Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: May 2015

How to Please a Story Analyst (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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How to Please a Story Analyst

by Susan Kouguell

Way back when, I was a story analyst for production companies and studios. Here is my story. And this is the story you should know.

script consultantsMost scripts submitted to agents, production companies and/or studios will get coverage, which is a story report written by a story analyst (also called a “reader.”) Many story analysts are recent college graduates, looking to break into the film industry. Most are smart, overworked and underpaid. Many are aspiring screenwriters who are reading for a company to support their own screenwriting and are paying their dues in this job to get their foot (and their own scripts) in the door.

Story analysts are the lowest people on the film industry totem pole. They are often the lowest paid, yet they have one of the biggest tasks – to find that winning screenplay! Story analysts might get three scripts (or more) to read overnight after a full day of reading. It’s your job to grab their attention and make them want to check a READ on your script’s coverage.

Story analysts are looking for talent, not just the winning property. They may PASS on a script because it’s not the type of project their company is looking to produce at that time, but will hold onto to it as a writing sample for other projects they currently may have in development or for future assignments. Or, the production company, studio or agency might contact the writer to see his or her other work, which might lead to a writing job or a script sale.

“I’m tired of rewriting so I’m just going to submit my script now,” If you are saying this, then you’re not passionate about your script – and in turn, story analysts will share your sentiments and reject your screenplay. Story analysts read countless scripts per week. They must feel your commitment to your script. They want to like what they read.

Story Analysts’ Confessions

Years ago, when I worked as a story analyst for Miramax Films (Harvey Weinstein), Punch Productions (Dustin Hoffman), Paramount Pictures and Viacom, I befriended my fellow story analysts. Of course we commiserated (okay, complained) about our low pay and long hours, but once that kvetching session ended, we revealed what was really annoying us. Most of the scripts we were covering were weak. Okay, honestly, many were just plain bad.

There were some common threads as to why these scripts were bad. I compiled my discussions with colleagues, and included my own first-hand experience as a Screenplay Doctor and a former story analyst in my book, The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! Here is an excerpt:

Complaints & Observations

  • We are intelligent, but few of us have psychic abilities. If it’s not on the page, we have no way of knowing what’s in your head and what you intended.
  • If your first ten pages don’t grab our attention, it will be difficult if not impossible to redeem yourself later. Beware! This may result in a PASS.
  • Each and every character must be unique, have a distinctive personality, and serve a purpose in the story, otherwise you are truly frustrating us.
  • Don’t throw in the kitchen sink. We know you are not confident about your story when you include extraneous plots and characters.
  • We may not have gone to medical or law school, but generally we are well read. We will immediately recognize if the terminology or research in your script is weak or implausible.
  • Even superheroes’ actions need to be plausible! If you have action scenes, be sure that they are realistic and well executed; otherwise we will be inclined to PASS on your script.
  • Don’t keep us in a confusing time tunnel! If your script jumps forward in time, whether it’s several months or several years, then be sure that this is clearly indicated in your script.
  • Film, unlike plays or novels, is a visual medium. Endless dialogue and too much description will persuade us to PASS on your script.
  • In your description paragraphs, don’t telegraph what is about to be seen and/or heard in the dialogue and/or action. Enough said!
  • Don’t direct your script with camera angles. Using camera directions is absolutely frowned upon. We know that directors and producers do not want to be told how to shoot their movie!
  • A script is not a novel. Dense paragraphs of descriptions are a turn off. Each separate action should be a new paragraph. Be brief and concise. Make each word count. Since we are often tired and overworked, these paragraphs become a blur of black lines and consequently, we may overlook important details.
  • Avoid heavy-handed exposition at all costs. Don’t over explain information about back-story in dialogue. We know if you’re setting up a whole scene just to get exposition across.
  • Watch out for rambling scenes! Generally, one script page equals one minute of screen time. You must keep this in mind if your scenes run long since we are looking for a well-paced screenplay.
  • When we read voice-overs, we often panic. We don’t want to be spoon-fed information. We don’t want to hear the same information in voice-over that will soon be revealed in dialogue.
  • When we read flashbacks, our alarms start to go off! Generally, we frown upon flashbacks because we know flashbacks rarely work on film. If you really feel that you need to use them, know that we will be scrutinizing them to see if they are indeed necessary.
  • Incorrect format will get a quick PASS! Don’t cheat and use a smaller font or change the margins. We will catch this immediately. Respect the time of the person reading your script.
  • Don’t submit your script unless it looks perfect! No typos. No coffee stains. No photocopying lines. No missing or extra blank pages within the script. Believe me, you don’t want us to become irritated because we are attempting to decipher text between the spots and smudges, and trying to figure out which page belongs where.

