Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: June 2014

Susan’s The Script Lab article: Top Five Scene Pacing Tips

Top Five Scene Pacing Tips: How to Pace the Scene

Whether you are writing a commercial or independent film and regardless of the genre, a successful screenplay requires good scene pacing. An attention-grabbing screenplay contains a solid ticking clock that will inspire the reader to want to turn the pages to find out what’s going to happen next.

Scene Arcs
Scenes must have a complete arc—a solid beginning, middle, and end. Characters’ journeys drive the script’s narrative, and each scene must steer their journey forward.

Scene Objective
Scenes must have a reason to exist. Each scene must somehow advance the narrative through both dialogue and visual storytelling.

Sleepless in Seattle Example

In the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle (directed by Nora Ephron, screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, and Jeff Arch) reporter Annie Reed crosses the country to meet a man she has never met after hearing his young son on a call-in radio show, seeking help to find a new wife for his widowed father.

In this scene example we find Annie and Barbara, having a warm mother/daughter talk in the attic.

The Scene Objective: Annie starts reexamining her feelings about her fiancé Walter.

Here’s the scene:

While trying on her grandmother’s wedding dress, the newly engaged Annie tells her mother, Barbara, about how she and her fiancé, Walter, met. Mother and daughter differ when it comes to believing in destiny, signs, and magic in a relationship—Barbara is a believer while Annie is a pragmatist. The scene concludes as Annie, wearing her grandmother’s wedding dress, hugs her mother and the dress rips. Annie now believes in signs.

Scene Arc

In the beginning of the scene, Annie doesn’t believe in destiny and expresses her certainty about her upcoming marriage to Walter. By the end of the scene, Annie is having some subtle doubts when she realizes that she doesn’t have the same type of magic with Walter that her mother felt for her father when they met, and Annie is beginning to believe in destiny.

Top Five Scene Pacing Tips

1. Get to the objective of each scene quickly and then cut out of the scene as close to the action as possible; this does not mean that your script needs to be fast-paced — be true to your story and style.

2. Examine the objective of each scene in your screenplay and use this as your guidepost for pacing.

To read more:

SUSAN’S Top Tips to Finding a Good Script Consultant in Screenwriter’s Utopia


Let me start by saying that in full disclosure — for over twenty-five years I have worked as a script consultant — first for studios and then as chairperson of my company Su-City Pictures East, LLC.  I am often asked, and again recently asked (which inspired this article), why writers should hire a script consultant and what to ask when looking for one.

When working on a screenplay for weeks, months, and possibly years, many screenwriters become so close to their projects that they lose objectivity and are unable to see problems in their work.  This is often the time a screenwriter might consider hiring a script consultant.

Submitting a script before it’s really ready to be considered jeopardizes your chances. Screenwriters generally have only one shot when submitting a script to a company and/or agent—once the script is rejected it’s nearly impossible to have the same script considered by the same company or agent even if you’ve done a brilliant rewrite. Film industry folks are inundated with material and the competition is fierce, so submit only your absolute best work.

Top Tips

  • Find out what projects the consultant has worked on, his/her professional background and accomplishments, and clients’ successes. Ask for references.
  • Choose someone with extensive industry experience and a solid track record.
  • You must feel comfortable, and you and the consultant should be a good match for you and your project. Trust your instincts.
  • A good consultant will offer objective feedback letting you know what the industry expects of your script and to what degree your script meets these expectations.
  • The consultant should provide a safe, non-threatening environment yet be honest, telling the screenwriter not just what he or she wants to hear but what he or she needs to hear.
  • The consultant should provide the necessary feedback and tools to make sure the script is ready to be submitted for consideration.
  • The consultant must have good communication skills and good attitude.
  • The consultant needs to listen and address the writers’ concerns and questions.
  • Many screenwriters receiving feedback feel very vulnerable and sensitive, so a good consultant should be mindful of this and of course, show respect for their clients’ work.

To read more:

To Pitch or Not to Pitch? Top 10 Pitching Tips from Susan – the Screenplay Doctor


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A pitch is exactly what the word implies — it’s a sales pitch.  And since this is the movie business, otherwise referred to as the film industry, it’s all about selling your idea.  The pitch should summarize your script, engage your listeners, emotionally move them — to laugh, to cry — (for all the right reasons), and convince them to spend zillions of dollars to produce your project.

Knowing when and how to pitch can make or break your chances of having your project considered by film industry folks.

Question: Is it wise to pitch treatments without having the full script written?

Answer: Generally, the answer is no.  When you have the opportunity to pitch your project to industry folks and they are intrigued by your idea, they’re not going to want to hear, “Well, glad you liked the pitch. I’ll send you the script when I’m finished.” It’s going to be hard to capture their attention again. It’s challenging enough to get attention from executives at a pitch festival or pitch meeting so I would advise on having the screenplay written. Before you pitch your project, make sure that you copyright it and register it with the Writers Guild of America

Top Ten Pitching Tips

  1. Depending on what has been requested, a pitch can be as short as a single sentence or as long as a few paragraphs or more.
  2. Your pitch should follow your main character’s journey and major plot points. Highlight your protagonist’s goal and the major obstacles in his or her path, including the antagonist.
  3. The genre must be clear and consistent.
  4. The pitch should be an accurate reflection of your screenplay, including the style, tone, and plot.
  5. A pitch meeting is like an audition. You’re selling yourself in terms of professionalism, not only your story.

