2012
08.21

How to Name a Production

MV5BNjkyOTI5MDA0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU3NzExNw@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_A name can mean everything for a production such as a play or a movie. After all a name tells the potential audience what the film or concert is all about and what they can expect when they see it. Broadway producers and movie studios have long known the secret of How to Name a Production and you should learn it too.

You’ve probably never heard of a movie named Shoeless Joe but you’ve probably seen that production. Shoeless Joe was the original name for the classic film Field of Dreams. It was the name of the obscure novel that Kevin Costner’s famed baseball movie was based upon. Studio executives realized that the name Shoeless Joe had nothing to do with the actual production even though it was the name of a pivotal character in the story.

After all, the movie was about ghosts on an Iowa farm not the 1919 World Series cheating scandal for which the real Shoeless Joe was infamous. Producers changed the name to something that more accurately reflected the real story. The theme of the movie was the enduring and magical qualities of the national pastime not what one of the characters was wearing.

Sometimes it Pays to Keep the Name

Now there are times when a terrible or inaccurate name should be left upon a production. Those times are when the name is already known to the public or established fans. We’d all agree that The Hunger Games is a terrible name for a movie. Arena of Death sounds far better and is more accurate. Yet producers left that name on this Spring’s big budget movie version of the books because their fans are already familiar with that name. The name already has a fan following.

This brings us to an important aspect of how to name a production:  “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!!” If a property is already attracting fans in another medium don’t mess with the name. A best selling book, a popular song or a hit TV show or movie is already attracting an audience, don’t change its name. Putting a different name on it could drive away the existing audience.

How Not to Name a Production

An excellent example of how not to name a production was provided this spring by the Walt Disney Company with its gigantic flop John Carter. John Carter is essentially a sword and sorcery fantasy adventure based on a story by Edgar Rice Boroughs (who also created Tarzan). The name on the film is awful because it has nothing to do with the film’s plot. A better title might have been that of the original story A Princess of Mars.

The name “John Carter” will simply confuse the public because they don’t know who or what John Carter is. They might wonder if it is about Jimmy Carter one of our most unpopular presidents. Only fans of old pulp novels and comic books might recognize John Carter as a classic pulp novel hero. The original book the movie was based on was a bestseller before World War I around one hundred years ago.

Not knowing how to name a production can cost you a fortune as Disney discovered recently. As of March 23, 2012, it had reportedly lost $200 million on the epic science fiction film. Naming a production is an art that you must learn how to master if you want to make money at the box office.

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