Working titles

Is a rose by another name still a rose?

How important is a film’s title to its success at the box office? Often the name of a film can be determined relatively late in the movie-making process. While the movie is in production, and sometimes even while it’s being shot, an entirely different name, called a working title, is used.

No doubt many films have benefited from a change away from their respective working titles.

Among other targets, Team America: World Police satirises US arrogance and military aggression. Yet the working title American Heroes sounds a touch earnest for a comedy and doesn’t give a sense of the film’s scope.

Snatch is more dynamic than its working title Diamonds.

You really have to see the film, though, to explain how the working title for Adaptation could be The Orchid Thief.

Everybody Comes to Rick’s just does not have the same ineffable cachet as Casablanca, and Discoland: Where the Music Never Ends is not as punchy as Can’t Stop the Music.

American Pie is more effective than East Great Falls High, while I was a Teenage Teenager (Clueless), is rather, er, clueless.

And Scream Again and Scream Louder (Scream 2) sound more like unfunny comedies (Look Who’s Talking Too, anyone?), than slasher flicks.

While writing a review of Danny Deckchair quite some time ago, I discovered that its working title was Larry Lawnchair.

Neither name is very good. The latter lacks an Australian touch and the former is so ordinary that I was dreading sitting down to watch it.

So when eventually I did see the film, I was relieved it wasn’t too bad at all.

I asked around and elicited some alternative titles that might have made the film more alluring.

Barry Bananalounge sounds as Australian as lamingtons. Paddy Pouffe, Alby Armchair, and Bernie Barstool also emerged from the brainstorming session. Clearly though, writer/director Jeff Balsmeyer missed gold by not opting for Jason Recliner.

In some instances it’s obvious why a working title was discarded.

You can understand why Cameron Crowe opted for Almost Famous over Something Real, Stillwater or The Uncool.

The former is much more inviting to an audience, more open-ended and is more evocative of the film’s engaging plot (based on Crowe’s own experiences), which deals with a teenager’s adventures on the road – and brush with celebrity – as a young music reporter.

It also becomes apparent why writer/director Todd Solendz’s grim opus was ultimately called Welcome to the Dollhouse.

It’s hard to imagine too many people excited at the prospect of seeing Faggots and Retards, as accurate as the film’s working title might be.

It seems honesty in a film title is desirable only to the point that it puts backsides on cinema seats.

This article first appeared in J-Mag.

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