Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: January 2014

Susan Kouguell Interview with Aaron Brookner

Susan Kouguell speaks with director Aaron Brookner on his journey of re-mastering and re-leasing the documentary on William Burroughs,    Burroughs: The Movie (1983) directed by his uncle, Howard Brookner, and Smash the Control Machine the feature documentary that tells the    story of Aaron Brookner’s investigation into the mysterious life and missing films of Howard Brookner, who died of AIDS at age 34 in 1989 on the cusp of    fame. Howard Brookner’s films also include Bloodhounds on Broadway (1989) and Robert Wilson and The Civil Wars (1987).

Born in New York City, Aaron Brookner began his career working on Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes and Rebecca Miller’s    Personal Velocity before making the award-winning documentary short The Black Cowboys (2004). His first feature documentary was a    collaboration with writer Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront), and his film, The Silver Goat (2012) was the first feature created    exclusively for iPad, released as an App and downloaded across 24 countries, making it into the top 50 entertainment apps in the UK and Czech Republic.

The re-mastered print of Burroughs: The Movie will have its premier University of Indiana’s Burroughs 100th birthday event on February 6th, 2014.

SUSAN KOUGUELL: On your Kickstarter site you wrote:

“Howard Brookner directed three films before his death in 1989 from AIDS at the age of thirty-four. In the final year of his life he wrote:    

If I live on it is in your memories and the films I made.

It was this quote that inspired me, Howard’s nephew and enthusiastic Burroughsian, to search for the missing print of his first film,        Burroughs: The Movie. After a long search I found the only print in good condition and embarked on a project to digitally remaster it and make        it available to the public.”    

This has been both a personal and artistic journey for you. When did this journey begin?

AARON BROOKNER:     It probably began when Howard died, originally. My lasting memories of him were of watching him make his final movie Bloodhounds on Broadway on    the set, hanging out together and rough-housing, walking around downtown, the secret handshake and spoken greeting we had, the cool toys from Japan he    brought me, messing around with video cameras, trips down to Miami, and oddly enough the Rolling Stones 3D halftime show during the 1989 Super Bowl.

But I also had seen him in a hospital bed. I had been to the AIDS ward. I was over at his apartment quite a bit during his final few months of life. Watched his funeral. And I was seven. Kids know everything that’s going on around them even when they don’t. I guess this was the case and that making     Smash the Control Machine is some sort of way to articulate my childlike perspective on the story, as an adult. It’s also a way to satisfy my    curiosity.

Director Aaron Brookner

Howard, I’ve found out, in some weird cinematic way, left clues all over the world really, which show how he lived, and what he lived. He documented everything.

To read more:



Susan’s Interview with Manakamana Filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

Susan’s Interview with Manakamana Filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez at The Locarno Film Festival.

One of the films garnering a great deal of buzz at the Locarno International Film Festival is the extraordinary feature documentary Manakamana directed by American filmmakers Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez.


Interview with Will Scheffer : HBO’s ‘Getting on’ Co-Creator, Co-Executive Producer and Writer…

Will Scheffer speaks candidly with Susan Kouguell about the Getting On series, adapting material, collaborations, and more.

With their fingers on the pulse — actually ten steps ahead of — societal happenings and hot button topics, co-creators, executive producers, and writers    on their Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO series Big Love, Will Scheffer and his partner Mark V. Olsen are fearless when tackling “difficult”     subject matters in their television and film projects. With humor and pathos, Scheffer and Olsen continue to confront timely and challenging issues with    their new series for HBO’s Getting On.

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Susan’s Top Ten Tips about Writing Minor Characters in Screenwriter’s Utopia

Minor characters are the small yet important characters in a screenplay.  Don’t short change them; take the time developing them.  They must be as distinct and as interesting as your major characters.

Read my top ten tips for bringing out the best of your supporting people in your screenplay.

Perspective on Pitching Projects from Will Scheffer of HBO’s Series, ‘Getting On’ (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)


Susan Kouguell speaks to Will Scheffer about his new HBO series Getting On, offering sage insight on pitching projects

Not ones to shy away from hot button topics, co-creators, executive producers, and writers on their Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO series Big Love, Will Scheffer and his partner Mark V. Olsen tackle “difficult” subject matters in their television and film projects — and their new HBO series Getting On is no exception.


Will Scheffer is a playwright, writer/producer and filmmaker. His plays have been produced in such venues as Playwright’s Horizons, Naked Angels, The Public Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theater. His first screenplay In the Gloaming (directed by Christopher Reeve), won five Emmys. Mark V. Olsen has written and produced several screenplays, teleplays, pilots and miniseries. For HBO, he wrote Mary Chesnut’s Civil War and Cabrina USA. Together, Scheffer and Olsen produced the independent feature based on Scheffer’s play by the same name, Easter.

