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Production and the Creative Spirit

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 7:49AM   |  13 comments
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Blog written by Ann Michel and Phil Wilde, principals of Insights International in Ithaca and New York City

What's in a name?

At some point during a production, you will need to name your program or show.

It may be that the marketing people need a catchy title to help them promote or do fundraising for you.  It may be that the print people are ready to design the posters and DVD artwork.   It may be because you need a shortcut to explain what you are doing.  

Naming your project can be one of the hardest creative tasks you will face.

How to boil it down?   How to create intrigue, interest?  Or at least, how to pick a name and not be boring?

Finding the right name for a project is often the very last thing we do when we wrap up a production.  

We may have bought time earlier by coming up with a working title.  Then the last hour approaches when the final edits must be done.  What's the name??!!!  

A three-word title is great.  A one word title incredible.   We only accomplished the one word title feat once, for a kids show released by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The project could be condensed into  elementary school students meet art history.  

We named it Look!


13 Comments


I have never thought about titles of video and film before. I learned a lot from this post. Now I am worried it will be very hard to come up with a title for my entry to define open space....

Are the titles of our projects being judged by the jury, or just the image and the sentence?

It's cool there is this blog with real producers, but I am sort of wondering if you want to talk to people just starting out, or is this just for professionals who do FLEFF?

Sophie,
Only the image and the sentence are being judged in Define Open Space. Since you only have twenty words, we want to encourage you to be very succinct...and creative.

And this blog is for anyone and everyone who is trying to be creative, pros and people just starting out. Inspiration doesn't get any easier the longer you practice it, but it does seem to get more enjoyable.

I can agree with this completely! For me, deciding on a name is definitely the toughest part of making a project. It's tough to take a whole bucket of different symbols and messages you try to convey and sum them up into not even a sentence, but a short phrase or word. Unless I'm working from the start on a specific purpose and theme for the project (which usually doesn't happen as I tend to think of more during the process of making it), then the name is always what stumps me the most. A lot can be conveyed from the name of a project, so trying to think of one that will catch people's attention and not be too familiar sounding is definitely a task.

Creating a title, for me, is one of the best parts. I definitely agree it is way more intricate then just slapping a catchy phrase on something that might sum up a 2 hour film. Not only does a title want to sum up or explain the story its about to tell but we want to relate it to the theme, mood and so on. If its an experimental film do we want the title to even make sense? I think some might find this harder then others, some might just enjoy the process more, some less. Since I love the creative aspect of really selling your idea the title is fascinating to me, but it definitely holds more meaning and effort, then just having a name to refer to.

Creating a title can be considered a defining moment in any film. Sometimes the name of a film can make or break you. The title of a film can convey meaning of a hidden message of sorts. For example, in Breathless or Out of Breath by Jean-Luc Godard, we can see that the title has multiple meanings. The shots in this movie leave the viewer 'breathless'. Also they are many long tracking shots that make you feel 'out of breath'. Therefore, a title can be one of the most important parts of the film making process.

You make such a good point! Most filmmakers find that titling is one of the most difficult feats of the creative process of creating a film; at least it is for me. As Scott has mentioned, the title can make or break a film, only because it has to have a fine balance of attracting the general audience while relating to the film in a literal and/ or metaphorical manner. Personally, I find that a good title consists of the right words correctly placed in a phrase making a huge impact on an audience before and after watching a film.

A model example would be the film, “La Grande Illusion”. This title conveyed a lot of knowledge even before I saw this film and after! Just by looking at the title, I was intrigued by the use of French language and what possible illusion the film was to portray. By the end of the film, I was so engrossed in the plot line that I had forgotten the title, but when reminded of the title, the movies’ message came across louder and stronger.

One part of that blog really stuck out to me, when the final hour approaches, what's the title? Whenever I'm making a film I have tried to make titles at the beginning for pitches etc. but when it comes down to it it always gets decided in the end. Once a film is finished words or themes stick out to us in the end that make "the perfect title". I feel like no matter how much work we try and put into those titles, in the end it's a conversation with friends or a unique word that's used that leads us to the title and we must wait for that time to come instead of forcing a title on a film.

Scott Stacharowski makes a great point that a title can either make or break your film. I agree that it is one of the most important parts in the film making process that requires a great deal of creativity and thought. A title needs to stand out to an audience. It has to grab the attention of viewers, as well as be something condensed and simple enough for them to remember. I watch the trailers for movies and afterwards the title is shown. For me personally I believe the title should relate fully to the film because I remember things from what I've seen. If a title relates to it's trailer, I am more prone to remember that film and be more willing to see it. A name in general is important; it is how things are identified, and without it, the industry/films would not have the same effect.

Dr. Zimmerman, I found your statement about title length very interesting, "A three-word title is great. A one word title incredible". It does seem that a one word title captures our interest better than a longer title. Is this purely memory based? do we simply remember shorter titles better and so they reenter our minds quicker? or do we signify a shorter title with the movie being better?
Long movie titles can also be very memorable. Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood by Paris Barclay is a title i still remember despite not seeing the movie in over six years. A long title can be used to make a movie stand out.

An interesting trend i have noticed with foreign films is one word titles versus multiple word titles and the use original language in titles. Foreign films with one word titles tend to keep the original language in the title when the film is shown abroad. take for example Akira Kurosawa's Ran (meaning chaos or revolt in english) or Gregory Nava's El Norte (the North) while longer titles tend to be translated, Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) or Jose Padilha's Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite). Is a title translated to give it meaning in a new country? if so, then why are shorter titles left in the original language? one word titles in foreign languages could be considered more intriguing to other audiences and certainly more memorable than lengthy titles in an unintelligible language.
This is of course not a rule, there a numerous exceptions, Moulin Rouge, Y Tu Mama Tambien.

While a title should have some measure of brevity, I do not think it is the end-all, be-all rule of naming a project. The most prominent example that comes to mind is "Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." This Kubrick classic's nomenclature has no less meaning than a one word title, such as "Blow" or "Breathless." After watching the film, I had not quite stopped worrying, but I had definitely stopped obsessing so much over nuclear weaponry, due to the satirical manner in which it is treated. My favorite titles are as such, full of meaning that is ambiguous until one has actually watched the movie.

Brevity works for some titles, when the film it refers to is strong enough to make a lasting impression. Films like Vertigo, Milk, and Snatch were memorable enough to surpass the original definition of the word in the title. The titles that get my interest are the ones with novel words or phrases, not in everyday use such as: Reservoir Dogs, V for Vendetta, or Catfish. The real goal in naming a title is to make it informative and catchy. Either use a new or obscure phrase, or if you are confident in the work, use a common word or phrase and hope to give it new meaning. Brevity should be used as a guideline instead of a rule.

I think a name should hold specific meaning to the project. I think a title is so much more successful when a person has to think about the project rather than just being handed an answer. However, I think popular Hollywood movies should not have titles that require too much thought.

To me, coming up with the perfect title or even name for a character is one of the most satisfying parts of a creative process. I sometimes have the opposite issue, though. I come up with a great title that I really want to use for something, but then I can't find a story that satisfies it. On a related note, I also love naming characters. Sometimes I will spend hours perusing baby name websites to come up with the perfect name for a main character. Names are important and can sometimes dictate what audience you will attract.



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