Naming things can be a challenge.
A name becomes such a part of our identity. It’s spoken, written, and often becomes symbolic of our character. Or what we do for a living.
At a cinematography workshop, a filmmaker asked me if my name was real. I chuckled at the absurdity of his question, until I realized he was serious.
“Camden Watts sounds like a stage name you made up. It’s too perfect,” he elaborated. The guy went on to talk about the significance of each word, and how it played perfectly into filmmaking. I’m a little embarrassed that I’d honestly never made those connections.
Whether it sounds made up or not, for all film-related activities, I keep using my maiden name: Camden Watts. I got married a few years ago but my maiden name has been tied to all of my artistic / creative endeavors for so long that it feels weird to change it.
In my personal life, however, I proudly welcomed taking my husband’s name. Sometimes that can cause confusion.
At a restaurant, the hostess will ask what name to use for the reservation. I automatically respond with “Watts” but, then awkwardly correct myself by quickly uttering my married name. You can see the disdain in the hostess’s eyes by the time she writes down something. Good times.
At the bank, they’ll often ask for my name to look up records. It’s a simple question. But I end up staring back at them with a blank expression, because I literally don’t know my own name. I’m never sure which version they have on file. The pause while I desperately try to remember my own name totally makes things awkward for everyone.
Oh, and my legal “list of aliases” is hilariously long.
Yeah, it keeps things interesting.
There’s so much pressure with picking a name.
Dude, even when it came time to name my dog, I couldn’t do it. I liked his shelter-given name, Louie, too much to change it. He was totally Louie by the time I signed the adoption papers.
Every time I get ready to title a movie, I panic a little.
Is this the right name? Will it be easy to remember / spell / search / find? Will it cause confusion or problems later on? Does it represent the film well enough to intrigue people, without giving away too much?
Yah, it’s a daunting task.
One of my favorite examples of film naming is Snakes on a Plane (2006).
New Line Cinema was going to change the name to Pacific Air 121 which upset the star of the movie, Samuel L. Jackson. He almost quit over the title change. (Read more at mentalfloss.com.) They ended up keeping Snakes on a Plane, obviously.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, screenwriter John Heffernan talks about Snakes on a Plane 10 years after it was released.
I think it had mainly to do with the title. It was so simple, so unvarnished, so unapologetically sui generis. Just those four words: snakes on a plane. Again, you got it or you didn’t. And people definitely got it. Something about the idea of a movie like this from a major studio with a major star sparked something in the collective cultural consciousness and took off running.
By summer 2006, the movie had a gigantic buzz, months before its release. There were T-shirts and memes and videos and Web parodies, there was even a fan site, snakesonablog, that devoted itself to documenting every detail of the making of the movie and the events surrounding it. Not a day went by for three months that the film wasn’t mentioned on one talk show or another. “Snakes on a Plane” became not just a title but also a phrase, with its own entry in the online Urban Dictionary.
– John Heffernan, Snakes on a Plane screenwriter
When the titular line was spoken during screenings, audiences lost their minds in the theaters. There was so much enthusiasm for this movie.
What a great case study.
Why I chose “Good Thing”
Good Thing is the title of my newest documentary film.
The movie is about Shannon Johnstone, the photographer behind Landfill Dogs. She brings dogs from the Wake County Animal Shelter to a landfill park. There, she creates images of the dogs to help them get adopted.
It’s a really beautiful story about one woman using her talents to help make a difference.
I wrote about it for the first time in 2013. (You can read the original post here.) Then, I made a documentary about it using my iPhone in 2014. (Read more about that here.) Then in the fall of 2014, I finally introduced the feature-length project on the blog. (Read more here.)
“Good thing” is a phrase Shannon uses while talking to the dogs, both her own and the animals at the shelter. You can hear her say it in the trailer.
Good Thing has a double meaning, though.
In addition to the phrase she uses often, the title references her efforts. The act of photographing the dogs, using her own talents to champion their adoption, and all of the hard work she’s poured into the project is also a good thing. Shannon has helped more than 100 dogs avoid euthanasia.
The title hints that watching the movie will be a positive experience. This is not a documentary that will make you cry for two hours, bemoan the state of the world, and leave you with absolutely no solution to a heavy problem. (No hate for those types of films, of course; they can be really powerful. It’s just not the film I’m making in this instance.)
Good Thing is filled with beauty, hope, and optimism.
What do you think about the title? How do you feel about naming things, whether it’s pets or humans or films? I’d love to hear from you. Use the comments to share what’s on your mind!