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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: November 2015

Top Ten Tips on Choosing an Agent (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Top Ten Tips on Choosing an Agent

Top Ten Tips on Choosing an Agent by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat

Congratulations!  You just might have found an agent.  You just got a response from your brilliant query or pitch, and an agent is interested in representing you!  Hallelujah!  Do the happy dance but don’t lose your common sense!

In my book, The Savvy Screenwriter, I write:

When I first got into the film business I uncharacteristically lost my common sense. I didn’t trust my rational gut instincts. Why? I wanted to write. I wanted to see my scripts made into films. If someone had asked me to jump, I would have asked not only, “How high?” but also, “For how long?” Whether dealing with an independent production company, a studio, or agent, I was putty in their hands.

I didn’t ask agents how they planned on working with me or how they thought they could sell my work. (I was represented by agents who wanted me as part of their stable of writers, but they didn’t really know how to place my work. Because I never asked what type of scripts they actually sold, or if any of my scripts might be submitted as writing samples to companies, or if I should write another script in a different genre to show my diversity, or offered suggestions as to where to submit my scripts, I never got hired for assignments and didn’t sell one script.) By not asking questions, I often worked with people who didn’t share my vision of my work or career. If you don’t ask questions, you might just repeat my mistakes!

Top Ten Tips on Choosing an Agent

  1. Choose an agent who is signatory to the Writers Guild of America ( Guild signatory agents must abide by rules that will best protect you, including fees they charge for both selling your work and finding you writing assignments.
  2. Research the agent to confirm his or her real film industry connections. You want an agent who has established and extensive contacts in the industry in order to increase that agent’s opportunities to sell your spec script and/or find you writing assignments.
  3. The prospective agent should share your sensibility and vision. If he or she doesn’t really understand you and your work, (and certainly vice versa) this relationship will likely not benefit either one of you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask agent questions, including what their game plan is for you and your work, and where they intend to submit your projects.
  5. If the agent represents many writers (maybe too many writers) whereby the ratio of writers to agents is high, (for example more than fifty writers to one agent), than you might want to question whether you’ll get enough attention.
  6. The agent / writer relationship is a business relationship, not a friendship. You may like the prospective agent personally, but honestly consider if he or she is truly the best person to represent you.
  7. Ask the prospective agent how you will be working together. For example: Calling or e-mailing an agent once a week or biweekly and scheduling strategy meetings every few months is a reasonable request.
  8. Agents who represent clients who are working steadily, is a positive reflection on the agent’s ability and clout in the film industry.
  9. Ask the prospective agent if he or she will read your new work, and if so, how long you should wait until receiving feedback.
  10. My best advice: Trust your instincts to determine if the potential agent is the best person to champion you and your work.

Remember…Don’t lose your common sense!  It’s great news that an agent has expressed interest in representing you, but do not jump into a relationship without making sure the agent is a good fit for you and your work.


HBO’s “Getting On” Will Scheffer talks collaboration, adaptation, the characters’ evolution & more (SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Susan Kouguell Interviews HBO'S 'GETTING ON' Creator, Executive Producer and Writer Will Scheffer by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine

Mark V. Olsen (L) Will Scheffer (R) (Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO)

I spoke with series creator, executive producer and writer Will Scheffer about the third and final season of his Emmy-nominated HBO series GETTING ON.  We talked about his collaboration with his husband Mark V. Olson on this series, adaptation, the characters’ evolution, and more.

Based on the BBC series of the same name, GETTING ON is created for American television by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer (co-creators of the acclaimed HBO series Big Love), the show follows the daily lives of overworked nurses and doctors as they struggle with the darkly comic realities of tending compassionately to their aging charges in a rundown, red-tape-filled hospital extended-care wing, blending outrageous humor with unexpected moments of tenderness.
Susan Kouguell Interviews HBO'S 'GETTING ON' Creator, Executive Producer and Writer Will Scheffer by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine

KOUGUELL: What did you learn as a writer and producer during these three seasons?

SCHEFFER: I think I always learn the same thing: “It’s about the people, stupid.” I learn it different ways, dealing with different problems and crisis and joys — but it’s about the people you collaborate with in all aspects of the production and also the people you’re doing it for. I also learned you can shoot a TV show in three days and it can still be excellent if you’re working with the right people.

KOUGUELL: Do you feel that your writing and/or collaboration with Mark has changed since Big Love and if so, how has it evolved?

