Like many bad Hollywood ideas, this one starts at New Line.
Or, rather, Josh Friedman’s LA Times piece on title consultants starts at the one-time studio-that-would (make Man’s Best Friend, Son of the Mask and The Last Mimzy), where outgoing marketing honcho, Russell Schwartz, is confronted with a dilemma of an age: what’s he going to call the Edward Norton/Colin Farrell cop corruption drama that Bob Shaye has no intention of releasing?
The current title is Pride and Glory. But Seth Lockhart and Jamil Barrie of TitleDoctors have a better idea: One of Our Own. Of the twenty-five alternatives they’ve presented to Schwartz (ten deemed cherce, fifteen deemed kinda gristly), this is the one that catches his fancy. It’s banal, on the nose, and sounds like the kind of movie that gets a couple of under-promoted weeks on 300 screens in early September. Schwartz’s eyes go wide.
“You know,” chortles Schwartz, “If we’d called it Pacific Air 121 instead of Snakes on a Plane, I wouldn’t have to meet with you fuckwits.”
Chortles give way to sobs, and Schwartz abruptly excuses himself from the meeting. The contrition stumbles out of his mouth like a throng of drunks fleeing a burning tenement. “Your ideas are wonderful. But we can’t afford them. We can’t afford dignity. Make sure you get validated.”
“Fangs at 40,000 Feet,” mutters Barrie, as the whimpers of an executive VP trail off down the hall.
“No,” replies Lockhart. “Snakes Aloft.”
“Indeed. Buy you a Zima?”
Titles are trouble, but when they fail to connect, are studios really, as Lockhart suggests, “leaving potential earnings on the table”? Is Taking Care of Business the can’t-miss, sleeper hit of the summer if Hollywood Pictures sticks with Filofax? Does Switchback bomb if Paramount serves it up as Going West in America? Would Wes Anderson live in a house made of pandas if Rushmore greets the world as Hot for the Teacher?
The answer, of course, is “perhaps”. And since movie studios get spend-y when they’re indecisive, there is now a multimillion-dollar industry in farmed-out homogenization (I’m guessing; Friedman never gets around to quoting rates). There are bragging rights in “I transformed Untitled Nancy Meyers Project into Something’s Gotta Give.” Somewhere, someone believes he/she is a marketing genius for shortening John Hancock to Hancock.
There is an art to simplicity, but outfits like TitleDoctors, Ant Farm and Rich in Meaning are gaming the studios if the best they can offer is that “movie titles should be sonorous” and “song titles make good movie titles”. First, allow me to introduce you to my friend The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (and I’d wager a sackful of awesome that none of these charlatans would be capable of arriving at Marat/Sade as an elegantly terse fallback). Second, I give you Calendar Girl, Book of Love, Eye of the Tiger, Eight Days a Week and Love Stinks. For starters.
Though a clunky or unappetizing title can absolutely hinder the marketing effort (it seemed doubly unfair that a beleaguered MGM got stuck with What’s the Worst That Could Happen?), does anyone truly believe that The Heartbreak Kid remake would’ve tacked on $20 million to its disappointing domestic total had it been rechristened Mrs. Right Now or Unintentionally Yours (real alternatives for which TitleDoctors were paid something)? On the other hand, does Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World crack $100 million if it leaves port as Boat Wars?
I can’t prove it, but I have this awful feeling that Paramount is currently funding third-party brainstorming sessions in the hopes of hitting upon a marquee-friendly truncation for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This is madness. An animated film about a rat chef living in Paris called Ratatouille just grossed $621 million worldwide, and strike-weary studios are burning money over the negligible difference between South of the Border and Beverly Hills Chihuahua? I understand that Tonight, He Comes is a remarkably awful and blatantly suggestive moniker, but when audiences see that it’s a Will Smith superhero movie, the title is going to be irrelevant unless it’s something wildly inappropriate like Rape Is Good for the Environment. And if you need to piss away six figures for that kind of advice… you’re probably Tom Rothman and so un-fireable that it doesn’t matter.
So much money is wasted on the development of highly unoriginal movies – take, for instance, Fox paying a writer seven figures to essentially cut-and-paste David Seltzer’s screenplay for The Omen – that it’s hardly worth getting bent out of shape over a minuscule expenditure like title consultation. I just hate seeing bottom feeders suck up spare change that should go to hard-working, under-appreciated worker bees – who, by the way, could tell you for free that The Night Watchman is a lousy title for a gritty crime flick. And I bet, if you set them up in a room with a keg of beer and a bag of weed, they could give you better than Street Kings (currently on pace to fall *just* short of $30 million domestic) by the end of the day.
P.S. Further to the above image, the greatest fake Simpsons title: Hot Grits A-Flyin’.