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The Opportunity of a Movie Title
A Dialogue Between Meredith Muncy & Christine Blake
of Vibrato Naming


 
   
 
   

FADE IN ...

C: On you and me as we qualify ourselves.

M: I'm the CEO of a verbal branding consultancy, Vibrato Naming, with 12 years' experience naming new companies and products -- from international companies in wireless tech to under-wire bras. Prior to naming, I took 7 semesters of playwriting (5 of those one-on-one) at Trinity U. in Texas; then studied playwriting in grad school at Brown. I sneaked into Princeton to study playwriting with Jean-Claude Van Itallie (who preached the gospel of the musicality of language sitting cross-legged on the floor eating peanuts under curls of incense smoke) and went on to earn an MFA from Columbia University in playwriting. In terms of screenplays, I've studied the canons of Truby, McKee, Field, Seger and so forth. Most recently, I've titled Warner Brothers' Into the Arms of Strangers, which won an Academy award in April.

C: I'm a naming specialist with linguistic and business experience that ranges from editing biomedical jargon to naming international companies. I write; I act (most recently The Tempest); I sell linguistic schizophrenia to anyone who will pay. At Cal I majored in molecular cell biology, then literature. I worked myself bloody for Corporate America, editing for material scientists, a management consultancy, and academic journals. I escaped to the performing world, where I acted on stage, in film, and with a sublime improv troupe. After making enough as a stand-up comic to pay for the drive home to California, I moved my show into conference rooms, leading writers and namers in linguistic contortions for the good of international brands. In so doing, I met Meredith, who, I think we've mentioned, named Warner Brothers' Into the Arms of Strangers, which won an Academy award in April.

M: A movie's title can be a powerful, competitive tool in the marketplace.

C: A movie's title, as the most distilled expression of the movie's message, can make or break its theatrical future.

M: A movie's title actually initiates the relationship between the audience and the movie.

C: And should therefore persuade audiences to engage with the film by watching it, remembering it, and talking about it.

M: That's why we approach title development as a brand-building challenge.

C: The opportunity of the title is to draw people in, capture their imagination, and stay with them for the 166 hours a week when they're not actually watching the movie.

M: To create a movie title that will succeed, you need to set exact expectations for the audience. What genre is the film? A drama, comedy, thriller, art-house, etc., or hybrid? What emotional experience can the audience expect to have?

C. While it should set expectations, the title itself should be unexpected to differentiate it from the competition and make it memorable.

M: Unexpected yet relevant, or a jaded movie-going public will cultivate disdain for it before they've even seen it.

C: It needs to be easy to remember -- "catchy" -- through phonology, surprise, imagery, intrigue or sensory associations.

M: It should cut through the competitive clutter by not sounding like any other movie or book or video game out there. (Unless of course the movie is based on a book or video game out there.)

C: The title has to be persuasive, inspiring, and intriguing to compel the target audience to action, to come see the movie. The title should help demonstrate how the movie is different from all the other movies vying for the audience's entertainment time and money.

M: The title should dance when viewed in print -- be it on the TV screen, computer screen, print ads, billboards, or listings.

C: Please the ear -- audiences will hear it everywhere from radio commercials to word-of- mouth

M: Be timely, but not soon obsolete.

C: Speak the language of the target audience -- domestically and globally.

M: Be copyrightable.

C: Use a branding point of view and reference the unique selling point of the movie.

M: Yes, by answering this: What is the movie's most significantly differentiating and memorable aspect?

C: Time for our examples?

M: (nods in agreement)

Character
Me, Myself, & Irene
Swingers

Metaphors/ Central Icons
Memento
Sliding Doors

Time Period
48 Hours
The Lost Weekend

Tone
Diabolique
Notorious

Themes
Boys Don't Cry
It's A Wonderful Life

Backstory
In the Line of Fire
Sixth Sense

Inciting Incident
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
Breakfast at Tiffany's

Major Dramatic Question
The Blair Witch Project
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Stakes
Girl, Interrupted
Mississippi Burning

Genre
Murder on the Orient Express
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Plot
Being John Malkovich
Around the World in 80 Days

Setting
Moulin Rouge
Jurassic Park

Literal twist to colloquialism
The Cradle Will Rock
Dressed to Kill

Irony
The Straight Story
Ordinary People

Poetic Lyricism
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
That Obscure Object of Desire

Dialogue
Truly Madly Deeply
Strictly Ballroom

Hybrid Inciting Incident & Character
Witness

Hybrid: Major Dramatic Question & Backstory & Character & Inciting Incident & Metaphor
Sophie's Choice

The bottom line: The title of a film should shoulder a good deal of the marketing burden. Today's cinema audience demands a title that offers a memorable encapsulation of the tone, message, and point of a film -- what makes it different, what makes it worth watching, what makes it worth telling two friends so they can tell two friends. In its purest marketing form, the title must be sexy and stir audiences' imagination with moonlight, adrenaline, laughter, intrigue, erudition, sobs, champagne bubbles, or terror -- or risk the black-hole miasma of "I don't remember what it's called."


     
   
     
   

The Authors

Meredith Muncy is the Chief Executive Officer of Vibrato Naming. After studying creative writing at Brown University's graduate school and earning an MFA from Columbia University, Meredith worked in Manhattan as a creative consultant for some of the top identity agencies in the world. Since creating her own firm, she has developed an extensive client base in entertainment and e-commerce and has named companies, products, services and even an Academy-Award winning film. Over the years she has crystallized her naming methodology, auditioned and trained 12 talented wordsmiths, and formed alliances with some of the best creative minds in the industry. She pools these valuable resources in Vibrato Naming, Incorporated.

Christine Blake is Vice President of Verbal Branding, Vibrato Naming. Christine has named companies and products in the technology, venture capital, professional services, retail, non-profit, fitness, hospitality, and consumer goods industries. Her business experience includes communications work for Intel, Dole, Glen Ellen, and McKinsey & Co. She applies her communications and linguistic expertise, initiated with a BA in Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, to the direction and strategy of naming projects. Recently the Director of Naming at a Bay Area branding firm, she incorporates her creative skills, honed through years as a professional actress and improvisation performer, to the development of appropriate, memorable, and differentiated names.

Contact Meredith Muncy by e-mail: mmuncy@vibratonaming.com and visit www.vibratonaming.com .

       
   
 
       
   
Many more articles in Branding in The CEO Refresher Archives
 
       
   
 
       
   
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Copyright 2001 by Meredith Muncy. All rights reserved.

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