Great titles…Survivor. Big Brother. The Curse of Oak Island. Say Yes to the Dress. Unmasking a Killer. These shows have catchy titles to help viewers… and network execs…understand what the show is all about. Today’s episode of Producing Unscripted is a deep-dive into choosing titles that help you, rather than hurt you, when developing your films, shows, or videos. We’ve got lots of practical advice and tips on thinking about, creating, and presenting titles that get attention. You’ll learn how to create titles for different kinds of buyers. We reveal the process we use to research and learn about appropriate titles for our own projects, so you can do the same. We give you four goals for every title you ever create. And finally, we share ten…count them ten…common title templates you can use to jumpstart your brainstorming process. While most of the examples we use are from unscripted television (no surprise if you’ve been around this site) these same concepts apply to creating titles for your film, novel, YouTube video…you name it. Listen now, and give yourself a giant head start when creating titles for your projects.
Create Great Titles: The Big Picture
To give you a simple roadmap, here are four goals to aim for with any title you create:
- Clearly convey what kind of project you’re pitching
- Inspire curiosity
- Attract buyers (and eventually viewers)
- Do it all concisely
When someone hears or reads your title, you want them to instantly get a vibe for what you’re developing. If you’re pitching Deadliest Catch, we can guess it’s action-packed and laced with danger. It’s clearly meant for male-skewing networks along the lines of the History or Discovery network.
On the other hand, if you’re pitching Say Yes to The Dress, we’re guessing it’s for female-skewing networks like Lifetime or WE.
Make sure your title matches up with your vision of the project.
Now that you have an idea of what you’re shooting for with your title creation sessions, it’s crucial to do your research. While not hard, many people skip this part, and it shows. You won’t make that mistake!
Know Where To Look
So how’s it work? You visit the websites of the TV networks you hope to pitch. Or, if you’re writing a screenplay, find successful titles in the genre you’re working in. That’s how you draw informed inspiration.
Personally, we do this research every time we prep our pitches for TV networks.
For instance, let’s have a look at some of the current titles on Lifetime:
- Dance Moms
- Married at First Sight
- Marrying Millions
- Cheerleader Generation
- American Princess
You get a sense that all those titles belong on that network. They all skew female, dealing with subjects like marriage, relationships, motherhood and style.
Now, let’s take a look at what History Channel has going on:
- The Curse of Oak Island
- Mountain Men
- Forged in Fire
- The Curse of Civil War Gold
Instantly, you can tell these are very different shows from those airing on Lifetime.
Not Just for Unscripted TV
To use a film example, let’s say you’re a screenwriter creating a title for a horror script. So visit the Blumhouse IMDB page and look at some of the movies they’ve put out in recent years:
- Paranormal Activity
- The Purge
- Happy Death Day
Creepy titles that scream horror. So, you wouldn’t want to call your chilling screenplay something like Garden State. That might sound like a silly example, but a lot of projects we’ve been pitched have titles that are completely at odds with the show’s concept and style.
So when thinking of pitching any network, studio, or executive, make sure your title fits in with everything else they’re doing. Don’t pitch a title that sells touchy-feely love and fashion to NatGeo. Or a title that’s packed with dudes and danger to OWN.
Different Kinds of Film and TV Titles
To wrap up today’s podcast episode, we give you ten (yes, ten!) different templates you can use to start brainstorming. We call these:
- Just Say It
- Sell a Subculture
- The Big Question
- Twisted Phrases
- Title Riffing
- Dramatic Destination
- Name or Moniker
- Mission and Action
- Defining Trait
- Unlikely Pairings
How do they work? Just click on that giant PLAY button at the top of the page to find out! Get ready to take your titles to the next level.
Helpful and Related Links
A great article from The Hollywood Reporter on the techniques and tactics execs use when trying to crack a title.
Did you know Saved by the Bell was originally called Good Morning, Miss Bliss? Guess what a sitcom dubbed Six of One became? A little show called Friends. Here are more fun title change facts from Mental Floss.
Speaking of titles, can you guess where our company name came from? (Hope you can figure that one out.) But check out the Joke Productions Real Screen Story for some funny facts about how the company came to be.
On Twitter? Us too! Find us here: @JokeAndBiagio – we do our best to reply to all tweets (but it can take time if we’re in production!)
Let’s Make some TV Together
Okay, you’re now ready to give your amazing project a super cool title. Then what? Maybe you’re thinking about pitching to our company Joke Productions?
Here’s what you need to know:
Read our in-depth page about how to pitch us a show. It also talks about what it’s really like to work in our business, the unscripted TV and film industry.