Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: November 2014

Susan’s The Script Lab article Posing Questions in Two Days One Night

 

 

 

In the film Two Days, One Night, written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the protagonist, Sandra, has recently returned back to her job after an acute bout with depression only to find out that the factory for which she works can manage with one less employee and she is to be let go. Sandra learns that the employees have been given a choice: receive a bonus if they agree she will be laid off; if not, then no one receives the bonus.  Sandra’s fate will be decided on Monday morning, giving Sandra one weekend to convince her fellow coworkers to sacrifice their bonuses in order to keep her job. Sandra finds herself in a race against time – specifically two days and one night — to get her job back.

In the chapter entitled ‘Getting Your Characters’ Acts Together’ in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write:

Every story is essentially a “What if?” mystery. It begins by asking a question that will be answered in the script’s climax. Usually a problem is introduced or a situation that needs to be resolved is presented. The reader must feel a sense of urgency and expectation.

In the film Two Days, One Night, written and directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the protagonist, Sandra, has recently returned back to her job after an acute bout with depression only to find out that the factory for which she works can manage with one less employee and she is to be let go. Sandra learns that the employees have been given a choice: receive a bonus if they agree she will be laid off; if not, then no one receives the bonus.  Sandra’s fate will be decided on Monday morning, giving Sandra one weekend to convince her fellow coworkers to sacrifice their bonuses in order to keep her job. Sandra finds herself in a race against time – specifically two days and one night — to get her job back.

In the chapter entitled ‘Getting Your Characters’ Acts Together’ in my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write:

Every story is essentially a “What if?” mystery. It begins by asking a question that will be answered in the script’s climax. Usually a problem is introduced or a situation that needs to be resolved is presented. The reader must feel a sense of urgency and expectation.

To read more: READ MORE HERE

View Trailer:

 

 

 

#TWODAYSONENIGHT #THESCRIPTLAB #POSINGQUESTIONSINTWODAYSONENIGHT

Writing the Documentary (Script Magazine)

Writing the Documentary

You can choose to follow the traditional 3-act structure or a nontraditional narrative format. Or you can choose to present your ideas subjectively or objectively. You can include stock film footage, use talking heads, include yourself in the story, use still photographs, live action, animation, dramatic reenactments, and voiceover narration or let your characters and images alone just tell the story.

You can choose all of the above ideas, some of the above, or none of the above.

Whatever you choose to do in order to convey your story, the execution and clarity will ultimately be vital to the success of your project.

2014-08-10 13.08.10

“Making documentaries is a school of life,” stated director Agnès Varda at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival where I asked her about her writing process. Varda described her style as cinécriture — writing on film. “In The Beaches of Agnès I am turning the mirror to the people who surround me. It shows how you build the life with others.”

At the recent Woodstock Film Festival’s Impact on Filmmaking panel, moderator Robin Bronk asked the panelists how they chose their topics and how film’s narratives evolved.

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(left to right: Ali Akbarzadeh, Jon Bowermaster, Anne O’Shea, moderator  Robin Bronk,  Joe Berlinger, Jedd Wider)

Jedd Wider: “I work with my brother — we produce and direct together.  We are very careful at the onset to take on a topic that is going to resonate socially or politically and we need to look inwardly and ask: How do I ensure it is going to be seen? We are motivated by moving the needle in some meaningful way. Our film Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God evolved because we didn’t feel that the Vatican was addressing molestation appropriately. We brought on board a New York Times reporter to consult with us, brought on Alex Gibney to direct, and approached HBO: they felt the topic wasn’t addressed appropriately.”

Joe Berlinger: “When we went to do Paradise Lost (The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills in 1996), it was not about helping the Memphis three. We were initially attracted to the story because all the news coming out of Arkansas was that it was an open and shut case. We were making a film about ‘three kids that were guilty’ — three teens in Arkansas accused of devil worshiping murder, and we went into make this film, thinking, how could kids do such a thing? We spent nine months embedded in the community, waiting for the trial, and spent time with the victims’ families. We realized that despite the media saying this was an open and shut case, we became convinced it was not. Storytelling and advocacy came together, and we hoped it would make a difference. But Damion was sentenced to death, and the film didn’t move the needle, and 18 years later, we made three films and the three guys were finally let out of prison.”

Watch documentaries that share your sensibility, and explore what makes your project different. As you develop your ideas and your interview questions for your subjects, determine what your significant message is, who the main ‘characters’ are and their goals, as well as their possible positive and negative agendas.

Joe Berlinger: “It sounds cliché, but it’s always about the stories and characters. If you want to reach people and have an impact, find a story and find a way to tell it. There needs to be a great character.”

Whether you leave some elements to chance or you stringently stick to your script, indeed, there is no right or wrong way to write a documentary — 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.

