Saturday, March 12, 2005

Entitled to Write

How do I use a title to my advantage?

The D2DVD world is hard. There is never enough money, time or resources to do a job properly because a schedule has to be met. The distributor has a release slot to fill or they have to take something to one of the markets to try and pre-sell the picture. The point is the D2DVD writer has to be the guy who helps set the right tone for the piece at the get-go. That’s where titles come into play.

I say, help set the tone, because often the tone is set within the marketing and sales departments. In the D2DVD world, they set up the art and the title before the picture is written and shot. This is the very same, very successful method that A.I.P. used in the fifties.

In this case however, Sales and Marketing are talking to the major video chains (BB, Hollywood, Movie Gallery, etc…) every day about their wants and needs. The chains say, “We need a new horror movie for month X.” Everyone scrambles to put something together or move something already brainstormed forward in the production schedule. Otherwise, Acquisitions may have to go out and find that type of movie from an independent producer. So, in this scenario, Pistolera gets pushed back and Alienated gets moved forward.

(Oh, and by the way, those titles are mine – don’t swipe ‘em or I’ll be on your doorstep with sharp implements and precise knowledge of how to inflict the most pain).

So, you the writer are brought in to realize the vision of the marketing department. It’s your job to meet and exceed their expectations concerning the title and artwork. They’ve generally done their work and have really brainstormed a great title and art. They turn that over to you to come up with a story to tie it together.

When you have a great title, it immediately gives you ideas that you can work into the story (within the budget of course). Bill Martell , the guru of action screenwriters (with 17 produced movies to his credit and a huge resource to writers of all types) says they are “idea generators.” It’s true – great titles lend themselves to more great ideas.

Alienated indicates a story where someone was human, but now he’s an alien. He was made into an alien and is now separate from the rest of us.

Pistolera indicates it’s the story of a woman with a gun going after the bad guys, or maybe she’s a “bad girl” on the run. Those ideas generate more questions and ideas and if you answer those – you have your story.

A good title also keeps you on track when you’re writing (which is good because you don’t have time to screw around – they want it good, and on Tuesday because they’re shooting on Thursday). If any story element comes up that doesn’t relate back to the title and/or the concept – get rid of it. It will only drag you down and steal your energy. It will also get cut. You’re writing for the 90 page mark. No more and no less. Anything that “pads” the script should be sniffed out and excised like a tumor.

But what if you’re writing a spec? What does a great title do for you there? Well, besides what I’ve said already, a great title is good publicity for your script. People who hear a great title instantly “get it” as soon as you tell them. And if it’s cool enough they’re going to repeat it to their colleagues. They’ll want to see your script when it’s finished, because they think if the script is half as clever as the title then it could be really great.

Let’s go the opposite way with this discussion – what if you have a great concept, but no title? Don’t let that stop you. Just take up a different thought pattern:
Parents don’t always name their children until they’re born. So, when your script is “born” then name it what it needs to be named.

I’m spec’ing something I’ve temporarily named The Skull. It’s about a supernatural superhero, who goes after the bad guys who killed him. I’ve taken to calling it by this name because that’s what the bad guys call the main character. The title is simple and straightforward, and not clever, but it fits the character.

He’s had his face entirely burned off leaving a bone white skull and eyeballs as his face. Think The Crimson Ghost or Ghost Rider (minus the flames). He’s also modeled after those wonderful Italian fumetti characters Killing and Kriminal. This bone white skull emerging from the shadows haunts me.

Another reason he’s “The Skull” is that he can’t remember who he is – his skull isn’t functioning properly. So, in order to find out who he is, he has to take out the criminal empire that killed him.

I’m also working in lots of Latino masked wrestling and Dios de la Muertos (sp?) mythology because the “Day of the Dead” icon is a skeleton with a grinning skull. All these story elements came from the title. I’m sure I’ll come up with more ideas and hooks for the story.

But imagine what you could do if you had a poster and a title. You could turn this in on Tuesday …

The Skull is © 2005 by Bill Cunningham

1 comment:

Kristen said...