Top Ten Tips For Titling Your Movie

 Is the title of your film killing its chances?

Consider, the title for your film or script is the VERY FIRST thing most people will experience about it. The first question asked is usually ‘what’s it called?’

And like all first impressions, you want it to be a good one.

As humans, we make immediate and long lasting judgements in that very first moment of experience. Much like seeing someone across a room who catches your eye, a title should attract both powerfully and authentically, promising something exciting, stimulating, thought provoking and mysterious… If it can do this, the grounds for a solid relationship are laid (be that an actor turning the first page of the script, an audience member buying a cinema ticket or a financier choosing to read the whole synopsis instead of moving onto the next project).

Over the last week I have been teaching at a European initiative workshop called Four Corners. Film makers from countries including Greece, Bulgaria, UK, Germany, Estonia and more, all gathered in central London for an intensive week long development workshop.

All the students had reasonably well developed projects, some commercial, some art-house, some drama, and some just ‘out there’. One consistent issue that kept coming up for me was the titles they had chosen. To be fair, these filmmakers were not working in their first language (they were working in English) and it was clear a huge amount was being ‘lost in translation’. Titles often felt a little ‘on the nose’ or simply too esoteric. But after working hard all week, most of the films gained new titles and their pitches began to sizzle.

This simple title change made a huge difference to their pitches as the title is the jumping off point…

So here are my top ten tips for titling your film.

1. The shorter the better.

2. The title should hint at the genre of the film. Do this well and the second question people usually ask (what’s the genre?) is answered implicitly.

3. The title is a sales tool designed to get people to read the script, rent the film or ask for more information. It is NOT an artistic statement (think more craft than art).

4. More often than not, your title will be accompanied by a short pitch or key artwork. This should all work in harmony and feel like a component part of a whole and well rounded concept.

5. You will NEVER be 100% happy with the title. It always feels like a bit of a compromise. And why shouldn’t it? You are reducing 100 pages of story to a single word of phrase.

6. Once you decide on a title, if a better one comes along, use it. You are NEVER wedded to the title until the film is complete (of course this raises social media and online marketing problems). Ideally get it right up front, but DON’T hold on to a poor title if a new and better one comes along.

7. Check the titles ‘Goolgeability’ with the Google keyword tool. How many people actively search for that word of phrase each month? These metrics are important.

8. Don’t be clever. Titles are not something to be figured out. As film makers, we might like the idea of a title being a mystery or ephemeral, but audiences will just move right on by if they don’t ‘get it’ immediately.

9. The title should infer the central conflict of the film… ‘Jaws’ (the shark is going to eat people), ‘The Exorcist’ (there’s going to be an exorcism), or more recently my pal Mike Mindel, who renamed serial killer horror movie ‘The Hollow’ to ‘Don’t Let Him In’.

10. Above all, ‘do what it says on the tin’. The title should honestly and succinctly reflect the story.

And 11… Yes there are LOTS of examples of films that defy these tips. But why make your life hard? Isn’t it tough enough to get a film financed, produced and distributed?

What do you think? If you have any tips to offer, please leave them on the blog here.

Onwards and upwards!
Chris Jones
My movies www.LivingSpiritGroup.com
My Facebook www.Facebook.com/ChrisJonesFilmmaker
My Twitter @LivingSpiritPix


Filmmaker (LivingSpiritGroup.com), screenwriter, author of the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbooks (GuerillaFilm.com), founder of Create50.com, CEO of The London Screenwriters’ Festival (LondonSWF.com) and certified firewalk instructor.

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Comments

  1. Alex May says:

    Good Will Hunting. BAD TITLE. I avoided this film like the plague because I just couldn’t bear to watch intellectual American hunters being nice to each other and shooting the crap out of deers. Oh and I don’t want to watch displays of ‘good will’, not even at Christmas.Surely it must be a sort of Deer Hunter by a French intellectual film maker.

