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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 2)

The Changemakers: Tactics for Equality and Diversity in Film and Television

The Changemakers:

Tactics for Equality and Diversity in Film and Television

By Susan Kouguell

Panel discussion at the 2015 Produced By New York Conference

President of Global Grind Civil Rights Organizer Michael Skolnik, Founder, Duly Noted, Inc.; Project Greenlight, Dear White People Effie T. Brown, Founder & CEO of MACRO Charles King, President of Gamechanger Films Mynette Louie, Television writer Pete Nowalk, Founder & President of LTW Lindsey Taylor Wood
Getty Images: President of Global Grind Civil Rights Organizer Michael Skolnik, Founder, Duly Noted, Inc.; Project Greenlight, Dear White People Effie T. Brown, Founder & CEO of MACRO Charles King, President of Gamechanger Films Mynette Louie, Television writer Pete Nowalk, Founder & President of LTW Lindsey Taylor Wood

In the lively and informative morning panel The Changemakers: Tactics for Equality and Diversity in Film and Television at the Produced By Conference at the Time Warner Center in New York, the conversation focused on the importance of taking action and concrete ideas to ensure that more people of color and women find opportunities in all levels of the film and television industry.

The speakers:

Effie T. Brown
Founder, Duly Noted, Inc.; “Project Greenlight,” “Dear White People.”

Charles D. King
Founder & CEO, MACRO

Mynette Louie
President, Gamechanger Films

Pete Nowalk
“How to Get Away with Murder”

Lindsey Taylor Wood
Founder & President, LTW

Moderator Michael Skolnik (President, Global Grind Civil Rights Organizer) opened with several statistics from the 2015 UCLA report on diversity from the Bunch Center: HERE

The report looked at 175 films, and 1,015 television shows over two years.

Lead actors: 75 % men, 25 % women
Directors: 94 % men, 6 % women
Writers: 87% men, 13% women
Television show creators: 71% men, 29% women
Lead actors: 83% white, 17% people of color
Directors: 82% white, 18 % people of color
Writers: 88% white, 12% people of color
Show creators 94 % white, 6 % people of color
Cable television show creators: 89 % white, 11% people of color

And perhaps what drew the loudest audience gasp from Skolnik’s last statistic:
CEO and chairs of the 18 studios: 94 % white and 100% men.

Skolnik : The good news is, if there is good news, is that the audience is demanding much more of us, and certainly on television there has been an explosion of diverse audiences on and off screen.

Skolnick asked the panel about some proud moments in their career.

Brown: In ‘Project Greenlight’ you are actually able to see an inclusive crew that looks like America. So, people watching in Middle America, for example, could see that they have a voice and place in film.

 

READ MORE HERE

The Writers Lab

The first ever Writers Lab, a program targeting female screenwriters over 40, took place at Wiawaka on Lake George, New York from September 18-20, 2015.

Elizabeth Kaiden

The first ever Writers Lab, a program targeting female screenwriters over 40, took place at Wiawaka on Lake George, New York from September 18-20, 2015.

The group of mentors included Caroline Kaplan (“Boyhood,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Personal Velocity”), Kirsten Smith (“Legally Blonde,” “Ten Things I Hate About You”), Jessica Bendinger (“Bring It On,” “Aquamarine”), Mary Jane Skalski (“Win Win,” “The Station Agent”),Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Secret Life of Bees,” “Beyond the Lights”),Lydia Dean-Pilcher (“The Lunchbox,” The Reluctant Fundamentalist”), Meg LeFauve (“Inside Out,” “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”), and Darnell Martin (“Cadillac Records” and “I Like It Like That”).

Launched by New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and IRIS, a collective of women filmmakers dedicated to championing the female voice in narrative film, was funded in part by Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, and with the collaboration of the Writers Guild of America East.

Kirsten Smith
Kirsten Smith

Motivated by its screenwriting members who were frustrated with the paucity of development opportunities, IRIS founders Elizabeth Kaiden, Kyle Ann Stoke, and Nitza Wilson approached NYWIFT to support a screenwriting Lab exclusively for this demographic and The Writers Lab came into being.