SCHEFFER: It has. A lot. I used to be the first draft guy (and I still am on some or our projects) and then we’d trade drafts from there — but Mark really ran with the drafts of GETTING ON. And I felt more like I was connected to him at the hip, channeling. We talk a lot more now — before and during the drafting and we solve problems together like in a “dialogue” and then he’ll execute that in the writing.

GETTING ON developed in a special way because of time factors and other things, but I did less actual typing and more talking and feeding answers to Mark’s questions. It really felt like a good process for this show. We’ve already written three other “shows” where I did the first draft and Mark is the closer. And then I’ll get it back for some light polish. But GETTING ON was the show where I think I’d say we became a real writing team. With Mark I/we become better. We trust each other. I’ve had almost the same amount of time as a solo act and a duo 15 years and 10 years, respectively — and I know I’d have a body of work and a career without Mark, but I doubt very much I’d have this career. I’m grateful he finally pushed me into collaborating because he made me a better writer and thinker and luckily it’s made our marriage richer, too. We still write some things solo and we help each other on those. I’m a producer on some scripts of Mark’s that I never could have written and I’m just as proud of those as of our work together.

KOUGUELL: How much input, if any, do the actors have on the scripts?

SCHEFFER: I’d say they contribute. They make it better. But we hold the keys to that particular kingdom.

KOUGUELL: On the show’s trailer you mentioned that you are “digging deeper into the characters this season by introducing their family members.”

SCHEFFER: I think the whole season is about allowing the characters to become the patients, in a way. Their stories are what we’d usually call “the patient” stories.” Sure, we have a few great “guest patient” turns — but the show really comes together this year. It takes off like a plane.

KOUGUELL: How have the characters evolved from the first to your final season?

SCHEFFER: Well, like all good TV characters they haven’t evolved too much. I’d say they’ve become more themselves, if anything. Have they grown and learned why they were so f***ed up? No. But maybe they’ve admitted they were a little screwy to begin with. And they all so surprise us this year in ways you’ll have to watch to see. They’ve become more sure of who they are. They have to me, never been more of a joy to behold.


In a January 2014 article for this publication, I spoke with Will Scheffer about Season 1of this series in which he also offered insightful tips on pitching projects.

Learn more about GETTING ON:


‘Getting On’ Creator, Executive Producer and Writer, Will Scheffer on the Show’s Final Season (INDIEWIRE/SYDNEYSBUZZ)

HBO’S ‘Getting On’ Creator, Executive Producer and Writer, Will Scheffer on the Show’s Final Season

In our interview, Scheffer looks back at his experiences with the show and talks about collaborating with his husband, Mark V Olsen – creator, executive producer and writer of “Getting On” and their other shows, including “Big Love.”
Mark V Olsen (left) Will Scheffer (right)

In January 2014, I spoke with Will Scheffer about his HBO series “Getting On” for this publication:

You can read that interview HERE

And now we fast forward almost two years later and the show is in its third and final season. In our interview, Scheffer looks back at his experiences with the show and talks about collaborating with his husband, Mark V Olsen – creator, executive producer and writer of “Getting On” and their other shows, including “Big Love.”

In addition to the HBO American cable channel, “Getting On” can be seen on HBO Latin America and HBO Europe and Asia, and through SKY (France, UK, Spain, and so on.)

Kouguell: With the increase of the global cable markets and increasing platforms, reaching a broader audience, how has this affected your shows?

Scheffer: It was gratifying to have read about “Getting On’s” reception in Paris (where they love the show) before the recent attacks and to know that this show speaks particularly to issues of loss and wounding and grief but in a way that enables laughter to mix with heartbreak. This season has so much more resonance to me as it is a comedy. It’s not escapist. It’s healing comedy. You can laugh and cry in the darkest of hours and to me, that’s the greatest service to provide as an artist. To allow people to experience their common humanity. Without self-importance. Experiencing and accepting the fragility of life, of being human, is a wonderful place to begin from.

"Getting On" Creators and Cast
“Getting On” Creators and Cast

Kouguell:Looking back at the three seasons of “Getting On,” what were some of the most poignant and/or memorable moments for you working with the actors and writers?

Scheffer: We felt that by choosing “Getting On” to adapt we were entering into “stewarding” function with our British team. We wrote all of the episodes and the first two seasons had a lot of material from the original series to adapt, but the final season was all original story. Still, we went to London and ran our ideas by the original creators and worked with them. That relationship, receiving their input bonded us in a way that was unique to most adaptations. The fact that Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan appear in Episode 4 as their original characters and meet their American counterparts, and vice versa— felt so amazing. It’s something we’d never seen before and it speaks to the way the British show and the American show are so different but like siblings, so connected. We share the same blood. So that’s a long-winded way of saying, going to London for a week to work with “the girls’ was a high point.

