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Many screenwriters get lazy when it comes to titling their scripts. The argument is always the same: "Why bother? The studio's going to change it anyway."
I can think of at least three good reasons:
Pride: The title is the first sample of your writing anyone sees. If it's boring, what does that say about you as a writer? And what's going to entice a reader to pick your script out of the pile? (If you need a visual to drive this point home, go to http://photos.oscars.org/listanevent.php?events=50 to see Greg Beal, director of the Nicholl Fellowship, surrounded by over 6,000 script submissions.)
Marketing: A great title makes your movie easier to market. Your title goes hand-in-hand with your logline. The logline sets up the pitch, the title delivers the clincher. Say you're pitching a movie about a great white shark attacking people at a summer resort. Close with, "it's called Jaws," and you've painted a whole movie in the producer's imagination—and increased your chances of making a sale.
Writerly discipline: Coming up with a fantastic title means clarifying your concept. It helps you see the movie as much as it helps the producer. If you start to stray while writing or pitching, a single glance at the title can help get you back on track.
According to producer Hal Croasmun, there are three types of titles that work.
• The same title as the best-selling book that the movie is based on. This works even for titles that are confusing or uninspiring because they already have a built-in audience (Cold Mountain, Remains of the Day, The Godfather).
• Intriguing titles that hint at something lurking underneath the surface (Indecent Proposal, Crying Game, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest).
• Titles that instantly capture the story, the environment, the main character, etc. These titles give the essence of the movie. You aren't fighting an uphill battle trying to explain the story (Legally Blonde, Clueless, GI Jane).
"Avoid overly long titles, titles where you have to watch the movie to understand them, or titles that are confusing or make you think it's a different genre," advises Croasmun.
There are many ways to brainstorm great titles. Here are a couple of tips from Croasmun:
• Use contradictory word combinations, as in Back to the Future or Bad Santa.
• Give us the main character's internal state, as in Bedazzled or Unforgiven.
• Give us the key location, as in Moulin Rouge, Air Force One.
• Use a cliché from the story, as in You've Got Mail, or a twist on a cliché, as in Natural Born Killers.
Remember, the title is the first impression a reader gets of your writing. Make sure it shines!