Screenwriting : What's in a Name (Title)? by Debra Montague

Debra Montague

What's in a Name (Title)?

I've been working on a script which has come together very well. I'm on version 5 and about to make another pass through with another check list to see where I might be able to tighten. But there is one issue. I cannot, for the life of me, come up with a decent title. I'm on the third iteration and I don't like this name either.

With other projects bearing working titles, something has popped up as I've done rewrites. But this script has stubbornly refused to reveal a title I like.

How do you name your scripts? Is the title reflective of what's inside? I have my eye on several upcoming contests but I fear the current title is not very good. What are your suggestions? It's psychological thriller, if that helps.

Thanks.

Bill Costantini

Hi Debra,

I'd keep it simple and have it reflect what my story was about at its main level. A title should reflect the concept enough to at least make us "get" what the story is about - in a literal way, or in a metaphorical way.

By comparison....current films in theaters are named 1917, Jumangi; Little Women; Knives Out; Jojo Rabbit; Uncut Gems; Parasite; and Ford vs. Ferrari. Those titles reflect pretty well what those stories are about.

Best fortunes in your creative endeavors, Debra.

Craig D Griffiths

“Amy” is the name of the main character since the story focuses on her and her actions. Only one scene that she isn’t in.

“Love, Money, Bombs” about a man that finds a barrel that could contain money or a bomb. Set in an alternate universe.

“The Hostage” about two cops trying to beat a confession out of a suspect. Currently in production.

I try to come up with a name that wraps the entire story.

Eric Christopherson

One of the reasons for a title is to help people quickly identify where the script fits genre-wise. It might help to look at the titles of several films in the same genre, indeed sub-genre, as your script and determine how they were named and what the naming conventions are.

Donnalyn Vojta

I always think about tone. The tone of the title should match the tone of the movie, so the potential viewer isn't thinking they're about to watch a comedy, but it ends up being a dram. No one likes a bate and switch!. Lol Good luck. It will come to you...

Stephen Floyd

I try to go as simple as possible. One or two words max. And often I have to go through multiple drafts of a story before I find something that fits. Just don’t overthink it. Titles are naturally mercurial, so if it takes a while NBD.

Michael L. Burris

What's the true Honesty of thought of story by you on first instinct? Cleverness helps.

Michael L. Burris

e.g.

CLEVERNESS HELPS

In a world of evident and inevitable perils cleverness helps a woman avoid the evident ones.

Just a starter of mindset talking it out.

TALKING IT OUT.

A Delusional man avoids mental problems by talking them out. Unbeknown to him everyone hears what he says.

Kiril Maksimoski

You can always use working title until you come up with something relevant.

Tasha Lewis

I wrote an article entitled "Café Connections." It discusses how I use the Café or Library Café as a place to create by observation, place of business and Tax Advantages. You would be surprised at how many ideas you uncover.

Rosalind Winton

You can also name it something that links the story through, for instance my screenplay is called, 'The Postcard'. I know another screenwriter who has titled his screenplay, 'The Letter'. There is a film called 'The Ring', 'The 'Notebook' etc etc. So, you have a 'thing' that weaves through the story and links it together, but the real story is of course what your characters are going through. I think this is great, because it adds some mystery and hopefully makes people want to know what it's about more. If you don't have anything like that, I suggest you get other people to read it and give you suggestions, but also, don't worry about it too much, especially if you're on draft 5. I'm on draft 83 of The Postcard, you've got a long way to go still, get the story down, don't worry about the title for the moment, you might get some inspiration somewhere down the road :)

Jim Boston

Debra, sometimes I name my scripts after their lead characters ("Andrea," "Shorthose and Flaxbeard," "Gayle Strawberry and Her Soda Pop Music Makers").

Other times, I like to get clever when I'm trying to name a screenplay of mine. For instance, I got to thinking about how ragtime was the first major form of popular music to come out of these United States...and how, somehow, every subsequent form of pop music to develop here owes something to that syncopated beat (even hip-hop!).