I spoke with IRIS cofounder Elizabeth Kaiden to follow up about the first Writers Lab.

Kouguell: How many screenplays were submitted for consideration?

Kaiden: There were approximately 3,500 screenplays submitted. The selected participants were Sarah Bird (“Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen), Vanessa Carmichael (“The American”). Tracy Charlton (“Raised Up”), Kellen Hertz (“Ashburn”), Anna Hozian (“Anchor Baby”), Lyralen Kaye (“St John the Divine in Iowa”), Jan Kimbrough (“The Glastonbury Cow Party”), Billie Jo Mason (“The Cargo”), Peres Owino (“Basketweaver”), Gretchen Somerfeld (“Face Value”), Janet Stilson (“Jaguar Trail”), and Kim Turner (“It Goes Like This”).

 Read more:

Following Up The Writers Lab for Female Screenwriters Over 40

‘Suffragette Screenwriter’ Abi Morgan and ‘The Assassin’ Writer/Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Adapting Historical Events

‘Suffragette’ Screenwriter Abi Morgan and ‘The Assassin’ Writer/Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien on Adapting Historical Events

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The Assassin and Suffragette are films inspired by true historical events.  While these two films could not be more different in genre and style, they do share a strong and determined female protagonist, whose unwavering actions drive the story forward.

Screenwriters Morgan and Hsaio-Hsien, also shared a similar writing process; they relied on extensive archival research to find the core of the story.

The Suffragette Panel

SUFFRAGETTE TEAM 3

(From L-R: Ward, Owen, Morgan, and Gavron)

Following a private screening at the Directors Guild of America Theatre in New York City, of Suffragette, Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morgan spoke on a panel with members of the Suffragette team, including Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), and BAFTA Award winner director Sarah Gavron.  After working together on the 2007 film Brick Lane, the four women began discussing making a film on the suffragette movement and the women’s fight to win the right to vote in Britain a century ago.

The panel discussed how the subject of the film was less fashionable when they started out with the project six years ago, stating:

“As we were preparing during the past year for the release of Suffragette, suddenly Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and others were saying, ‘I’m a feminist’ and they were making it a sexy subject — which is great.”

The Suffragette Story
The story centers on Maud, a working wife and mother, who is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing Suffragette movement. Inspired by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst, Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her fellow Suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.

Highlights from Screenwriter Abi Morgan

SUFFRAGETTE MORGAN

“Maud was a composite character based on three women we read accounts on.  I had done a number of biopics before and it’s so hard to squeeze in a whole life and it’s so difficult; you’re trying to find a prism.

It took us a long time to find the story.  I wrote too many drafts to admit to. But throwing away a draft is liberating.  Most of the work is a process of failure and then improving on that failure.

In this film, we’re seeing the suffragette movement after they already had years of peaceful protests.  We wanted to capture the moment when they move from pacifism to activism, and as a result there were four of five amazing historical events, such as the Night of Broken Panes. Then we started reading about the testimonies of the working women and that’s when it profoundly changed for me.

You can’t ignore the world around you when you write.

We found in the archives information about the police surveillance operation and the police violence, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace. Issues that echoed today.  It seemed very relevant. At the core of this film, we are hoping to empower all women to fight for equality and to use your vote. In the UK we have a very complacent and very ambivalent voting public and we have a dwindling youth vote.”

Inspector Arthur Steed warns Maud about her activities with the suffragettes:

MAUD
(to Inspector Arthur Steed)
What are you going to do? We’re half the population.

The Assassin

At the New York Film Festival press screening, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien spoke about his new film The Assassin for which he won Best Director at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

The Story

The Assassin: Abducted at age 10, Yinniang is now a Tang Dynasty assassin dedicated to the art of killing until memory transforms her course of action.

Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Hou Hsiao-Hsien: “The story is based on historical facts and then I fleshed out the characters. There is a lot of information from the Tang Dynasty — tales, legends and novels. I first came across this story in college. I wanted to bring this realism into the film.  I wanted to do this film in the wuxia genre. I wanted to draw inspiration from Samurai movies from Japan as a long tradition of this martial arts practice that would be more in line of how I see the wuxia genre; it should be based on the realistic depiction of human capacity.”

