Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reader mail - titles

Figured it was about time I responded to some reader mail about my post a while back about choosing strong titles:

E.C Henry writes:

Isn't "She's Out of My League" ALREADY the title of some teenie bopper's romantic comedy vehicle of a few years past? Why would you want to read a title that SUGGESTS a rehash of that?

Also the title, "You Again" sounds awfully vague to me. This sounds like something saying someone might utter in a return from the grave scenario. But to me this phrase needs more to suggest what tone of movie follows this title: comedy or horror.
Anyways curious to know what about that title pricks your interest, and leads you to want to read it. Perhaps a "buzz" factor that neither I nor your readers are aware of.

As far as I can tell with Google, there is no such earlier movie named "She's Out of My League," and you sort of prove my point by indicating that the title totally suggests a romantic comedy, probably with young leads. As far as the marketing of spec scripts go, that's like hitting a gold mine. Rom-Coms are perennial scripts - they never seem to cool off as a genre. And the young audience is among the most coveted by studios. Given a choice, readers would rather "discover" this one than waste time reading yet another World War II script about the first integrated unit from Iowa.

And if you somehow get the impression from that that I'm advising you NOT to write a WWII script, you're right.

As for "You Again," you're right in the scenario that you set up there. My assumption was that it had to do with two longtime adversaries confronting each other again. I think it does suggest genre, though, as the line itself is self-aware in a way that hints at comedy. Your point that it could be a literal "return from the grave" and thus suggests horror is well-taken, but I'd argue that in that case it would be camp or comedic horror. I can't picture any "serious" horror film titling itself that. (Can you really picture something like "The Unborn" being called "You Again."

My feeling was that it had to be comedy, and that it was a script about a long-time rival coming back. From the brief blurb I saw a while ago, that's essentially correct.

Jasph asks:

Also, how often do you find an interesting title attached to a piece-of-crap script? How about a great title, great first act, and crap the rest of the way through? Since titles can't be trademarked, do they get cherry-picked and used by studios, with the original script in the recycle bin?

As to the first question - there are TONS of interesting titles attached to terrible scripts. I could rattle off several of those right now if it wouldn't get me in trouble with some of the writers.

As to the second question - I've read thousands of scripts over the years and most of them fade into memory, so I can't recall any specifics at the moment, but I'm sure it happens.

As to the third - I doubt it.

He goes on to write:

I know a great movie with a lousy title. No hint of genre or premise, and hardly memorable. But it's one of the best scripts I ever read. More interesting titles might have come from its content ("God of Death" or "Untrue North" or "The Fixer" or "The Bagman" or "The Gamble" or "Realm & Conquest"). Would you be more likely to read one of those than a script called "Michael Clayton"?

I guess you probably would.

Don't misunderstand my point. I'm not saying "Bad title always equals bad script." No one is going to read something like fantastic and go, "This is a great script, but I can't give it a consider because they titled it 'Sofa.'" But, I'm assuming most of you who read this are going to be submitting to agencies and production companies from such a low level that your script is going to be tossed into a low-priority slush pile. I'm just telling you how to get out of that stack faster.

Also, strong titles help a reader remember a script later. I can look through my massive coverage file and find hundreds of generic script titles that I can't remember a single thing about the story. In fact, when I organized the files by date and looked at the list from three months back, I could barely recall the stories attached to most of the scripts because the titles were often so generic.

Once when I was working at one production company, the VP of Development came to speak to me with questions about a script I had covered for him less than a month ago. I guess he'd forgotten to call the agent and needed a few details that he couldn't find in my write-up Well, it had a very generic title and the plot was almost as bland. Embarrassingly, I couldn't recall the script off of the title, or the vague description he gave me. I looked up the coverage and reading my own words jogged my memory enough to give him what he needed, but it was a good lesson in how easily the unmemorable becomes... well, unmemorable.

You know what does stick with me? The clever titles, the unique ones. Sometimes the clever title attached to a bad script ends up helping me remember some of the worst scripts I've ever read. More than half a decade later, I still recall "Mime Cop" as a script with a spectacularly awful premise and execution.

So let's say someone reads your script, gives it a mild consider and the higher-ups pass on it because it's not the sort of film they're making right now. Six months later, the head of development decides he wants to do a movie that's right in that genre. Wouldn't you want the development assistant to instantly perk up in the room and say, "I've got the perfect script for you. It's called 'Terror-forming.' I read it a while back, and I'll send the coverage on to you."

One of the first rules of breaking in to writing has to be "Be memorable."

No comments:

Post a Comment