Titling MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT: The Focus Group

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This week, the title of Woody Allen’s 47th movie was announced: MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. This strikes me as too similar to MAGIC IN THE WATER, a film about a child’s relationship with a sea monster, for comfort. It does at least suggest a light, fluffy if rather forgettable musical or an exchange. ‘During the day, I look unshaven, balding, bags under the eyes.’ ‘Yes, but we have magic in the moonlight.’ ‘I was wearing sunglasses.’ I wondered how Woody Allen, who famously begins most movies without a title – he went into production of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS without knowing it was about Hannah and her sisters, how nutty is that? -  chooses what his films should be called. BLUE JASMINE was a rather sensible alternative to the original, JASMINE FRENCH, so he gets it right some of the time.

Then it hit me: focus groups.


A researcher for Gravier Productions introduces herself to a group of elderly ladies and gentlemen. The women are in floral dresses, the men are in short sleeved chequered shirts, so there’s tie-in potential with a major retailer.

RESEARCHER: Hello, my name is Navinia.

SAM: That’s a beautiful name.

DORA: Sounds like a weed.

RESEARCHER: Thank you for coming. Please help yourself to more coffee and pastries. We also have ‘erbal teas.

CLARK: Are these gonna make me run to the john?

RESEARCHER: I shouldn’t think so.

FRANK: Can you run?

AVIS: I was elected Miss Delaware in 1959.

RESEARCHER: I brought you here to get your thoughts on some titles.

FRANK: Do we get coupons? I didn’t cross two boroughs for no coupons.

RESEARCHER: We have some movie passes.

FRANK: I can’t eat those.

RESEARCHER: Take a pastry. OK, how many of you like comedies?

AVIS: I laughed during LINCOLN but then I felt dirty.

CLARK: I didn’t care for TED. A talking Teddy Bear who didn’t have an agent – I didn’t understand it.

RESEARCHER: OK. I’m going to suggest some movie titles and I want you to tell me what you think about them.

CLARK: Why isn’t Ted a millionaire? Why does John Bennet have a crappy job?


CLARK: I mean there are the Muppets – Ted could walk on to the set and pull the puppeteers’ hands out of their asses!

FRANK: I’d pay to see that.

CLARK: Why wasn’t there a campaign to get Ted the right to vote? He can make mature political decisions, especially after boozing.

RESEARCHER: That’s quite enough about TED.

CLARK: Maybe they ought to make a film about Ted’s college years – how he denied John Bennet an education because he was always getting stoked.

RESEARCHER: You have very interesting opinions.

AVIS: My bunions talk to me.

RESEARCHER: OK, movie titles. Who can tell me a good movie title?

FRANK: ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’. You know what you’ll get with a picture like that.

DORA: ‘Schindler’s List’.

CLARK: ‘Seven’ – simple, it’s a number. Seven deadly sins, Seven Samurai, Seven-Eleven! Plenty of associations. What does it mean? You wanna find out.

FRANK: Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box.

AVIS: I didn’t know that was on the menu.

SAM: ‘Heaven Can Wait.’

AVIS: ‘Ishtar’.

The group stares at her

AVIS: ‘Andy Warhol’s Ishtar’?

RESEARCHER: OK. I’m going to suggest some titles and I want you to tell me what they suggest: ‘Romance in the Riviera’.

DORA: That’s like an Audrey Hepburn movie. I might watch it on television.

FRANK: The only good TV is Netflix.

CLARK: That’s not a contemporary movie. It sounds like a re-issue.

AVIS: I like the title ‘Doubt’. At least, I think I do.

CLARK: You won’t get me paying no $14 to see ‘Romance in the Riviera’.

SAM: Depends who is in it. Amy Adams – I like her, though she was awful stern in THE MASTER.

RESEARCHER: Do we have anyone in favour of ‘Romance in the Riviera’.

Blank faces in response. AVIS picks at a Pain Au Chocolat, trying to turn it into a croissant.

RESEARCHER: OK, how about ‘Bellamy’s Need’.

SAM: Wow. That sounds pretty heavy.

CLARK: Does he need the john?

DORA: Who said Bellamy is a man?

FRANK: If it’s a woman, they would use the first name: ALICE’S RESTAURANT, THELMA AND LOUISE, BABETTE’S FEAST, SOPHIE’S CHOICE. If it’s a guy, they use a surname: COOGAN’S BLUFF, SCHINDLER’S LIST, LINCOLN.


FRANK: What I’m saying is a woman is always referred to by her first name in movie titles. But a guy, it can be his surname or his first name or even just plain KUNDUN.

AVIS: Is that a pharmaceutical company?

FRANK: It’s BONNIE AND CLYDE not what’s her name and Barrow.

CLARK: What is Bonnie’s family name?

SAM: They should remake that film with Amy Adams. She was pretty tough in THE MASTER.

RESEARCHER: Does anyone like ‘Bellamy’s Need’?

AVIS: Well, it depends what his knees are like?

CLARK: ‘Bellamy’s Knees’ sounds like a French movie. I’m not paying no $14 to see ‘Bellamy’s Knees.’

RESEARCHER: OK, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’.

DORA: What?

SAM: Have we – did we see that movie?

FRANK: Moonlight is a myth. The moon is tiny in the night sky. What’s it going to light up, a nose hair?

AVIS: Men look very handsome with moustaches, except my ex-husband for whom it was a fly trap.

CLARK: I’m not paying no $14 to see ‘Magic in the Moonlight’.

RESEARCHER: Do you go to the movies?

CLARK: No, I prefer musical theatre.

SAM: Is Amy Adams in it?

RESEARCHER: No, actually Colin Firth.

A hubbub of approval

DORA: OK. Because I can see him as Mr Darcy, taking his shirt off in artificial moonlight, rippling on the water.

CLARK: I can definitely feel water.

FRANK: I liked Firth in that movie where he had difficulty speaking.



RESEARCHER: Oh, where he had difficulty singing.

DORA: Who else is in it?


AVIS: Why can’t the romance be age appropriate?

RESEARCHER: It’s set in the 1920’s.

FRANK: That’s just arthouse. There was no armed conflict involving American troops in the 1920’s. I’m out.

RESEARCHER: But you like the title?

FRANK: Clutching at straws.

AVIS: But this is a coffee shop.

The camera withdraws as the group descends into irrelevant conversation involving bunions, the nutritional value of pastries and whether Bullwinkle is a first name or surname. The RESEARCHER closes her note pad and sips her coffee quietly.

About the author


Independent film critic who just wants to witter on about movies every so often. Very old (by Hollywood standards).

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