When Jiaxin, the princess-turned-nun and Yinniang’s abductor, admonishes Yinniang for not following through with an assassination she states:

“Your skill is matchless, but your mind is hostage to human sentiments.”

Tips on Adapting a Screenplay Inspired from True Events

You have 120 pages or less to tell your compelling story. Your goal is to make every word on the page count.

– See more at: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/suffragette-screenwriter-abi-morgan-assassin-writerdirector-hou-hsiao-hsien-adapting-historical-events#sthash.nLh6RlkK.dpuf

read more here

A Conversation with the SUFFRAGETTE team

A Conversation
with the ‘Suffragette’ Team

by Susan Kouguell

Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), BAFTA Award winning director Sarah Gavron and Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morgan spoke about their new film “Suffragette.”
Faye Ward (producer), Alison Owen (producer), Abi Morgan (screenwriter), Sarah Gavron (director)

 

At a private screening at the Director Guild of America Theatre in New York City on October 10, Academy Award nominee Alison Owen (producer), Golden Globe Award nominee Faye Ward (producer), BAFTA Award winning director Sarah Gavron and Emmy-Award winner screenwriter Abi Morganspoke, following the screening of their new film “Suffragette.”

The four women met when working together on the 2007 film “Brick Lane,” and soon after began discussing making a film on the suffragette movement and the women’s fight to win the right to vote in Britain a century ago.

“Suffragette” centers on Maud, a working wife and mother, who is secretly recruited to join the U.K.’s growing Suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst, Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her dedicated fellow Suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women’s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.

Alison Owen (producer)
Alison Owen (producer)

 

MORGAN: “ I had done a number of biopics before and it’s so hard to squeeze in a whole life –it’s so difficult; you’re trying to find a prism.”

GAVRON: “Maud, a fictional character, played by Carey Mulligan, was a composite character based on three women we read accounts on.”

MORGAN: “We wanted to capture the moment when the suffragettes move from pacifism to activism and as a result there were four of five amazing historical events, such as the Night of Broken Panes. Then we started reading about the testimonies of the working women and that’s when it profoundly changed for me.”

OWEN: “The subject of the film was less fashionable when we started out with the project six years ago. It’s a sexy subject now. As we were preparing during the past year for the release of “Suffragette,” suddenly Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson and others were and saying, ‘I’m a feminist’ and they were making it a sexy subject — which is great.”

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Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien: THE ASSASIN

Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien
At the New York Film Festival press screening, Hou Hsiao-Hsien spoke with Dennis Lim about his new film “The Assassin” for which he won Best Director at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

 

Filmed on location in Japan and on set in Taiwan, “The Assassin” centers on the story of Yinniang, who, abducted at age 10, is now a Tang Dynasty assassin dedicated to the art of killing until memory transforms her course of action.

The Story

Hou Hsiao-Hsien: “There is a lot of information from the Tang Dynasty — tales, legends and novels. I first came across this story in college. I wanted to bring this realism into the film. The story is based on historical facts and then I fleshed out the characters.

I wanted to do this film in the wuxia genre. I wanted to draw inspiration from Samurai movies from Japan as a long tradition of this martial arts practice that would be more in line of how I see the wuxia genre; it should be based onthe realistic depiction of human capacity.”

"The Assassin"
“The Assassin”

 

Working with Actors

Hou Hsiao-Hsien : “I work with actors and actresses I have worked with together before; they know my style and how I work on set. They will know the script and know the mood I want to create. There is no rehearsal. They come to the set prepared. They know what the scene is about. I have to set up the lights and camera, and I set up the dolly and tracks, and then I ask them to go onto the set I created for them. Hopefully they will be inspired by this mise-en-scène, and the location. The actors immerse themselves and embody the characters. Things happen naturally. Sometimes they do take after take, and when they get too comfortable, they get mechanical and unnatural. I want to somehow change the scene for them, to really act. The long takes go with that particular way of directing.”

