Screenwriting and Musical Numbers

Project leader: Mag. Dr. Claus Tieber
Term: 01.10.2018–30.09.2022
Funding body: FWF Stand-Alone Project


Project description:

Musical numbers are the essence of the film musical and important elements of many other fictional films. A recent discourse about the ontology and functions of the musical number as represented in the works of Amy Herzog, Phil Powrie and others emphasize the importance of the topic. One aspect in this field is still a desideratum: the screenwriting of musical numbers. 

The way film production is organized heavily shapes the creative solutions and thus the aesthetics of the final product. Many creative decisions are made during the screenwriting process, including those that concern musical numbers. From the overall narrative framework to the lyrics and the structure of a number – the way screenwriters deal with musical numbers is diverse and depend on the mode of production. 

In order to analyse the genealogy of musical numbers with the screenwriting and production process, I will survey the work of two European screenwriters, who had to migrate to the United States in the early 1930s: Walter Reisch and Felix Jackson. Both screenwriters represent the European heritage of Hollywood musicals, both are European Jews who were able to migrate to the United States, both became famous for films in which musical numbers play a significant role. 

In analysing the development of a sample of musical numbers in the work of these two screenwriters a new understanding of screenwriting itself shall be gained, that goes beyond plotting and writing dialogue. The development process as well as close readings of filmed numbers will be discussed within the context of the recent theoretical discourse. This way the abstract theoretical discussion will be grounded with historical evidence to be found in European and American archives. The findings can change the dominant notions of screenwriting as well as flourish the current theoretical discourse. 

My project is the logical consequence of my former research in screenwriting as well as in film music as represented in my research projects and publications.