Screen writer


I’VE JUST WRITTEN a really good novel. It’s called Today I Sleep With Life, But Tomorrow I Will Awake to Death. Great title, isn’t it? So imagine my disgust when I discovered that Hollywood wants to adapt it as Love Explosion Vampire.

This tissue of lies was inspired by the release of two very different films. The moving Now Is Good follows poor Dakota Fanning as she dies gracefully in Brighton. The bloody Killing Them Softly concerns Brad Pitt’s attempts to annihilate mobsters in an unnamed American city. Oddly, these films have something in common: both were adapted from books with very different titles.

The superior weepie (see review, page 12) began life as a novel by Jenny Downham called Before I Die. It’s easy to detect what is afoot here. The British film-makers decided that the target demographic doesn’t want to see a film with “die” in the title.

It is, it seems, reasonable to expect punters to queue up for a movie that concerns a teenage girl enduring the final stages of a terminal disease. But we don’t want to remind them of the Great Unknown in advertisements, on posters or through trailers.

It would be different if the piece were a thriller. Die Ninja Monkeys sounds just fine. But the supposedly frail creatures who attend three-hankie dramas need to be shielded from reality until they’re actually in their seats.

The situation with Killing Them Softly is more puzzling. Andrew Dominik’s fine film (see review, page 11) takes its plot from an admired George V Higgins novel entitled Cogan’s Trade. Might potential viewers have trouble remembering the name of Brad Pitt’s protagonist? Possibly, but the alternative is truly awful. How many fans of hard-boiled crime are going to be energised by a title that alludes to an AOR Roberta Flack tune from the early 1970s?

The news was all the more surprising as Dominik has form in standing up for ruinously unwieldy titles. Somebody must surely have suggested that, when adapting The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he chop a paragraph or two from the novel’s sprawling moniker. Yet every word remained. Maybe Dominik blames that decision for the film’s underperformance.

There have, of course, been examples of titles being changed for decent reasons. The Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, source for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, has arguably the stupidest title (in its English- language incarnation anyway) of any decent film ever released.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though a gorgeous phrase, is a little unwieldy for a mainstream movie; Blade Runner did just as well.

Yes, the two big taboos are death and prolixity. I suppose my novel was always destined for a title overhaul. It’s just as well, then, that the thing doesn’t really exist.