Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: May 2016

Inspiring Storytelling and Insights from the Filmmakers at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Documentary Shorts: ‘New York Then’ Program

By: Susan Kouguell | May 30, 2016

Good storytelling is the key to a successful documentary.  Whether you are profiling a person, investigating a crime or documenting an event, telling an engaging and thought-provoking story is imperative in order to capture your intended audience. In a short or feature-length documentary, ‘characters’ give a face to the story you are telling. A character can not only be human but an animal, an object, a location, or the filmmaker can choose to be a character in his or her film.

Documentary filmmakers approach their material, and find inspiration and ideas in various ways. The documentary shorts presented at the Tribeca Film Festival were no exception. Joe’s Violin, Mulberry, Starring Austin Pendleton, Taylor and Ultra on the 60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar and Dead Ringers centered on some element or reflection on New York’s past, delving into themes of chaos, survival, and a glimpse into a life of the city that forever evolves and a time that cannot be forgotten.

After the screening, the filmmakers joined in for a Q&A.

Inspiring Storytelling and Insights from the Filmmakers at the Tribeca Film Festival's Documentary Shorts: 'New York Then' Program by Susan Kouguell #scriptchat #screenwriting

Joe Fiengold and Brianna Perez meet for the first time. Photo credit: Cinematographer Bob Richman.

About the Film: Joe’s Violin

A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor donates his violin to an instrument drive, changing the life of a 12-year-old schoolgirl from the Bronx and unexpectedly, his own.

About the Director: Kahane Cooperman is the director/producer of Joe’s Violin’ She has also directed several other documentaries. She is currently the showrunner/executive producer of The New Yorker Presents. Prior to that role, she was a co-executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She began her career at Maysles Films.

Kahane Cooperman talks about Joe’s Violin

Cooperman began by introducing the two subjects of her film who were seated in the audience, the violin owner Joseph Feingold and Brianna.

“The way I got this idea was very simple. My car radio was on and I tuned on the classical radio station WQXR and I heard a promo for their instrument drive; it said donate your instruments and the instruments are going to New York City school kids. They mentioned the donations they already had gotten and one of the instruments was Joseph’s violin. I just thought, I wonder if there’s a story there with this violin and if the student who gets the violin will know the story. I got in touch with the radio station and they allowed me the privilege of pursuing the story and this film is what unfolded. It was a very moving experience. I do love music but I don’t play an instrument. I think music is incredibly powerful but I’m also moved by the idea of how a small gesture can make you dream and change someone’s life. Somehow the idea of this was very compelling to me and that it might play out in the context of this one instrument shared by two people who were born 80 years apart.”

Vinny Vella sits in front of Mo’s the butcher on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. From the short film MULBERRY. Photo Credit: Paul Stone

Vinny Vella sits in front of Mo’s the butcher on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. From the short film MULBERRY. Photo Credit: Paul Stone

About the Film: Mulberry

This cinematic portrait of Little Italy explores how a working class neighborhood of tenement buildings transformed into the third most expensive zip code in the United States. Part funny, part sad, the film investigates how gentrification and rent control are affecting the neighborhood’s long-term residents.

About the Director: Paul Stone

Brooklynite Paul Stone started his directing career in the edit room at Ridley Scott & Associates. In Tales of Time Square, Paul recreated 1980’s Time Square. The footage was often mistaken for stock and went on to be screened at over 50 festivals in the U.S. and abroad. His previous short Man Under( TFF 2015) explored the rise in NYC subway suicides.

Paul Stone talks about Mulberry

“I saw my neighborhood disappearing, changing. I have no problem with gentrification, but it’s gotten to a point of hyper gentrification. Little Italy in New York is known for its soul and its people, and it was rapidly disappearing. I wanted to tell the story about who inspired me in terms of my friends and that Little Italy is still alive and well, and that there are still a lot of characters left.”

Austin Pendleton teaching a class at HB Studios in the West Village of Manhattan 2011. Shot by Greg Vanderveer. Directors Gene Gallerano and David H. Holmes

Austin Pendleton teaching a class at HB Studios in the West Village of Manhattan 2011. Shot by Greg Vanderveer. Directors Gene Gallerano and David H. Holmes

About the Film: Starring Austin Pendleton

Austin Pendleton is that quintessential character actor you might recognize. We follow Austin as he reflects on his life and craft, while his A-list peers discuss his vast influence, dogged determination, and what it means to be an original in today’s celebrity-obsessed world.


