Friday 8 April 2011

Working Title

Before embarking in the process of writing a new script, and even before having an outline or a more concrete idea of what the story is, I name it. By giving the next project a name, I’m able to file any research, notes, treatment under the same file name.

I don’t get too hooked on the title, as it generally is a working title and not set in stone. There is no reason why it can’t change; although from past experience at times the working title will still be the best fit.

Getting the script done is of course more important as you’ll have nothing if you have a cleverly thought of title but nothing actually written.

Even if the title is the last thing you think of, even if it changes many times, it is still a very important part of a script. People will form whole ideas of what your movie (or other) is about before they even watch it, and that could be bad if your movie does not meet the expectations created by its title.

The long running English soap, Coronation Street was originally pitched as Florizel Street, thankfully someone pointed out that it sounded like detergent and the name was changed. 

Screenwriter Don Coscarelli has a movie currently in post-production with the best title ever: John Dies at the End. Yes, it's giving the ending away, at least I sure do hope so, but I still want to watch it to find out the how and why. The fact that you know the ending only makes you expectant of it.

Don Coscarelli is best known as director and co-writer of Bubba Ho-Tep. Now that’s a mouthful! The name to me says comedy – which it is – and Ho-Tep tells me mummy, right again; but in a million years I could not have guessed from the title that it takes place in a retirement home where Elvis Presley and JFK (now dyed black) are both old and very much alive. Yet, the name is so odd it's memorable.

In keeping with the Bruce Campbell theme, the latest movie I watched with him in was called My Name is Bruce. I would have loved to be there when they came up with the title.

What's the film about? Bruce Campbell
Who's in it? Bruce Campbell
What's it called? Errr, Bruce Campbell?
Nah, too John Malkovich. Well, my name is Bruce.
Perfect! What?
We’ll call it My name is Bruce. Genius!

So that’s totally not how it happened, and the movie isn’t biographical, but is instead Bruce Campbell playing a fictitious version of himself. The title still works really well and is just as self-indulgent as Bruce Campbell’s character.

However, as much as we might put some thought into finding that perfect title, once the script is out of our hands, just like the spec can be re-written, the title could be changed, and this may be in fact more common than I might think.

Titles are also generally changed when a movie is sold to a different country; often to that country’s native language and will usually not be a direct translation. On occasions, even same language countries will change the titles, as was famously done with Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, known in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Nevertheless, I would still like to put some thought and care into the title of my scripts and know that I have tried to choose a name that best represents it and could possibly help spark interest and sales of said script.

For now, I have provisionally called my current spec “Dear Life”, but every once in a while I think of alternative titles. Unfortunately all that comes to mind are song titles such as:
  • Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel
  • Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis
  • Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (uhm yes, ok it is a James Bond movie too)

I then remember an article on Titles by scriptreader Lucy V Hay and realise that song titles aren’t such a great idea. In fact, it's a great piece on what does or doesn't work in general and within different genres. 

So at the moment I'm stuck with Dear Life, which to be honest I'm not thrilled about although I might end up never changing this title, just wasting a lot of writing time thinking about alternatives and creating this blog entry all about it.

I now leave you with a cool little montage on Titles by Art of the Title, some food for thought.

It would be interesting to see how other people come up with titles, at which stage of the project and how often, if at all, it gets changed. And whilst we’re on the subject of titles, what is your favourite and worst film title of all times?

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