What’s in a name?

Bad clipart ahoy!

How do you choose a name for your film? There’s many different tips for it, depending on the kind of film you’re writing.

Obviously it has to make sense. This one is a no brainer. If it’s a story about the journey of a single character, it might be named after the character itself (Juno, Romeo and Juliet or Shaft for example). If it’s about a special object, or concept, it might be called after that (The Matrix, The Hangover or Knocked Up). But that’s not all there is to it.

A name is a recognition of the film itself. A name that is too much of a mouthful can be easily forgot (at least how the title goes) – unless it is a memorable and catchy saying. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb . That both has a shorter title, and a memorable longer one. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World is also memorable – the title character, and who he sees fighting against – everyone. Zack and Miri Make a Porno is also relatively long, for a title. But obviously it includes the word porno.

You're not going to forget that title. Well, you may forget the Zack and Miri part...

A lot of titles, especially today, have 3 words or less. Some, just down to 1 word. If your title is too complex for going down to 3 words, then perhaps a theme rather than half a sentence of explanation is appropriate.

Oh, and also alliteration can be useful. A couple of rules in general English literature; Alliteration (the repeating of a letter for multiple words in a row), for example Wild Wild West or Mad Max. Then there’s the power of 3 (a list of 3 things) like Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Then there’s the one word titles. Happiness, Crank, Eraser and Commando.

Then there’s the sequels. Here, sequels can either be unimaginative and just say the number of the movie in the series, or it can have a subtitle. But these are based on established brands. So for example, Pirates of the Caribbean has four films out now – but they’re not numerically named.

Pop quiz! Which one is Dead Man's Chest? 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th?

The overall point of this post is to illustrate how to get a good title – depending on what you want the film to say (or be about):

1. If it’s character driven, you can use the name of the main character.

2. Don’t make it too long, unless the title will be memorable.

3. Use alliteration and power of 3.

4. One word titles can be quick and easy to remember – and also point to a theme rather than to a specific sequence in your film.

5. Established sequels can get away with a subtitle instead of a number.

Oh, and to test your title, tell the title and the basic outline of the story to a friend. Then about a week later (or if it’s a busy day – later on) ask them what the film title was. If they get the right answer, you’re onto a winner. If you get a wrong answer, consider the wrong answer as an alternate title. If you get, “I forgot”, go with a completely different title.

Oh, and just so you know, these are some of the premises I came up with for my film titles: Consolidating (multiple meanings just within the title) Boytoy Beta (alliteration), Unlocked (a one word theme) and Divide (it simply makes sense).


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