In my over 7 years of reviewing Nigerian films and some Hollywood blockbusters, the names or titles of the films either strike gold or completely turn me off. I have come across names that I could bet were not well thought through (we know them), some that once you see the titles, you can tell it will not be worth your time and others that you can beat your chest and say, I will give this a try.
In the vibrant world of Nollywood, where creativity is meant to know no bounds, the name of the movie is a crucial aspect of filmmaking that needs to take center stage before the cameras even start rolling.
A unique and compelling title can be a cinematic masterpiece’s first step towards success, capturing the essence of the story, drawing in audiences, and leaving a lasting impact. According to a Variety Article, “The process of naming films is rarely a straightforward assignment. And with the glut of entertainment options vying for viewers’ attention, there’s heightened pressure to come up with something that sticks”. Now does this fully apply to Nollywood and our Nigerian film industry, we present why it should.
The Power of a Name
Shakespeare once famously asked, “What’s in a name?” In Nollywood, the answer should be clear: a name can be everything. It is the film’s calling card, its first impression, and a powerful tool for marketing and audience engagement.
“We’re trying to get moviegoers into theatres,” says Jason Cassidy, vice chairman of Focus Features, “and because there are so many choices, there’s a higher premium on that than ever before. A title that cuts through the noise and even starts a conversation is truly additive.”
I believe Nollywood filmmakers should understand that a catchy title can make or break a movie’s success, names like “A Young Time Ago”, “Love in a Showroom”, Love in a Pandemic, wont drive anyone to go pay 4,000 or even subscribe to a $10 a month platform. However, some names get you wondering what to expect – Jagun Jagun, King of Boys, Black Book, The Citation. “If audiences are stumbling on a movie title, they’ll move on to the next one as such, filmmakers must take naming their films seriously.
Reflecting the Story
Nollywood movie titles often provide a glimpse or most times, the whole plot, into the film’s storyline or theme. These titles serve as a teaser, offering a hint of what audiences can expect. “A marketer’s dream is that perfect blend of specificity and universality,” says Erik Feig, a longtime film executive. “You don’t want something that’s too generic, but you also don’t want something that’s too bizarrely specific. You want a title that people feel comfortable pronouncing out loud and don’t feel insecure saying.”
A good title is easy to spot it elicits a reaction, whatever that reaction may be. Something that’s “provocative for the right reasons,” For instance, “The Wedding Party” (2016) directed by Kemi Adetiba leaves no room for ambiguity, immediately conveying the central theme of the film. Similarly, “30 Days in Atlanta” (2014) suggests the comedic premise of the movie, in which the protagonist spends an eventful month in Atlanta.
Beyond storytelling, Nollywood movie titles also aim to evoke emotion. Titles can be poignant, humorous, or thought-provoking, connecting with the audience on an emotional level. “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2013) based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, immediately draws attention and evokes curiosity about the historical context of the film. In contrast, titles like “A Trip to Jamaica” (2016) promise a light-hearted, comedic experience.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Nicholas Meyer developed his own informal metric for good or bad movie titles. He refers to it as the Saturday Night Test, which he used as he adapted the Philip Roth novel “The Dying Animal” in 2008. It goes something like this: “Hey, honey. Do you want to watch the movie ‘The Dying Animal’ on Saturday night?”
I am not sure if our Nollywood filmmakers go through an audience testing, brain storming etc, but you can get the gist of this test and how stir the conversation as it relations to a name or title that will resonate with the audience.
Nollywood is known for its deep-rooted connection to Nigerian culture and traditions, which is a good thing and should be highly encouraged. Movie titles often reflect this connection, incorporating local languages, idioms, and proverbs. This cultural authenticity not only appeals to Nigerian audiences but also provides an opportunity for international viewers to engage with the rich tapestry of Nigerian heritage. Titles like “Elesin Oba”, Anikulapo, Jagun Jagun, Orisa, “Osuofia in London” showcase this cultural fusion, infusing our diversity, humor and cultural references into the movie’s name.
Wordplay, Creativity and Trends
Nollywood filmmakers also embrace wordplay, creativity in their movie titles. Puns, alliteration, and clever word choices can add depth and intrigue to a film’s name but not in all instances. “Phone Swap” (2012) directed by Kunle Afolayan cleverly combines technology and romance in its title, sparking curiosity about the film’s plot. Fifty, The Meeting, The Trade, Gangs of Lagos, Lion Heart, Rattle Snake, all titles that make us pulse and do a double take. However, there is always a risk of getting too inventive or creativity as movies such as – “Merry Men; The Real Yoruba Demons,” Omo Ghetto and Breaded Life sometimes take a lot of audience members who decided to give them a try.
Marketing and Branding
In the age of digital marketing and social media, a catchy title is an essential marketing tool. According to Kevin Goetz, a veteran movie researcher and author of “Audience-ology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love,” the most difficult part of marketing is figuring out the right title. Nollywood producers should be aware of this fact and choose titles that are easily memorable and shareable. SEO is also a concern that should be thought of as a memorable title can go viral on social media platforms and generate buzz before the film’s release.
However, outside of a trend and generating buzz, the art of naming movies is a carefully considered and integral part of the filmmaking process. Whether it’s through storytelling, emotional resonance, cultural significance, or creative wordplay, the titles of Nollywood films serve as a doorway to the cinematic experience and should be taken very seriously. As the industry continues to morph and gain recognition on the global stage, its approach to naming movies will need to improve so as to capture the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide. After all, in Nollywood, a name is not just a name; it’s a story waiting to be told.
Some excerpts in this article are taking from Variety titled – “What’s in a Name? Inside the Art and Science of Crafting the Perfect Movie” read the full article here