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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Someone has asked me to re-title an old project It's a lot harder than it seems. And as my producer friend came up with a rather straightforward (and therefore unexciting option), which I declined, I realized it fell to me to think of one. And it's not so easy. And so it got me to thinking about titles.

I think a good title is a very important aspect to your work.

Titles are the first thing anyone hears or sees. It has a job.

And the job is twofold.

First fold: your title has to promise some aspect of what your story delivers, So no stupid generic titles please. But something simple, cryptic, or fragmentary that is a promise, or a tease of a promise. ("Jaws" Dramatic, simple. You see the point. But "Lost In Translation" is also brilliant, and very poetic.)

Second fold: (already hinted at) your title needs to be compelling, teasing, odd, eye catching - funny, if you can manage it for a comedy. Weird or unsettling if it's a thriller.

If you have a thriller with multiple characters, It'd rather it be something like: Butcher, Baker, Boogey Man, Thief. Because even though it doesn't really make sense, it's so interesting I'd want to see what the writer did. See what I mean?

And, if you can pull it off: titles that have more than one meaning or very compelling. You can take the first meaning of it at face value, then if there is a second meaning as well as you get into/finish the piece, and it's all the more deeper and more satisfying. It's not required, and certainly this isn't always possible, but it's very cool if you can manifest it.

Anyway, thought for the day, probably because I'm now forced to think about it.



Blogger James Lincoln Warren said...

Titles are also dependent upon audience, market, and genre. A friend of mine wrote a novel that he titled Last Ditch Effort, but was published as Firestorm. It was a technothriller. Plotwise, his title is much more telling than the publisher's title, but let's face it, the publisher's title is much more compelling, especially given my friend's audience. But with a title like Firestorm, you had better deliver!

I once wrote a prospective pilot called Magic, Inc., stolen from a Heinlein novelette. It's a good series title, but episode titles were more along the lines of "A Night on Mount Baldy" and "The Sorceress's Apprentice", both of which refer to other famous works.

Series titles often have some connecting feature: all of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books feature a color in their title. And some titles are blatantly literary: Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted to film as Blade Runner, and a good thing the titles are different, not only because there is no reference to "Blade Runners" in the novel and no reference to "electric sheep" in the movie, but because the book is a very bookish book and the film a very filmish film. The two have almost nothing in common, except some underlying concepts.

Saturday, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Yeah. I think this is actually a pretty serious issue that doesn't get enough attention. (Of course not nearly as important as writing a great script, or anything, but still...)

I blogged about this exact topic a little while back:

And I'm actually writing an article for scr(i)pt magazine right now about both titles and character names. Look for it in a few months! :-)

But yeah, thanks for highlighting the issue, and I hope others give it more thought.

Saturday, August 13, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

James: great points.
Joel: I liked your post on titles as well, you bring up some good points.

Some people say titles don't matter if the film is good (naysayers) and "as good as it gets" is a good example, as one of the worst titles out there, but did quite well and garnered an academy aware nom.

And poetry can play an important role as well, when one tries to capture the mood in as little as five words and is successful. Broken Flowers, is a good example of one that's currently playing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005  
Blogger The Moviequill said...

I have been keeping a running list of common sayings to use as potential titles. Just Another Day At The Office for example, but looking over them I can see how generic they really are

Sunday, August 14, 2005  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Meant to thank you for the feedback and suggestions! So, thanks! :-)

Monday, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

I wrote about this very subject here:


In D2DVD titles and artwork are what sell the story to the audience and the retailer. It is the lifeblood of the industry...A good title can make a bad movie profitable, but rarely vice versa.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005  

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