Learn & Become A Better Screenwriter
Most titles focus on one of three elements: (1) a new story idea (2) a new character or (3) the theme.
A “new story idea” title focuses on the adventure, and the audience should be clear about the new situation or story being presented. Examples: Inception, Night of the Living Dead, Wedding Crashers, Prison Break, The Twilight Zone, The Night Of, The Wire, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Last Man on Earth, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
A “new character” title will focus on the character that provides fresh entertainment – in other words, a character that we have not seen before. Examples: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Napoleon Dynamite, Rain Man, Hannibal, House, Ally McBeal, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.
A “theme” title can be more abstract, but it should indicate the overall resonance or impact of the story. Examples: The Shawshank Redemption, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, House of Cards, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Shameless, Burning Love.
In addition to the considerations above, television and web series require a Series Title as well as various Episode Titles.
A Series Title should accurately encapsulate the main idea of your show and let the audience know what to expect as the primary entertainment for the series. It’s the “bigger picture” of your series encapsulated in a word or short phrase.
More examples of effective television and webseries titles:
Friends - speaks to the relationship of the series’ characters while also indicating a feel good tone and comedy genre.
Lost - speaks to the specific story of the series, captures theme, and also reflects the genres of mystery and adventure.
Grey’s Anatomy - a double entendre title that reflects both the Protagonist’s perspective and also the genre – medical drama.
Frasier - effectively specifies that Frasier is the Protagonist and also the primary source of entertainment for the entire series.
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – expresses musical comedy genre, superhero sub-genre, and also the approach to the webseries (the blog).
Simply, an Episode Title lets the audience know what that episode is about.
An Episode Title usually focuses on an episode’s primary story, theme, or character interactions. It will distinguish it from other episodes, and if effective, will immediately make the audience associate that episode with the title’s idea.
For example, in season one of Game of Thrones, the first few episodes are “Winter is Coming,” “The King’s Road,” and “Lord Snow.” Each focuses on a major story element of the episode, and conjures a distinct idea in the audience’s mind.
Note that some TV series have specific naming conventions for their episodes. Hannibal uses the courses of a meal, in different languages for each season. Each Friends episode starts with the phrase “The One with/where…” Grey’s Anatomy’s episode titles are all song titles.