With dopey titles like the hopelessly vanilla “Love Happens” somehow making their way to the multiplex these days, we’re left to wonder why it is that a hundred million-dollar movie is left to do box office battle armed with a scant 10-cent handle.
It’s hardly a shocker that “Happens” barely happened at all, pulling in a tepid $8.5 million and losing out big to something called “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”
Given this title challenge, it might seem the time is ripe for a business like TitleDoctors, a service launched two and a half years ago by marketing consultants Seth-El and Jamil Barrie and dedicated to the proposition that many studio film titles are so sickly they require medical intervention to wrest them from the clutches of intensive care.
Instead of a stethoscope, El (a literary manager) and Barrie (a brand strategist) make house calls armed with what they call "proven proprietary naming methodologies."
Notes El: "There is a science to it, a criteria. The title should embody what the film is and describe its most compelling images in ideally one to three words. It’s really a super-condensed mini-pitch."
It’s all part of what they call a "4T" formula in determining a film’s box office prospects — standing for Talent, Trailer, Title and Timing. (Were there a fifth "T," it no doubt would be Transformers.)
El and Barrie haven’t had trouble getting studios to the table for meetings and even earning a few dollars for their trouble. They have to date been hired to title consult on 28 studio films since hanging out their shingle, working with Universal, MGM, Paramount, Sony, DreamWorks, Disney, New Line Cinema and the Weinstein Company — pretty much everyone aside from 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.
And how have they fared so far? Don’t ask.
Getting in the door is one thing; getting someone to listen, they’ve found, is another.
Despite earning fees ranging between $8,000 and $12,000 from each of their clients, none of the titles suggested by El and Barrie have been used.
Their lone success so far was in convincing Universal Pictures and DreamWorks to use their tagline for “The Soloist,” which was “Life has a mind of its own.”
Unfortunately, so too do the studio marketing departments.
"It’s hard to be convinced to change something you may have lived with for a long time," Barrie told me, "no matter how it may play in terms of its impact and suitability for the film."
Would “Love Happens” have tanked had Universal replaced the title with one of the three rejected TitleDoctors suggestions: "Bittersweet," "Words to Live By" and "The Breakthrough"?
El and Barrie like to think not.
But then, they may just have their eyes wide shut on the issue.