The Search For a Great title
by Lenore Wright
I had so much fun feedback from my recent tutorial on choosing the best title for a script that I decided to do a follow up column on this topic. Here's what I learned from your feedback: Effective titles can be gaudy or elegant or stinky or clever so long as they WORK.
Title selection is one of the most important and yet fun decisions of the writing process. Put some creative thought into your search.
If you missed my original tutorial on choosing titles, you can read it here => www.breakingin.net/tswtitles.htm
In that title tutorial I outlined ten ways titles can work for you. To jog your memory, here's the list:
-> Titles convey the GENRE of your movie.
-> Titles emphasize the central CRISIS of your movie.
-> Titles pose an INTRIGUING QUESTION.
-> Titles conjure up a VIVID IMAGE.
-> Titles connect to a MEMORY.
-> Titles highlight the STAR'S ROLE.
-> Titles exploit CULTURAL REFERENCES.
-> Titles establish an EXOTIC SETTING.
-> Titles create a VIVID METAPHOR.
-> Titles cash in on CURRENT SLANG.
Our readers suggested several other creative ways to put your title to work for you and your script. Here they are:
-> Titles can CREATE MOOD and STIR EMOTION
When a title sets the mood of your movie, it draws in your audience and connects them emotionally to the story. When a title works this way, the audience responds with an enthusastic -- Hey, count me in!
- SOMETHING WILD
- WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?
- MEAN STREETS
- SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
- REMEMBER THE TITANS
-> Titles can ESTABLISH an ENSEMBLE
Not all movies are star vehicles, many stories feature a team of characters on a mission or facing a crisis together. When your story features an ensemble of characters, your title should reflect that power. Some examples:
- THE DIRTY DOZEN
- RESERVOIR DOGS
- THE DREAM TEAM
- THE MIGHTY DUCKS
- THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
- SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS
-> Titles can feature a PLAY ON WORDS
- ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES
- WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
- THAT THING YOU DO
- SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
-> Titles can REVIVE a CLASSIC
When popular books or plays are adapted as movies, their titles often don't change because the title has been 'presold' to the audience. But that's not the only reason to hold onto a familiar title. The adapters of the following popular books and plays were savvy enough to recognize a great title and not be tempted to change it just to exercise their ego.
- PRINCE OF TIDES (novel)
- TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (novel)
- THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (play)
- SOPHIE'S CHOICE (novel)
- THE ODD COUPLE (play)
- THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (novel)
- THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (novel)
-> Titles can WORK OVERTIME
Some titles perform a double duty, working in two ways at once. The following titles work two ways: They create an intriguing metaphor and they highlight the Star's role:
- THE JACKAL
- DRUGSTORE COWBOY
- THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE
- MIDNIGHT COWBOY
-> Titles can Perform TRIPLE DUTY
These terrific titles resonate on many levels:
-- Creates metaphor
-- Asks a question: What the heck is a Reservoir Dog?
-- Establishes ensemble
-- Creates metaphor
-- Establishes unique location
-- Creates mood, evokes emotion
DO THE RIGHT THING
-- Sets up central crisis
-- Asks provocative question - What is the right thing?
-- Plays on street slang
THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE
-- Creates metaphor
-- Establishes specific location
-- Creates mood by juxtaposing school with jungle
-- Vivid metaphor
-- Creates mood
-- Suggests genre (mystery-thriller)
-- Asks question: What did they do that was unforgivable?
-- Sets tone (moral) + mood (life and death drama)
-- Establishes conflict - Will they be forgiven?
Nominee for the Worst Title Ever:
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (But the movie was great!)
Thanks to all the Script Market News readers who sent feedback on this topic, especially to these creative powerhouses: Brian, Alex, Joel, Adam and Eric.
Your title is the first writing sample that producers, agents, readers, actors and the audience experience. Through your title you can give them a taste of everything your script offers: juice, power, gravity, intrigue, mood, fun, adventure and most of all emotion. Don't squander this opportunity - put your title to work.
© Copyright 2003 Lenore Wright
Wright has 15 years experience writing and selling
screenplays in Los
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