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First Draft: Grab Viewers By the Eyeballs With Your Screenplay Title

First Draft: Grab Viewers By the Eyeballs With Your Screenplay Title

First Draft

The Unique Character Type

In this context, character “type” is referring to a certain character that has a unique power, position, or occupation.

American Sniper—and the fictional action film Sniper before it—is a title that sells the concept, story, character, and much of the genre. All in one.

The underrated Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore film The Juror sold the package of the film with its title. The film was simply about how a juror involved in a sensitive case deals with coercion from the mafia.

The upcoming American Assassin sells the concept of an American that becomes an assassin after his fiance is killed by terrorists.

The Invisible Man—or the lesser title of The Hollow Man, a once hot script turned into a lackluster movie—was about, yes, a man who has acquired the power to become invisible.

So if you have a character that has a certain power, position, or occupation that stands out, consider using that—or a variation of it—for the title of your script. Words like The Soldier, The General, The Master, The Conjurer, The Hypnotist, The Garbage Man, The Lawyer, The Wrangler, The Pilot, The Engineer, The Mail Man—these are all examples of the possibilities that you can explore, depending on your script. The variations can be as simple as dropping The from the title, which makes for a more powerful statement with the single word. You can also add additional words into the mix to give the title more depth, such as The Soldier Within, Lawyer No More, The Last Pilot, etc.

Avoid the Steven Seagal Syndrome

You always want to avoid generic terminology and phrases in your screenplay titles—words and combinations thereof that could really mean anything and everything.

I call this the Steven Seagal Syndrome.

Here are the titles of many of Seagal’s movies—Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below, Half Past Dead, Out for a Kill (seriously), Driven to Kill, Contract to Kill, Out of Reach, Into the Sun, Mercenary for Justice, etc.  If you’re not a truly dedicated Seagal fan, you wouldn’t know the different between most of these movies because they are utterly generic titles. Sure, many denote the characteristic of the hero, but beyond that, they don’t stand out. They are forgettable. And when you’re in the first phase of screenwriting writing spec scripts, forgettable is not a term you want connected with your writing.

Note: Most of Seagal’s movies are titled to emulate the titles of his earlier successful hits specifically to capture the international market attention where most of his current movies still make money today. Thus the many iterations of “… Kill.” So there is a method to that madness.

Capture the Genre

Studios and producers will want and need to know the genre of your script before they even read it—the title is the best and fastest way to do that.

Halloween captures its genre instantly, and is much more broad and appealing compared to its former title The Babysitter Murders. The same can be said for Friday the 13th, which was a better option than A Long Night at Camp Blood. Halloween and Friday the 13th have an atmosphere to them that embraces the horror genre. They’re instantly creepy, foreboding, and scary.

When you’re titling a horror script, search any and all terms that touch on those types of stories. Do the same for action, comedy, science fiction, and drama. Search for key words and phrases that emulate the tone and atmosphere of those specific genres. Then delve deeper by looking at synonyms for those words and try to create compelling word play on the phrases you find.

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