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 (for SCRIPT MAGAZINE)

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.

About the Directors Gene Gallerano and David H. Holmes

David H. Holmes has studied and acted under the direction of Mr. Pendleton. His film and television credits include BirdmanLaw and Order, GirlsMr. Robot, and The FollowingGene Gallerano is the co-founder of The Neboya Collective, and has produced and starred in works including, OccupyTexasFireworks, and The Talk Men, which he also directed.

Holmes and Gallerano talk about Starring Austin Pendleton

The directors met ten years ago in an Off-Broadway show and studied with Austin Pendleton for about five years. They consider him a big mentor.

“We look up to him a lot and we wanted to make sure in the end that we could look him in the eye. He was very happy we made the film. At the Tribeca Talks the other day it was the first time Austin saw it.  Someone asked him if he had any input into the film and he said no because then you start manipulating it and controlling it; particularly his stutter, he said I would have told them ‘cut that’’. He wasn’t preventing us from making art.”

Taylor Mead outside Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village From "Taylor & Ultra on the 60's, The Factory & Being a Warhol Superstar" A Brian Bayerl Film produced by Michael Huter

Taylor Mead outside Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village
From “Taylor & Ultra on the 60’s, The Factory & Being a Warhol Superstar”
A Brian Bayerl Film produced by Michael Huter

About the Film: Taylor and Ultra on the 60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar  

Warhol superstar Ultra Violet (Isabelle Colin Dufresne) and Lower East Side icon Taylor Mead (poet/actor/artist) share their stories of Manhattan in the 1960s.

About the Director: Brian Bayerl

Brian Bayerl’s documentary work includes 8: The Mormon Proposition (Sundance 2010), and For Once in My Life (SXSW Audience Award Winner 2010). This is his third collaboration with producer Michael Huter, including Datuna: Portrait of America (London’s Raindance Winner 2015) and Full Circle.

Brian Bayerl talks about Taylor and Ultra on the 60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar

“Our producer  came across photographs of Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet and a lot of other figures of the sixties Pop Art. When documenting those photographs we met Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet and instantly fell in love with them; they were just so captivating and charismatic and fun that over the next four years we had opportunities to interview them and gather footage. When we lost both of them, we were approached by the Warhol Museum about putting something together and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We put this film together as an homage to both of them.”

Still from the short film DEAD RINGER. Photo credit: Mike Tucker

Still from the short film DEAD RINGER. Photo credit: Mike Tucker

About the film Dead Ringer

There are only four outdoor phone booths left in all of New York City—this is a late night conversation with one of them.

About the Directors: Alex Kliment, Dana O’Keefe, and Michael Tucker

Alex Kliment is a filmmaker and musician from New York. He is also a talking head. Dana O’Keefe is a filmmaker based in New York and Stockholm. Michael Tucker is a documentary filmmaker who lives in upstate New York.

Alex Kliment, Dana O’Keefe, and Michael Tucker talk about Dead Ringer

“Our film started with learning about the statistic that there were only four outdoor telephone booths left in New York City. The city’s replacing them with Wi-Fi hotspots, We thought, ‘What’s a fun way to dramatize the changing urban landscape that also reflects a lot of other changes of the human landscape and how we relate to each other. We thought about how to impersonate and put ourselves in the mind of a pay phone.  This film was an opportunity to visit with very tragic heroes of our sidewalk — the payphones of New York City.”

There are many techniques and modes from which writers can choose to convey your story.   Keep in mind why the subject matter of your intended documentary is important to you and who the main characters are and their goals and/or possible agendas.  Watch other documentaries that share your style and sensibility and subject matter, to find inspiration.

More articles by Susan Kouguell


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

Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers!

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.’

After writing the script, Carol and I read it and thought it was good, and although we did not want to interrupt our major project, we felt compelled to make the film. Jazz’s feedback on the script was that the ending wasn’t strong enough, and so I spent a number of days contemplating and visualising the final sequence so that each sequence flowed as seamlessly as possible into the next whilst the intensity of the film built. In this final section, I was mindful of a copywriter’s approach to an image, where the picture tells one story, the words tell another story, and together, the combination of words and pictures tells another story. I did my best to employ this approach.

