Real place names or make up?



No announcement yet.
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Real place names or make up?

    I'm certain the answer is Do What You Want, but when using a real-place setting, do you use real park names, for example? Or just make them up?

    I usually make up restaurant names and street names, but since this setting is Louisiana, the park names are specific -- French in one instance, and the city's name in another.

    I used a real city because its diverse like my script's cast, and small, because I need its citizens to know (or "know of") one of the characters, without having met him.

    Anyway, yes, no, who cares, you're overthinking it? Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Hmm... good question. Usually, I invent other names, where I exchange the original name with another name that has some meaning or relevance to their part in the story, even parks and cities. Google Translate is my friend for that.

    Below is a link to an article from 2010 that mentions what Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan did in the movie Traffic (2000).

    One actual neighborhood name called "Over-the-Rhine" changed to the fictional "West End" in the script, and another actual neighborhood named "Indian Hills" was named that in the script, although the actual neighborhood of "Hyde Park" was used for the location.

    Most of the rest of the article goes on to talk about the locations used, not what they were called in the script. Gaghan was a resident of Louisville, Kentucky, and it seems he was familiar with Cincinnati, Ohio.

    P.S. — The past tense of the verb "to lead" remains "led," unlike how it is used in the article and ubiquitously (and incorrectly) throughout the Internet. For writers everywhere, spellcheck is a "frenemy." Beware!
    Last edited by Clint Hill; 08-30-2021, 12:52 PM.
    "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury


    • #3
      So, they sort of did both. I think I'll be renaming things tonight...


      • #4
        Originally posted by figment View Post
        So, they sort of did both. I think I'll be renaming things tonight...
        You can avoid a possible initial legal SNAFU (Suddenly Now All "Fouled" Up) that way for your script, or at least avoid a "red flag" in some reader's mind. It's always in the back of my mind, even though there are people whose job it is to discover such possible "clouds" or "entanglements."

        When the script makes the rounds and gets to that magical moment when someone wants it enough to put it through the legal wringer, it's a hiccup I don't want to happen if it could spoil a script's momentum.

        As writers, we can only do so much about these things, and some will advise to "go ahead" precisely because there is a Legal Dept. to comb over scripts for these possible SNAFUs. Also, Directors, Producers, and Talent can make changes for various reasons good or ill, but that's out of your hands..

        As ever, it also depends on the story, too. If I tried to rename "Mardi Gras" in a scene or two and somehow that made it to the screen, it would be pretty obvious what's going on and where it's supposed to be. There likely would be a lot of audience "trust" broken, too, at that point in this hypothetical film on screen. The resulting ridicule would be bad word-of-mouth advertising. Bad word-of-mouth is probably worse than no word-of-mouth.

        There's no way for me to know or discover why Gaghan and Soderbergh chose to change one place name and not the other in Traffic. Probably, as I suspect—although the main character is known to be a federal judge from Ohio—the name "West End" rolls off the tongue far more easily than "Over-the-Rhine" (for me it does, at least). Also, a name like "West End" could be in Anywhere U.S.A.

        As for using Google Translate to plug in adjectives and nouns to put "Easter eggs" in the script, for me it's fun to know the name overtly or covertly illustrates something about the character or place.

        In my WWII, script, I have a native-born American U.S. Army officer whose last name is "Krieger," which means "warrior" in German, but, of course, he signs up to fight against the Germans in WW II. When he becomes a P.O.W., the Germans ridicule him for his name. That's an example of a "story reason" for his character name to have its meaning.

        For other characters, sometimes their main trait becomes their first or last name from another language. As with any devices available in a writer's "bag of tricks," overuse is to be avoided (except for the sake of humor, wherein overuse can make things funny).

        How you named some of the things in your script might be mentioned in your synopsis or treatment; it could show you're a "thinking writer." Whatever you do, always be prepared and willing to change names and other such things by the time you're asked to do so (when "they" have the right to ask it of you, whether by option or $ale).

        That's my 2¢. It's hoped that others will chime in on this topic for you, too.

        "Break a leg!"
        Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 08-30-2021, 06:29 PM. Reason: Fixed quote code.
        "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury


        • #5
          I’d use real places as much as possible, unless you have a location you’re inventing for your story. For example, if it’s about a couple who open a safari themed restaurant, make that up, but put it in a real neighborhood in a real city.
          Last edited by JeffLowell; 08-31-2021, 06:21 AM.


          • #6
            Unless it's completely fiction/sci-fi/fantasy, I would consider using the real-life authentic setting almost as a character in the script. Readers will know they are in good hands when you ground them in reality and they can get the vibe of that town/location.


            • #7
              Okay, I guess I'll rename all the stuff I renamed last night. Haha.

              It's the fact that its a smaller town that's tripping me up. I've set things in NYC, Louisville, Chicago, Maine, etc., and because that geography and those, landmarks, sea, skylines are specific, and those scripts will require at least a medium budget, I feel like they'll actually use those locations. When it's a smaller movie budget-wise, like this one, I feel like they'll just move the whole thing to Canada/Atlanta for tax breaks, so none of the locations will show up anyway. But -- authenticity it is!

              Thanks, people.


              • #8
                For public places, I use the existing names. For privately-owned places, I change the names (this is in keeping with the spirit of what J. Lowell posted above).

                Edit to add: This is the same principle behind obtaining a release in commercial still photography for use of an image of private property. This compensates the property owner and absolves the photographer of any legal penalties in accordance with the release agreement. A release is not warranted for public property or "public domain."

                It is the same legal logic that allows public servants to be photographed as they do their jobs, although lately, those same public servants attempt to (wrongly) subvert that legal right by arresting photographers and confiscating cameras. This is a blatant attempt not only to cover up whatever their wrongdoings might be but also to try to change public perception of the legality of photographing people in public.
                Last edited by Clint Hill; Yesterday, 06:55 PM.
                "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury