Selling To Netflix 2024

Selling Your Documentary To Netflix and the Streamers 2024

How To Choose A Title
For Your Documentary

Tips for coming up with great documentary titles:
How to check legal use of your title

So you've made a documentary, congrats! Now it's time to choose a title.

Choosing a title for your documentary can be both fun and challenging.

How To Choose A Documentary Title

Start by brainstorming some ideas that capture the essence of your film, and make a list of potential titles that pop into your head.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the essence of what I'm trying to say in this documentary?

  • Are there any words or phrases surrounding this subject that would be cool in the title?

  • Are there any symbolic words that represent the subject matter?

  • Is there a striking quote from an interview that encapsulates the film’s spirit?

Get creative and don't be afraid to explore strange ideas.

Our team here at Desktop Documentaries highly recommends choosing a short title (1-3 words).  

A shorter title makes it easier to promote and easier for people to remember.

In addition, a shorter title shows up easier as a thumbnail image (see the images of documentary titles below.. that's how your film will be promoted on Netflix, in catalogs, Amazon, etc).

When choosing your title, choose words that are memorable, unique and catchy, not generic and vague.  

For example, the words "disease" and "health" are vague.  

"Generation Rx" is catchy. 

Once you have some options, ask your friends and family what they think, or even create a poll on social media. 

One tip from Sheila Nevins (Former President, HBO Documentary Films), if you want to reach a mass audience, choose a title that communicates clearly what the film is about. For example the documentary FOOD Inc. 

Don't be coy or subtle with your title

In an interview with Indiewire, Nevins said, "You can't sell a subtle, brilliant title. A title has to cut through, has to give away the stuff inside, has to say, 'Watch me.' It can't mislead."

Checking Legal Use for Your Documentary Title

If you're making a documentary that you expect will broadcast on a premium channel or streamer, they may request a "Title Search Report" which is basically a document done by a lawyer that proves the title of your documentary does not infringe on anyone's copyrights or trademarks.

With that said, movie titles cannot in general be copyrighted.

There's an exception for movies that are a series such as Star Wars. But for single works, anyone can use anyone else's title legally. That goes for books too.

The only catch here is that certain distinctive phrases and slogans can be trademarked.

So there's definitely some gray area here.

Of course the actual film (the contents) can be copyrighted, just not the title.

Generally, it's assumed that no filmmaker wants to have the same title of someone else. You are creating a unique work and you want the title to reflect that.

So how do you figure out if the title you want to use is already taken?

In addition to just a regular Google search, here are two other places to look:

Again, to be absolutely sure your title is free and clear, you'll need to pay an attorney or title search company. But for most situations, a good search of the internet is probably sufficient.

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Please reference this material as opinion only.

And if you'd like to understand all the legal issues involved in the making of a documentary, check out our Documentary Legal & Business Tool Kit with entertainment attorney Gordon P. Firemark.

Changing A Movie Title For VOD Release

Find out why director Shane Ryan has TWO titles for his film in the interview below with Film Courage.

Connect with Shane Ryan at

Or watch his film My Name is A by Anonymous, a narrative film based on true events filmed documentary-style.

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