Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reader questions: Titles and Celebrity cameos

I've got a couple questions that have been answered in various versions before, but it seemed like a good time to restate them in their own entries rather than as passing comments made in larger reviews.

This question comes to us from Anthony via the Bitter Script Reader Fan Page on Facebook:

Vulgarity in titles. It seems to becoming more acceptable. Ie: Kick-Ass and Inglorious Basterds. I have a dark comedy titled Stupid Bitches. Acceptable? Lol seriously the title could not be anymore perfect, I can't bring myself to change it.

At this point, I'd say that it's not something you need to worry about excessively. At present there are scripts called "Fuckbuddies" and "I Want to F**k Your Sister" floating around in development, and several people observed that last year's Black List had several titles of this ilk. I'd say that it can work as a gimmick to make your title - and hopefully your script, by extension - memorable. So long as the crass or vulgar title fits the tone of your script, I'd say you're on safe ground.

In other works, I wouldn't suggest retitling "Up" as "Fuckin' House on Balloons, Man!"

Odds are that the most crass titles will be renamed before release, though. The MPAA (or the FCC, I can't remember which) has pretty strict obscenity limits on what words can be used in film advertisements that air before 10pm. Thus, A Couple of Dicks becomes Cop Out, and Zack & Miri Make a Porno gets advertised as Zack & Miri.

If Fuckbuddies gets made, they'll totally rename it Friends With Benefits. Mark my words.

David asks:

I've had a fairly decent idea for a script that involves a celebrity acting as themselves. Is it worth going beyond the "Yeah, that's a funny idea" stage with something like this? Is an unknown writer going to be able to sell, for example, Jack Nicholson solving crimes in his spare time?

In my humble opinion - it's a bit of a risk. To restate what I said back in my Zombieland review, The celebrity cameo is something that usually makes my eyes roll in a spec script, mostly because my first thought is "What happens to this scene if Alan Thicke says 'no?'" This sort of gimmick got popular after Neil Patrick Harris popped up as himself in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and stole the movie. Now, you could say that if NPH had turned down the cameo, they just would have offered it to Fred Savage or Jaleel White. As true as that is, I think it's a risk when you put something like this in your spec.

The way I see it, throwing in a celebrity is a lot like specifically naming an expensive song for your musical montage. Suddenly, you're mandating elements that could back the producers into a corner. For example, if your joke is crucial to the second act climax, and it only works if Dean Cain shows up in Superman tights and reveals he really can fly... well, you might be setting up a difficult problem to solve if Dean decides he doesn't want to play ball - or he will, but only if he gets paid through the nose.

On top of that, a lot of celebrity cameos usually feel like weak attempts to just get a laugh out of how out of context the appearance is. I'll admit, I enjoyed when William Shatner played himself (or at least a version of himself) in Free Enterprise, but Bruce Willis' cameo in Ocean's Twelve was just painful to watch. You could practically feel the filmmakers elbowing the audience in the ribs saying, "Well? Well? Aren't we clever?"

Now, in your case David, you're talking about centering an entire movie on this sort of actor-playing-himself premise. In that case, take every warning I gave about cameos and quadruple it. It's a risk to do something like that in your first script because it makes all the odds you're up against that much longer.


  1. Re FUCKBUDDIES: They're already making it (with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher), and they already renamed it that exact title.

  2. Seriously? I'd heard about the casting but I wasn't aware it had already been renamed that. (At least, I don't THINK I knew... now I wonder if I'd heard that and forgotten.)

  3. this is not related to FILMMAKING, but there was a popular play in London from the 1990s called SHOPPING AND FUCKING (written by popular British playwright Mark Ravenhill). They did not want to change the title, but for advertising reasons, they called it "SHOPPING AND F*CKING" on all the flyers and newspaper ads, etc..

    just interesting trivia!!

  4. actually I think it was "F**KING" but I am not sure. either way, you know.

  5. The Mike Tyson cameo in THE HANGOVER wasn't in the version of the script I read. Instead there was a scene in a gay strip club that was hilarious and I'm sorry it didn't make it into the movie. Presumably, Tyson's appearance was a development exec's idea.

  6. What a shame. Mike Tyson's acting is... limited. Maybe that's why they gave him a tiger...