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
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
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
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.