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In 1986 Brooklyn, Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg, Roger Dodger) is coming of age in his chaotic home. Both his father (Jeff Daniels), a once-successful novelist, and his mother (Laura Linney) have taken lovers and are rapidly heading for divorce. So it's up to Walt and his younger brother (Owen Kline) to grapple with what has become of their family. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (co-writer, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), based on his own childhood experiences. Winner of the Director's Award (Drama) and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Co-starring Anna Paquin and William Baldwin.
 

 The Squid and the Whale

If you call your movie The Squid and the Whale you have to be prepared for a series of annoying questions you won't want to answer. "Who's the squid and who's the whale?" "Does it take place under water?" "Is it animated?" "No, seriously, who's the squid?" "I thought you didn't swim." "What famous actors do the voices?"

The answers are: "I don't know." "No." "No." "I really don't know." "I don't." "It's not animated."

When I was in preproduction on The Squid and the Whale I learned that there was a kids soccer movie starring Will Ferrell in the works called Kicking & Screaming. This was particularly irksome to me because I had written and directed a movie in 1995 about reluctant college graduates called Kicking and Screaming. My title essentially referred to an inner struggle, while the new one was about actual kids kicking and screaming. Maybe their title was more appropriate even, but that didn't matter to me because I had gotten there first. I looked into all the legalities of the issue, but unless your movie is called Casablanca or E.T. you're basically advised not to do anything. I called the director and pleaded with him. He didn't even like the title, he said, but it was Universal's marketing department's decision. Their alternate title, I learned, was Untitled Will Ferrell Soccer Movie. Any spiteful plan to call my new movie The Untitled Will Ferrell Soccer Movie quickly revealed itself as self-defeating and misleading.

This whole New Studio Movie With The Same Title As Mine situation was further aggravated by the fact that Kicking and Screaming wasn't even my original title. Fifth Year was. (It referred to the extra year after college.) At the time of production, the producer persuaded me to change it. Fifth Year was too obscure, too small—we needed something bigger and more active. (In short something that would sound like a movie about kids playing soccer.) I was proud of myself when I came up with Kicking and Screaming, but now I want Fifth Year back.

I usually don't have a title while I'm writing a movie. (I have one or two good titles in my back pocket that I keep trying to force onto screenplays, but they haven't stuck.) When you're working on a script, friends tend to ask things like "What's it  about?" and "What's it called?" For some reason these polite, innocuous queries strike me as terribly hostile while I'm in the middle of writing something. For a long time I referred to the then Untitled The Squid and the Whale script as about my parents' divorce. This wasn't even really true, but it was a useful way to stop people from asking a follow-up question. For this reason, a friend suggested I call it My Parents' Divorce. There's a great Tammy Wynette song, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," which is sung—and spelled out—from the perspective of parents who don't want the kids to understand what they're talking about. I toyed with that for about an hour once, but the kids in my movie were old enough to spell. Someone else suggested, Brooklyn. There was also Park Slope. Pretty much every descriptive title was considered short of A Mother and Father Divorce and Their Two Sons, Walt and Frank, Deal with the Crappy Joint Custody Arrangement in 1986.

When I finished the first draft of the script, The Squid and the Whale seemed to me to be the only title. It looked good in caps on the Final Draft title page and that was that. I like it because I don't really know what it means. It refers to something very specific in the movie (namely a squid and whale), but its abstract meaning eludes me. "Is your mom the squid and your dad the whale?" That's another one I get. "I have no fucking idea" is the answer. Another good thing about the title is that it means something different to the viewer after they've seen the movie. I know that in this day and age that reasoning would probably fall into the category of "bad marketing decision." So be it. It's the right title for this movie. And you can't have it.