Interview with Writer, Filmmaker and Lecturer Susan Kouguell

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Susan Kouguell, is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, who also refers to herself as The Screenplay Doctor. She is the author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensiveguideto crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises.

THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) A chapter of this book was excerpted in the 2009 Screenwriter’s & Playwright’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books.

Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide.

Recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the MacDowell Colony, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Edward Albee Foundation. Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.

Susan worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. www.su-city-pictures.com

What is the biggest mistake screenwriters make in writing their script and in selling their script? How can they fix it?

One of the biggest mistakes I have found in my twenty-three years of Su-City consulting is that screenwriters are submitting their screenplays to agents, companies, contests, and so on – before the scripts are truly ready.

Whether you’re sick of rewriting — or believe that just because bad movies do get made, — or mine is good enough as is and I’m just going to send it now – beware and be prepared for a speedy rejection! Your screenplay is your calling card to the film industry; it represents your talent and hard work. You must take your time, ask for feedback on your project and be open to criticism, and only submit your work when your script is the absolute best it can be.

Is it harder to write a script or sell it?

For each person the answer might be different. For some people, writing a good screenplay comes more easily to others — while others have been able to sell a script in a short period of time. In the end, both writing a good screenplay and selling it are challenging. Knowing and embracing the tools to write a good screenplay and learning how to sell it, is essential in succeeding in the film industry.

What is the number one advice you can give to a screenwriter?

The film industry is just that — an ‘industry’ – it’s a business. Immerse yourself in learning about the business, read the trades and network, and continue to write and improve your writing. You must be absolutely passionate about your project and devote the time to crafting your winning script. If you are not passionate about your project this will be evident to the film executives to whom you are pitching and submitting your work.

How can your books help?

Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters complete with film analyses and exercises offers inspiration and hands-on tools, guiding screenwriters through each critical element of screenwriting, with the spotlight on creating and crafting compelling characters so you can write a savvy screenplay that will sell.

The book includes: 34 writing exercises designed to help screenwriters unleash ideas, strengthen their characters, and break through stumbling blocks…6 templates from fictional scripts provide hands-on assistance with constructing characters, plus…200-plus Hollywood, foreign and independent movies, spanning approximately seventy years, are analyzed and referenced, offering screenwriters specific character-crafting examples to guide them through their writing process.

The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!

Provides a step-by-step guide to the evolution of a finished screenplay – helping screenwriters make that difficult transition from a screenplay on the desk to a screenplay read by the film industry. Templates and sample synopsis, queries, loglines, and more are included.

Full of candor and wit, this book integrates personal anecdotes from my lively film past, (written in dual formats—on an old-fashioned typewriter and movie scenes in screenplay format) juxtaposed by point-by-point advice regarding the nitty-gritty of getting a script into the right hands.

 

How did you get started in your business and how can it help a screenwriter?

I began screenwriting and making films while an undergraduate at SUNY Purchase and at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. I collaborated with a fellow student and in six years we made six short films.

Our second film was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and all six films were acquired for the MoMA archives, won international film festivals, and were included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, as well as other notable exhibitions.

While making the last short film, I worked in the story and casting departments at Paramount Pictures, which was followed by the the wonderful opportunity to work with the late French film director Louis Malle on his documentary And the Pursuit of Happiness — doing the research, production coordinating, assisting on the small crew, and working closely with Louis on writing and editing the voice-over narration.

I also worked at a number of production companies and studios, including for Harvey Weinstein at Miramax as a story analyst, story editor and writer, Warner Bros., Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions and Viacom. All of these experiences provided me with unique insights into the independent filmmaking and Hollywood worlds.

 

Many thanks to Susan for taking the time to answer these questions. I know that her wisdom will be of help for many screenwriters who struggle with the question, “How do I sell my script?”


For more information about Susan Kouguell, Su-City Pictures East, LLC, Susan’s Blog, and more, go to
www.su-city-pictures.com.

Discounts for Baer Speak readers:

Mention Baer Speak and receive 10% off on any consulting service until December 31, 2013.

Find discounted rates and order Susan’s books at

http://su-city-pictures.com/buy-susans-books/

THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (Normally $14.95, $10 plus $4.95 domestic shipping and handling.)

SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! (Normally $14.95) Save 1.00 by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD.

 

(On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M— discount code does not apply).


 

 

 

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