Coming up with an amazing title is important. Why?
As a script reader, if I smile when I read your title, that’s a huge bonus – because it means I will be excited to read your script. Conversely, if the title evokes nothing, that’s bad. I don’t know what that script is about and I’ll have to discover it on the page.
There are three very important things to remember when coming up with a title for your script:
1. Your title should encapsulate what the film will be about.
2. If your title can capture something high concept, fantastic.
3. It should be evocative. If I read your title and smile or think, “That’s really smart. I want to read that script,” then you’re probably on the right track. The more of a positive emotional reaction I have to it, the better.
The title, best case scenario, should imply the genre (for example, comedy vs. drama), and give me a picture of what the script will generally be about.
If the title is too obscure, too on the nose (although, that is sort of the trend these days), or too boring, it doesn’t really help you. It should be clever.
Titles are really hard. I myself am terrible at titles. If you’re like me, then find a friend who has an amazing gift for it and get them to help you. Or, ask your peer readers how they would title your script.
What are some of your favorites? The title of my drama is “Goethe’s Theory of Color.” Does that scream indie to you?
Okay, so just for the purpose of the exercise, I went to the 2009 Page International Screenwriting Awards Quarter-Finalists and will pull a couple of titles and tell you what these titles evoke for me:
Gravedigger by M. Justin Parsons
This script would go to the top of my pile. It says, to me, possible thriller, could skew horror or paranormal (all good to me). Could be smart and exciting, either with a gravedigger as protagonist or taking place with the gravedigger as the baddie doing awful things to people’s graves. Could involve ghosts or paranormal element. Either way, love me some cemetery action and this sounds like it would be a world I would want to spend a couple of hours in. Bring it!
Handicapped Spaces by Jim Braly & Clinton Braly
This feels contemporary, on point. I didn’t even know “retarded” had become a bad word until I was watching an SVU from last season and they were all whispering about “the R word.” I was like, WTF? Come on, all those urban myths about people stealing handicapped parking placards so they can get the sweet spots? Here we go – this sounds like a broad, buddy comedy about 2 guys doing something outlandish to capitalize on the handicapped spaces. Could be about a handicapped dude who takes revenge on douchebags who steal their spots. Either way, sounds funny and I would be excited to read it. Also, this type of material could be rife with social criticism, which I love.
A Little Revenge by Reynaldo Villar
The “A Little” is important here. Sounds to me like a dark comedy about someone who takes revenge on someone else for something innocuous but significant and the protagonist gets off free in the end. This sounds like it will be darkly comedic and scathing. I’m thinking, “Heathers,” but for adults! Top of the pile!
Whipped by Diana Charkalis
This also feels like it could skew darker, but could also be a broad comedy with some darker elements. I immediately think, “pussy whipped,” but because it’s written by a woman, this makes me think that it’s likely about a woman taking advantage of a guy who is whipped, and all that could ensue from it. A little revenge, anyone? This sounds funny and smart, like she will be taking some social conventions and tweaking them in a smart way.
Peripheral Vision by Phyllis Heltay
This sounds like a smart psychological or paranormal thriller, I would guess with a female protagonist who is either having some vision issue, or perhaps sees paranormal elements in her peripheral vision. I like thriller wherein the protag has some sort of physical handicap, because immediately it sets them in a vulnerable position and also gives them something they need to work to overcome. This sounds smart, like it could be a cool concept and a good read.
Last season there were a number of competition scripts that used “drunk dial” in the titles. I personally thought this was high concept, funny, and I was predisposed to like these scripts before I got to the page, because this automatically sets up a funny tone.
Titles of scripts I personally would put at the bottom of the pile:
An Angel Found by Jacqueline West
This evokes that uber-cheese TV show from the ’90s “Touched by an Angel.” This screams super cheesy, schmaltzy (possibly family) melodramatic character drama. Character dramas are not my favorite genre because 9 times out of 10 there just isn’t enough going on to motivate a feature. PASS!