Writing the Documentary

 

Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, and is the author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!. 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. Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked on Louis Malle’s 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; http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/

 

And the winners of the 15th Annual Woodstock Film Festival are…

And the winners of the 15th Annual Woodstock Film Festival are… "Patrick's Day" directed by Terry McMahon

On a picture perfect fall day two days before the 2014 Woodstock Film Festival awards ceremony, I sat down with Meira Blaustein, co-founder and Executive Director of the Festival.

Meira Blaustein: “It’s very easy to meet people here at the Festival; it’s casual, and friendly, yet high quality. One can have conversations with those who can potentially buy your film, buy your next film, challenge your creativity and elevate your creativity and push the envelope. The goal of the Festival is to bring together outstanding, thought-provoking, and passionate films. This year we have twenty-two world premieres. We have filmmakers from all over the world. I’m proud we have a spotlight on women in film; eight narratives directed by women is unique — unfortunately it is unique but it is. These women are smart, talented and strong, and their films are powerful. We have a lineup that dares to ask questions, and dares to be bold. It’s important to put together a tapestry that is reflective of the current state of filmmaking and a reflection of the current state of what is happening in film.”

The Woodstock Film Festival Award Winners

The Maverick Award for BEST FEATURE NARRATIVE: “Patrick’s Day,” directed by Terry McMahon

The Maverick Award for BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY: Red Lines,” directed by Andrea Kalin and Oliver Lukacs.

To read more:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/sydneylevine/and-the-winners-of-the-15th-annual-woodstock-film-festival-are-20141029

Susan’s: Jon Stewart Speaks About Rosewater and Adapting for the Screen

Jon Stewart Speaks About Rosewater and Adapting for the Screen

 

Photo credit: Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell

Adapting for the Screen

Adapting a book into a screenplay can be regarded as all about the choices you make while bringing forth the essence of the story. Translating internal thoughts of a character without overusing voiceover or another device, and/or making choices to fictionalize certain events and restructuring time frames, are just some of the elements that screenwriters must consider when adapting material for the screen.

Screenplays are generally 120 pages or less, and many novels, for example, are often double or triple that length. Generally speaking, one script page equals one minute of screen time, which means that you must focus on the basic plot points of the material, thus often resulting in cutting subplots and characters. Unlike a novel or memoir, you don’t have the luxury to get inside your characters’ minds with pages and pages of internal thoughts. Characters’ motivations, agendas, goals, and so on, must be conveyed in dialogue and through visual storytelling. Keep in mind the screenwriting adage: Show Don’t Tell. The bottom line: Film is a visual medium.

Jon Stewart Speaks about Rosewater with Janet Maslin at the Jacob Burns Film Center

As part of the Global Watch: Crisis Culture & Human Rights film series (November 6-26) at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, film critic and JBFC president Janet Maslin interviewed Jon Stewart, following the screening of his directorial debut of Rosewater. Stewart’s screenplay, adapted from Maziar Bahari’s memoirThen They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, centers on Bahari’s family history and his arrest, torture and 107-day solitary confinement imprisonment, following the 2009 presidential election in Iran.

A few days before his arrest, Bahari, a contributor to Newsweek, appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in a taped interview with the show’s correspondent Jason Jones. Mr. Bahari does not believe that this interview was responsible for his arrest; he was already being monitored.

Stewart on Rosewater

The title ‘Rosewater’ is inspired from the rosewater scent of Maziar’s interrogator. That’s all Maziar knows (in solitary confinement and blindfolded); that’s how Maziar can identify him.

(Stewart emphasized that what drew him to this material and to direct this film, as opposed to another project, was how Maziar kept both his spirit intact during solitary confinement, and his humanity through his memories of his family. This optimism and sense of hope is what Stewart would like the audience to come away with after seeing this film.)

The Decision to Direct

If I didn’t do anything I wasn’t nervous about I would just sit in a room. I was nervous about directing.

I want my work to be about things I believe in. As a comedian I’m drawn to commentary of events around the world. I’m fascinated by human stupidity. But I’m optimistic, too. We forget that there’s some six million people living in New York City. How is New York not just some Mad Max? It’s kind of incredible.

I like my work to be about context. I want this film to be seen as relevant. Journalists are in a terrible position right now. These people are out on their own. Bloggers and active social media people are being arrested and imprisoned.

The best move I did was hiring the people I did to make this film. I showed the script and film to every director that came on The Daily Show. Paul Thomas Anderson? Sure let’s have him on! Ron Howard read it and thought, this will be a wonderful –play–add visuals if you want to make this a film. I’m thinking: How do you visualize the scenes in solitary confinement with the hallucinations in the cell and make it effective and emotional.

READ MORE HERE:

http://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/2987-jon-stewart-speaks-about-rosewater-and-adapting-for-the-screen

Susan’s Screenwriters Utopia: Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes

 

Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes – Screenwriter’s Utopia

Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes – Screenwriter’s Utopia

At the Jacob Burns Film Center in October, film critic and JBFC president Janet Maslin interviewed director Jason Reitman after the screening of his latest film Men, Women & Children (based on the novel by Chad Kultgen) written by Reitman and Cressida Wilson.

