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Beware of The Title

There’s been a lot of chit-chat about titles on this blog recently, particularly about duplicate titles with regards to the BSSC and whether people’s scripts are the same ones listed on those that made it through the first round; Oli too mentioned a script called WHALE FARTS had made it through the Quarter Finals of Scriptapolooza and I entreated bloggers and writers not to call their scripts TEENAGE KICKS ‘cos I must get three or four a year.

So well done to Anya who spotted that the BSSC does in fact have some duplicate titles: there are apparently two called CRISPS and even weirder, two called SIX BULLETS (what happens for TWO writers to choose the number six there? What are the odds?). There are also two called THE VISIT. If you have nothing better to do today, let’s see if we can find anymore (who said this blog wasn’t educational, hey?).

Anyway, Anya asks if there are any titles, besides TEENAGE KICKS that crop up again and again. The answer: oh yes. It would seem people underestimate the power of the title: when we talk about “Beating the Reader”, it’s a question of psychology. You want them to pick up your script from that very first page and WANT to read it. A title that’s been used before, for me anyway, is kinda deflating.

A good title *can* be your key to getting read in full. I recall working with one lass who would attack her massive pile by dividing those scripts with dull titles to those scripts with interesting ones. Really. When faced with a pile of scripts that come in at the same time for a course or initiative (so have the same deadline), I always choose the script with the most interesting title first: if I’m “fresher” (in that it’s my first read), does this mean that script with the best title gets preferential treatment? I’d like to think no, but at the end of the day – who knows?

And every Reader remembers the good ones or the ones which seem alluring, full of intrigue. I always remember the titles that seem interesting, even if I don’t recall the writers’ names or even what the plot is about. If a title is good, interesting or weird, then it will get remembered; the number of times someone has said to me at seminars, book fairs etc, “I wrote a script called ____” and I immediately say, “I know that one! I read it through…” Uncountable.

One or two words is great; names – not so great I think, though if you get it right, plus your protagonist is amazing, then this can be fabulous. The simpler the better, but if you’re going for a fancy title, make it as fancy as possible. Who doesn’t remember THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD, even if you haven’t actually watched it? Or, TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING – JULIE NEWMAR?

The biggest turn-offs? Song titles. I am SO BORED of song titles. And the titles of books (when it’s NOT an adaptation, I should add). Yargh. I always think, this is YOUR script, a new thing, YOUR story, why saddle it with someone else’s words and the inevitable assumptions that will go with it? The one exception to this is the notion of irony. Using a song title as a little aside or joke in this manner will raise a smile with me, yet often there is no real discernible connection between why the song title has been used and the script. I suspect it’s because it “sounds cool” or because the writer got the idea for the script whilst listening to the song… And it’s since undergone so many drafts that it no longer bears any connection.

So, in response to Anya, who asked my “top 5” most-repeated script titles (minus TK), here you go… I’ve looked through all my records, starting in 2001 for these; some of them have come through lit agents, some through writing initiatives and indie prodcos, some through Bang2write, some through ALL FOUR. Enjoy!

5. Happy New Year. I actually really do get most of these in January, though I only got one this year. Last year, I got four. Examples I’ve got of genres with this title include, “rites of passage”-style dramas, thrillers and action-adventures and once, a time travel.
4. Daddy Dearest. It seems more people have troubles with their father than their mother, though from time to time it’ll say “Mummy Dearest” instead. Usually dramas, though once a comedy.
3. In The Name Of The Father. What’s weird about this one is often it has no religious connection, so why is part of The Lord’s Prayer the title? Often foxes me. Usually thrillers though once, a horror.
2. Happy Birthday/Many Happy Returns. Nearly always comedies and nearly always centering around a birthday, though twice – not! Which was strange.
1. In The Name of Love. U2 anyone? I was actually suprised to see this one clocks in more than Teenage Kicks each year, so perhaps missing out the word “Pride” makes a difference. This one has no particular fave genre it seems; looking at my desktop I see all sorts, from Rom Com to period drama to kitchen sink drama to thriller, which is why it may have slipped under my radar. But now I’m aware of it, PLEASE STOP! Though I must admit to writing a script of this title back in the mists of time. It was a short and someone was in love, but that’s all I recall. Probably just as well!

Spot any of your titles there?

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25 thoughts on “Beware of The Title”

  1. Damn, so you’re saying my drama “Happy New Year Daddy Dearest In The Name of Love” ain’t gonna cut the mustard???

  2. Presumably, Six Bullets are from Six Shooters… someone ought to teach writers that other firearms exist. Anything from AK-47 to Uzi to Pea-shooter.

    What’s more depressing is that In The Name Of The Father and Mommie Dearest are already well-known films: do none of these people have access to IMDB, Halliwell, a DVD library, a TV…?

    Personally, I cull my titles from the Bible, literature, song lyrics (not titles) and, if all else fails, a look through the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which is chock-full of quotes from books that I’m never likely to get round to actually reading… and you can look them up via just one word you know you’d like to include in the title!

  3. I really hope you’re joking ESM!!!

    Jon, don’t get me started on Biblical Quotes. Occasionally, scripts will stalk me through a variety of initiatives, agents, prodcos and whatnot and in 2003 I read the same draft through four different places. It was called AS I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH.

  4. That’s a pretty clunking title… I’m guessing it was a bittersweet rom-com :-), proves it’s not just scripts that need judicious pruning. What would have been wrong with ‘The Shadow Of Death’?