Kouguell Interviews Tribeca Film Festival ‘Whoopi’s Shorts’ Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy

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My Interview with Tribeca Film Festival ‘Whoopi’s Shorts’ Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy


Whoopi Goldberg with Director Joe D’Arcy (l) and Artist animator Carol D’Arcy at Tribeca Film Festival

At the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, I had the pleasure to speak with Australian filmmaker Joe D’Arcy, whose 6-minute short film  Je Suis un Crayon (I am a Pencil) was included in the animated shorts program Whoopi’s Shorts curated by Whoopi Goldberg.  This program is described as ‘showcasing imaginative storytelling and captivating craft.’

D’Arcy and I began our interview, walking through lower Manhattan, the setting of the Tribeca Film Festival. It was as if we stepped onto a movie set; the rain had stopped, the gray skies lifted, and the sun shone on this dramatically windy day. After screening D’Arcy’s film several times, I had more questions and thus our interview concluded via email once he had returned home to Australia.

– See more at:

About Joe D’Arcy

In 2004, D’Arcy studied screenplay writing with Simon Hunter, Head of Film School at Bond University. In 2006, Joe formed Bodhifilms, which later became joedarcyFILMS. Joe wrote, directed and produced the award-winning film, Beauty. Later that year, he was a finalist in the Project Greenlight TV series, where he wrote, produced and directed from his feature film the dramatic comedy, Follow the Tao.  Joe has successfully integrated dual careers of filmmaking and Clinically Accredited Psychotherapy. Along with his Clinical practice in psychotherapy, Joe has worked professionally as an actor, writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor.

Inspiration and the Writing ProcessPENCIL IMAGE

Kouguell: You mentioned that Je suis un Crayon (I am a Pencil) is “dedicated to the expression that exists within all of us.” The message you present in the film is poignant and powerful without ever being heavy-handed.  How did I am a Pencil evolve and how did you approach such a difficult subject matter?

D’Arcy: The original Charlie Hebdo crew dedicated their lives to free expression and after they were murdered, 3 million people marched through France, in support of this expression, standing alongside the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, stating ‘Je Suis Charlie’ i.e. we are (all) Charlie; just as Charlie expresses, so do we.  When watching this unfold, on the other side of the world, this passion and sentiment of the people resonated deeply within me, and the script emerged. In terms of the script, the Charlie Hebdo murders did not need to be spelt out to the audience when making the film.

The focus of the story is that of a regular person/artist/ cartoonist going through their life, on a day-to-day basis. The pencil represents the ordinary person and like every ordinary person, it must express in order to live. Without expression there is no life. Expression, especially for the artist or the satirist, is expressed ‘as it is-as I see it’ and so this became the common theme for the film. My desire was to create a hand-drawn ‘styled’ film in honour of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who dedicated their lives to the hand-drawn image.

Kouguell: This short film is a family affair. The drawings were penciled by your wife Carol D’Arcy, your 16-year old son, Byron, did CGI and color grading, and the original soundtrack and theme song was composed by your 20-year old daughter, Jazz.

Kouguell Interviews Tribeca Film Festival 'Whoopi's Shorts' Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Joe and Jazz D’Arcy

D’Arcy: As my birthday approached, my family asked what I would like for my birthday and I said, “I would like you to work on this film with me.” Each of them are very talented, award- winning creatives: Carol is an accomplished oil painter, Jazz is a singer songwriter and composer and Byron is a filmmaker and cinematographer. They all agreed to work on the film although Byron initially asked, ‘Can’t we just buy you a shirt, Dad?’ 

Kouguell: What was it like to work together and collaborate in this way?

D’Arcy: As a husband and a dad, it was a joyful and fulfilling experience to work on the project together with my family. My family members will often support each other in their individual creative pursuits, i.e. everyone will support one person — but with this project, we were all able to participate on equal footing in our own respective areas. Our home was rich with creativity over the next three months and although we worked very hard, it was a joy to experience.

