Do titles matter?  Here are two brief anecdotes that say yes.

A few years ago, I was in L.A. pitching ideas to a well-known manager. 

He sat quietly on his living room couch as I tossed log line after log line his way. Nothing seemed to resonate with him.

Finally, I pitched a new idea I’d been brewing:  “A gullible insurance investigator is given a magical lie detector that reveals when anyone he’s with is lying.”

Nope.  Still no response from this guy.

But then I told him the title of my idea:  GRAIN OF SALT.

His ears perked up.  “That’s a good title,” he said.

He went on to tell me about another writer’s project called FLY ON A WALL.  It was about a guy who finds this talking fly that can sit in a room and spy on others and report what it hears.

“Fly on a wall,” he repeated.  “People know that phrase.  People get that.”

Now he was interested in my magical lie detector idea.  “Grain of salt,” he said.   “I can sell that.  That’s the one you’ll write.”

We never ended up working together, and I never wrote that script.

Maybe it was a mistake.


Another time, I was having lunch in New York with a young, personable producer.   He told me about a script called THE ART OF COOL.  It had sold on spec for big money ($600,000 against $850,000). 

He told me what it was about: A nerdy student discovers the classic book The Art of War and uses it as a high school survival guide.

I told him it sounded good.  His response was telling: 

“Great title,” he said.  “The Art of Cool.  That one could’ve sold on title alone.”

He sent me the script to read.  It was funny and fresh.  I think it could’ve sold with any name.  But if the writer had chosen a different title …

That might have been a mistake.


When I’m offering feedback on screenplays, I don’t overlook the title.  Here are a few questions to ask when choosing one:

Does your title describe your story as well as it can?

Is your title appropriate for the genre?

Can your title take advantage of a catchy phrase that people already know?

Is there a clever play on words you can use (without being overly cute)?

And the last -- and possibly most important -- question to ask is:

Are you spending too much time thinking about a title and not enough time writing your script?

That’s definitely a mistake.