Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: August 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Susan’s: Director Luc Besson talks LUCY and the Protagonist

The 67° edition of the Locarno International Film Festival opened with Lucy in the outdoor Grande Piazza on August 6 before a standing room crowd.  At the Festival, Luc Besson described Lucy as a thriller with action.  In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write about how to develop characters in this genre.

In a thriller, your protagonist (often the ‘everyman’) must be in jeopardy and eventually outsmart the antagonist in order to survive. Readers must feel empathy for your protagonist and root for him or her to survive.  The suspense must continue to build as your story unfolds with intricate twists and turns.  Readers must sense the imminent danger.   You must build the audience’s anticipation, uncertainties and questions, and deliver on their expectation—while keeping them guessing.

Lucy is an engaging protagonist because she is identifiable and resourceful, and uses her physical and mental prowess to survive against all odds.  She is an unlikely hero.

Besson talked about his films with powerful action female characters, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element or The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, stating:

“I think Lucy is different because Nikita, Leeloo and Joan of Arc were very powerful women with skills, whereas Lucy is a totally average girl at the beginning of this story. What was interesting for me about Lucy was to take a character, who represented Miss Average. She could have been me, or she could have been you. She had no particular characteristics.  It’s the first time I took someone who is at the bottom of the ladder. She’s stupid in the beginning; she’s a student that maybe is partying too much, and sort of has a boyfriend. She’s away from home.



Modern Times, Metaphor and Visual Storytelling (The Script Lab)

At the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was shown accompanied by a live orchestra, the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana.  I had not seen the film for many years and was particularly struck by the visual storytelling and the use of metaphor; two points I detail in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!

Use visual storytelling to establish the setting and mood. Opening with a significant image will also help to grab the reader’s attention. The reader must be able to step into the world that you have created and have a complete understanding of it.

The first four shots of Modern Times:

1)    Title card: “Modern Times” A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”

2)    An image of the second hand of a large-faced clock moving forward

3)    A herd of sheep rushing forward

4)    A mass of rushing workers ascending subway stairs.

In these four shots the audience is informed what the story is about from the opening title card, and the three separate shots that follow – the clock, the sheep, and rushing workers. All of this vital information is conveyed in less than 30 seconds.

Characters’ intentions, agendas, beliefs, feelings, behaviors, and so on, can be conveyed through the careful use of metaphors. In visual storytelling, metaphors can be used to illustrate the theme or themes of your script, a plot point, or a character’s action or behavior.

In Modern Times, the sheep serve as a metaphor of the rushing workers; they are the masses – the humanity.

In a more contemporary example, let’s look at Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, screenplay by Michael Arndt. The 1960’s Volkswagen van in which the Hoover family travels to the children’s beauty pageant, is a metaphor for the 60’s era of rebellion and freedom, and signifies the various family members’ desires and actions. The only way to get the van running is for the family to push it and then jump inside while it’s moving. This van-pushing routine symbolizes the family needing to work together in order to reconcile their differences. The open road, the pageant, and Richard’s get-rich schemes, are metaphors of the American dream.

In Frank S. Nugent’s 1936 review of Modern Times in the New York Times, Nugent writes:





“Listen Up Philip” at the Locarno International Film Festival

A discussion with writer/director Alex Ross Perry, stars Jason Schwartzman and Jonathan Pryce, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams was held on 12    August 2014. In the Concorso internazionale at the Locarno International Film Festival,Listen Up Philip was also in competition for the Pardo d’oro    prize, the Golden Leopard. The film won the Concorso internazionale Special Jury Prize. On 13 August, it was announced that it will also screen in the New York Film Festival.

“Listen Up Philip”      – the story

Philip awaits the publication of his sure-to-succeed second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a    deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol, Ike Zimmerman,    offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.

I ask Alex Ross Perry about his decision to use extensive narration voiced by Eric Bogosian

The narration is a gimmick. We talked about Husbands and Wives pseudo-documentary style and I think a film can have a gimmick like that. It’s an    interesting way to provide twice the amount of information. It’s not cheating, for example, to tell how long the characters have known each other, and to    see how to give background information about the characters. I thought since it was a film about writers this was the film to do it. I think good writing    is letting the situation play out naturally.

             “Listen Up Phillip”

On Jonathan Pryce’s character Ike Zimmerman

Pryce:    Ike Zimmerman — he’s everything I want to be. He’s my fantasy world of someone who is nasty to people all the time. I like that he’s a cynic. I enjoyed    playing a character who had no filter.

On Jason Schwartzman on his character Philip

Schwartzman:    I didn’t see Philip as mean and there is something nice about saying what’s on your mind and it was one of the greatest experiences for that reason. On one    hand they (Ike Zimmerman and Philip) speak their mind and they like to be around each other and on the other hand they don’t.

Why cast Jason Schwartzman as Philip?

Ross Perry:    He was far and away the best person for the part. Everyone asked if I wrote this for him. I didn’t. I wish I had.

Schwartzman    : We spent a month together in New York before the shoot, and we wrote every scene of the movie on notecards.

             Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman in “Listen Up Phillip”




Susan Kouguell Interviews Joel Potrykus, Writer, Director, Editor and co-star of “Buzzard”


Joel Potrykus, Writer, Director, Editor and co-star of “Buzzard”, and Producer Ashley Young

Returning to the Locarno International Film Festival after winning for Best New Director in 2012 for his feature Ape,” Joel Potrykus and his Sob    Noisse collaborators are receiving quite the buzz in the American independent film scene. I met with Joel Potrykus during the Festival to talk    about his films and “Buzzard.”

“Buzzard”     : Paranoia forces small-time scam artist Marty to flee his hometown and hide out in a dangerous Detroit. With nothing but a pocket full of bogus checks,    his power glove and a bad temper, the horror metal slacker lashes out.

Buzzard    exists to break genre, give a middle finger to romance, spit on sentimentality, and laugh at the status quo. It’s time to bring punk back to film.         —Joel Potrykus

Potrykus on “Buzzard


This is the final installment of the “Coyote,” “Ape,” and “Buzzard” films all starring Joshua Burge. It’s a loose trilogy. Josh does    not play the same character. This is my angry young man series, the world is out to get him. Same actor, same setting, which is a dirty Midwest city    landscape.

I never want to make a genre film, but I’m interested in making films taken from other genres. When people ask me: Is it is a comedy, a drama or horror? I    hate to answer that; it bothers me when I try classifying it. I don’t want it to fit into some mold. I would say it’s funny, but it’s dark, and some of it    is really sad. I would hope that it’s more than a dark comedy, an anti-romantic comedy.

On Writing

Some people have a rigorous writing schedule and work as a normal screenwriter. When I write a script, even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about it. I    try to set a goal; I want it done in a month, for example.

I studied film and journalism at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Michigan. I thought to pay bills I would be a critic.

I start with a character — I hate to say “character study” that sounds generic — and then focus on one person and one character. I’m interested in the    perspective of one person, and filter story through that perspective. My scripts centers on who that person interacts with.



Writing a Documentary Film With No Rules (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Writing a Documentary Film With No Rules


There is no “right or wrong” way  when it comes to writing a documentary film. Sounds easy then, right? Well–wrong! While there are no set screenwriting rules for writing a documentary script, it can still be challenging to convey a specific subject matter and its characters succinctly.

Writing a Documentary Film

This nonfiction genre can be written, using the traditional 3-Act structure, as seen in fiction films or in a nontraditional narrative format. The use of stock film footage, reenactments, “talking heads” (interviewees’ faces discussing the subject matter), voice-over narration, animation, photographs, live action, and so on, are just some examples of the tools used to convey the story when writing a documentary. Whether you choose to present your ideas objectively or subjectively, the execution and clarity of your material is important to the success of your project.

Agnes Varda Writing a Documentary

Agnes Varda

Writing a documentary can challenge traditional narrative conventions as seen in Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s film Manakamana. A documentary can portray, for example, social or political issues (Louis Malle’s And the Pursuit of Happiness, God’s Country; Joe Berlinger’s Crude, and Michael Moore’s Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11), a musical concert (Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock), a “making of a film” (Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo), or follow the lives of a person or persons over a period of time, such as Michael Apted’s series of films 28 Up (1984), or tell autobiographical stories in a unique and revealing way, such as Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and Agnès Varda’s The Beaches of Agnès.

“Making documentaries is a school of life,” says Varda at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival where I asked her about her process of writing a documentary. Varda describes her style as cinécriture – writing on film. “InThe Beaches of Agnès I am turning the mirror to the people who surround me. It shows how you build the life with others.”

In a documentary, characters give a face to the story you’re telling. A character can not only be human but an animal, an object, a location, or the filmmaker can choose to be a character in his or her film. The audience should feel empathy for the people you are portraying – whether it’s love or hate, viewers must feel something and care what’s going to happen to them. If the subject matter of your project does not involve people, films can show characters directly or indirectly relating to the subject matter.