Director Joe D’Arcy and Gold Award Winner Director DP Byron D’Arcy

Kouguell: What came first, the images, the script, or the music? Did they happen simultaneously or did one feed off the other?

D’Arcy: The story came first. In essence, the story is about an ordinary person/pencil that goes through life doing this and that, like anyone else, expressing what is-as it sees it. That’s it! That’s what the pencil does! That is what it has always done and what it always will do. The fact that people may be offended is somewhat irrelevant. Because as a pencil/an artist — it is compelled to express what it experiences. This need to express is innate and as a human being/pencil/artist I must express what is innate.

As I wrote the story, the images appeared and were written into the ‘action’ of the original script. After rewriting the final scene (after Jazz’s feedback), tears began rolling down my cheeks and so I knew that the script was working (because I don’t have tears easily).

The Screenplay Writing Process(1) I am a Pencil-(Joe D'Arcy)

D’Arcy: The majority of the script turned up the first night that I watched 3 million people march through France. We were in the middle of another film project at the time and so I resisted writing the script for ‘Je suis un Crayon.‘ However, the script continued to push itself to the surface from deep within me. After a few days of resisting, I finally decided I would ‘just write the script, but not make the film.’


Susan Interviews Russell Rothberg, Executive VP Drama Department Universal Television

Susan Kouguell Interviews Russell Rothberg, Executive VP Drama Department Universal Television

I had the pleasure to speak with Russell Rothberg, Executive Vice President Drama Department at Universal Television about a wide range of topics, including breaking into television, pitching dos and don’ts,networking, and what his company is seeking. Rothberg shared his unique perspective; he has worked on both sides of the television aisle as a writer and an executive. His sensitivity towards the plight of writers was particularly insightful and generous.

Rothberg has developed Bates Motel for A&E, Chicago Fire, State of Affairs, Allegiance, Odyssey, and The Slap for NBC. Rothberg’s previous position was Senior Vice President, Drama Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios (formerly Universal Television).  He joined NBC and Universal Media Studios in June 2009 and previously served as Vice President of Current Programming for Fox Broadcasting Company. At Fox from 2003-08, Rothberg oversaw such series as House, Bones, American Dad and The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Kouguell: Tell me about your career trajectory. You mentioned that you moved from New York City to Los Angeles 18 years ago because someone gave you the “practical advice that there were more writing jobs” there, and that you and your wife arrived with “no money, no connections or anything.” How did you break into the television world?

Rothberg: After working various jobs, I finally got a position as a writer’s assistant on the show Legacy. I wrote a script for them and got paid, which kind of saved my life, because not long after that the show got cancelled and I couldn’t get arrested. I then temped for USA Network in scripted series. One day an executive was on a phone call to writers, giving them notes and that’s when I realized these are the people who are on the other side of the phone and I thought I could do this job. I decided to assist in a place where there was room for growth and that was at Lifetime. I thought I’m going to bust my ass and make a name for myself and get a good reputation. And I did and I got promoted. Getting promoted was key because I could talk to a lot of agents. I really became an executive to get an agent and that kind of worked.

I’m of the opinion that you don’t have to be one thing your whole life. I’ve jumped back and forth from the executive side, to the writing side, to the executive side. One day I might go back to writing and producing. I think the world is your oyster and there are options. You have to be open to everything.

Kouguell: What types of projects is your company looking for?

Rothberg: We’re open to everything. We want projects with vision, writers that have a passion and a vision. We’re not a place that turns an apple into an orange. We don’t want to say, ‘That place is looking for this so if you could change this maybe we could sell it there.’

Kouguell: What projects are you currently working on?

Rothberg: We have our new show, The Path, on Hulu and a new show, Gypsy, that got picked up by Netflix for 10 episodes that will start shooting this summer.  We have Jennifer Lopez’s series, Shades of Blue, and we’re producingEmerald City— it’s a passion project, which is kind of like Game of Thrones in the world of Oz– it’s really big and beautiful and ambitious.

We have development just about everywhere at all the cable places and streaming. Our sister network is NBC, but we sell to all the other broadcast networks.