It’s hard to single out moments because working with our actors was the greatest experience of my career. Watching Niecy Nash bloom, seeing Mel Rodriguez
and Alex Borstein prove how brilliant they are. Experiencing Laurie Metcalf’s genius (I mean she is a national treasure — beyond, beyond) and then all of
our guest and co-stars. Just this season alone: Harry Dean Stanton, Mary Kay Place, Francis Conroy, Rhea Perlman, June Sqibb, Kristen Johnson, Jonathan
Silverman, Jayma Mays, Daniel Stern, Rita Moreno, Grant Bowler, Janis Ian!!! Meeting Didi’s family — Marsha, Corey, Gloria and Scott — they felt like a
real family. Anne Guilbert as Birdie. Not to mention the other great women we were able to work with like Betty Buckley, Tsai Chin, Jean Smart, Irma P.
Hall, Alia Shawkat, Carrie Preston, Molly Shannon— I can’t even list them all, I know I’m forgetting people and not even mentioning the supporting cast who
were brilliant. These diverse, brilliant actors in just 18 episodes.

This is the second show you have created for HBO, “Big Love” ran for 5 seasons and like “Getting On,” pushed the envelope in its examination
of timely, hot button issues. For 
Big Love, the show was not just about polygamy and the power of the church, at its core it was about family. In “Getting On,” some of the major topics/themes you tackle are ageism and the health care system. While “Getting On” is very funny, it also
strikes a major chord of realism. Truth is stranger than fiction.

I think I mentioned already the theme of human frailty. And I just can’t stress enough how I believe it is an “undervalued” value in our society. I mean we
all get old and die. It’s not sexy but it’s part of life. And it doesn’t have to be shoved out of our consciousness or romanticized or treated
sentimentally or “importantly.” It’s life. And I wish people knew what they were missing by avoiding dealing with their fears about it. It’s like, do you
wanna deal with those fears now or do it later when it’s gonna be a real drag?

It was such a privilege for Mark and me to both be with our moms when they were dying. Sure it was hard, but it was incredibly layered and sometimes funny
and of course heartbreaking — but it was like I wanted to tell everyone: “Hey, you really should experience this, because it’s so amazing, even though it
hurts, too.”

The main characters (with the exception of the brilliant Patsy) focus mainly on women and their relationships with their patients and with their
colleagues. There is so much talk in the industry now about the lack of women’s roles particularly in the ‘over 40’ category. What are your thoughts on

Yeah. Well. That’s always been the case. And I think it’s finally changing. The volatility in the business is palpable and I think that finally that really
big ugly fact about Hollywood is going to change. It has to. I know we’re going to keep writing great roles for women because, lucky for us, we’re good at
it, I think.

What can we expect from this final season?

Well. It’s the final season. So expect big stories, some big reveals and I’d say that I think the finale is one I will always be very proud of.

Learn more about “Getting On”:


What Producers are Really Thinking and Talking About (for SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

Highlights from the ‘Produced By New York 2015′ Conference

Selling a screenplay is not for the faint of heart.  It takes a brilliant and well-crafted screenplay, as well as perseverance, moxie, and sometimes just good old-fashioned luck to get your work read and considered for production. While the odds of getting a script made are indeed staggering, knowing how the film industry works will give you an edge over the competition.

Here are some highlights and insights from the ‘Produced By NY’ Conference held on October 24, 2015 at the Time Warner Center in New York.

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

What Producers Are Really Thinking and Talking About by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine

Mynette Louie offered this advice: “Learn the marketplace and learn the statistics. Read ‘The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female Driven Content Toolkit.’ It puts all the statistics together about women-driven films. It will help you pitch your projects. It shows all the numbers that are in support of women driven films.  Be armed with this.  If you’re armed with this, you have a better chance of getting your film made.”

In response to an audience member’s question about the viability of making films in Boston Charles D. King stated: 

“You don’t have to necessarily live in Los Angeles or New York, there are productions happening in various cities, like Atlanta. There are those times you go to those places like New York and Los Angeles for meetings.  Get incentives where people are learning production. You can be that person, build that infrastructure. Be where you can be as creative as you can be.  Cultivate and build relationships.”

Moderator Michael Skolnik asked How to Get Away with Murder creator, producer, and writer Pete Nowalk: When Viola Davis takes off her wig what did you hear on social media, from your friends, and how does that affect you as an artist?

