How To Choose A Title
For Your Documentary

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

Choosing a title for your documentary is the fun part!

There is a little bit of science and a little bit of gut instinct involved.

I've found that it's a lot easier to choose a title for a documentary if you are truly passionate about the project because the raw instincts seem to naturally lead you to the best choice.

Here's what I do when choosing a title for a documentary.

I literally do a 10-15 minute brainstorm and start writing every possible title I can think of no matter how rediculous or crazy the idea. No one will see this list but you, so have fun! 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 quote or part of a quote from one of my interviews that would work as a title?”

Is there a title you like, but has nothing to do whatsover with the movie? (i.e. the documentary "Catfish")

I highly recommend 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 in a thumbnail image of your DVD cover (see the images of documentary titles below.. that's how your film will be promoted 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 choose a title that clicks with you, check the internet and make sure no one else is using it. 

Checking Legal Use for Your
Documentary Title

If you're making a documentary that you expect will broadcast on a network such as HBO, the broadcaster 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, I would guess 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: I am not a lawyer. So please reference this material as opinion only.

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 madsincinema.com.

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

Other Articles You May Enjoy

New! Comments

[To ensure your comment gets posted, please avoid using external links/URL's]

Ready To Make Your Dream Documentary?

Sign up for our exclusive 7-day crash course and learn step-by-step how to make a documentary from idea to completed movie! 

Return Home