Fox Searchlight’s announcement last week that it had nabbed Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’ comedy pitch “Motherf***er” represents the latest in a string of expletive-laden titles to make their way into development.
In 2008, Paramount bought the rights to “I Wanna F**k Your Sister” from scribe Melissa Stack, and last year Par also nabbed Lewis Meriweather’s blacklisted screenplay “F**kbuddies.”
“I think writers want their movies to be original and edgy,” one producer said of the trend toward startling titles. “It’s a way for them to make a strong first impression.”
But while the racy titles are giving agents and creatives a good laugh, a project containing the F-word in the title is nearly impossible to market, or to get past the MPAA. (In each of these cases, the original titles spelled out the words completely. But even the use of asterisks would make such titles no-no’s.)
“The (MPAA’s) Title Registration Bureau requires all studios to register titles, and we will not register any film that contains offensive language in the title,” according to an MPAA spokesman. Would the replacement of key letters with an asterisk make a difference? “Any title where stand-in symbols can be interpreted as meaning something obscene, profane or salacious would be denied registration,” the spokesman added.
Wein, who co-wrote “Motherf***er,” said he and writing partner Lister-Jones “haven’t discussed the realities of the title yet with Searchlight” but conceded the title will likely get a makeover. “I find it ironic (though) that so much violence and graphic imagery finds its way into mainstream movies yet foul language and sex are near-sacrilege,” Wein said.
But in truth, it’s not just a matter of content, but of advertising and marketing.
In 2008, when the Weinstein Co. and Kevin Smith released “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” some newspapers and TV channels refused to advertise the film because of the word “porno.”
The R-rated comedy certainly wasn’t a “porno” and didn’t depict more than other R-rated fare, but Philadelphia deputy mayor Rina Cutler didn’t seem to care, pulling the advertisement from every bus in the region; meanwhile, Salt Lake City banned the film altogether.
“?’Zack and Miri’ was about as pornographic as ‘The Bachelorette,’?” one producer laughed. “But the most important thing is getting the message out there, and those brick walls definitely hurt (‘Zack and Miri’).”
The Weinstein Co. tried altering billboards and trailers, and even created ads poking fun at the controversy. But “Zack and Miri” grossed just $10 million during its opening weekend.
Television may be going further than the movie biz when it comes to edgier titles, as evident from the new CBS comedy “$#*! My Dad Says.” The sitcom, which CBS refers to as “?’Bleep’ My Dad Says,” stars William Shatner and is based on Justin Halpern’s Twitter account. CBS maintains advertising for the show hasn’t been affected.
“I wish they would call it ‘shit,’?” Shatner said at last month’s TCA panel. “The word is all around us. It isn’t a terrible term. It’s a natural function. Why are we pussyfooting?”
So what about the film biz?
Kirby Dick, the director behind ratings-exploration doc “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” said yes. “Studios are much better at marketing movies than making good movies,” Dick said, “so I’m sure they’ll find a way.”
“It’s ultimately up to the studios to compel the Registration Bureau to be more lenient” for movie titles, he added. “The much more important issue is that the MPAA is doing a very bad job at providing information to parents.”
In addition to “Motherf***er, Searchlight is in pre-production on “The F Word,” starring Casey Affleck (which, like the rest of the “cursed” projects, is a romantic comedy).
“F**kbuddies,” meanwhile, stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and has already wrapped filming, though Paramount and the Montecito Picture Co. are still trying to agree upon a market-friendly title.
“I doubt Hollywood will ever allow expletives of this nature to be used in titles,” Wein said of the fad, “But I hope to be proved wrong.”
Until then, don’t expect to see the F-word on billboards. That is, unless you’re a clever little Focker.