No count has yet been made of the number of movie patrons who went to see The Seventh Veil in fond expectation that it would combine the most salient features of Salome and Minsky. It didn’t, of course: the veil that was lifted concealed only actress Ann Todd‘s innermost thoughts.
A more pertinent estimate made recently, however, indicates what producers have long suspected—that one-fourth of all movie-goers select their entertainment solely on the appeal of a film’s title. High-powered publicity, star casts, critics’ reviews and personal recommendations mean nothing to this phlegmatic 25 per cent. If the title “sounds pretty good”, they will pay their money without further ado.
Any businessman will tell you that 25 per cent is a figure to be treated with respect. In the move industry, it often means the difference between red ink and black. Small wonder that some of Hollywood’s highest-paid brains labor mightily over movie titles—occasionally bringing forth a mouse.
Twentieth Century-Fox had a sad experience when it first released Bob, Son of Battle, from the book of the same name. This was at a time when war stories were fast loving favor and movie-goers mistook it for a picture about the war. The thousands of dollars already spent to publicize the title had to be written off, and the opus—about a dog—relabeled Thunder in the Valley, a phrase which suggested intense conflict in a satisfactorily vague fashion.
Do not adjust your Internet. Yes, this gossip, though interesting, is slightly dated. It may still be somewhat relevant, however…
Many experts believe that the ideal titles are single words like Spellbound, Lifeboat, or Possessed. They do not clutter up the marquee, an important point in these days of double features; they can be read by prospects speeding by in a bus or auto; and they do not impose an unreasonable burden upon the average person’s memory.
Perhaps the outstanding exception was a 1939 comedy named Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President. The shortest title undoubtedly was M, the Peter Lorre melodrama imported from Germany.
A title should give some inkling of the film’s contents and if possible bring to mind the featured player. Spitfire, starring Lupe Velez, and Jezebel, with Bette Davis, were practically perfect.
These quotes are excerpted from a fascinating article in the April 1950 issue of Coronet, a long-defunct magazine. Much of the article has to do with the Hays Office, something that’s happily no longer relevant. I have no idea what voodoo movie companies use today to pick movie titles – the 1950 article hints that some movie executives may not have literally used voodoo, but certainly did use astrologers – but I know first-hand the agonizing many writers go through when faced with the unfortunate necessity of titling their latest work. People – like myself – who write short fiction may have it even worse, having to come up with a dozen or more titles in a year’s time.
I tend not to think too hard about the titles I give my books, which is probably why most of them are burdened with horrible, meaningless, and instantly-forgettable titles. (A recent urban fantasy short story isn’t even titled in English, but in Basque, just because I could.) That doesn’t mean that the books themselves are (necessarily…) horrible, meaningless, or instantly-forgettable, though – or so I hope.
Having been slightly busy (and ill…) lately and having largely neglected to post anything here for a good long while, I figured that now, with the holidays approaching, might be a good time to, ahem, pimp some of the more recent fruits of my unskilled labors.
There is, for example, Hamaika, that very urban fantasy story. Like nerdy stories about science-fiction conventions, fruitcake, and zombie jokes? You might like Hamaika, which is available at Amazon, and iTunes, and on the Nook, and pretty much everywhere else e-books are sold.
There is also An Accidental Fastball to the Heart, a heartwarming lesbian romance novel that I thought I’d never finish. Only available on the Kindle right now – but I hope to have a paperback edition available by Christmas.
Those of you who don’t care for e-books might be joyed to learn that I’ve recently published a paperback collection of my short fiction, which can be ordered from Amazon (including overseas Amazons!) and Barnes and Noble, and pretty much anywhere else. The collection, Unmarketable Dross – and how’s that for a great title, huh? It’s really hard to believe nobody’s ever used it for a book before, isn’t it? – brings together six novellas of mine from the last couple of years that were previously only available in electronic editions. Among other things, it’s the only place you can get Midnight’s Tale, my literary masterpiece about a goat, which has somehow won me fame and fortune and acclaim, however tiny and short-lived, in print. It makes a great Christmas present, if I do say so myself.
Well, that’s what’s new—and old—in my life, dear reader. How about you?