The Making of the Film

D’Arcy:  After discussions and advice from VFX supervisors, Simon Dye and Sterling Osment, and some research, we decided to use traditional hand-drawn images combined with some filtered footage (converted by Byron D’Arcy) and 3D animation to complete the film, along with filmed footage of Carol’s hand-drawing at the beginning of each sequence.

All of the footage was then broken into single frames and printed before being individually hand-sketched and/or shaded (over 5000 images in total). We went with 25 images per second and then manually selected it down to 17 frames per second — for effect. We then reshot each image on a cinematic Red camera, backlit on a lightbox. We used overhead lighting (2x2K blondies) bounced off the ceiling through silk held by two A-frames. The footage was then colour graded by Byron in ‘After Effects’ to create the burnt sepia finish.

In our final week of sketching and cel shading, Carol realised we were not going to finish in time, so she put out an open call to her artist friends on Facebook to work as cel artists under her guidance.

 (2) I am a Pencil-(Joe D'Arcy)

Je Suis un Crayon and its impact

D’Arcy: A filmmaker friend, Gerd Schneider, contacted me in March and told me that members of the Charlie Hebdo crew were coming to the Kirchliches Film Festival in Recklinghausen,Germany under police guard and that the Festival director, Michael Kleinschmidt, would like to screen our film. We sent him a HD Vimeo link, and a few hours later, we received an email from a member of Charlie Hebdo thanking us for making our film. That was a mind-blowing experience.

Kouguell:  How was your Tribeca Film Festival Experience?

D’Arcy: (To date), Je suis un Crayon has screened at Tribeca-New York, Santa Barbara, Nashville, Flickerfest-Australia, Kirchliches-Germany and Raindance-London. Although each festival has its own merits, Tribeca was by far, the most fulfilling experience as a filmmaker. The essence of the festival seems to focus on the art of filmmaking and the desire to nurture the career of the filmmakers. Apart from that, I got to meet my favourite actor and producer, Robert De Niro at the directors’ brunch.

Kouguell: You were a Project Greenlight finalist in 2006. What did you come away with from that experience?

D’Arcy: In order to get into the finals, each script is peer reviewed, as well as judged by an industry panel. I found this experience to be very beneficial as it indicated that both my peers and members of the industry thought that my writing and directing was of a standard, worthy of consideration for one million dollars in funding. This gave me a great deal of confidence and belief in my writing and filmmaking ability. It also was a tremendous exercise in resourcefulness whilst working under pressure with extreme deadlines (we were working on celluloid at the time).

Kouguell: What are you working on now?

D’Arcy: I am currently producing and directing a live action independent feature film, Life Goes On (working title) set in 1966 Australia. The film is four stories in one where each person’s dilemma not only requires their own effort but also the love and support of their family in order to make it through. We have been working on this film for four years with a view to completion in 2017. We often shoot one minute of footage in a very busy day. 

Kouguell:  Your advice to screenwriters and filmmakers?

D’Arcy: Number 1: I think one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that, if you give 95%, you’ll get 95% in return. If you seriously give 100%, you’ll receive upwards of (making a number up) 700% in return. In an industry where 97% of people struggle to make a living, make sure you produce work worthy of the 3%.  Number 2:  Get the story right before you start filming.

Upcoming Je suis un Crayon screenings:
St Kilda Film Festival Melbourne (Academy Accredited) on May 20th
SouthSide Film Festival Pennsylvania – June 14-18th
Westend Film Festival Brisbane- June 26th

More articles by Susan Kouguell


Susan Interviews Russell Rothberg, Executive VP Drama Department Universal Television for SCRIPT MAGAZINE

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.

Kouguell: How does a project come to you and then once you like a project, what are some of the steps that follow?