    But there’s nought wrong with some Biblical titles: A Time To Kill, The Power And The Glory, Our Daily Bread, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Seventh Seal, Through A Glass Darkly, Inherit The Wind, Come And See, er, Bruce Almighty…

    …but being stalked by As I Walk Through The Valley In The Shadow Of Death… scary! Probably wouldn’t fit on the poster either. Or anything but the widest of widescreens.

  5. I am so shit at titles. My best ones have been thought up by other people. It’s embarrassing when you have to send off a pitch, and all you’ve got at the top is “Thriller about a Man” or something, and you then quickly think up something rubbish like “Deadly Hands”. All my exciting-type titles sound like Steven Seagal movies. But I bet if I ever wrote a Steven Seagal movie, all my titles would suddenly sound like romcoms.

    I usually pick a theme or key plot moment, and start hitting the thesaurus. For hours. And hours. And hours. Eventually you click on the wrong word, and see something else, randomly, that more or less fits. There needs to be a title shop, or something.

  6. ESM – I really hope that script is real!!!

    Jon – it WAS scary, I really thought I’d never outrrun that script, it became like Groundhog Day. I’m just waiting for it to turn up through Bang2write and Scottish Screen, think that’s the only two places it hasn’t come through that I’ve read for now.

    James – I thought SEVERANCE was a great title; the double meaning to it was wick. Readers like clever titles. Unless of course that was one of yours that you didn’t make up, in which case shame on your ass! ; )

    Anon – the writer THINKS it evokes the mood of the song I reckon, often there is no discernible connection to the Reader – even if they know the actual song inside out. That’s not to say song titles can’t work, they can, but they have to have something about them to interest me. Of course, I’m a big fat hypocrite, ‘cos my entry to 25WOL or less this year was called GIRLS ON FILM. Not ‘cos I’m a big Duran Duran fan, for a specific reason – but we’ll have to see if the Reader there sees the connection or whether it’s all in MY head…

  7. Nope, Severance was one of the titles someone else thought up… Like I say, I’m rubbish at them. I should post a list of my suggested titles, but I’m too ashamed. One was “Sackable Offence”. Yeah. I know.

    Anon: Have to agree with Mad Lucy here. Song titles are supposed to evoke a mood, sure, but rarely do. For me, purely as an audience member, I groan when I see a song title as a movie title.

  8. “Sackable Offence”? This way James, to The Lounge of Screenwriters Who Cannot Come Up With Titles. There, there, it’s ok. I’ll get you one of those pens with those little woodpeckers on…

  9. Being an ex-art student my working titles tend to be ‘Untitled I’, ‘Untitled II’… I expect you can already see a pattern emerging!

    Surely song titles can link in a bad way: what if the reader has had a traumatic Duran Duran/ Undertones/ Clash experience and holds it against the script? Or just doesn’t like the band?

    A title I’d love to find a use for is ‘Automatic Crystal’, from Massive Attack’s Risingson. Unfortunately, it makes no sense… just feels kind of evocative. Possibly sci-fi?

  10. Ah, Massive Attack. I’ve had a RISINGSON, TEARDROP and an UNFINISHED SYMPHONY. Not a Automatic Crystal tho! Sounds less evocative to me, more like something you might spray on your car windscreen, showing POV really does have something to do with this malarkey! ; )

    I’ve also had a FORTY SIX AND TWO which is a very obscure Tool song, but I still got it. It’s one of my faves. You never know who your script will end up with. But besides being a fave, the title didn’t go with the script. Not sure it goes with the song either, come to think of it.

  11. Well, you could have Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train or Springsteen’s Point Blank or Annie Lennox’s The Gift or The Beatle’s Misery… hang on, that probably wouldn’t work out.

    I’m going to pick all my titles from The Bonzo Dog Band:

    Death Cab for Cutie
    Piggy Bank Love
    We Are Normal
    Hello Mabel
    11 Mustachioed Daughters
    Tubas in The Moonlight
    You Done My Brain In

    or failing that, Gene Simmons’ song Asshole.

    Every one will be a winner!

  12. I want to know what the two scripts called CRISPS are like, whether they are in fact about actual CRISPS and whether they are similar or completely different despite having the same title.

  13. Do you think Life On Mars? might have legs? Actually proves perspective again: from the title and tone of the trailers I thought it was a comedy/ spoof and gave the first run a miss. Thankfully they repeated it soon after and I was allowed to hush up my oversight. Until now that is…

    All I can think of for CRISPS is that Homer in Space Simpsons episode… which just shows how far popular culture has eroded my imagination.

    …and you’re absolutely right about Automatic Crystal. My next script will be called Turtle Wax instead.

  14. I may be overly ambitious and/or deluded, but I always try to think of a title that sounds good when you say, “Two tickets to see (insert cool title here), please.” With this in mind, I don’t think you’d get much better than ‘Die Hard’.

    But that’s taken, so my own contribution is ‘Celebrity Shits’. However, all I have at the moment is the title and a logline (‘Patrick Bateman meets Heat Magazine’).

    Like James, I’m crap at titles…

  15. Hellraiser works well for me.

    …but for sheer effrontery I rather like The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies…

    Never seen it but it’s always stuck in my mind and isn’t that what a good title’s all about?

  16. Jon, that’s not a real movie, surely???

    GD – I take your BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and raise you:


    Best. Title. Ever.

  17. Absolutely definitely is! And I’ve just looked it up in my big book of film and can safely say it’s American from 1963 and directed by Cash Flagg.

    I heard once that it’s not only a cheapjack horror but also a musical…

    …and if it isn’t then it probably should be. With book by Ben Elton, he does all of them now doesn’t he?

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