    I really had formed such a biased opinion, spurred on by the idea of Robin Williams being at his most boorish, I avoided it like the plague. So I discover it 14 years after release on TV… 2 Oscars and nominations for all the big Oscar awards.

    I think it’s going to be in my top 10 once I see it a few more times…

  2. Mike says:

    Interesting but I think this post fails to recognise the value, including and especially artistic value, in an interesting title. I agree that the title is a sales tool, a form of advertising for the film, but to suggest that titles can’t be artistic is foolish. A title informs your perception of the film, often suggests the focus, and can mean something else in retrospect. Training Day, for instance, fits the bill for summing the plot up, and prepares the audience for a story involving the main character learning a job. In hindsight, though, its meaning develops. The main character learns about the job, sure, but also learns more than he could have possibly expected to with regards to his mentor. The title becomes ironic, not to mention comical, as in the context of the plot, the initial expectation of a simple training day seems remarkably tame.

    This is a post I’d like to return to as I find it interesting and your view worth challenging. For the time being, though, I’ll leave it at this, as I’m typing on a phone and it’s tough to keep a coherent and speedy train of thought when text input is so slow 😉

  3. JFord says:

    Great advice. I called my first film New Town Original. It’s now called This Is Essex on dvd.

    1. Chris says:

      How did This Is Essex finally do pal? Be interested to know.

  4. Hi Mike, I get your comments I do, but for me, a title will fail if you need to see the film to appreciate just how wonderful it is.

    Or think of it this way, you are making your life harder and taking greater risks. I have seen many films that have been held back due tooverly artistic titles that audiences just don’t get. And when they don’t get it, they just choose the next one.

    Why do that to yourself and your film?

    CJ

  5. Alex May says:

    Mike, you’re right for the tiny minority of film goers who are in the loop or even in the industry. Who read about film in dedicated publications. Still, I didn’t go for Good Will Hunting…

    Outside that circle, people just want to be entertained with a mainstream film. No effort required to work out the title.

  6. dd_opco says:

    I remember Channel 4 having a programme following 2 aspiring film makers through the production of their films. One film was titled “Sorted” and was a clubland based thriller the other was called “Emotional Backgammon” and was a relationship drama.

    Which of those do you think went on to become the more successful?

    Don’t get me wrong there were other issues that separated the two films/film-makers but if, as a film=maker you can’t spot a duff title, you’re in trouble, especially at the lower budget end of film. It tells people you’re a poor salesperson for a start and possibly a little odd. (Not in a good way)

    People don’t want to think too hard about their viewing, and if you think you’re being clever without actually being clever. (Think Juxtaposition Records) then you’re also setting yourself up for ridicule.

    I like short, snappy, funny and intriguing… or at the other end Raiders of the Lost Ark. Which had a trailer that transcended the title.

  7. Ana says:

    Green Fried Tomatoes? Even worse than Good Will Hunting…
    Thanks, Chris, for your tips at Four Corners.

  8. Jon Mills says:

    I agree with most of these, although I think there’s still a place for the ‘intriguing’ title – Martha Marcy May Marlene is a good current example; whilst it doesn’t particularly make sense until you’ve seen the film, it does linger in the mind.

    I’d really worry about any script called ‘Emotional Backgammon’ though…

  9. Craig says:

    I have been advocating this approach for some time. I’m really glad I’m not alone. I once offered such advice to a low budget filmmaker and he derided it as base. He now uses the basest titles ever! It’s just a shame his films don’t live up to the titles.

    Thing is, these days you don’t much get to see film logos – when you look online at what’s on at the cinema you just get the titles – no logo, no slogan, no artwork. Same when you are standing at the box office. Also, when it’s on the shelf as a DVD – what if you can just see the spine? It’s just the title (okay there’s more chance of a logo here, but ultimately it’s just the title again). When it finally hits TV – on the schedule planner it’s a title…

    You’re so right on this one. I actually changed the name of my feature just before we started filming because I thought the old title was too cerebral. I’m glad I did it.

    It’s very interesting what you say about Google. Very relevant now.

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