Rothberg: There are two ways a script will come to me; either as an idea pitched or as a spec. If it comes as a pitch, usually we will engage in the room right after the pitch whether or not we’ll buy it. We’d rather have the creative conversation right there in the room than just play our cards close to our vest. It’s really beneficial for the writer even if the project ends up not coming to us because we feel like it’s good Karma and good creatively; things will come back to you or they won’t. Whatever it is, you should just leave your best creative self on the table.

If we like it, we usually put some kind of deal in place or we’ll buy it outright. We will work on the pitch to make sure that the pitch is the best it can be, and we’ll help bring out the vision of what it’s going to be as a series and not just as a pilot script.

We’ll then figure out what the best network is to take it to. There are a lot of projects that have crossover. Some places are well defined by what they do and who they are, but some are not and they are just open to a lot of things. It also depends on who’s writing it and what the hook and the character is. We’ll then take it out, and we’ll sell it hopefully, and hopefully to more than one place; if we sell it to more than one place we can just get into a little bit of a bidding war, but we don’t always go with just the most money; we go for what the best home for it is.

Then the writer will have to come up with a story document. We tell people to make it one or two pages but they usually give us three to five. The less pages are better because then it doesn’t get steered into any particular direction other than your vision until you can really get it into an outline form. The network will then give notes and we’ll do an outlineand the same process. Then, depending on the time of year we lobby to try to get it made.

Kouguell: Do you accept unsolicited manuscripts?  Must projects come to you from an agent or manager?

Rothberg: An agent or manager is best. If I know someone in particular, and they ask if I will read something because there’s a connection, I’ll do it, but we have to jump through a bunch of hoops legally. If it’s not coming through an agent, manager or another writer who’s going to supervise or produce it that has an agent or manager, it has a very small shot of going the distance.

I do love spec scripts. People think we don’t want to read scripts because we have too many, but we love to read because then you’re getting the writer’s vision and you know what it’s going to be so the whole process I just described already exists.

Kouguell: What specifically do you look for in a script and what are some common missteps you have found?

Rothberg: Grabbing the interest of the reader in the first couple of pages is really important. That doesn’t mean there should be a car explosion or special effects or things like that. I don’t care about that. In the first couple of pages if you introduce someone in an interesting way, and it reveals something about that character, it’s going to mean more to me than a cold open where somebody dies. I want to go on this journey with your characters, and I want to keep watching them because there’s something unique, relatable or surprising about them.

For character description it’s about brevity. If you can say the same thing in six words rather than a paragraph, that’s great. The paragraph might be flowery and beautiful, and some people just write that way and it is beautiful and great, but getting your point across quickly is better.

Kouguell:  What are some dos and don’ts for pitching?

Rothberg: Keep it short. A long pitch is just a don’t. Talk about what your whole idea is in about 20-25 minutes. Try to connect personally to your pitch. For example, if you are saying, ‘My grandmother was a suffragette who had to deal with all these problems, and I was always fascinated by her story, and that’s why I’m pitching you a suffragette project’ I get it.  If you start trying to connect personally to something that feels like you’re trying too hard, we’ll know it.  Talk about the passion of why you really want to write this project.

Plot seems to be what people will pitch a lot, but it’s not the thing that’s going to carry the show. Everyone who is buying it, especially the cable outlets know that. Having a good hook or good twist is always good, but if you don’t have the characters, you don’t have anything.

Writers who have notes in front of them and don’t use them because they think people are expecting them to have the whole pitch memorized are making a mistake. If you’re a really good writer and you’re not a good pitcher, then write your pitch and read it in an engaging way. No one expects everyone to be an actor.  You have to be able to write a good pitch. I know people who are brilliant writers and can’t pitch to save their lives.

Kouguell: What do aspiring writers need to know when trying to get their work noticed and their careers off the ground?

Rothberg: The obvious one is write every day.  I suggest taking an acting class and a directing class because you’re just going to write words differently after you hear them said out loud and in a setting. It’s a good experience for everyone.

As long as you keep writing and getting your work out there as much as possible sooner or later someone will take notice. A lot of writers are not the most gregarious people who can get out there or can introduce themselves to everyone. I’m not saying be a shameless self-promoter because I don’t believe that; I think people can see through that and it gets really obnoxious really fast but you do have to network. Writing a great script and having it on the shelf and thinking somebody’s going to discover you, is never going to happen.

