Mark Simon discusses the best approach to finding your title.
What's in a title? Does it matter for your project.
A lot and yes it does, respectively.
Last week I hosted a webinar, Pitching Animation, with animation producer Max Howard (The Iron Giant, Lion King, Igor) and one of the things we spoke about was the importance of great titles for animated series and movies.
Titles are important in both your pitch and in marketing your project. The title gives your audience, whether it's a studio executive or a movie-going audience, an instant idea of what your show or movie is about. First impressions are important.
For films, your title should relate to your story. That could be your lead character's name or the main action or theme of your movie.
Finding Nemo(the action of all the supporting characters for one of the lead characters)
Igor (the lead character)
How to Train Your Dragon (the actions of the lead character)
Rango (the lead characters name, although that's not obvious until you know details of the movie)
For TV, the best titles are usually the names or descriptions of your lead character(s).
Penguins of Madagascar
Dora the Explorer
Fanboy and Chum Chum
When you see the title Igor, Max's independent feature animation of a mad scientist's hunchback assistant becoming the greatest scientist in his own right, you know it's about a mad scientist's hunchback. Combine that with a great and humorous character design and you know exactly what to expect in the movie.
Titles can also work against you. Mars Needs Momsis a terrible title, says Max. "A movie title about moms turns off the very core audience it was designed for. Boys looking for action don't really want their moms involved."
Even with the great designs and quirky storytelling of the amazing Berke Breathed (Bloom County), the Mars Needs Moms title turned off the potential audience. TotalFilm.com says, "Happy to report that the worst thing about Mars Needs Moms is the title." Hopefully over time the audience will get over the title. But the box office damage has already been done.
Another terrible title is Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Granted it's based on a popular series of books, but even the titles of the books, Guardians of Ga'Hoole, is a better title. We know they are owls as soon as we see the art on the poster.
As an avid animated movie-goer, this title turned me off.
Max agrees, but offers a caveat, "Long titles can be problematic, but if done properly they can start a conversation. However, they can be dangerous to fit onto a poster. You may have to use a magnifying glass to read the title."
We ran into the problems associated with a bad show title on one of our TV pitches.
My wife/production partner, Jeanne, created an animated series based on stories she used to tell our twin boys when they were babies. We got our boys into martial arts when they were very young (proud father bragging; they hold multiple national titles) so Jeanne's bed-time stories revolved around twin infants who were also ninjas. We developed these stories into an animated series.
We called the series Baby Ninjas. We thought it sounded really cool. It also describes our lead characters.
But, we ran into a problem with the title. When we were meeting with Fred Shaeffer at Porchlight he said he liked the look of the show, but thought the title made it sound like a one-joke premise. We had run into this concern in one other pitch. With Fred, we retitled the show with our character names, Luke & Reece Save the World.
Same art, same characters, same show description, new title. Now when pitch the show we no longer hear the concern that the show is a one-joke premise.
Titles do make a difference. What's your title?
Want more info on titles and pitching animation? Mark's Pitching Animation webinar with Max Howard replay is available online at http://www.sellyourtvconceptnow.com/seminar-max-pitch2011.html.
Mark Simon is an animation producer/director with more than 2,900 live-action and animation production credits. He is also the author of Storyboards: Motion in Art.