Take your time writing and rewriting your screenplay. You do not want to cause any unnecessary stumbling blocks that will result in your screenplay getting a PASS. Always do your best work before submitting it.



Ten Steps to Selling Your Spec Script

by Susan Kouguell

I know, I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. “Selling a script is impossible. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t know anyone in the film business so I have no chance at all. It just isn’t fair. I’m just not a lucky person.”

Well, selling a screenplay does happen. But – (here it comes) – truth be told, selling a script is like winning the lottery. Some people do win the lottery and some writers do sell their scripts.

Keep your sanity! Remain focused! Remember that your screenplay has three potential goals:

1) to sell

2) to get optioned and/or produced

3) to serve as a writing sample for future work

So, here are ten steps to selling your spec script…

1. Write a great script. Okay, this sounds obvious, but often my Su-City Pictures’ clients and students have said to me, “If this awful movie I just saw was actually made, why should I work so hard on my script?” The answer is this: the competition and odds are indeed staggering, so put your best work out there. Your script is your calling card and it reflects your writing talent. Your script should demonstrate that you know the craft – this means it should have a strong voice, developed characters, solid structure, and follow the genre conventions. It’s nearly impossible to resubmit a rewrite of the same script to an agent and/or company once that script has been rejected.

2. Write an attention-grabbing query letter. Research and query production companies, studios and talent (actors, directors, producers) that are a good match for your script.

3. Compose a strong synopsis. If film industry folks respond positively to your query, you may be then asked to send a one-page synopsis with or without your script.

4. Prepare a great pitch. Once an agent, manager, production company and/or studio has read and liked your script, you may be called in to meet with them at which time you will be asked to pitch. There are other opportunities to pitch such as pitch festivals.

5. Network. You’ve heard the joke: “What’s the best way to Carnegie Hall? … Practice. Practice. Practice.” What’s the best way to break into the film business? “Network. Network. Network.” Writing is solitary, but the film industry and getting your script made into a movie is all about whom you know and the people you meet. No matter where you live, find a way to make personal contacts with industry professionals. Attending script conferences, workshops, and film festivals are good ways to make connections, as well as social media.

6. Educate yourself about the film business. Being savvy about the film industry makes you more appealing to potential agents, production companies and/or studios. Keep up-to-date by reading the trades, and screenwriting and film publications. This is a good way to learn who’s looking for what in order to help you target the right people for your project.




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The Spine of the Screenplay
by Susan Kouguell

In my more than 25 years of teaching screenwriting and screenplay consulting I continue to find one common issue — many screenwriters do not know what the inherent conflict is in their scripts. The truth is — they don’t know the dramatic spine of their story.

story structureMany screenwriters tend to get sidetracked in set pieces, formatting, dialogue, and other basic elements; they have lost sight of the vital yet basic skill – dramatic writing. Whether you’re writing a comedy or drama, a thriller or action film, a farce or fantasy, crafting a solid conflict and resolution is critical to your script’s success.

The spine in a human’s body is what holds the body’s framework together. In a screenplay, the spine holds the script together. Without a strong spine, the body and the screenplay collapse. A crumbling screenplay results in a script that will be rejected by film industry folks.

The spine can be as simple as boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, or it can be more complicated.

Characters’ motivations prompt the choices and decisions they make, which in turn, advance the narrative.

The dramatic spine is the drive behind your protagonist’s actions. It is what propels your protagonist forward. In this example, the dramatic spine is seen through the athlete’s choices.

Example: Your protagonist is a female athlete who has always played by the rules and has won every competition. But when she discovers that her brother needs expensive medical treatment, she will do whatever it takes to save his life, including cheating at an event so she can win the prize money.