Apples and War by Gary Khajadourian
What exactly am I supposed to think when reading this title? Did the author even think of this? Apples – hm, are we on an apple farm? Okay, and then add to this war – so we’re now on an apple farm and there is an apple war? Kids throwing apples? Cheesy family dramedy? WHAT? Bottom of the pile!
Strawberry Mansion by R. Scott Shields
Similar to the above. R. Scott, what am I supposed to think about this? It sort of evokes the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” good reference – but then mansion? What? I mean, the only genre that peaks for me when I read this is women’s romance. But, women’s romance isn’t a filmic genre. If this writer genuinely thinks this was the BEST title he could have come up with, I have to wonder about his taste level. I would assume the writing would be bad with a title like this. PASS.
The Perfect Dad by Kimberly Goddard Kuskin
This sounds like a contrived, melodramatic family movie. I personally don’t need to read that. PASS.
The Moonbeam Fisherman by John Dummer
Cheesy. Schmaltzy. Really, John? This evokes images of little Lilliputian men running around fishing for moonbeams. Seriously? REALLY would NOT want to have to read this script. Again, a taste issue. PASS.
All of that aside, be VERY thoughtful with your names. If your script makes me think it’s going to be a kick-ass thriller, and on page one I see that it’s actually a no-plot schmaltzy drama, I will cast it aside, disappointed. The title should capture the spirit of what’s going to be on the page.
As for your own script title, “Goethe’s Theory of Color” says to me possible biopic about Goethe that specifically deals with his theory of color. It does say possible small, indie drama. Character drama. But it sounds intelligent – that’s a plus.
If you ever bothered to read any of the screenplays you so crudely commented on you would understand the origins of the screenplay’s title. Keep in mind, I understand and believe it to be essential to take in criticism of your own screenplay because there is no other way a writer can improve and grow. But you appear to be a person that is speaking about a topic they know nothing about, but believe they do. A title for a screenplay should not hit you over the head with respect to the story unless that is your goal. My goal with “Apples and War” was not to spell out the plot in three words. The title was used to create mystery wherein the person reading the title would be intrigued by it’s plot and storyline. The script is not a Cheesy Dramady as you bluntly put it and it’s title doesn’t even come close to evoking such an image. In any event, do us all a favor by actually checking the contents of the screenplay before you go destroying someone’s work. Better yet, keep your “expert” advise to yourself and allow the screenwriters to do the screenwriting.
Gary, thanks for your comment. The point of my comments were to alert writers as to how their titles would be received by a reader without first having read the material. My intention is in no way to destroy your work, just to highlight the point that this title, to me, is not evocative, and what it does evoke is not particularly appealing. What were you hoping to evoke with this title that I missed?
I may have been a bit hot under the collar after reading your comments about my screenplay, therefore I apologize for my comments at the end of my my previous post. It was was written in anger and I should have refrained from doing so. But it appeared to me that someone was attacking my screenplay for superficial reasons and not the merit or contents thereof. I appreciate your comments and take them under serious consideration. Thank you.
Basically the story was a war-based story wherein a soldier had to deal with death and his shaken faith in himself. The “apples” portion of the title dealt with the dichotomy of the person dealing with the good and evil of his actions(ala the Devil and his apple temptation theme).
Gary, I would pose that this level of information isn’t being clearly communicated with your current title. I do like the theme of good vs. evil in war – perhaps try to capture more of that in the title. Maybe something more along the lines of “A Good War” or “A Good Fight.” War is inherently not good, so this touches upon the irony of good vs. evil and war. What do you think?
Hi, Gary, if you placed as a quarter-finalist in Page, it’s obvious you can write! Congratulations, and I hope to see your name on the big screen one day. Again, I’m sorry if my comments were hurtful or offensive to you. My intention was simply to get people to think about how their titles will be received when sent out. Thanks again for your comments.
Jumping in late as I have only just discovered your blog. Love it and thanks for all your pearls of wisdom.
The reason I felt moved to post is because I don’t understand why you apologised to Gary?
