A good title for your screenplay will help your project on a number of different levels. From a script reader’s and exec’s point-of-view, they’re looking for a snappy and/or interesting title, something that will make them want to pick up the script and open page one. Execs have admitted (and some readers too) that they will flick through their script pile and pick out one that has the most interesting title as it provides them with a glimmer of hope that they might get an interesting read before they go to bed.
So, “A Postman’s Life” might find itself slipping to the bottom of the pile while the more enticing titles like “Murder Ridge” or “Sex Cocktail” will definitely catch the eye. An effective title states its intentions up front, giving the reader a good indication of the film’s tone and what it’s going to be about.
Here’s an alarming fact for you: most people who go to the cinema decide what they’re going to see while they’re queuing at the box office. They’re choosing their entertainment based on the title alone. This is probably a certain demographic (undemanding teens) but it’s a sobering thought nonetheless.
One word titles are punchy and efficient, usually good for horrors or thrillers. The most common film titles, especially for screenplays, is ‘The…”: The Last Time, The Main Man, The Film’s Title. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that at all. Titles to avoid are using a character’s name to indicate what you’re going to do with them. For example: Romancing Peter, A Coffee with John, Dancing with Sandra. Exceptions to the rules all round of course. Saving Private Ryan is an okay title but it becomes a good title when it’s a Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Hanks.
Long titles have come back into fashion but make sure they sound good at least. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a very intriguing name for a film while Pirates of the Caribbean tells you most of what you need to know and the added ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ neatly fills in the blanks for you.
Instead of me harping on about other people’s titles, it seems only fair that I put my own titles up for scrutiny. I think it was either ‘Screamwriter’ or ‘Sanctum of a Scriptweaver’ (links in US blogs) that posted their script titles in a poll asking readers which they thought was best. A neat idea. In a similar fashion, here’s a personal appraisal of my portfolio:
Origin: my latest. A lean, evocative title for a horror. Very pleased.
Aliens FC: Feature animation. You get it from the title. We love it.
Run For Home: A bit more drab and downbeat but in-line with theme and content of story. Not bad.
The Devil’s Punchbowl: Intriguing title, automatically suggesting horror. A lot of title’s lead with The Devil’s Backbone or The Devil’s Breakfast or whatever but at least The Devil’s Punchbowl refers to a real place and it’s where the film’s set.
The Good Guys: Flimsy. My first script and I always promised myself to think of something else but the project’s been put to bed now so that’s fine.
Bloodline: Fairly humdrum title for a horror, quite obvious and common. Need to change.
Us Mere Mortals: I like it but unsure whether it’s distinctive and punchy enough to get its point across. Perhaps just ‘Mere Mortals’ better. Don’t know. Need to rewrite script first and worry about title later.
A lot of titles will be suggested and/or changed by the marketing men once the film is completed. James’s latest film Severance (coming to a cinema near you) went through various names before finalising on the swift, efficient, punchy and evocative title for the horror that it is.
This is a common occurrence. So, on the one hand, if you’re lucky to be in the position of having your film in production, you can afford not to worry too much about the title as it can all be worked out before it hits marketing but in the early stages of sending your script out, it’s best to try to be as attention grabbing and imaginative as you can be. As with all things in screenplay land of course, this is easier said than done.