Reitman: “I like making movies about the sides we don’t show.” Describing his film as an ensemble story, Reitman said, “I wanted to make a movie about relationships.  I think people have been cheating on each other for a long time.  Some of the things that the movie addresses are porn, girls with body issues, and relationships. We’re brave on a first date; there are certain things you stop sharing in a long-term relationship.

http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/article/727d0528

 

 

The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female-driven Content

A Panel Discussion at the Inaugural Produced BY: NY

The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female-driven Content

Held on October 25 in New York City, the panel — The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female-driven Content — was held on October 25 in New York City, as part of the Inaugural Produced BY: NY event sponsored by the Producers Guild of America.

Panel Description: Audience demographics and buying power are changing. The power of females at the box office reigned supreme this past summer in terms of on-screen presence and audience turnout. A look at the 100 highest-earning movies of 2013 reveals that on average, movies with a female protagonist earned 20% more than movies with a male protagonist. So why the overall shortage of female protagonists and women filmmakers? What hurdles or opportunities does the current environment present for producers seeking to tell stories about girls or women?

The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female-driven Content | SydneysBuzz

Cathy Schulman

 

The panel moderated by Cathy Schulman (“Crash;” “The Illusionist;” President, Mandalay Pictures & Women In Film LA) featured Kelly Edwards (VP Talent Development, HBO), Lydia Dean Pilcher (“Cutie and the Boxer;” “The Lunchbox;” “The Darjeeling Limited;” Vice President: Motion Pictures, Producers Guild of America), Stacy Smith (Director, Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, USC Annenberg), and Lauren Zalaznick ( “Kids;” “Zoolander;” Media Executive Founder & Curator, The LZ Sunday Paper).

The printed information sheet ‘Females in Film & TV Facts: On Screen Behind the Camera, and Career Barriers Faced’ was available to attendees from panelist Stacy L. Smith.

An Overview:Onscreen Portrayals
Prevalence of Females across 100 Top Films from 2007 to 2013:

Percentage of female characters in 2007: 29.9% and in 2013: 29.2%
Percentage of films with gender parity in 2007: 12% and in 2013: 16 %
Percentage with female lead/co-lead in 2007: 20% and in 2013: 28% Behind the Camera
Prevalence of Female Filmmakers across 100 Top Films from 2007 to 2013
Percentage of female directors in 2007: 2.7% and in 2013: 1.9%
Percentage of female writers in 2007: 11.2% and in 2013: 7.4%
Percentage of female producers in 2007: 20.5% and in 2013: 19.6%
Gender ratio in 2007: 5 to 1 and in 2013 5.3 to 1

Independent Film Behind the Camera
Prevalence of Females Behind the Camera at Sundance Film Festival 2002-2012

Director: Narrative 16.9% Documentary: 34.5%
Writer: Narrative: 20.6% Documentary 32.8
Producer: Narrative: 29.4% Documentary 45.9%
Cinematographer: Narrative: 9.5% Documentary: 19.9%
Editor: Narrative: 22% Documentary: 35.8%

The Prevalence of Female Filmmaker across 120 Global Films from 2010 to 2013 in the United Sates:
Directors: 0, Writers: 11.8%, Producers 22.7% and the Gender Ratio 3.4 to 1.

For more information on these reports: http://annenberg.usc.edu/pages/DrStacyLSmithMDSCI

 Kelly Edwards
Kelly Edwards

Moderator Cathy Schulman opened the discussion with the goal for the panel — to discuss some of the myth-busting in the industry and the deep set cultural ennui.

Cathy Schulman: How do we break the status quo?

Lydia Dean Pilcher: There is a perception in our industry that female-driven content is not commercial. We see that’s not true. Women are driving the conversation. We have a responsibility to debunk perception. Finance models are driven by foreign sales estimates and the myth is prevalent among foreign sales agents. We have new data for female-driven content internationally.

Cathy Schulman : Statistically 93 percent of foreign sales buyers are men,

Stacy L. Smith: On screen, less than one-third of the speaking characters are girls and women, and if you are trying to appeal to the women audience, you’ve lost proportion. Behind the camera, there’s a fiscal cliff; very few women are attached as directors in narrative films. Women are perceived as less confident to lead a production crew. Internationally, female-driven films made more money. The audience is there, but authenticity is lacking due to who’s behind the camera.

Lauren Zalanick
Lauren Zalanick

About Television and Cable

Lauren Zalanick: In television there is some movement that may be systemic or cyclical, we don’t know. The most powerful showrunner today is not the most powerful female showrunner, it’s the most-powerful showrunner — Shonda Rhimes. The heat around television programming now is based on strong female characters.

To read more and find out what I asked the panel:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/sydneylevine/the-ms-factor-the-power-of-female-driven-content-20141107