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Let’s Talk About Titles

The title is one of the most crucial elements of your screenplay.

There are entire books and blogs devoted to creating and coming up with mind-blowing titles. In our daily life, attractive and catchy titles increase the odds of us picking up a book, reading an article, or watching a video. Unfortunately, nowadays, people don’t have much time to browse through all the content coming their way, and we often base our decisions on what to watch or read on titles alone.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The same rule applies to films. If the film doesn’t have star power, the next best thing is a catchy title.

Don’t ever think that once you set on a title, it cannot be changed. Coming up with the right title is like working on a screenplay; it’s a long process and often requires re-writes, brainstorming and sharing the title with others to see their reaction and hear their feedback (just like in the pitching process).

How to work on your title?

  1. Make a list of possible titles that can encapsulate your story in 1–3 words.
  2. Mix and match those words.
  3. Look for synonyms for slang.
  4. Try to be creative with the way you use words and see where that will lead you.

The screenplay title should be:

  1. Catchy (easier said than done, I know, but keep re-writing)
  2. Give enough information about the story (what is the core of the story, who is the main character)
  3. Not misleading — audience members hate being misled, so make sure your title reflects the core of your story. Confusing titles don’t help with selling stories either to decision-makers or audience members.

If you feel stuck with your title, leave it for a while and go and work on something else, or go for a walk or perhaps do some physical work. Creative process needs time and space. I found that often doing tasks that aren’t work-related are the best opportunities to allow uncensored creative ah! moments.

I put a list of a few high-profile films that changed their initial titles. You can judge for yourself if the swaps were successful:

  1. Fruitvale to Fruitvale Station.
  2. Tonight, He Comes to Hancock
  3. East Great Falls High to American Pie
  4. The Baster to The Switch
  5. 3,000 to Pretty Woman (can you imagine?)
  6. By the Book to Renaissance Man
  7. Tomorrow Never Lies to Tomorrow Never Dies
  8. Coma Guy to While You Were Sleeping
  9. Scary Movie to Scream (and we got Scary Movie after all)
  10. This Side of the Truth to The Invention of Lying
  11. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? To Blade Runner
  12. The Last First Kiss to Hitch
  13. The Tribal Rites of the Saturday Night to Saturday Night Fever
  14. Wiseguy to Goodfellas
  15. The Invincibles to The Incredibles
  16. Hunter to Predator
  17. Revenge of the Jedi to Return of the Jedi
  18. A Boy’s Life to E.T.

Titles of films/shows that I think are fantastic

  1. Memento
  2. The Good Place
  3. The Half of It
  4. Inception
  5. Silver Lining Playbook
  6. Dirty Dancing
  7. Orange Is The New Black
  8. Blue Jay
  9. Beasts of No Nation.
  10. Moonlight.

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