American Film Market 2011: Global Locations

Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” The answer may be a few million bucks.

Every one of the 5,000 or so films being peddled at AFM has a title — a first impression, if you will — that will help guide that movie through the marketplace, help or hurt its international sales, and determine its fate on its path to consumers. Every word counts. Consider whether “Pretty Woman” would have been as successful if it had been released under its original title, “3000”? Or how well “Back to the Future” would have fared as “Spaceman From Pluto”?

“I am confident that titles influence the success of movies,” says naming expert David Placek, founder and president of Lexicon Branding, which created BlackBerry and PowerBook, among other influential brands. “They are particularly effective during the initial launch, because if created properly they achieve three things: they get attention, they generate interest and, finally, the ideal name tells consumers something new.”

For Placek, a good movie title should also begin the story, not describe it, he says, citing “Saving Private Ryan.” “That is a great title; it is the beginning of a story.”

One-word titles have almost become a cliché in the marketplace. As Placek notes, “Short, quick names can be effective because they stimulate the imagination (while) longer titles offer far less snap and memorability.”

At this year’s AFM, for example, Sierra/Affinity has “Rampart,” “Parker,” “Filth” and “Evidence.” Buyers can also inquire about FilmNation’s “Mud,” Celluloid Dreams’ “Playback,” or any number of single-worders such as “Livid,” “Hell” or “Tormented.”

Richard Baker, FilmNation’s executive VP of marketing and distribution, says titles change with the demands of the marketplace. “You’ll see a spate of single-word titles one year and then something will win an award with a ‘The’ prefix and, what do you know, you’ll start seeing movies with ‘The’ prefix because it ‘sounds’ more prestigious,” he says.

“For some reason, ‘The Fighter’ sounds more prestigious than just ‘Fighter.’ ‘The Flowers of War,’ ” he adds, referring to FilmNation’s Zhang Yimou title, “sounds more prestigious than ‘Flowers of War.’ This year ‘The’ is in.”

For evidence, look to EuropaCorp’s “The Lady,” Pathe’s “The Iron Lady,” Studiocanal’s “The Awakening” or Hyde Park’s “The Bleeder” and “The Double.”

“I think the name of a film in the indie world is very important to presales,” says Bleiberg Entertainment’s Ehud Bleiberg. “You need to catch the distributor’s eye.”

He cites the recent case of the film formerly called “Lightbulb,” starring Jeremy Renner. It played a few festivals in 2009, but has since been re-worked and re-branded as “Ingenious” — another one-worder, but a little more snazzy, a la “Limitless” — which sold well at Cannes with its new moniker, and is now screening at AFM.

Indeed, one executive notes they often look to other successful films to think of titles that might evoke those that worked.

Bleiberg’s slate also includes a film title that seems to typify a large part of the AFM — a teen slasher horror pic called “Dead Inside.” There are some 50 titles, both new films and in catalogs, for sale at the AFM with “dead” or “death” in the name, from simply “The Dead” (TriCoast Worldwide) to “War of the Dead” (The Little Film Company) to “Deadheads” (CMG), which all have screening slots. There’s also plenty of “blood” (“Blood Money,” “Blood Moon Rising,” “The Blood of Wolves”) and “kill” titles (“If You Die, I’ll Kill You,” “Unlawful Killing,” “Kill List”).

If it all sounds terribly morbid, Bleiberg explains the genre market needs to have quickly identifiable product. When you have 5,000 films for sale, “death” or “dark” or “fear” in the title “gives distributors an immediate direction,” says Bleiberg. “If they’re looking for a genre film, it says: this is a genre film. And we need to make the buyers’ life easier.”

Then again, Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier, who is selling “Killer Joe,” has a more straightforward reasoning: “Darker titles intrigue people,” he says, “and maybe make it cooler.”

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