A KILLER TITLE
Lastly, what is intriguing about a good logline must include the title. Title and logline are, in fact, the one-two punch, and a good combo never fails to knock me out. Like the irony in a good logline, a great title must have irony and tell the tale. One of the best titles of recent memory, and one I still marvel at, is Legally Blonde. When I think about all the bad titles it could have been – Barbie Goes To Harvard, Totally Law School, Airhead Apparent – to come up with one that nails the concept, without being so on the nose that it’s stupid, is an art unto itself. I am jealous of that title. A good sign!
My favorite bad title ever, just to give you an idea of what doesn’t work for me, is For Love or Money. There’ve been four movies with that title that I know of, one starring Michael J. Fox, and I can’t tell you the plot of any of them. You could probably call every movie ever made For Love or Money and be right – technically. It just shows how un-daring a generic title can be and how something vague like that kills your interest in paying $10 to see it.
One of the key ingredients in a good title, however, is that it must be the headline of the story. Again I cite 4 Christmases as an example. While it’s not a world-beater, it’s not bad. But it does the one thing that a good title must do, and I’ll highlight it because it’s vital that you get this:
It says what it is!
They could have called 4 Christmases something more vague, how about Yuletide? That says “Christmas”, right? But it doesn’t pinpoint what this particular Christmas movie is about. It doesn’t say what it is, which is a movie about one couple spending four different Christmases with four different sets of families on the same Christmas day. If it doesn’t pass the Say What It Is Test, you don’t have your title. And you don’t have the one-two punch that makes a great logline.
I admit that often I have come up with the title first and made the story match. That’s how I thought up a script I went on to co-write and sell called Nuclear Family. At first all I had was the title, then I came up with the ironic twist. Instead of nuclear as in “father, mother, and children” the way the term is meant, why not nuclear as in “radioactive”. The logline became: “A dysfunctional family goes camping on a nuclear dumpsite and wakes up the next morning with super powers”. With the help of my writing partner, the quick-witted and jet-setting Jim Haggin, we fleshed out that story and sold the script in a bidding war to Steven Spielberg for $1 million. Our title and logline met all the criteria cited above: irony, promise of more, audience and cost (four-quadrant, with special effects, not stars), and one that definitely said what it is.
It’s a movie I still want to see, if anyone’s listening.