How to Name Your Movie: The Lawless Land of Movie Titles

The titles of films often result from hours of deliberation in which highly-paid professionals toil in studio marketing departments. After pulling a name from the magic marketing hat, they attempt to gauge the appeal, potential brand equity and even longevity of title before christening a multimillion dollar proposition with it. In the world of independent filmmaking, the process is a tad less cynical but often no less grueling.

The Odyssey of Lawless

Consider the titular odyssey of the name ?Lawless,? which is now successfully appended to the Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy Depression-era bootlegging flick. Originally, the film took the name of its source material, a novel titled ?The Wettest County in the World? before briefly flirting with ?The Promised Land? and then finally a distillation of its original title, ?The Wettest County.?

None of these titles sat right with the producers, however, who preferred the less descript but more broadly marketable ?Lawless,? which works better internationally where the stateside booze slang ?wet? means little more in translation than being moist.

The hiccup was that American auteur Terrence Malick was openly mulling ?Lawless? for his own flick starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman. For reasons surely left in the studio war room, Malick eventually ?gifted? the title to what would become ?Lawless? and received a ‘special thanks? for his generosity.

This did little for married filmmaking team Silver Tree and Abe Levy, whose own independent film Deep Dark Canyon, was shot under the title Lawless and even gained regional press coverage during production under its original title.

?We figured it was a ?great minds think alike? situation when we learned that not one but two films shared our title, both by directors we respect,? said Levy who wrote and directed the film with his collaborator and wife Silver Tree.

The film, which begins its roll out October 19 in Los Angeles, was renamed for the atmospheric, rural setting in which it takes place, namely Guerneville, California. Like its former namesake, Deep Dark Canyon also features brothers under-the-gun, literally, it’s a contemporary tale that ponders familial duty and blood rather than booze. The film opens on a hunting accident that kills the patriarch of a rural town dynasty. The two young brothers responsible (Nick Eversman, ABC’s Missing) and Spencer Treat Clark, Gladiator, Unbreakable) eventually find themselves handcuffed together and on the run ? from their dad, the backwater’s sheriff (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Monk).

Titles Can’t Be Copyrighted

Since one cannot copyright a title as such, one might wonder why more films don’t make it to market sharing names. It stands for reason, however, that film marketers may not want to invest in a shared name and inadvertently benefit a project that isn’t theirs. There are instances when a trademark?could apply. Though a single film won’t qualify for a trademark on its own, a producer of a potential film series could file an ?intent-to-use? application with the trademark office and lock-in the name of their prospective franchise (companies in the midst of rebranding do this all the time). However, such applications are only good for 36 months and given the glacial pace of film development in Hollywood, most ITUs would expire before being useful. So, it’s back to pulling names from the magic marketing hat.

Fortunately, the fate of Deep Dark Canyon didn’t turn on its erstwhile title nor did its filmmakers succumb to crass marketing ploys. Tree and Levy named the film for a song penned by Tree and

“At first we were kind of bummed out that we’d have to change the title, because we thought Lawless had a real grit to it ? kind of ?teen exploitation.? We knew that there had already been a number of movies with the title but they were all very small and no one had ever heard of them. Then when we heard that Malick was going to use it, we got nervous and figured we’d have to change. Now we’re thrilled we did. We can’t really picture the movie being called Lawless anymore. It is Deep Dark Canyon — a more poetic title in our opinion.?

Lawless opened theatrically in September 2012. Deep Dark Canyon premieres at the Roxy 14, 85 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, on October 19, 2012. (Visit for info). The Untitled Terrence Malick Project 2013 is in pre-production.

What’s the title of your indie film? List your and those you rejected in the comments!