Aaron Sorkin on Adapting STEVE JOBS

Aaron Sorkin on Adapting the Film ‘Steve Jobs’

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Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Seth Rogan

 

Director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Walter Issacson, (writer of the authorized Jobs’ biography), along with actors  Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, and Michael Stuhlbarg took to the stage after the New York Film Festival press screening of Steve Jobs.  The conversation centered on creating the characters of this film based on the actual people and making them their own and not a caricature.  The cast spent time with their real-life counterparts to learn more about them.

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet

Danny Boyle:  “It wasn’t about the actors being a look alike or imitating physical mannerisms of the real people. Jobs was a historical figure.  His life was really Shakespearean.”

Adapting a book into a screenplay can be challenging in and of itself, but it can be further challenging when the book is a biography. Examples of book to screen adaptations based on a real person include The Aviator, Schindler’s List, Ray,The King’s Speech, Lincoln, Raging Bull, 12 Years a Slave, American Sniper, Frida, Wild, and Straight Outa Compton.

Jeff Daniels and Walter Walter Issacson

Jeff Daniels and Walter Issacson

Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network (for which he received the Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay) shares similarities to the script for Steve Jobs; The Social Network is about the behind-the-scenes of the founding of Facebook and Steve Jobs is a behind the scenes look at the founder of Apple.

The structure of the Steve Jobs screenplay is literally set in three distinct acts — each taking place backstage at a major iconic product launch — the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the unveiling of the iMac in 1998.

READ MORE HERE

MICHAEL MOORE: WHERE TO INVADE NEXT

A Conversation with Oscar® winner Michael Moore at the New York Film Festival

Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next” explores the current state of the nation.

Michael Moore and Susan Kouguell

Michael Moore and Susan Kouguell

Twenty-six years ago — (Michael Moore reminded me how long ago it was) — I was an acquisitions consultant for Warner Bros. and discovered a new documentary at the Independent Feature Film Market. I ran to the payphone (yes, pre-cell phone days) downstairs at the Anjelica Film Center and called my boss to tell her she must see it. The film was “Roger & Me.” Warner Bros. picked up the film.

Since then, Moore continued making provocative and impassioned films, including the Academy Award-winning “Bowling for Columbine,” “Sicko,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next” explores the current state of the nation.

Moore: “My film is about us. I just decided to tell a story about America without shooting a single frame of the movie in the United States.”

Former Radius Founders and Co-Presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego are teaming with Alamo Drafthouse Founder and CEO Tim League to form the yet-to-be-named distribution label and will distribute “Where to Invade Next.”

"Where to Invade Next"
“Where to Invade Next”

Here are highlights from the New York Film Festival press screening.

The idea for the film

“I was 19 and I just dropped out of college. I got the Eurail pass and youth hostel card and spent a couple of months going around Europe. I was in Sweden and broke a toe, and I was sent to a clinic. I went to pay the bill and there was no bill. I never heard of such a thing. And all through Europe I kept running into things like that. And I thought why can’t we do that? The idea grew organically as most of the things do in my films.”

Planning ahead

“Don’t give me too much credit for thinking this out a whole lot in advance. We don’t think it would be really cool to sit down at the lunch table with a can of Coke and see what the kids do.

The best stuff is what I don’t plan out. What my field producers do in terms of research — I have them tell me only the basics, I don’t want to know any of the research. When the Italian couple (in the film) tells me about the 15 days paid vacation, this is the first time I’ve heard it, even if the field producers know it. I don’t want to act. We don’t do a second take. If the sound guy says we didn’t get it, you can’t ask them (the subjects) to do it again. We’ve seen too many documentaries like that. It has to happen with them and me in the moment.”

No, Michael Moore is not running for office

“…to say that you have the right to regulate a woman’s uterus but not guns? It’s like, I think the only safe place for guns is in a woman’s uterus. Then they would be regulated by our Republican congress!