Pete Nowalk: “I’m a white guy. I didn’t know what it would mean or represent.  There is something about the open-heartedness of collaboration and listening to a person of color and a woman, and it helps us.  It’s partly Viola’s performance. She knew and I didn’t know what taking off the wig meant.  I didn’t know how personal that is.”

Effie T. Brown jumped in: “It showed Anneliese taking off the armor, it meant being a strong woman and vulnerable.  That’s me reflected. It meant the world to me.”

Nowalk: “I didn’t know she was wearing fake eyelashes. I didn’t know.”

Brown: “Black women knew.”

Nowalk: “I’m proud of lead actress Viola Davis. We created the role together of Annalise Keating.  The character is not perfect. The same is true for the gay character, who is also not perfectly perfect. That’s not real or interesting.  Viola plays the anti-hero – a character which men always do.    She’s a character people love to hate. It’s so nice not to write perfect boring people.”

Lindsay Taylor Wood: “It’s important to know how to create a character responsibly.  With Pete (Nowalk) it’s ability to ask for input.  Those types of conversations are necessary to make sure you’re honoring the character you want to write, and also writing responsibility and engaging people responsibly.”

The Panel: The State of Producing

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Gary Lucchesi speaks with producers Meryl Poster, Donna Gigliotti, Michael Travers and Paula Weinstein during the PGA Produced By: New York Conference at Time Warner Center on October 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Producers Guild of America)

Moderator Lucchesi asked: What inspires your creations?

Donna Gigliotti: “I think about strong women all the time.  As a producer I ask myself: What am I interested in and is there a market?  Men who run studios don’t think there’s a market for women-driven projects but that’s not true.”

Meryl Poster: “For ‘Girlfriends Guide to Divorce’ – yes, I’m happily divorced and have two beautiful children — I did draw from some personal experience; the good side of divorce, dating and sex. I’m working now on a project that takes place in the 1970s garment industry, which my father worked in and my mother was a showroom model.  I think about life experiences and read a lot of magazines and newspapers.”

Paula Weinstein: “It’s hard for me to fall in love with a script until I find that social component that drives the characters; the moral center of it. I love a good love story but it’s nice when it has a conflict, a reason behind it. It takes a long time to get a movie made. It’s taken 14 years to get Heart of the Sea made. You have to find something that drives you to obsess about it, long after your first encounter with that idea.”

“Here’s the thing about producing – you have to start at square one with every director and gain his or her trust, and you have to earn the right to be in the cutting room in the end and have some say.”

“You better love this (producing) it’s your only source of your ego gratification because it ain’t coming from anywhere else.”

The panel: Startups for Producers: Building Your Media Empire from VC Funding to Achieve Your Vision

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Karol Martesko-Fenster speaks during the PGA Produced By: New York Conference at Time Warner Center on October 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Producers Guild of America)

The speakers agreed on the vital importance of knowing the landscape and learning how to reach different audiences.

Karol Martesko-Fenster: “Apart from building audience, it helps content creators to fine tune what they’re doing. If you can’t articulate what you’re doing in the short format that you have on Indiegogo or Kickstarter, for example, and not present something visually compelling, it’s not going to resonate.


The speakers agreed on the vital importance of knowing the landscape and learning how to reach different audiences.

Karol Martesko-Fenster: “Apart from building audience, it helps content creators to fine tune what they’re doing. If you can’t articulate what you’re doing in the short format that you have on Indiegogo or Kickstarter, for example, and not present something visually compelling, it’s not going to resonate.

I would start the conversation with writers: What story do you want to tell? Who do you want to hear or see this film? And then figure out the distribution landscape and work my way backwards to then how to fund it on multi-platforms so each story can live on almost any platform you want.

The direct to audience component is critical. You as content creators and IP owners are able to reach audiences more efficiently. This is true for short form and long form content.  It’s a critical part of the business.  I ask writers to think about A) their audience when writing; and B) to envision where their audience lives and how to reach them. There are so many ways to do that these days. You don’t need an aggregator if you have a film to get on digital platforms.  That is a significant change. There are there or four companies that allow you as a content creator to get your long form films on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon without any intermediary. Think about your distribution landscape and how you’re going to reach that audience when you’re pitching or looking for that investor.”

It’s vital to target the production companies, studios, and talent (actors, directors, producers) that are the right fit for your script. Don’t submit your screenplay unless it’s absolutely ready to be considered, know what your story is really about, and who your potential audience is.