The teaser! The title! The awkward silence!

You know that movie that I directed this summer? The one that most of you were involved with in some way? The one you thought was called Political Justice? That’s not what it’s called. It’s called Discouraging Words, and here’s a teaser trailer:

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About a week into production I made the laughable claim that we would have a teaser by the end of week 2. Obviously, that didn’t happen—although in my defense, it wasn’t for lack of material. We could have cut a teaser from only the footage we got in the first week, but by ‘we’ I mean ‘somebody who isn’t me,’ and… well… that person didn’t exist. But the past is behind us, that that is a pretty awesome teaser, if I do say so myself.

Still having trouble adjusting to that title? Discouraging Words? Say it to yourself. Discouraging Words. Let it roll around your mouth. It wasn’t my idea, but it is the perfect title, and I’ll tell you how I arrived there.

Political Justice was fine as a working title. It was suggested by Ethan and it fit the content more or less, while also conjuring up the image of poetic justice. In the film’s current incarnation, though, that parallel isn’t quite so apt. For a few weeks I labored under the title None of the Above, suggested by my screenwriting class, but that one never really sat right with me. Too generic, and too cynical. So we switched back to Political Justice as the production’s working title.

As production wrapped up, I started trying to brainstorm possible titles. Early on I decided that the final title could contain no iterations of the words ‘Wyoming’ or ‘politics,’ since if this had been a studio-developed project, its working title would have been Wyoming Politics. Furthermore, I wanted something that implied a Western flavor without being smarmy, and preferably also touched on the craft of writing, or language, or something. As a starting point, I tried to think of some of my favorite movie/book/story titles:

  • Pirates of Silicon Valley
  • A Gravestone Made of Wheat
  • Blood Simple.
  • Americathon
  • Something Happened
  • On the Waterfront

That list was leading me nowhere, so I sort of just tried stream-of consciousness sorts of things, to little effect. Vvinni had a great suggestion for a title: Trouble in Carbon County. Unfortunately, none of the movie takes place in Carbon county, and the title sounds a little more noirish than would have been fitting. Someday, though, I’m going to make that movie, just because that title is too good to pass up.

Sean suggested Broken Plains, which refers to Wyoming as a vast plain broken by the Rocky Mountains. There’s a reference there to The Plough That Broke the Plains that was clever but not terribly fitting, and it also implied that the campaign in the film was more publicly divisive than I thought was the case. And as Matt pointed out, it smacks of Brokeback Mountain.

Here are some other brainstormed titles, from a list hastily scrawled on a piece of scrap paper:

  • Blunt Instruments
  • Some Kind of Rodeo
  • Roper
  • Open Seat
  • Opposition Research
  • Free and Noble
  • Founding Fathers
  • Frontier Justice
  • Afraid and Alone
  • Under the Stars
  • Cool Treasure
  • How Far
  • Just Folks
  • The Opposite of Progress

I actually sort of liked Some Kind of Rodeo. It seemed playful and exciting, even though it didn’t really have anything to do with politics or writing or anything. Vvinni comments:

“Part of me wishes we had a shot of Bammer bursting through the door of the Hoffman campaign office saying ‘What is this, some kind of Rodeo?!’ then taking a bite of a gigantic slab of jerky he was carrying and chewing it as Hoffman and his staff look on in confusion and disgust.”

I liked it so much that I went so far as to put together a billing block with that title and stick it into the teaser to see how it looked, and I even checked for available domain names for that title. One strike against it was that when written out, appears to have the word ‘frodo’ in it. No good.

What really bothered me about the title, though, was the rodeo comparison. I felt it was reductive and patronizing to call an election a rodeo just because it’s kind of wacky and it happens in Wyoming. Maybe not entirely inaccurate, but it felt like the cheap gag.

Then, at about 3:00 in the morning I got an e-mail from Matt that, among a few suggestions like White Man’s Burden, Cowboys Don’t Wear Pocket Protectors and Dale Roper: Big Gay Political Cowboy, contained the title Discouraging Words. Sold.

Discouraging Words refers to the quintessentially Western anthem Home on the Range, but it also invokes notions of wordplay, authorship and the inevitable discouragement associated with the political process. It’s a melancholy title, but not fatalistic and with just a hint of cheekiness. And believe it or not, no other film has ever been titled Discouraging Words, and on top of that, I was able to snap up!

So there’s the process that went into selecting the title. If you’re still reading, I commend your endurance.



4 thoughts on “The teaser! The title! The awkward silence!

  1. WHAT GOOD IS A TITLE THAT DOESN’T REFERENCE WILLIAM GODWIN? Mary Shelley’s father? Everybody’s heard of him, right?


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