To read more:


My heartfelt thanks to Anne Flournoy for inviting me to participate in this blog tour; her timing was fortuitous. Anne is the powerhouse talent — writer, director, producer — of the comedy Web series The Louise Logs.  It’s been over 25 years since we first met at festival screenings of our short films in New York City. Writing and life are coming full circle in many ways.

Find out more about Anne and her work:

The format of this blog tour is to answer four questions and introduce two or three new writers. And so it begins:

What am I working on?  I am writing poetic pieces again after a long hiatus. They are mostly short pieces.  A few lines — sometimes a few pages. Mostly, the pieces share similar themes and even the same voice.  They can connect as one larger work or not.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?  Maybe it differs because I am not following any traditional or formal poetry rules or guidelines.  I’m also thinking visually; how the words are placed on the page and how they would look off the page.       

Why do I write what I do?  It helps me make sense of the world, those around me, myself.  It centers me — particularly because for a ‘living’ I do other types of writing (screenwriting, journalistic writing about films, and screenwriting articles and books), but poetry has always been a separate part of my creative brain.  For a few years I couldn’t get back in that poetic-writing brain and I realized that in order to push through this was to acknowledge that at this point of my life, the only way I was going to find personal creative fulfillment was to write something short.  If I wrote one line in one week, I felt good that I had accomplished this. Of course I agonized over every word in that one line, but I (eventually) put it down on paper.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

There is no set writing process but I do find that the most productive time for me is before dawn. It’s quiet. My mind is quieter. (Sometimes it is not.)  When I was a student at SUNY Purchase we did a writing exercise, taking words from book cover flaps and created poetry from that.  A couple of years ago, I came across a box of those book covers and literal scraps of my old poems. It set me back in writing motion. It was freeing for me not to worry about originating a specific idea — I was so full of ideas I got in my own way as to how to start and then I got stuck and wrote nothing because I had no time.  This prompted my process, which I continue today. I take words that spark me from whatever I am reading, type them up, rearrange them, sometimes I cut them out and collage them, and then I include my own words and make it my own. And from there, I keep writing. Listening to music also helps me.  But not necessarily while I’m writing. Mostly when I’m driving. And it generally is something like Mahler or Brahms or Dvorak. Orchestral pieces I played as a violist. The structures used by these composers make sense to me in a way that organizes my thoughts, gives me peace, and challenges me.  I listen just for the viola voice, the part I played, separating it out from the piece.  The next part of my writing process is that when I feel that I have written a draft I’m comfortable with, I print it out and put it in a plastic sleeve and into a three-ring binder.  Holding it in my hands feels tangible. Like a book.

And finally, here are two longtime writer/artist friends who are prolific, very smart, and generous of spirit. I have great admiration for them both.  They inspire me.   They will post blogs on this tour next Monday, June 9, but you can read what about them now.

THELMA ADAMS is the Contributing Editor at Yahoo! Movies. St. Martin’s Press published her debut novel PLAYDATE, an O magazine pick. She was the film critic at Us Weekly from 2000 – 2011, following six years at the New York Post. She has twice chaired the New York Film Critics Circle, where she has been a member since 1995. She has also written for Marie Claire, The New York Times Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Parade, Variety, The Huffington Post, More, Interview Magazine, The New York Times, The international Herald Tribune, Cosmopolitan and Self.

LAUREN STRINGER writes and paints picture books, scripts, and designs sets for circus theatre in a big, pink Victorian House in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband, her son, when he has not run off with the circus, her daughter, when she is home for the holidays, and three cats.  Her first picture book, Mud, written by Mary Lyn Ray, won a Minnesota Book Award, IRA Children’s Choice Award, Crayola Kids Best Book of the Year Award and was declared a “Flying Starts” by Publisher’s Weekly. Since Mud, Lauren has continued illustrating many award-winning picture books, including Scarecrow and Snow, both written by Cynthia Rylant, Fold Me A Poem, written by Kristine O’Connell George, Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story, written by Lisa Westberg Peters, The Princess and Her Panther, written by Wendy Orr, and Tell Me About Your Day Today, written by Mem Fox. Her own Winter is the Warmest Season, was a Booklist Editor’s Choice and a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. Her story When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky won the McKnight Foundation Fellowship for writing in Children’s Literature in 2012 and was a Booklist’s Top Ten Art Books for 2013 as well as an ALA Notable Book. Lauren’s latest illustrated picture book is Deer Dancer, written by Mary Lyn Ray. Read more about her books and circus life at: