Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: September 2014

Susan’s: Highlights from the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class with Award-winning Director Agnès Varda

Agnes Varda with Stefano Knuchel at the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class

Agnès Varda

Stefano Knuchel, Head of the Locarno Film Summer Academy, invited me to sit in on his master class with the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival’s    Pardo d’onore Swisscom winner French film director Agnès Varda.

Known as the Grandmother of the French New Wave (a term with which she takes issue, as I cite in my Conversation with Varda).Varda’s film credits include     “La Pointe Courte”     (1955),     “Cleo from 5 to 7” (Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962), “The Creatures” (Les Créatures 1966), “Lions Love (…and Lies)” (1969), “Documenteur” (1981),”Vagabond“(Sans toit ni loi, 1985), “The Gleaners and I” (Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, 2000) and ”   The Beaches of Agnès” (Les Plages d’Agnès, 2008).

Speaking to the group of international students, Varda shared her passion for cinema, photography, and installation work, with humor and honesty. Here are    some highlights from Varda’s talk.

I asked Varda about finding inspiration and her writing process

I don’t search for ideas; I find them. They come to me or I have none. I would not sit at a table and think now I have to find ideas. I    wait until something disturbs me enough, like a relationship I heard about, and then it becomes so important I have to write the screenplay.

I never wrote with someone else or directed together. I wouldn’t like that. I never worked with (her late husband, director Jacques) Demy. We would show    screenplays to each other when we were finished.

When you are a filmmaker, you are a filmmaker all the time. Your mind is recording impressions, moods. You are fed with that. Inspiration is getting    connections with the surprises that you see in life. Suddenly it enters in your world and it remains; you have to let it go and work on it. It’s    contradictory.

Question from Student: How did you manage to navigate a male-dominated film world?

First, stop saying it’s a male world. It’s true, but it helps not to repeat it. When I started in film, I did a new language of cinema, not as a woman, but    as a filmmaker. It is still a male world, as long women are not making the same salary as men.

Put yourself in a situation where you want to make films; whether you are woman or not a woman, give yourself the tools: maybe you    intern, maybe you go to school, or read books. Get the tools.

On Filmmaking

We have to capture in film what we don’t know about.

If you don’t have a point-of-view it’s not worth starting to make a film.

Whatever we do in film is searching. If you meet somebody, you establish yourself, who you want to meet, what kind of relationship it is. Our whole life is    made up of back and forth, decisions, options — and then they don’t fit.

When one is filming we should be fragile; listen to that something in ourselves. The act of filming for me is so vivid, it includes what you had in mind,    and includes what is happening around you at that moment — how you felt, if you have headache, and so on. A film builds itself with what you don’t know.

Life interferes. You have friends. Kids. No kids. Then there is a leak on the wall. Everything interferes. It’s how you build the life with others.

Sometimes I go by myself to do location scouting. When I go by myself, something speaks to me in a place I’ve chosen and I know maybe we should take    advantage of that. We have to be working with chance. ‘Chance’ is my assistant director.












Susan’s: Grief and Plot Choices in ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them’

The theme of grief prevails in this love story about the once happily married couple Conor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. The disparate ways in which Conor and Eleanor handle their bereavement after a tragedy is the central conflict of the story; their grief tears them apart and the couple separates. This grief is the catalyst that drives the narrative forward, and it is also the elephant in the room.  The tragedy is unspeakable — literally — neither Conor nor Eleanor are able to speak about the death of their young child.

It is never revealed exactly how or when their child died, or if anyone was at fault. This was a deliberate choice writer/director Ned Benson made when developing this story.

Not detailing the when, how or why, in a screenplay can be risky. There are pros and cons to this type of choice; some readers might feel that they have been cheated while others might feel satisfied. The bottom line is this: The risk can be lessened if your characters are well-developed and their motivations for their actions and attitudes towards each other are clear.

Following the screening of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them at the Paris Theater in New York City on September 13, there was a Q & A with the two leads, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, moderated by film critic Thelma Adams.

I asked Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy about Ned Benson’s choice not to reveal what happened to the couple’s child.

McAvoy: “Benson wanted the film to be about two people healing and carrying on after a tragedy. The film would not be any greater knowing the cause of death.”

Chastain: “I’m grateful Ned Benson didn’t expand upon it. I saw Eleanor as a wounded animal; if the animal is hurt they’re going to bite you. For Eleanor, the only way she can survive is to move forward. Sometimes you just can’t talk about the grief. For her, if she talks about it, she’s back in the water.”

Leaving the question to what happened to their son unanswered, was a thought-provoking decision for writer/director Ned Benson, but a satisfying choice for both Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, who concluded his response to my question, “Life happens in life.”





Susan’s Conversation with director Victor Erice


"The Spirit of the Beehive"

Spanish filmmaker Víctor Erice received the Pardo alla Carriera award at the Locarno Film Festival for his extraordinary contribution to film.

The universal themes of time and memory are found in Victor Erice’s poignant and poetic features and short films. Carlo Chatrian, the Festival’s Artistic    Director, comments:

    Dir. Víctor Erice
             Dir. Víctor Erice

“Erice’s films may be few in number, but are all extremely important in the context of modern cinema, and bear the hallmark of an independent and        coherent filmmaker, who is able to give a very personal form to his stories, combining private and collective memory.          ”

Born in 1940 in San Sebastian, Victor Erice’s first feature-length film “El Espiritu de la colmena(The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973), is    considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema. In 1983, he directed “El Sur” (The South), which as in his first feature, centers on a father and daughter relationship conveyed through memories. Winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Erice’s third feature, the documentary    “El sol del membrillo (also known as The Quince Tree Sun and Dream of Light) (1992) follows the painter Antonio López    and the making of his painting.

Adrian Danks writes in Issue 25, March 2003 Senses of Cinema (

“In “The Quince Tree Sun” we are asked, gently, to contemplate the intense, but here somewhat dissipated, connection and difference between painting    and cinema. We watch the painter (Antonio López Garcia, himself a profoundly quotidian painter) attempt to capture the play of light upon the leaves and    fruit of a constantly evolving quince tree, while the filmmaker (Erice, one assumes, though he is never directly present in the film) attempts to document    the dynamic processes of creating and ‘imagining,’ while simultaneously showing us the painstakingly serene activity of still-life painting. Inevitably,    the film can’t capture enough detail and can’t crystallize the painter’s activity into a suitable closing or defining image; while the painting loses the    dynamic of light (and life) in the process of committing the tree to the canvas (but it also captures something of it as well). Nevertheless, each,    painting and cinema, goes some way toward capturing the essence of its subject. This tension between a medium of movement (and thus time) and stillness or    permanence (and thus a different concept of time) preoccupies Erice’s cinema.”

The Conversation

The Conversation took place on 13 August at the Locarno Film Festival. Moderator Miguel Marías and Victor Erice discussed the difference between the    viewing audiences of the present and of the past — a shared point of concern that director Agnès Varda also remarked on at her    Conversation at the Festival. Both Erice and Varda addressed the fact that viewers (who now have shorter attention spans) don’t watch films as before;    films are watched on small screens, laptops, phones, and so on, which changes the film’s aspect ratio and the look of how the film was shot in and in what    format, and in turn, the director’s visual intention.