Friday, April 11, 2008

Bad Friends, Phantoms and The Boss

In conversation with Chris Cooke the other day, he was talking about a title for a film that he wishes he'd used - 'Bad Friend'. (Apparently, the actual film with that name is a horror about a man who orders a zombie off the internet). It sounds like a Cooke title, as the unreliability and often corrosive nature of friendship is one of the themes that often crops up in his scripts (speaking as his friend, yeah, that is weird and slightly discomfiting), so I told him he should just nick it. I mean, who's going to mind? It's not as though the original is that well known (and for that matter, there's at least four other films called 'One For The Road'...). 'Mum and Dad' got its title courtesy of me reading about 'The most notorious Exploitation/Sex Hygiene film ever made!', and just anglicizing it. I don't think that anyone's going to get the two confused (and I don't even mind the link to the other one - in fact, it just increases the exploitation element that I tried to get into the film).

I like thinking up titles - I can spend days doing it, sometimes longer (and sometimes still not get anywhere - some of my projects have been gestating for years, slouching slowly towards becoming scripts, and I still haven't got good titles for them - with others, I've got a great title, but precious little story to go with them.) I don't think that there's any real formula to it (although there's probably whole chapters in some scriptwriting manuals dedicated to finding the perfect title) - I guess it's more to do with finding something that has the right feel for the film.

The first horror short I made was called 'Autopsy' (although for a long time it was labouring under the distinctly underwhelming 'Phantoms' (which sounds like a terrible made-for-TV-drama, or a terrible conjunction between Dean R. Koontz and Ben Affleck). I think 'Autopsy' came about through reading an Alan Moore comic that listed the dictionary definition of the word as being both 'an examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death' and 'Personal observation or examination; seeing with one's own eyes'. Because the film was about a woman investigating the death of her brother and being quite skeptical about the prospect of some supernatural force behind it, thus being propelled into a first-hand witnessing of it, it seemed to fit. Also, it had a more horror-filmy feel to it than the wet 'Phantoms'.

Next up was 'Cry' - and I think the film had the title pretty much from the off. In the orginal script, the film was going to feature the famous cursed 'Crying Boy' painting, kind of like this: (Note: there are very many different versions of the 'Crying Boy' painting, which was reputedly cursed, but I always had this one in mind because when I was a kid it used to hang over our stairwell at home and creep me out.) Anyway, despite the painting getting lost from the script, I still kept the motif and I liked the idea that the film would start and end with a cry. I didn't, at the time, realise that it sounded like a weak rip-off of 'Scream', probably one of the most famous horror films of the time, but there you go.

'Through A Vulture Eye' came from a line in Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart', which was a direct influence on the script, while 'Awake' was pretty self-explanatory within the context of the film, although even now I'm wishing that it had a more dynamic title.

'Deliver Me' was another one of those projects which didn't really have a proper title for quite a long time. I think I eventually got the title from, of all places, Bruce Springsteen (stay with me..) - I love the 'Nebraska' album and one of the lines that's featured in a couple of the songs is 'Deliver me from nowhere'. The line stuck in my head and one day it just butted up against a thought about faith healing and then it seemed to fit. It's not as though the essence of The Boss permeates the very fabric of the film - more like in listening to the album something hooked into the spot where I was thinking up the feel for the film. (My next film, a zombie massacre, is going to be called 'Wrap Your Legs Round These Velvet Rims and Strap Your Hands Across My Engines'...)

A title I always wanted to use, but never was able was 'Provisions For Survival In A World Less Fantastic'. I wrote a script with that name which got rejected from Cinema Extreme (alongside every other script I ever submitted to them, the fuckers), which was a story about a bloke having a mid-life crisis and going to live in the woods. The title itself comes from a line in a Thomas Pynchon book, 'Mason and Dixon'. I remember reading the line, liking it, memorising it and then never being able to find it again, so it's most probably misquoted (and I can't even go back and check - the book got mangled years ago, during my days as an usher, when I had an altercation with a boozed-up Spaniard (which was a bit less dramatic than I've just made it sound - I wasn't having a smackdown with El Cid or anything)). Although long titles are sometimes really pretentious and annoying (and possibly even so in this case), sometimes they feel right. (While searching for Cooke's 'Bad Friend' film on IMDB, I also came across the fantastically lengthy 1914 silent short 'The Fable of the Fellow Who Had a Friend Who Knew a Girl Who Had a Friend' (which already sounds like a contemporary Hollywood romcom, probably starring Ryan Reynolds and, making her screen debut, I dunno, Rihanna). The same writer also did 'The Fable of the Preacher Who Flew His Kite But Not Because He Wished to Do So', 'The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure' and 'The Fable of the Kittenish Super-Anns and the World-Weary Snipes' which sounds like a Joss Whedon series waiting to happen.)

Sometimes a title doesn't come to you even when you've finished the script. The last project I put in for Cinema Extreme (blah blah fuckers blah blah) was called 'Damaged' which was relevant to the story, but still sounded quite generic, and also awakes memories of the Jeremy Irons artfilmsexfest 'Damage' (which probably isn't good). I recently started tooling around with the project again, but still couldn't come up with a better title. Maybe it means it's not meant to be. Or maybe I just need to get The Boss on the case...

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