There are networks and companies that have screenwriting contests. You should enter everything and try to apply to programs like NBC’s program: Writers on the Verge.  I know people who got into that program and then ended up getting staffed on shows.  Those programs are really worthwhile.  ABC and Fox also have these types of programs, as do other networks.

Put your work out there. If you meet somebody, follow up. If you meet somebody who’s an assistant to an agent get to know that person and see if that person will read your work but don’t push too hard and become a pain.

Read a room is the best advice I can give. If you see someone is really willing to help you or read your work, that’s good. If an assistant reads your work and likes you, they’ll give it to their boss. If my assistant reads something that he likes, that person will get a meeting and will get considered.

Kouguell: What was the best writing advice you ever received?

Rothberg: Someone once told me, ‘Don’t be precious.’ Sometimes you’re going to have to cut things you love but it’s for the greater good of the project. Don’t get so attached that everything is precious. Even though you should have a vision and be strong about your vision, this is a collaborative business and there are certain parameters. Just get ready to collaborate.

Kouguell: Final words of wisdom?

Rothberg: There are so many places to sell right now. It is sort of a Golden Age of Television. There are so many good shows. There are over 400 scripted shows on right now and they’re more in international format. There are all kind of stories being told. My advice is, whatever you’re really passionate about, write it because there’s probably a place for it, and there’s probably nothing that’s going to come across quite as true and engaging as something that you are super passionate about.  Don’t aim at something thinking that company is looking for that, I’m going to do that. Write what you’re passionate about.

More articles by Susan Kouguell



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

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.

After that, we have more specific meetings — wardrobe, hair and makeup meetings. We location scout, go to casting and then eventually we have a production meeting. Then things are on lockdown and then we approve things separately. The department heads come together again and we have a production meeting, to go over more details, including what are we going to see in that frame and any other issues.

Prep is really about solving problems together. Usually in the beginning of the process, but not always, we have a tone meeting. It can include me, the writer of the script, and the creator of the show; we will go over the script scene by scene and if I have questions at that point, such as: What is the motivation here? Why is his character doing this hereHow about if I shoot that this way? I think this scene is from her point of view — then they will tell me what their thoughts are and that’s where conceptually it all comes together.

The other meetings are of course with the production designer, I go over the set and blocking with my AD and team, and we’ll do a little DGA theater so I know what the blocking is going to be for every scene.

That’s all in the perfect scenario.

And then that scenario blows up when the script comes late.

Late scripts are a huge problem in television because for a network show you get seven days of prep for an eight-day shoot and for cable you usually get seven days prep for a seven-day  shoot. Sometimes you don’t get the script until a few days into prep; you might have an outline or you might have nothing. You might just say, Hey, we’re looking for a hospital room or a school, so you just go scouting. It depends on the show. It infringes on my job, of course, so it can sell the whole episode short.

Jessica Jones

Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Pushing the Envelope

Kouguell: The Jessica Jones series does not shy away from violence. Episode 10, which you directed: “AKA 1000 Cuts,” was very haunting and graphic.  It effectively revealed glimpses of Jessica’s back story with Kilgrave, whose character in some ways becomes slightly empathetic (not sympathetic) because we learn more about his character, his vulnerabilities in this episode.

Rodriguez: Jessica is a great character that I connected with immediately because she’s so flawed and she’s been abused. I think the issue of rape and overcoming that, and how one deals with that, which is something that Melissa Rosenberg created, is so unique in this show. People respond to Jessica’s character and the humanity of her character even though she’s a superhero and I think that’s brilliant.

For me, every story involves finding the truth and the humanity of people. We all have darkness, and we all fall prey to judging each other rather than digging deeper and trying to have empathy or at least acceptance. Empathy is not always possible because things can be so dark; this is part of humanity whether you like it or not.