Director Rosemary Rodriguez Bids Farewell to ‘The Good Wife’ and Hello to ‘The Walking Dead,’ ’Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,’ and Much, Much More…

Director Rosemary Rodriguez Bids Farewell to ‘The Good Wife’ and Hello to ‘The Walking Dead,’ ’Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,’ and Much, Much More… by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Rosemary Rodriguez and I met for a few hours at a cafe on New York’s Upper East Side on a picture perfect afternoon. Joking about the sometimes deafening noise of the passing motorcycles and trucks, we agreed that the background sounds definitely would not be ideal for a film shoot but it was just the right setting for our interview.

Just days earlier, Rodriguez attended The Good Wife series wrap party at the Museum of Modern Art. Rodriguez holds the distinct honor of directing 18 episodes of the show, more than any other director in the seven seasons of the multi-award-winning series. Episode 20, The Party, the final Rodriguez directed, had just recently aired.

Rodriguez’s long and impressive list of television directing credits include Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Empire, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Outsiders, Hawthorne, Law and Order: SVU’s Rescue Me, Castle, Blue Bloods, Elementary, and Criminal Minds. Silver Skies an independent feature Rodriguez wrote and directed, just won Best Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival in April, Best Comedy at the Tiburon International Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival. Joe Amodei and his company Virgil Films Entertainment (VFE) are releasing the film.

Director Rosemary Rodriguez Bids Farewell to ‘The Good Wife’ and Hello to ‘The Walking Dead,’ ’Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,’ and Much, Much More… by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

“Parenting Made Easy”–Behind the scenes with Director Rosemary Rodriguez (left) and actress Julianna Margulies on the set of THE GOOD WIFE airing Sundays (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

It would be an understatement to say that Rosemary Rodriguez is in high demand.

Directing for Television: A Week in the Life

Kouguell:  Television directing is a collaborative process with the actors, production heads, writers, crew, and so on.  You’re not just a hired gun who steps in and waves her hands like a magic wand and everything falls into place.  You have X amount of time, often one week or less, to direct an episode.  What’s a week in the life scenario for you directing a television episode?

Rodriguez:  A day consists of either waiting for the script or I get the script for an episode and start reading. For the first read-through I look for the emotional thread of the episode and determine what it’s about. I start formulating those ideas about what’s really going on in that story and how I can go from beginning, middle, and end of the story and be able to have a completion in the episode.

From then on, I’m anxious until I get on set with actors, then I’m okay. I start sleeping better after that read. I start getting into details like location; how many locations there are, how long are the scenes, are there any scenes that have a lot of people in them or maybe one or two characters don’t have very many lines or don’t really talk, and I wonder what’s their purpose in the scene and what is everyone doing.

Susan Kouguell sits down with writer/director Rosemary Rodriguez, director of Good Wife, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Empire, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Outsiders, Criminal Minds and more! #scriptchat #screenwriting

On the set of ‘Hawthorne’ with Jada Pinkett Smith and Marc Anthony

I also start thinking about how the actors are going to respond to the script. I read it to see what each character’s journey is and what they’re doing. If there are any issues with that I make notes. If there are four or five people in the scene, or if you have one person who’s just standing around who has maybe just one line. I think about each character’s purpose in the scene.

I look for ways to visually tell the story — if there’s any kind of prop I can use or insert into the scene to tell that story or locations; it may not be in the script.

We go into prep and start a number of meetings. We have a concept meeting where everyone except the actors, are in the room because the actors are always shooting while you’re in prep.  We get in a room together, the heads of production and discuss what’s coming down the road. For example we have a party here in this scene so we have to have food and flowers.  And then, whoever wrote the script comes in and we hear what they have to say. By this point, I’ve already formulated my ideas about what I think the script is about and then I get to hear about what the writer thinks. Quite often, depending on the show, it’s usually in sync and if it’s not, it usually helps me see things in a different way. Sometimes I will pitch things of what I may see and it will help writers articulate their ideas. I get to work with really great writers and we then just start collaborating.

Susan Kouguell sits down with writer/director Rosemary Rodriguez, director of Good Wife, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Empire, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Outsiders, Criminal Minds and more! #scriptchat #screenwriting

Rodriguez and Denis Leary on the set of ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’

Then we get into casting and in that concept meeting, the casting director will be on the call, as well as the writer of the show, and the creator.  It depends on who’s in the meeting; it’s different with every show. At that point we have an idea of who the characters are and who we’re going to be casting and we get to hear from the writer about what they’re thinking about. If I’m thinking about a certain thing for a character or a certain actor that’s when I would give my suggestions. That’s when you start collaborating about casting.



