How To Write A Screenplay Title That Stands Out
Learning how to write a screenplay can be daunting especially when you start running out of ideas to write about. We will go over some proven tactics the pro’s use when facing writers block.
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
The art of writing screenplay titles is a subtle and sophisticated one. It’s important to learn how to write a screenplay title that stands out without being outrageously bad or ridiculous. Like any product on the market, screenplays need to be marketable: what meets the eye tends to influence the mind. And when it comes to screenplays, the title you choose for yours is the first thing any agent or producer will see so it’s crucial to create one that is original and strong.
Are screenplay titles deal breakers?
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case. Due to the overload of submitted scripts, Hollywood script readers simply can’t afford reading every single script that comes their way. First impressions matter and one of the key factors that contribute to those first impressions is your screenplay title. A bad or generic title may doom your script. After all, with hundreds of scripts in line, can we blame someone for ditching a script titled Halloween Nightmares or Love Sucks? That’s why in order to protect your screenplay from rejection, you need to become an expert on how to write a screenplay title that stands out, hooks the reader, and persuades them to start reading.
The journey of a screenplay title
When you start brainstorming titles for your script, you need to keep in mind two important things. Firstly, understand the goal of your title. You’re coming up with something that will represent your entire script in an appealing way. At this point, you’re targeting agents, managers, and producers to pick up your script and give you a chance. Your spec script is among tons of others so your title needs to create a strong, positive first impression.
Secondly, if your spec script is sold, your title is subject to change. Usually, when production starts, marketing team specialists start testing alternative titles to optimize marketability and guarantee a positive audience response. So that means your title is not set in stone, however, you should still create a strong, creative, and distinctive title to interest potential buyers first – selling your screenplay depends on it.
Now let’s go over some guidelines on how to write a screenplay title that doesn’t condemn your script to the reject pile.
One way to go about your title is to be straightforward and specific. If you could summarize the concept of your film in no more than two to three words, what would they be? Since your title is the face of your screenplay – at least until the leads are cast – you need to make it specifically tailored to your concept.
Some of the most famous films of all time stand out because their titles simply stick to the point and convey the concept directly. Think of Alien. A single word that gave birth (or laid eggs?) to a record-breaking, genre-redefining franchise. It’s worth mentioning that the original title was Star Beasts and even though that does in a way reflect the storyline, Alien does a much better job because it’s pithy and more accurate in communicating the corescreenplay idea.
Script readers can find out so much about your story from your title. One of those pieces of information they can easily extract is genre. Strong titles that represent your genre will help readers get a quick idea about what they’re about to read.
To package your genre in a few words while still conveying your concept, list keywords that are associated with your genre. They can be terms that conjure images or moods related to that genre. Go through your list and try to create a title using those keywords or their synonyms in a clever manner.
For example, when you read Friday the 13th you’re instantly transported to a dark, ominous setting. That title encapsulates the horror genre by relying on keywords that trigger associations. Even though the original title for the movie was A Long Night at Camp Blood, we can all agree that the final title is much better as it conveys the genre using terms that garner stronger associations from readers.
Character-based titles capitalize on the fact that the screenplay revolves around the main character whose role is so crucial to the plot that putting their name on the cover actually makes sense. Such films are often character-driven which means the storyline is powered by that lead character in a significant way.
Successful movies that pulled character-based titles include Annie Hall, Forrest Gump, and Jerry Maguire. As you can see, these titles depend 100% on a character’s name to sell the screenplay idea. And it works. The characters are focal powers in those stories so the films are essentially about them more than anything else. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should take this shortcut and name your script after whoever your protagonist is. Your character needs to be a compelling one that acts more than just a channel for your words.
An alternative method to create character-based titles is to use their role in your script instead. For example, movies like American Sniper and The Devil’s Advocate utilize the character’s job role instead of their names. In this case, the type of character is highlighted as the lead – it’s a more universal story about the kind of experiences certain people who work a certain job go through.
Wordplay is always a nice tactic to use when you write your screenplay title because it adds layers to your story. Playing on words can generate interesting and meaningful titles that hook readers which makes selling your screenplay a less impossible task.Audiences walking into the cinema hall to watchFace Off surely didn’t expect the face off between Nicholas Cage and John Travolta.Other great examples include Good Will Hunting, Ratatouille and Shaun of the Dead.
These guidelines will help you write a strong title that stands out. To protect your screenplay from being lost among others or flat out rejected, keep these tips in mind when you’re brainstorming your title. Of course you can mix and match all these strategies to create a strong title for your screenplay. Hitchcock did it best with Psycho – that’s a character-based title that encapsulates both the genre and concept of the film, all in a single word.