Discover more from Inneresting
📛 A movie by any other name
You only get one chance to make a first impression (on the poster).
Arguably, the most important part of a film (besides it being good) is the title. Great titles have graced the silver screen, only to have the film bite all kinds of ass. But the title did its job, it got the suckers to watch the flick (i.e. The Phantom Menace). Conversely, a bad title can take the wind out of the sails of a very good film.
My question is, how do you come up with the titles to the films you write? What process do you go through to come up with a title?
San Francisco, California
The majority of my movies have been adaptations, either of books or existing properties, such as Charlie’s Angels. Obviously, it’s not too hard to pick a title for those ones. (Trivia: the “Full Throttle” moniker for the sequel was picked by the marketing team; the working subtitle title was “Halo,” named for the McGuffin of the story.)
I have been through the name game on several movies.
Go started out as a short film script called ‘X,’ named for the ecstasy Ronna’s character is trying to deal. When I wrote the full version, my working title was ’24/7,’ but then I saw reviews for a British film called Twentyfourseven, so I nixed that.
About the same time I was writing this script, I’d made a holding deal with Imagine, for whom I’d just adapted the kids book How to Eat Fried Worms. As part of the deal, I had to pitch them five projects. One of my ideas was a Die Hard-y thriller about involving a bomber and a TV news crew, which I called “Go.” Imagine ultimately passed on all of my ideas, but I really liked the title “Go,” so I just took it for the script I was writing.
It was only after seeing the finished film about four times that I realized how often characters say “go” in the movie — and usually at crucial moments. It seems intentional, but trust me, it wasn’t.
One of my never-ending horrors is that an early Columbia press release listed the title as “Go!” rather than “Go”, so many reviews and articles about the movie include the exclamation point, thinking that’s really the title. It’s not.
I hate that exclamation point with an unmitigated fury. If it somehow became a sentient being, I would kill it without remorse.
Shortly after Go, I was hired to work on an animated movie for Fox called “Planet Ice.” That sounds like a sci-fi movie, and it was. The odd thing, I thought, was that there was no icy planet anywhere in the script. The title was a hold-over from many drafts ago. So along with the rewrite, I turned in a list of proposed titles for the movie, most of them centering around the long-lost spaceship at the center of the story.
Two years later, I went to a screening of the nearly-completed movie, which was now called Titan A.E.. “Titan” is the name of the missing ship, and the “A.E.” stands for “After Earth.”
A great script with a crappy title faces an uphill battle. That’s why I always make sure I have a title I like before I type “FADE IN,” even if I later change my mind.
So yes, I’d pay for a great title. An LA Times article about companies that consult on movie titles sounded promising, until…
Last summer, Lockhart and Barrie tried to persuade Sony to change the title of “Hancock,” a big-budget action comedy starring Will Smith as an alcoholic superhero known as John Hancock. They told studio executives they thought the current title was vague and pitched alternatives such as “Heroes Never Die,” “Unlikely Hero” and “Less Than Hero.”
There’s spit-balling, and then there’s just spitting. I’d rather have an inscrutable one-word name than any of those crappy alternatives.
I helped out on that movie as it was transitioning from “Tonight, He Comes” to “Tonight He Comes” — the removal of the comma helped soften the double-entrendre. But by the wrap party, it was simply Hancock, which serves it well.1
At any given point, I have a list of about 30 movies I’d like to write, and a good 50% of them have titles. Sometimes, that’s all they really have.
For example, that same thriller I pitched to Imagine is sitting on my to-write list as “Southland.” I think that’s a good title, but I doubt I’ll ever use it, since (a) I’ll probably never get around to writing the script, and (b) it’s too much like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.
I think some projects sell mostly on their title. A vampire thriller set in Alaska is an okay-not-great idea. But 30 Days of Night is a kick-ass title, which is why Sony bought it. On the flip side, my unsold zombie western has been through at least four titles: Deadfall, Devil’s Canyon, Prey, and Frontier. I don’t love any of them, and neither do readers.
But if you have a good title for it, by all means share.
Are you enjoying this newsletter?
📧 Forward it to a friend and suggest they check it out.
🔗 Share a link to this post on social media.
The WGA Strike Continues — Get Involved!
We want to remind you of ways you can participate and support the effort to create a fair contract protecting the future of writing as a profession!
One added advantage of a single-word title is that it requires no translation for international audiences. Except in Germany, where Go is called “Go! Sex, Drugs & Rave’N’Roll.” Shudder.