 

READ MORE HERE

 

Director Robert Zemeckis Talks ‘The Walk’ and Adaptation

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Director Robert Zemeckis Talks 'The Walk' and Adaptation by Susan Kouguell | Script MagazineDirector Robert Zemeckis at THE WALK New York Film Festival Press Screening

At the recent New York Film Festival press screening of The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis spoke about adapting his film for the screen.  Based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit (the tightrope walker), The Walk is written by Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne.

Zemeckis:  “I came upon the children’s book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers; it had eight pages of illustrations.”

Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein in 2003, the book recounts Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the top of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Zemeckis: “I started developing this project and Philippe’s story, almost 10 years ago, way before the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ was made. It was a great documentary; it lets you in to see what all the real characters were thinking and how they did this, but the thing I always wanted to do was Philippe’s story. I wanted to present the walk itself, and of course it couldn’t be done in the documentary because there were no moving pictures of the walk ever recorded.”

In researching Petit’s true life story, Zemeckis found a passionate and driven character who performed the walk because he had to, purely for self-expression.

Zemeckis: “Petit is an anarchist who pulled off an artistic coup.”

Finding the dramatic elements of the story

There were all the elements in this real life story and in the children’s book already built-in for a compelling screenplay: a unique protagonist and his unlikely gang of international recruits to help make the actual walk a reality.  It’s a caper film, except there is no theft.  The adventurous goal that drives the narrative forward is for the protagonist and his gang, to plan, execute, and to survive the walk between the Twin Towers.

What to Keep and What to Cut

There were some elements from the actual coup that that were condensed, such as in real life, Petit made eight crossings, but in the film he does six.

READ MORE HERE

 

Woodstock Film Festival Winners

"The Babushkas of Chernobyl"

The 2015 Woodstock “Fiercely Independent” Film Festival celebrated its Sweet 16, and came  to a close on October 4.

The awards went to:

Best Feature Narrative: “Oliver’s Deal” directed by Barney Elliott

Honorable Mention: “It Had to be You” directed by Sasha Gordon.

Best Feature Documentary: “Incorruptible” directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

"Oliver’s Deal"
“Oliver’s Deal”

Honorable Mention: “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” directed by Holly Morris, co-directed by Anne Bogart.

 

READ MORE HERE

ROSEMARY RODRIGUEZ and SILVER SKIES

A Conversation With Director Rosemary Rodriguez About Her New Film ‘Silver Skies’

by Susan Kouguell

“Silver Skies,” Rosemary’s second feature, chronicles a group of seniors whose lives turn upside down when their Los Angeles apartment complex threatens to be sold out from under them.

Jack McGee, Alex Rocco, George Hamilton, Valerie Perrine, Jack Betts and Barbara Bain in "Silver Skies"

I had the pleasure of speaking with writer and director Rosemary Rodriguezin midtown Manhattan two days before her film “Silver Skies” will have its United States premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival on Saturday October 3.

Rosemary Rodriguez wrote and directed the feature, “Acts of Worship, “which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, including the John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature. Her episodic TV work includes “Empire,” “The Good Wife,” (where she is a regular director), “Manhattan,” “Rake,” “Elementary” and “Vegas.” She is currently directing the new Marvel series on Netflix, “Jessica Jones.”

“Silver Skies,” Rosemary’s second feature, chronicles a group of seniors whose lives turn upside down when their Los Angeles apartment complex threatens to be sold out from under them.

Rosemary Rodriguez

We began our conversation talking about the evolution of “Silver Skies.”

Rodriguez : It took about ten years. I ended up going to the MacDowell Colony with an outline for “Silver Skies” and wrote the script while I was there. Then, when I directed a “Law and Order” episode, I hit it off with (star) Dennis Farina and he loved the script. He helped to get the movie made. Fast forward almost two years later I called Dennis and told him we got the money. We picked the start date, and then he passed away two weeks later. I was devastated when he passed away. But then things fell in place. Fred Roos and Arthur Sarkissian came to the reading of the script, and they said, ‘let’s do this movie.’ The movie is dedicated to Dennis. He was my guardian angel.

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