Script Titles

I’ve seen too little and too much attention given by writers when it comes to naming their script. But how important is it really?

Wes Craven’s original title for his 1972 film was Night of Vengeance. Later it was released as Sex Crime of the Century. Almost no one went to see it. The name was changed to Last House on the Left and suddenly lines stretched down the block.

Anybody see the films Pride and Glory, We Own the Night, Fracture, Next, Body of Lies? These are all big movies with big time movie stars. All released within the last few years. Anybody having a hard time remembering the trailers for these? They’re not bad titles, but they’re also not very memorable. I call them invisible titles. They’re generic. Let’s try it again. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Thank You For Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, No Country For Old Men, Death to Smoochy, The Devil Wears Prada, Snakes on a Plane. Come on, man! Snakes on a Plane! Samuel L. Jackson even admitted that’s the only reason he did the film. Because of the title. But now you think it’s only long titles. Let’s try it again. Fight Club, Mean Girls, Ghost, Die Hard, The Sting, Witness, Rain Man, Jarhead, The Matrix.

The point is: titles matter, a lot.

Now don’t get so concerned about it that you don’t actually write the thing. You can always name it after you’ve written it. But don’t let it go out the door without a title that grabs you. I pride myself on good titles. Like many writers, I have a notebook I write ideas down in. I also write titles. My last three screenplays were titles in my book long before I ever came up with an idea for them. When I finally get an idea I probe the book looking for titles that fit.

Now a lot of people will tell you that a short title is preferred. But as you saw from my previous examples it doesn’t really matter. Here’s the test of a good title.

1. Does it draw a mental picture for you?
2. Does it imply the tone of movie?
3. Can you remember it twenty minutes after you’ve heard it?

If your friends have a hard time remembering the name of your script, change it.