How To Come Up With A Title For Your Screenplay
Titles are the first thing an audience or reader takes notice about a film. The title needs to have a ring to it and it has to say something about either the character or the film. If you have a bad title, it’ll turn people off. Sorry to be frank, but it’s the truth. People make their assumptions based off the title. So here’s my run-down on how to come up with a title for your screenplay… Enjoy.
What Is It?
Knowing how to come up with a title for your screenplay means being able to know what the title is. Seems pretty clear, right? But there’s drama screenplays that sound like genre screenplays and vice versa.
i) A general rule of thumb is that using a first name for a title screams dramedy or drama. Are there exceptions to this rule? TV shows Luther and Taggart are crime scripts titled with the surnames of the main character. Among the other dramas, they use first person titles like My Summer of Love and My House in Umbria. Others use place and country names like Munich, Australia. In few cases, they’ll have long titles like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but this doesn’t happen much anymore.
ii) Genre films should be catchy but not overly clever. Consider all the great horror titles. They actually deliver what they title the film. Examples of this are Alien, Predator, and Jaws. It’s the exact same way with the thrillers. Se7en is about the seven deadly sins. Panic Room has the characters trapped in a panic room. Red Eye has the characters on the red eye flight to Miami. Action adventure films always tell exactly what’s in them. The Running Man, Deep Impact, Under Siege, The Core. Comedies and Rom-Coms tend to describe the people in them like Ghostbusters, The Wedding Crashers, and The Yes Man. They also describe the situation like Just Friends, The Proposal, Meet The Parents. You follow me? One or two words should do the trick. If you ask me, I’m a fan of one word titles for genre films.
Naming It After The Setting Or Job Is Good For TV But Not For Film
Eastenders, Coronation Street, Doctors, and Casualty work well in TV land and you’d do well to rip a page out of TV bosses’ books if you’re writing a soap or drama. However, for film it doesn’t feel vital enough. For example, Arlington Road doesn’t strike me as a good title for a movie about terrorism. I remember watching it on video a while back and being really shocked. In rare cases, films are titled after jobs like TV scripts, but I’m can’t think of one right now.
Don’t Use A Song Lyric Or Title
Please don’t do it. Through out the years, I’ve seen lyrics from songs and they never work. Mostly because the screenwriter has picked something extremely obscure. Then to make matters worse, their scripts continually call back to said lyrics like they reveal something about the script’s plot. You’re better off writing your OWN song that suits the plot of your script. The Ruth Rendell Mystery, Some Lie And Some Die, did this very well. Okay, sometimes it works like Sweet Home Alabama, but 9/10 times, if you didn’t use an obscure song lyric, there’s another screenwriter with a script that has the same title. YAWN. Which ones make the list of the biggest offenders? Teenage Kicks, In The Name Of Love, Karma Chameleon, As My Guitar Gently Weeps and I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).
If Using A Well Known Phrase Or Word, Google It
WISH was a screenplay I had written, but nobody liked the title so I changed it to CRY WOLF. I found out later that it’s a song by A-Ha and there’s a film with the same title. I ended up changing it to Eclipse. ALONE is a title that I see a lot on most scripts along with the word “blood” like BLOOD TIES, BLOOD RIGHT, and BLOODLINE. Among the other titles that pop up a lot are HAPPY NEW YEAR, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY, FATHER’S DAY, DEAR MUM or DEAR DAD.
Obscure Titles Need A Good Source
Titles that are good can have some intrigue, but you must be wise when choosing them. One that comes to mind is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. This title is genius. It’s obscure while giving a hint of the film, but intriguing without being pretentious. The title derives from Alexander Pope’s poem, Eloisa to Abelard. Note: Everyone is doing songs for titles making them a bad source.
If You Want A Fancy Title, Be Prepared To Really Go For It
Lastly on how to come up with a title for your screenplay, if you want a fancy title, be prepared to really go for it. Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar come to mind. A script I saw about a year ago – I can’t remember if I read it or just saw it on a website – had the title EVERY TIME I GO TO STATEN ISLAND SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS. That kind of crazy title would entice me to read the screenplay, but beware: A black comedy is what I would expect from it.
Most importantly, don’t fall in love with the title you come up with. 9/10 times you’ll most likely end up having to change it as the piece evolves. Being stubborn can hurt your chances of selling it.
For example, I had a talk about my screenplay, originally called WALK, that went like this:
AGENT: Does she have to walk? Couldn’t she just stay… couldn’t the action in the end be contained?
ME: (Head exploding) But it’s called “Walk”. He has to walk away??
AGENT: Well, couldn’t you change the title?
ME: Uh… yes.
Once he said that, I realized I’d been letting my title – an awful one at that – stop me from fixing the issue in the conclusion. It was like a lightbulb turned on over my head.
Even if you go through all that and get it optioned and produced, they’ll likely change the title anyway.
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