Susan Interviews Director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese & ‘Almost Paris’ Team


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almost paris


I had the pleasure meeting with director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, screenwriter Wally Marzano-Lesnevich (who also starred and produced) along with his co-star and producer Michael Sorvino, and actors Abigail Hawk and Adrian Martinez, in a lively talk before the premiere of their film Almost Paris.  Enthusiastically finishing each other’s sentences and passionate in their commitment to their film, our discussion ranged from the importance of collaboration to family lineage.

Cameron-Scorsese and Adrian Martinez

Cameron-Scorsese and Adrian Martinez

About the Director

Returning to the Tribeca Film Festival with her first feature Almost Paris, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese previously attended with her shorts Spanish Boots and Roots in Water. Her first short, A Little God, won the Torchlight Short Film Award. She continues to direct and act in film and theater.

About Almost Paris

In the wake of the mortgage lending crisis, a former banker has to return home in order to get back on his feet. It is a story of resilience and redemption where one can rise up, collaborate and give back to those he loves in ways that are priceless.

Family Lineage

Domenica Cameron-Scorsese is the daughter of director Martin Scorsese and Michael Sorvino is the son of actor Paul Sorvino and brother of Mira Sorvino. I asked them if they felt somewhat under the microscope given their respective family names.

Sorvino:  There are a lot of families who are in the film business and there are a lot of family businesses in the world; a lot of kids do what their parents did.  I think you have to recognize and honor those who came before you and who you may be related to who’s had success; they have a lot of wisdom and experience. But you also have to chart your own path and be your own artist and person.

Cameron-Scorsese: My experience with this has been the last name may open doors but what matters is what you do when you’re in the room.

Sorvino: That microscope may also be a good thing. It does attract people to your film, but it’s important that we say something, move people.

Michael Sorvino and Marzano-Lesnevich

Michael Sorvino and Marzano-Lesnevich

How the Team Came Together

The evolution of the making of Almost Paris began with childhood friends, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich and Michael Sorvino, who met in sixth grade and were in the same acting program (and dorm-mates) at Rutgers University. Sixteen years ago, Sorvino and Cameron-Scorsese met at a play reading and shared a unique artistic sensibility, and as Cameron-Scorsese explained, she and Adrian Martinez had the same agent, and they all stayed in touch. During the audition process, they met Hawk, who added, “I was the new edition to their fold.”

Marzano-Lesnevich: I worked on the script for about two years. It’s such a timely story, dealing with the after-effects of the 2008 financial crash, and the ripples all of the people back home in Oyster Bay for my character. I brought the script to Michael (Sorvino) and told him I had written him a role. And the timing was right.

Sorvino: When the project was ready to go, Wally and I drew up a short list of directors.  Domenica was on each of our lists. She was the best person to direct this film. It was her perspective and her life experience. Growing up in the film business, she has a certain perspective given who she is and what she is. That was a nice added icing on the cake.

The group talked about Cameron-Scorsese’s input on the script as a dramaturg, and how they fed off each other with some on-set improvisation, and needing to be open to some script revisions due to budget and location constraints.

Hawk: Domenica brought dimension to the characters.  She kept us focused on that.

Cameron-Scorsese: It’s a very complex story. The issues involved are pretty sprawling and I wanted to make sure that we were specific, that it was something people could relate to with an emotional payoff.

Making Almost Paris

Cameron-Scorsese: We made the film on a low-budget; 21 locations, 18 of which ended up in the final cut, and 20 speaking roles. The shoot was 21 days; it was a fun and challenging marathon. In true indie fashion we really had to come together collaboratively to problem-solve every single day. The film was shot on Long Island and in New York City.  (We were doing the Made In New York incentive. Our executive producers were so incredibly generous and they wanted to make this film happen. They have extensive relationships in Oyster Bay, and you know what they say, ‘It takes a village’ – and it certainly did.

Martinez: As an actor, the one thing you hope for when you get on set is that you feel safe, safe to work with the producers and the director. On this film, I felt like a rubber ducky floating in a pool!