KOUGUELL: As a team, you and Mark don’t shy away from edgy topics.  Big Love (Mormonism and polygamy) and now Getting On (aging, dying and the health care system).  Those must have been some interesting pitch meetings to HBO executives!  Can you elaborate? 

SCHEFFER: We like to write about “edgy” topics. It’s just who we are. We think of ourselves as “popular artists” and then we read some reviews and we think, “Oh god, a lot of people don’t want to go where we like to go.” In truth, we just want to write shows that are extremely watchable.

Getting On is largely about how we all deal with the process of aging and how we all care for the elderly. It is about relationships and the power struggles that come out of a small group of individuals that work together out of choice or necessity.

I admit that when we pitch, we know we’re pitching “difficult” material so we usually save the “difficult” part until we have the network hooked.

I’ll just use Big Love as an example. We worked up the pitch for over a year (we often do that) and we knew we didn’t want to mention the word “Polygamy” for quite a while. It went something like:

“There’s this guy and he owns a Home Depot kind of store and he’s your typical American man, right now. He’s overwhelmed by work and family. And his marriage is complicated. Actually this is a show ABOUT marriage…because he just happens to be married to three women. So this is a show about marriage times three.”

That’s kind of a thumbnail version of how we take a pitch about Polygamy or Death and Dying into the network. Luckily we work at HBO. Who else would have us, we’re beginning to realize.

The take-away from Scheffer’s Big Love pitch example:

  • Each sentence of this pitch builds to the polygamy theme without saying the word “polygamy.”
  • The pitch follows the protagonist, Bill. It first describes Bill’s situation (his job), who he is (typical American, right now), his personal issues (overwhelmed by work and family), his complicated marriage (without stating what the complication is thus building anticipation.) The pitch then continues by saying what the theme is — what the show is about: it’s about marriage.  Scheffer continues to build the anticipation of answering the question of ‘complicated marriage’ by revealing that Bill is married to three women.  And the clever hook: This is a show about marriage times three.
  • Know the company you’re pitching to and the types of projects they produce. HBO, for example, is a company that produces more risk-taking series and films, as opposed to a network like ABC, CBS or NBC.
  • Take your time developing your pitch.  For Scheffer and Olsen, they worked on their pitch for over a year.What does this mean for you? Before you pitch your project, you must thoroughly prepare; know every aspect about your project, themes, plot and characters. You must then convey in your pitch not only what your story is about and the major themes, but your main characters’ strengths and flaws, and what’s at stake for each of them.

Keep in mind that when film industry executives listen to a pitch, they are thinking: How can I sell this project to my bosses and then to an audience? And they are pondering: What makes me care about this project enough that I will put my job on the line, to get this project made?

Learn more about Getting On on HBO.

Read more:


Ask the Screenplay Doctor: 2013 Retrospective and Questions

2013 was quite an exciting year of columns, ranging on tips about marketing a screenplay, to the pros and cons of film schools. Thank you for your enthusiastic responses to my columns.

A special thank you to all my 2013 inspiring interviewees from across the country, who not only offered invaluable advice, but their honest insights into all aspects of writing, filmmaking and the film industry:

Thelma Adams: Self-described “outspoken” film critic, offered insights into the world of movies past and present, and gave us a glimpse into what critics look for in a film.

Film Critic Thelma Adams

Ann Flournoy: Louise Log Web Series director took us on the adventurous journey of making a web series with tips on her successful crowd-sourcing with Seed&Spark.

Anne Flournoy, creator of web series The Louise Log

Jon Gartenberg: President of Gartenberg Media Enterprises, talked about experimental filmmaking, distribution, and what’s happening to the field in this modern age.

Jon Gartenberg, President of Gartenberg Media Enterprises

Jeff Greenstein: Emmy-Award sitcom television writer, director and showrunner of such shows as Will & Grace and Friends, shared tips on breaking into writing for television, sitcom trends, and more. (Since our interview, Jeff is now the director of the new CBS sitcom Mom.)

Showrunner, producer, and writer Jeff Greenstein

Sydney Levine: President of Sydney’s Buzz pulled back the curtain on the international film industry with sage advice on getting films seen and distributed in the global market.

Sydney Levine, President of Sydney's Buzz.

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez: Award-winning Manakamana documentary filmmakers discussed the process of making their unforgettable feature, at our sit-down at the Locarno Film Festival, where they later took the stage as big winners.

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, the filmmakers behind Manakamana


Genine Tillotson: Director of Harvard Square Script Writers talked about HSSW and the benefits of joining a writers group.…

Genine Tillotson, left, leading a meeting of Harvard Square Screen Writers.

JD Zeik: Screenwriter and SUNY Purchase Professor who’s worked with James Cameron, Alfonso Cuaron, and 50 Cent, and more. We talked about film school and the film business.

Professor and Screenwriter J.D. Zeik

To read more of my January column:




Will Scheffer speaks candidly with Susan Kouguell about the Getting On series, adapting material, collaborations, and more.