We have an excellent premise, with marketable interest, and a marketable genre. What we need is an effing GREAT TITLE. Of course in all of those writing how to books, you’ve read the author’s opinion on what constitutes a good title and frankly the list is as subjective as what constitutes the best screenplay ever written.
Take for instance, this blogger’s list. I’ll give him a couple of his top ten, but he missed so many. In fact the comments posted on the blog are much more accurate in my opinion. One thing for sure is a title in this day and age HAS to mean so much more in order to get studio interest and asses in the seats. For sure, there are some great films that did poorly at the B.O. because of an ambiguous title. Take for recent instance, MICHAEL CLAYTON, great screenplay and execution. But really, without George’s draw it would have done a lot worse. And while we’re on recent films with George appeal, MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, a title so bizarre it had better be a side-splitting comedy. (It is by the way, a very funny script, but a small niche´comedy that I doubt would have sold without the brilliance attached to it.)
So yes, 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, pretty much wins for a title that spells out the film, and that a studio won’t run from.
But I’m not writing a sequel so where does that leave my best screenplay title?
My first inclination when the movie premise was sprouting in my mind was DEPRIVATION. Then upon further thought I went to REST ASSURED. Ehh — both a too ambiguous and could possibly result in a yawn. The more my character developed, I knew his melodrama would be his final content with the ‘crisis’ so for a brief time I worked with HAPPY IN SADNESS. But it was sounding a little too TEARMS OF ENDEARMENT – like. So I left it alone and began crafting my logline.
And that’s when I came up with DYING TO DREAM. How’s that for a dramedy title? Perfectly balanced for the genre for sure, will it be the final title — no clue.
In a previous life, I worked on Disney’s MULAN and I recall the general reaction of dismay and shock when ‘marketing’ came back with this as the title. We had a lot of native Chinese on staff just for the film, and the opinion was they may as well have named it TREE. I’m pretty sure that’s when they stuck ‘the legend of’ in front of MULAN. But many of us felt that it would have done better with a more story driven title.
So why fret over a title before your best screenplay is complete?
Because the best titles will hone your story, its theme and its resolution.