The story with Kilgrave was that he had the power to get anyone on the planet to do whatever he wants. This is very dark especially the way he uses it. But, at the core of it, the scene on the rooftop and for just a few seconds, you have this window where you could have left and you didn’t. I thought it was interesting that no matter what powers Kilgrave had, he still wanted some form of love that was authentic and real.

I felt at that point in the story and the series, I had an opportunity with the violence to actually physically show the depth of his darkness in a physical way. That’s why I wanted to be very graphic. Within the same episode is the flip side, the opposite, which is that desire of love. We see Jessica’s flaws and yet she’s so tough. (Krysten Ritter is the most amazing actress; I have so much respect for her talent.) To be able to have an episode where you also see Jessica in a dress and her vulnerability and innocence — I love those extremes; those are the things that jump out at me. I want to tell that story.

Kouguell: Tell me at your Podcast ‘The Director’s Chair

Rodriguez: I have writers, producers, actors, and other directors on my podcast to talk about collaborating. I love collaborating; that’s when the creative process is best.  So far, I’ve done 11 episodes on iTunes. Krysten Ritter came on so we could talk about Jessica Jones. In the show I talk with my guests about what works for them when collaborating and what doesn’t, what is their creative process, and more.

Kouguell: What’s coming up next for you?

Rodriguez: This summer I’m directing an episode of The Walking Dead — I’m really excited about that and also working on Sneaky Pete for Bryan Cranston’s Company that’s going to be a new series on Amazon; the pilot is up now. For Showtime, I’m developing Florent with Alan Cumming, and I’ve adapted the memoir Loose Girls written by Kerry Cohen, for a feature film, which has producers attached and we’ve started that process.2016 RODRIGUEZ RosemaryCrane

Kouguell: Let’s end with a flashback to 2001 and your first feature Acts of Worship, which you wrote and directed. (The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, including the John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature.)  How did that experience shape you to be the writer and director you are today?

Rodriguez: It taught me the biggest lesson of all, which is that I have a voice and that it was okay to express it. And, that I had a gift. I can’t say that after the movie I knew how to act on that gift yet, but it was the discovery of that gift. It was the discovery of why I was on this planet. So that’s a big deal. I get confirmation with every show I make; it just gets deeper and deeper. That’s why people just have to keep writing, keep creating because it’s not just about creating, it’s about gaining confidence with everything you write, to know that you can do it.

More articles by Susan Kouguell



Susan Interviews Director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese & ‘Almost Paris’ Team (for SCRIPT MAGAZINE)


Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers!

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!

Cameron-Scorsese’s Transition from Shorts to Features

Cameron-Scorsese: When I had my first film deal, I was playing 15 on stage and I was in my late twenties. I made a short film for $21,000; it was before the recession and the feature was budgeted at 3-4 million. Here’s the thing; I’m 5 foot tall and fairly soft-spoken and I’m Marty’s daughter. So people would be saying, ‘Well, how do you go from $21,000 to 3-4 million?’ I think every filmmaker regardless of the other things I just listed have the same challenges with this type of budget.

Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers

Cameron-Scorsese: What’s happened in the last decade certainly with the technological advances, we’re able to make movies less expensively, more efficiently and I feel, without compromising the visual aesthetics and the value. You are able to get more bang for the buck, and going digital, the audience is prepared for it. It used to be a question of, ‘How does it look big?’ and now it’s a question of, ‘How does it look small?’ We can make movies with our phones like Tangerine. This is a wonderful time to be a filmmaker and to take advantage of it you just got to be able to access your resources and match the style and content, and be smart about it.

Martinez: This film started with two buddies connecting and making a movie. So don’t try to get Brad Pitt if you’re just starting out. Look to the buddy next to you; that’s how this film started out. It’s who you know, not who you may think you know.

The Tribeca Film Festival Experience

Cameron-Scorsese: Tribeca has nurtured me as a filmmaker, finding me when I just had a seven-minute spark of a film, and encouraging me to show them my work.  It’s been a decade-long relationship for me with Tribeca and it means so much to have our film premiere here. It’s a New York story.

More articles by Susan Kouguell