Nothing, and I mean nothing you wrote in your blog on titles could be construed as offensive. You clearly stated what you intended to do, i.e. share what certain titles evoked in you, good or bad, then you did just that, openly and honestly.
Gary should realise that many scripts don’t even get read. You have to maximise the chance that the producer/exec/director/reader will even turn the first page. So take the critique to heart, and either change the title or run the risk that scripts won’t even get read. Don’t bitch about it.
Kristjan, I apologized to Gary because it was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone feel attacked in that exercise. However, you did pick up on the reason why I posted that article – because people need to have a sense of what connections other people will make when they hear the title. It is important that titles be both evocative and also elicit a clear association on the part of the reader.
Coming up with a great title truly is a special skill.
Hi, my name’s Shannon. I’m 12 and an aspiring screenwriter, and I thought I’d start now. I’m writing a script at the moment, my second one. I’ve got two titles for it at the moment. But neither of them are too strong, until I finish the script and see if there are any significant phrases from the script. Here are the three titles:
1. Leo Black
2. Time After Time.
Which title do you think is best?
Erm actually I made a new script title, it’s called “Myth”.
Hi, Shannon! Congrats to you for getting an early start to your screenwriting. I think that is amazing. My friend made a documentary called “Zombie Girl,” about a 12 year old girl who wrote and directed a feature film about zombies. (I think you can download it on iTunes.) I thought that was so cool and courageous!
As for the titles you mention here:
1. Leo Black: I would assume this is the name of the protagonist, but it doesn’t really tell me much.
2. Time After Time: To those of us who are older than you, this evokes Cyndi Lauper’s song.
Titles aren’t my forte, but if you give me a logline, I’ll try to do some brainstorming with you.
What’s the logline??
Sorry for the late reply, it’s basically about these three people who discover that they have life changing powers that can either help or corrupt the whole world. And they’re on the run from someone who wants to steal them
I am honored to be mentioned on your site. Unfortunately it’s for being in the “bottom of the pile”. 🙂 No worries. I love criticism and understand your point. But I thought I’d clarify that Strawberry Mansion is the name of a very dangerous section of Philadelphia where this “inspired by true events” script is set. This fact is clarified on the first half of the first page of my script.
Again, I’m not arguing your point. I get it. I’ve had several people react oddly the first time they hear the title. But I will also share that everyone remembers the title. It clearly made an impact on you. You picked it out of roughly 500 PAGE quarterfinalists, right? It was all part of my evil plan.
At any rate, thank you for the mention. Any publicity is good publicity.
Scott, yes, alas, I’m sorry I’m not crazy about your title. Good luck with the writing!
I just stumbled across this thread and must thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you liked the title “Gravdigger”. Incidentally, this script is a supernatural thriller/horror, so your instincts were correct!
I’m knew to writing scripts, though I am passionate about poetry and writing.
I’m writing a script at the moment, and I’m rubbish with titles. I have a few titles;
How not to fall in love
I love you Damon Jackson
Save the last dance for me
My script is a romantic comedy about the lead; Damon Jackson who is engaged to a woman, called Rebecca. But she want him to take dance lessons, and his dance coach (Portia)is his old girlfriend from university and they fall back in love. It does have some funny bits in.
Please tell me what you think.
All the best
Damn, if only I’d come up with a better title, THE MOONBEAM FISHERMAN mighta made it past the top 30 (twice) in the Nicholls.
I like this topic. Picking a title is not easy and it does have lasting effects. One lesson though, highlighted by these posts, is that a writer has to have thick skin.
I have a script about a guy who has a dream and he is transported into the time of the civil war. Since he’s from Texas, he has a Southern accent, and he is deep into Northern territory. The Northerners try to kill him, but he runs a way and meets a shamam guy, who tells him that if he does not escape his dream, he will stay in it forever. He has to find the dream portal, the only way out of a dream and get out. In the end, he does get out, with the help of ninjas, of course.
I do not know what I should put for the title. Can you please teel me what you think it should be?