Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Title

June 17th, 2012 by

If you are a screenwriter, you should know about Anita Loos. Loos was one of the most influential writers in the early stages of American cinema, associated with 136 film projects per IMDB.

Married to writer John Emerson, the pair wrote one of the first books on screenwriting in 1920: “How to Write Photoplays”. I have been running a weekly series based on the book. You can access those posts here. Today we look at the Title [P. 38, 39]:

Three cardinal considerations are carefully weighed before the production of a photoplay is attempted. These essentials are first, a good story; second, a good cast; and third the right kind of a title.

Although a good story is the first requisite, the title of the photoplay is most important from the point of view of the exhibitor.

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One of the largest companies in the industry recently announced that titles must have the following qualities

1. The title must fit the story.

2. The title must fit the star, that is convey the idea that the film favorite is to be seen in just the sort of a part which suits him or her best.

3. The title must have box office drawing power by exciting the curiosity and interest of all who read it in the exhibitor’s announcements.

4. The title must be terse and clear.

Whereas a studio has final say, if a writer can come up with a killer title, that can help make a screenplay pop in the minds of prospective readers. Two examples of good titles from spec scripts that have sold recently are Dear Satan and My Owner’s Wedding.

And here we zero in on the advice given above: A title must excite the curiosity and interest of a reader.

Interest = Hook
Curiosity = Question

A title should convey something of the story’s hook and arouse questions.

Speaking personally, I know that in reviewing 4000 loglines in relation to “The Quest,” there have been a handful of stories that made it onto the consider list simply because they had a great title, albeit ones that conveyed a strong story concept, too.

Next week, more screenwriting advice from 90 years ago.

If you live in the U.S., you can read “How to Write Photoplays” via Google books online here.

One thought on “Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Title

  1. John Buss says:

    As I get nearer and nearer to my stories end, I have yet to come up with that all-important first impression, the title. The story has evolved, but the working title has not. Still, I am confident that it will suddenly leap out at me, probably at about 4 AM.

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