There are various techniques and modes from which writers can choose to convey their story.  Whether you’re at the idea stage or have a draft of your script, keep in mind the following points:

  • What are the film’s themes?
  • What is the significant message of your story?
  • Who are the main characters and what are their goals and/or possible agendas?
  • Why is the subject matter of this documentary important to you?
  • See other documentaries that deal with your subject matter and explore what makes your project different.

Finding Your Story When Writing a Documentary

Documentary filmmakers approach their material, and find inspiration and ideas in various ways.

I asked writer, producer, director Allie Light, Academy Award-winner for Best Documentary Feature for In The Shadow Of The Stars with her partner Irving Sarafhow writer/filmmakers can make their distinct voice come through on film.

Allie Light: “Listen very carefully to what you are being told by the subject of your film. The film belongs to the person or persons whose stories you are telling. You are helping that person to make the story of her life. All you are is an experienced helper. Draw your ideas from the story you’ve been told. That means you must think ahead and craft an excellent interview. Ask your subject to describe his story, to tell you one more time how she saw what she’s described, how she or he might tell it to a blind person. When you have their stories presented in their own colorful language, you can’t help but work from within their visions.”

Agnès Varda: “Sometimes I go by myself to do location scouting. When I go by myself, something speaks to me in the place I’ve chosen and I think maybe I should take advantage of that.  We have to be working with chance. ‘Chance’ is my assistant director.”

Whether you leave some elements to chance or you stringently stick to your script when writing a documentary, indeed, there is no right or wrong way – but listening to your interviewees, those who know your subject matter, and/or just being present in the location of the filming, the opportunity for more ideas might just further enhance your story and film.

To read more:

Susan’s Conversation with Oscar Nominee Giancarlo Giannini


Conversation with Giancarlo Giannini

Giancarlo Giannini was honored with the Excellence Award Moët & Chandon on 13 August at the Locarno International Film Festival. The Conversation took    place the following afternoon.

Following his successes in the theater, Giancarlo Giannini made his film debut in 1965 in Gino Mangini’s “I criminali della metropoli.” In 1967 this    talented singer and dancer took on the popular “musicarello” genre in the film “Non stuzzicate la zanzara” directed by Lina Wertmüller with whom he    worked on nine films, including “Seven Beauties,” which earned both Giannini and Wertmüller Oscar nominations in 1977. Lina Wertmüller was the first    woman director to be nominated for an Oscar.

On acting

             Giancarlo Giannini in “Seven Beauties”

My acting training started as a stage actor at the Academy of Dramatic Art D’Amico in Rome; one of the oldest schools in the world. I spent 12 years as a    stage actor; that’s a profession you have to give your entire self to. I was like a monk.


Susan’s Interview with PERFIDIA director at Locarno

During the Locarno Film Festival I sat down with Perfidia writer/director Bonifacio Angius, star Stefano Deffenu, and Sardinia Film        Commissioner Nevina Satta.          “Perfidia”         is the sole Italian film in competition at the Locarno Film Festival where it just had its world premiere.

Perfidia : Angelo, 35, is unemployed, alone and without passion. He takes comfort in a bar, dreaming of meeting a girl with whom to start a family. On the    death of his mother he rediscovers his relationship with his father, Peppino, who had forgotten him.

Locarno Film Festival’s Artistic director Carlo Chatrian describes “Perfidia”  “turns the father-son relationship in a provincial city like Sassari    not so much into a model of the absence of relationships, but a prism through which we can read a country that has stopped communicating and is contenting    itself with survival.” The filmmakers refer to it as a simple and universal story shot in Sassari that could take place in any city of the province of    Italy. Bonifacio Angius states, Knowing the places of the film makes the story even more authentic.”

To read more:



The Conversation with Agnes Varda moderated by film critic and historian Jean Michel Frodon took place at the Locarno International Film Festival on 12    August. The rain clouds cleared just as Ms. Varda took the outdoor stage. Speaking about her career in photography, filmmaking and as an installation    artist, Varda offered honest insights about being categorized both as a female filmmaker and part of the New Wave, as well as anecdotes and words of wisdom    about her past and present work.

Frodon: There was an important event in the history of world cinema — the New Wave. Just before the official opening of the Locarno Festival we screened    “The 400 Blows,” but actually you started the New Wave with your film La Point Courte,” which was quite original, stunning, and unlike all the    others. You were no film buff, you were a woman, not a cinephile and being a woman with quite unique characteristics.

