On Naming Your Film

Movie titles are fascinating – and sometimes the most artistically fulfilling or narrative-appropriate title for your film isn’t the right choice.  It’s important to find the sweet spot between what makes sense for your movie and what will make people actually want to see it.

When trying to elaborate on this principle, I often go back to the title “Minority Report.” Literarily, it’s a solid title:  this elaborate sci-fi mystery hinges on the fact that every now and then a pre-crime prophecy is known to be reported inaccurately from a minority of prediction sources. So, yeah, the title makes technical sense, sounds like a sci-fi short story, and the moment in-film when the viewer comes to realize the title’s importance is effective because of the “ah-ha!” factor.

But outside the context of this being a Philip K. Dick story being retold by Stephen Spielberg starring Tom Cruise, it’s actually a crap title! I mean, what the hell is a “Minority Report” and why should I care!? If I do decide to see the film, I’m going to expect some sort of exposé on prejudice, or underage student essay. This is a movie about a police force that can see the future… Sure, titles like “Prophet Cops” or “Future Crime” don’t have quite the same ring of profundity to them, but you can bet they’d get more butts in seats than “Minority Report” if the film didn’t have well-respected names already attached. Note how Cruise's name is as prominent as the title on the poster to the right.

So if you’re an independent filmmaker trying to establish a presence, hooking an audience with your title alone can be an important step in the right marketing direction.

To this day, we still scratch our heads over what would have been the best title for our first film, Flashback. It’s a crazy time-travel comedy about a movie studio of the future… The in-film studio is named “Flashback Films,” so the title Flashback worked well with both that brand and the time travel aspects in the story – but on its own, Flashback is an entirely too-vague title. To us – while writing, shooting, and editing the movie – this was never clear. The title made good sense for the story and that was enough.

In retrospect, we may have attracted the curiosity of far more potential viewers with a title that better conveyed the unique aspects of the story. Some of our outside marketers clearly agreed. In the UK, Flashback was released on DVD under the name Timelord – a clear Dr. Who cash-in attempt, but a title that has zero connection to the film’s plot. In Hungary, Flashback aired on Cinemax under the title The Future of Cinema – a rather clunky title, but one that shouts out the film’s content far better than our own title.

Our experience thus far in marketing our second film, Bubba the Redneck Werewolf, has put the ambiguity of Flashback’s title in even clearer perspective. For Bubba, we partnered with author Mitch Hyman (executive producer) who writes the comic book series on which the film is based. So this time we inherited the title – and its simple brilliance is a large part of what attracted us to the project.  Whereas a movie titled Flashback could literally be about anything – you know exactly what you’re getting into when you decide to watch Bubba the Redneck Werewolf: a goofy southern-infused monster flick that makes you laugh. It’s ALL there in the title. Perfect. Any tagline or plot description is gravy.

Now, moving into pre-production on our third feature film, we’ve experienced both extremes of title-marketing. So what do we name our new movie about a group of friends who go on a crusade to end Daylight Saving Time only to end up in a heap of supernatural trouble? We considered Saving Daylight – still perhaps the most literary title – but it could also indicate a movie about most anything (and also this happened in the midst of our brainstorming). We still like titles such as Daylight Slayers or Daylight Slaying Time – but the former could easily belong to something vampire-based and doesn’t indicate DST, and the latter lacks a sense of immediacy or mission-based imperative – and neither says comedy quite as much as our working title: Daylight Savings Must Die. With this title, you know the movie’s about DST; you know someone’s on a mission to stop DST; you know the film has a sense of humor; and just maybe the word ‘die’ has foreshadowed that some carnage is on its way. Here’s hoping we’ve chosen wisely!

For fun, try re-titling some aptly titled movies Minority Report-style!

Examples: Star Wars into Station Plans Jurassic Park into Fences Out Ghostbusters into The Advent of Gozer
 
Or The Other Way ‘Round: The Bourne Identity into Amnesia Spy The Hunger Games into Teen Death Competition Independence Day into White House Go Boom