An amazing title which follows most movie title rules.
Script Titles – Part I: Why are they important?
Hollywood legend has it apparently, that after seeing the title “Snakes on a Plane”, Samuel L. Jackson quickly signed on to star in the movie. It is also said that screenplays no one touched before, suddenly got picked up after a title make over or movie projects got bought solemnly for their title, with no script attached. A lot of money gets invested to create marketable movie titles to draw the audience into the theatres and sell DVDs.
In short, movie titles matter and they should matter even more to a screenplay writer, especially if you are starting out. A lot of writers put their blood, sweat and tears into writing a screenplay, but somehow not into creating a spectacular title; but they should. Why?
Because the title is the bait that makes an important reader want to read your screenplay.
Screenplay readers have to get through tons of screenplays every day, so they will pick and read a screenplay with an exciting title first.
Your reader will root for you just because you made the effort to come up with a compelling title.
By creating a great title you will send readers on a visual journey before they even read the first page.
You will send them off to a good start and give them a good vibe.
Plus you’ll stand out from the crowd, as a lot of writer’s sadly don’t make the effort to create an outstanding title.
Which titles do you like better?
“Snakes on a Plane” or “Venom”
“Alien” or “Star Beast”
“Back to the Future” or “Spaceman from Pluto”
All the secondary titles above were working titles and are not very intriguing, so it’s important to think commercially. Make it the advertisement of your story, think of it as a famous product you want to sell. Would you want “Coca- Cola” or “no name cola”.
Script Titles - Part II: Rules of creating a great title
Below are some of the most important rules in creating a title.
1. The shorter the better
If the title is short, it’s easier to remember, to visualize and stronger in creating anticipation. You want readers and audiences to remember your movie and to talk about it. Most people will struggle to recite long titles.
The biggest movie audiences are kids and teenagers; their attention span is immediate and short. According to scientists the attention span of humans in general has dropped significantly over the last ten years.
A short title also makes the movie easier to visualize. “Frozen”, “Up”, “Wedding crashers”, “Scream”, “Knocked up”, you get an instant picture.
A good short title can give readers and audiences a hint of what they will experience, it will also make them want to find out more about the movie.
With sequels, trilogies and franchises, movie titles tend to be longer these days, but at the end they are just an extension of one main movie title, so those long titles don’t really justify creating a long title.
Keeping it short shows you know the craft and that you are able to be creative with only a few words.
Finally, most prize winning and greatest movies of all time have short titles.
2. Create simple, but original titles
A title shouldn’t be only short but also simple, because it has to be understandable by the average movie goer. Titles which are difficult to pronounce, understand or figure out are problematic and hence difficult to remember.
But that doesn’t mean they should be plain or boring, make them original. Don’t choose a cliché title which sounds similar to an already existing movie title.
Lastly, is your movie title pitch worthy? Can you follow up your title with a great matching logline or even tagline? If you have a great logline, but not a great title, you should come up with an original title, which does your logline justice.
3. Tell the genre
It’s a good idea to have a title which tells us which genre the movie belongs to, as movie goers have genre preferences and know instantly what they want.
Next to the genre the title should also reflect the tone of the movie e.g. light-hearted, serious, so audiences know what to expect.
4. Tell something about the setting
If you can give a hint about where the movie takes place that’s great, this is especially important if it is a specific movie genre, which takes you to other environments e.g. sci-fi, fantasy.
5. Be visual and evoke an emotion
Titles should be able to create an instant lively image in your head, which tells you what the movie is about.
A title should reflect the tone of your script and evoke a certain feeling.
Have you ever flipped through iTunes or Netflix and based your decision on what to watch because of the title of a movie? So remember to create a strong visual title, which stimulates the emotions of the audience. This also helps you to reach your target audience.
6. Tell something about the story and characters
Not all movie titles do this and you don’t particularly have to do this. If you choose to do so the title doesn’t need to be detailed but should hint at the main story and what kind of characters will be in the movie.
Some titles even manage to reflect the stakes within a movie, which just wants a reader to find out more.
7. Don’t show where the story goes
A great title should make a viewer question what the movie is about and not give it away. We want to be hooked, but don’t want to know where the movie will take us.
Script Titles - Part III: Title example “Wedding Crashers”
A clever title, which reflects all the previous rules, is “Wedding Crashers”.
1. It is short, two words, easy to remember, visualize and we want to know more about what the movie is about.
2. It is simple and original, easy to understand, memorable and fresh and catchy.
3. The genre is clear; it is comedy but as it involves weddings it probably has romance in it too, so a romantic comedy. What is clever is that the movie title caters to both a male and female target audience.
4. The setting is very clear; most of the movie will take place at weddings.
5. It is a very visual title, some characters, probably dudes who cause trouble at weddings. It tells us it will be lighthearted but there will be a lot of conflict.
6. The story is clear too; several characters (crashers), most likely male, who are causing havoc at weddings. Not likely females, as females probably wouldn’t crash weddings. From our movie experience we know that they will run into problems one way or another, so we want to know how. Also as given that it’s about weddings, there is a possible love story going on, which we want to see. It is amazing how the creators of this title managed to anticipate the high stakes of the movie with only two words.
7. Lastly the title doesn’t give away how they get into trouble, it just tells us they will get into trouble. We want to know though how will they get into trouble.
Script Titles - Part IV: How to create a great title?
Create a working title first
Often times you may have a story in mind but don’t have a title…yet. But rather than leave your title blank, come up with a temporary working title just to get started and to keep your mind focused on your story. Don’t worry if you don’t come up with a great title instantly.
Try to develop a great title along the way
Because titles can help you figure out what your movie is about, try to give your projects a great title very early in the development stage, because an amazing title makes you feel good, puts you right into the story and keeps reminding you of the essence of your movie.
Think about your title visually
Create a movie poster in your head, how would your title look like (colors, font, place of the title) what visuals would be on it? Maybe you can even see the actors on the poster? Would the title work as a marketing tool to lure audiences in? I always find this approach very motivational.
Come up with as many titles as possible
If you start coming up with titles your brain will select basic title ideas, though you want to come up with something original. So create as many titles as possible until you find that title which is super original. You can also involve movie loving friends or professional help. Ask for their advice once you have a selection of great titles; it’s a good idea to test out your title.
Try to get inspired by checking out movie titles, book titles, magazine titles; the internet and so on. It can help to get you started and can give you a feel to what kind of title you are aiming to create. Because titles vary from genre to genre, it makes sense to check out titles from the particular genre you are writing in.
Script Titles - Part V: Exercise, Tip and Selected Links
Create as many titles as you can for your screenplay projects using what you just learned and have fun. Just like parents putting effort into naming their newborn, you have to do the same – name your baby, give it a cool, meaningful and original name/title.
Google your title and search it on imdb; has it been used already? You want it to be original. And please, don’t worry about your title getting stolen or that some other writer might have come up with the same title idea. At the end what matters is that you create a title which helps get your script noticed and sold! And if you find another script/movie with the same title, create a new better one. Most likely your title will get changed anyways once you sold your script.