             “La Point Courte”

Varda:    I’m troubled with the term “New Wave”. The New Wave included a number of young, new filmmakers but to me, there was the group the Cahiers du Cinema critics    who loved American films, among them Truffaut. And like me, not knowing anything about filmmaking, were Jacques Demy, Chris Marker, and me. We were farther    to the left than the others. These people were grouped in the same category as if we were a group. I felt different from the Cahiers du Cinema movement. I    had no knowledge of French and American cinema, and I thought structure was more important than the way the films were shot.

My references were not from film. For example: When people would put their hands on their knees, I called that an “Egyptian shot,” or I would say, “Face”     rather than “close up.” I knew nothing about film jargon.

I asked Varda to expand on her feelings about being labeled as a ‘woman’ director.

Varda:    That hasn’t to do with feminism it is about what I could do with cinécriture (writing on film), — the idea I had for cinema. My life as a feminist is more related to facts; fighting for contraception and people who fight for abortion rights. I have been there with women on these battles. In my film    “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” (1978) it was a time when women wouldn’t dare to speak about their problems. It was better for a while but today    again it’s not so good with abortion clinics closing, and so on. I fight for that. To make a statement about that. I don’t oblige myself to make feminist    films because it’s complex. I cannot make a propaganda film because cinema is more interesting. I would never film something degrading. You can speak about    rape, but you cannot film it. It’s very difficult what you can show — the body of a woman, the body of a man. I give a precise point of view with extreme    intensity but it cannot be made

To read more:







Mia Farrow was honored on 8 August with the Festival’s Leopard Club Award, which pays tribute to someone in film whose work has left a mark on the collective imagination.

I ask Farrow about the disparity of women directors working in the industry

Farrow cites Kathryn Bigelow as a success story and hopes the situation changes.

Farrow:    I haven’t worked with women directors yet but I would like to. Women are capable of doing anything. We’ve had some big hits. I hope one day when I do    another film if I have the time to work with a woman director. I would love to work with women. We are better communicators.


To read more:


Conversation with Armin Mueller-Stahl at the Locarno International Film Festival Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Parmigiani

The conversation took place on a sunny afternoon in Locarno on 8 August 2014 moderated by Ralf Schenk.

The many notable directors with whom Mueller-Stahl has worked include     Costa-Gavras, Andrzej Wajda, Jim Jarmusch, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Ron Howard, David Cronenberg and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.    Born in East Prussia, the Oscar-nominated Mueller-Stahl is a classically trained violinist and an acting school dropout. He moved to West Germany at the    age of 50, and later made the transition to working on American Hollywood and independent films and television.

Mueller-Stahl:     “This year I am 84, which is a long life by the way.”

When asked about the films he feels particularly attached to, his response is “Avalonand Music Box.”

             Armin Mueller-Stahl in “Avalon”

Mueller-Stahl:     “I filmed them in parallel over the same year. In “Avalon” (in the role of Sam Krichinsky) I played a German; I was the head of a Jewish family. And    in “Music Box.” I played Mike Laszlo a war criminal. The two roles could not have been more different. It was an unforgettable experience. I felt    like a kind of Mephistopheles.”

Sam Krichinsky in Barry Levinson’s “Avalon”:

“I came to America in 1914 – by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you    ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in    America. Sam was in America! I didn’t know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there    were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!”

Mueller-Stahl:    For Avalon there was a press junket with 12 Jewish journalists. The first journalist asked me, ‘Please tell me about your Jewish heritage.’ I made    a long pause. I didn’t answer straight, so I made a curve. ‘My grandfather came from St. Petersburg to Germany – unfortunately he got off at that stop    otherwise I would have been an American star and you wouldn’t ask me that question.’ I paused. ‘I’m not a Jew.’ Then another journalist put his hand on my    shoulder warmly, ‘You are a Jew’.

When I made Music Box with Costa-Gavras I said to him, ‘Maybe I’m (the Mike Laszlo character) not guilty in the very beginning. I would like to keep the door open to almost the end. This guy is guilty of course, in the end you know he’s guilty. He said, ‘No, it wouldn’t work.’ After three days,    Costa-Gavras came to me and said, ‘Let’s do it your way.’

             Armin Mueller-Stahl in “Music Box”

On playing many villains

I played many awful guys. There is always a dark side in a person. I’m always trying to find in a bad character the good in him.”

To read more:

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