference between writing a screenplay and making a movie: as the screenwriter, you can do anything you damn well please. You can have your hero urinating on the Pillsbury Doughboy while smoking crack with Mr. Clean.
Now, when the time comes to actually make the movie, there may be a legal team offering very cogent arguments for why that can’t happen. The Pillsbury folks might sue, and even if they wouldn’t win, the threat of a lawsuit might be deterrence enough. And in the case of Foreigner, they might ask for too much money. It happens. But by the time it comes to make the movie, you’ll hopefully have strong producer and director who are so entranced by your brilliant writing that they’ll help you fight to get your vision on screen. (More likely, they’ll cower and capitulate and blame other people, but let’s just pretend.)
In short, David, worry about writing the best scenes and not about lawsuits or song rights.