The dramatic spine can be seen when characters push towards their goals and the emotional changes they experience are punctuated.

Sign up for Susan's webinar on wordbuilding!

Sign up for Susan’s webinar on wordbuilding!

Characters must have a set of both internal and external obstaclesthat challenge them. When these internal and external obstacles are tied together, your plot will have a more relatable and believable conflict.

In My Best Friend’s Wedding Julianne attempts to sabotage her best friend’s wedding to win the man she believes she should have married all along, but her emotional progression provides the twist in the narrative; she’s not the woman the audience will be rooting for due to her selfish and duplicitous actions.

In the film Juno, Juno’s pregnancy is the spine of the story; her decision to keep the baby and the way in which it impacts her relationship with the father of her baby, as well as her own family and the adoptive family, propels the narrative forward.

Tips to Discover the Dramatic Spine of Your Screenplay

  • Picture an actual human spinal framework and then envision what your characters hold on to both emotionally and physically, internally and externally, in order to achieve their goals. Protagonists and antagonists must have specific goals they hope to accomplish as the plot unfolds. Along the way, they must face obstacles, roadblocks, problems, and hurdles, which raise the stakes in the script.
  • Understand your characters’ wants and needs.
  • Determine what is causing the major conflicts between your characters.
  • Know the emotional progression of your protagonist.
  • Identify the overall through-line of your plot.

Don’t lose sight of your true identity: Screenwriter as Dramatist.



Why Film Executives are Rejecting Your Screenplay (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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Why Film Executives are

Rejecting Your Screenplay

by Susan Kouguell

Why did my script get rejected again?

It’s true. Many of you are probably modest about your screenwriting brilliance.  And perhaps you are truly a brilliant writer but your screenplays continue to be rejected. Why oh why is this happening?! Why are industry folks rejecting my screenplay?

The obvious answer to these questions is that your script just isn’t that brilliant.  Or the less obvious answers include the fact that your screenplay is just not a fit for the company in terms of genre or budget, or it’s not a match for what the producer or director is seeking today.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of good fortune AKA luck.  But sometimes, well very often, if not most of the time, it comes down to this: screenwriters are not taking the necessary time and effort to fine-tune their scripts and they are submitting their screenplays before they are truly ready to be considered for production or as a writing sample.

Here are ten universal tips from film industry executives and story analysts, with whom I have interviewed for various screenwriting and film publications, and for my book The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!  This list is in no particular order but these points do share equal importance, and one in which I whole-heartedly endorse as a screenplay consultant.

Top Ten Tips to Avoid Rejection

  1. FORMATTING: Incorrect industry screenplay formatting loudly demonstrates to the reader that the screenwriter is an amateur, and doesn’t have respect for his or her work — or for the reader’s time.
  2. SLOPPINESS: Typos, grammatical errors, missing and blank pages indicate you are careless and not someone who takes pride in his or her work.
  3. CAMERA ANGLES:Directors do not want to be told how to shoot their movie.
  4. DEVICES: Overuse and/or unnecessary usage of voiceovers, dream sequences, and flashbacks often demonstrate to industry folks that the writer does not know how to craft a screenplay.
  5. ACTION PARAGRAPHS: Dense action paragraphs that read like a novel and/or telegraphs what is about to be revealed in dialogue or through visual storytelling, underscores a poorly crafted screenplay.
  6. GENRE/GENRES: Inconsistent or too many genres in one screenplay underscores that the screenwriter doesn’t understand genre conventions or doesn’t know what the genre really is.
  7. CHARACTERS: Film industry folks must care about your characters — whether it’s love or hate, they must feelsomething for them. And, characters who don’t have distinct personalities and are (unintentionally) interchangeable or don’t serve a purpose in the plot are equally frustrating for readers.
  8. DIALOGUE: Heavy-handed exposition and/or over-explaining information about the back-story shows the reader the screenwriter’s lack of understanding in solid film storytelling.
  9. SUBPLOTS: Too many subplots that overshadow the main plot highlights the fact that the screenwriter doesn’t understand what the narrative is really about.
  10. SCENES: Rambling and unnecessary scenes that are not advancing the plot, indicate a lack of understanding in crafting a solid structure.