I am a film school student in southern CA, and I just saw a preview for CHARLIE’S ANGELS. I was very intrigued with the mis-en-scene of the picture and I wonder: How much influence does the writer (in this case) have over the art direction and style of photography?
Well, clearly you’re a film student because you used the term "mis-en-scene." In the case of CHARLIE’S ANGELS, I was more involved than usual during pre-production because of the overall coolness of the director, McG, and production issues that would end up affecting the script. So I saw storyboards and got to know Russell Carpenter, the director of photography. But that’s the exception, rather than the rule.
In general, a writer doesn’t have a lot of direct input on the art direction or photographic style of the movie. Unless it’s important, you don’t mention the color of the walls or whether the light is incandescent or fluorescent. Not only would all these details piss off the people whose job it is to make these decisions, they would make your screenplay unreadable.
That said, remember that it is the screenwriter’s job to evoke the experience of watching the movie through words. Somehow, you have to give a sense of the visual style of the movie without mentioning it all the time. For instance, CHARLIE’S ANGELS tweaks a lot of the conventions of the original TV show, with triptychs and wipes, so when appropriate I included those in the movie. And the plot itself lent a lot to the visual style, setting it entirely in Southern California and featuring three beautiful women who go undercover in all sort of disguises.
How much description is too much? The first time your script visits a location, you can give a sentence or two to describe it. More if you really have to. And if a character is wearing something important to the plot, you absolutely need to describe it.