What’s the most important single feature of a great screenplay?
All of it!
No part of a script is any more important than any other, nor will a single “silver bullet” save the day.
My favorite saying of late is that a winning story isn’t just one great idea, but a thousand.
Concept. Logline. The transformation of the hero. The Midpoint crunch. The “lightbulb” above the head of the hero that makes him resist the horrible truth in the Bad Guys Close In section. The All Is Lost when that horrible truth is revealed! The Finale in which we learn if the hero can pass “The Final Exam” — or not.
All of it: vital.
But dudes, and dudettes, I give you: Title.
Because a good one is gold and a bad one is not.
A good title must “say what it is!” and yet give us a fresh, intriguing invitation to your party that gives us a hint of the type and tone of the festivities we’re about to attend. And that’s some tight writing right there.
Indeed, evidence abounds in the cutthroat world of moviedom, that if we don’t win the audience’s interest in our story from that first set of words onward, often success slips from our grasp.
Some cautionary title tales of late: State of Play starring Russelll Crowe. I saw the movie. Enjoyed it. Lots of fun. But even after seeing the film I still don’t know what the title refers to, and that had a lot to do with its poor showing. This follows another Russell Crowe film, co-starring Leonardo diCaprio and directed by my favorite director of all time, Ridley Scott, and an even greater story, and yet here too, no one went. Why? In my opinion it’s because for all the lure of its star power and importance of the topic, I didn’t know what it was about, and its title, Body of Lies, is one of those generic ones, like the infamous For Love or Money.
It told me nothing.
I hate to say it, but if your story is special, it should have a special name, and deferring to placeholder titles (even if they’re based on a book or series of the same name) is a hint to an audience that it may not be special. And I’ll tell you something else: The lack of a good title may be indicative of confusion on your part about “what it is.” If you can’t name it, if your headline doesn’t flow right into the story, there may be trouble with it.
If this sounds like your story: Take note.
All of the above is proof of the power of the writer. Big stars will not necessarily open a movie. Millions of dollars thrown at an advertising campaign will not either. We in the audience must be drawn in by a great story idea that’s fresh, and primal, and a title that not only “says what it is” but does so in a way that grabs us.
Before you settle for those titles that are “less than,” if your story is about redemption and so you call it… Redemption, take a breath. Try something new. Find a title that “says what it is” but with a twist.
And we will run to your movie, not walk.
P.S. This site will be undergoing some technical adjustments over the weekend and will be shut down for several hours. Fear not, we will be back up and running Monday. Thank you for your patience!