And I thought about how rags were the hip-hop of the 1899-1917 period (what the kids back then were digging)...you can't get more "old school" than that! So that's how I came up with the title "Really Old School."

Well...enough of me! This one's all about you, Debra...and all the VERY BEST to you (especially on your script)!

Julia Petrisor

I like to title the script based on some aspect of it, whether that's thematically or character-related, etc. And if you like, I'd be happy to brainstorm titles with you if you're willing to share your synopsis with me! I find it easy to come up with nifty titles. :)

Christopher Phillips

I have a process that is similar to how marketing folks will name a product. The goal being to get a name that is short as possible and pretty much spells out what the movie is about before even getting to the logline.

Essentially, you brainstorm 50 to 100 words associated with the story in some way. As an example: if it was about poker or a wedding, then you would generate 10-20 poker or wedding terms. If it takes place in a specific location then 10-20 words about that location. And so forth. When you get 100-200 words or phrases, you go through it to find 5-10 titles that can be elevated somehow. Then elevate those.

Debra Montague

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I walk dogs part time and walking is a great way to break through a block. I came up with a title yesterday afternoon while walking; or rather being walked; by a large lab. She's a sweet girl but she pulls relentlessly. I gave the problem over to my subconscious and something much better than the working title I've been using popped into my head. It might not be what it ends up being called, but at least I'm not embarrassed to submit this to contests under this title.

Tasha Lewis

From a professors standpoint, use a focus group. Have each person read a chapter and complete a survey. Ask them for suggestions of possible titles. Have them list key words in each chapter (ex. Love, names of characters, locations, etc.). When I selected my titles for my publications, I selected them based on the narrative or subject matter (ex. Global Movements Create Global Opportunities, Outline for Retreats (Actors, Cast, Directors, Producers, and Screenwriters)).

Michael L. Burris

I like your story of title Debra.

Sometimes the writing reveals itself on the wall and sometimes writing is just us or you all and all.

Funny how stage 32 thought can stay with you even if its subconscious.

Hell I admit it. I'm a user sometimes.

And that in no way because you know a way ever takes anything away from yourself.

Good luck with your work.

Debra Montague

In one of the screenwriting classes I took many years ago, the professors had a monthly "Name that Script" contest. They got a giant jar, cut up strips of paper, and you wrote script titles on the papers, dropping them in the jar. Then, at the end of one of the critique sessions where we'd provide feedback to three people who had given us 10 pages of their current script; they would fish in the jar, pull out a title, read it, and THEN tell you what the script was about. I wish I could remember some of the pairings. Some were, "You know, that might work", but most left the class in stitches. The profs said the hardest thing to create was a good title.

If I have something pop into my head as a "good" title (witness, not everything I think up should see the light of day), it goes in the idea journal. Maybe it will be the perfect few words, someday.

If your title was pulled, you got a class free. Since it was pay as you go, once you'd taken the first two 6-week classes, it was worth it to put several ideas in the jar. You couldn't win back-to-back months, though.

Michael L. Burris

I would never take away or downplay a school's methodology but you have to admit your methodology of title was your own life experience of self.

Why you should .

Learned thought rarely gets produced unless you realize generics with it and what to avoid.

George Lucas wasn't successful because he went to film school but because he realized the generics thereof.

Perhaps I'm too revealing and honest and again I never downplay a function of a job but personal experience gets you beyond the basics.

Relinquish that thought... evolve and remember why you did.

I'm not a professor or teacher either though... I'm a student/learner outside the box who realizes how to experience creation in all parallel's of life.

Michael L. Burris

I hope you are torn.

Nadia Carmon

I prefer catchy and short, - one word if possible. It could be the (nick)name of the protagonists, a noun that describes what they do, a word or phrase that sums up their dilemma (whether or not it's in the script).

It's all about the main draw. Is the main attraction the protagonist(s), a physical or psychological goal or state, or something else? (Ex: Atomic Blonde, The Maltese Falcon, The Island, Her, True Grit, etc).

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