Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell


Susan’s Ask the Screenplay Doctor column Tips on Evaluating Agents and Production Companies


Top Tips on Evaluating Agents and Production Companies

Here’s the scene: You receive a call or email — an agent is interested in representing you and then another call and another email — now a production company wants to produce your screenplay. You’ve been working on your script for months, maybe years and finally — jubilation!  You are headed for success.  But wait!  Put the brakes on and take a deep breath.   Don’t jump into a relationship with the first person (or the second or third or fourth…) who expresses interest in your screenplay. It certainly is flattering when someone is interested in your work, not to mention the possibility of actually seeing your screenplay turned into a film and/or the chance to get representation — but be careful. Always trust your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Top Tips on Evaluating Agents and Production Companies

Susan’s July Ask the Screenplay Doctor column: Twenty Questions: Are you *really* ready to submit your screenplay?

Questions, courtesy of

Whether you are a first-time or professional screenwriter, the thrill of finally completing a screenplay is the same – absolute euphoria! But, let’s be honest for a moment and ask yourself the tough question: Is your screenplay really finished?  Are you ready to submit it to the world because you are so tired of thinking and dreaming about it and believe that it’s “good enough” despite knowing another rewrite (or possibly two or more) is needed?   If your answer is yes, then know that you are not alone.

What should you do next? Take a deep breath. And slowly exhale.  If you are tired, bored, frustrated, or (fill in the adjective) of your screenplay—so will the agent, manager, producer, script competition reader, and all the film industry folks to whom you are submitting your project.

Before you submit your screenplay, get feedback from people who will tell you the truth and nothing but the truth. Giving it to people who might sugarcoat their critiques, such as family members, most likely want to remain on good terms with you, so this is probably not your best choice. Knowing what to ask when receiving feedback will help you stay focused and enable you to gain more objectivity with your screenplay.

20 Questions to Ask When Receiving Feedback

1. Is the genre clear and consistent throughout the script?

2. Does the dialogue ring true for each of my characters or does it feel interchangeable?

3. Is this script a page-turner?

4. Are my characters empathetic?

5. Does my plot make sense?

6. Are my main characters’ journeys clear?

7. What elements made the story engaging? Were there places you lost interest?

8. Do any of the characters need to be further developed?

9. Are there scenes that drag or ramble?

10. Is each scene advancing the plot forward?

To read more:

To Pitch or Not to Pitch? Top 10 Pitching Tips from Susan – the Screenplay Doctor


Mouth 15

A pitch is exactly what the word implies — it’s a sales pitch.  And since this is the movie business, otherwise referred to as the film industry, it’s all about selling your idea.  The pitch should summarize your script, engage your listeners, emotionally move them — to laugh, to cry — (for all the right reasons), and convince them to spend zillions of dollars to produce your project.

Knowing when and how to pitch can make or break your chances of having your project considered by film industry folks.

Question: Is it wise to pitch treatments without having the full script written?

Answer: Generally, the answer is no.  When you have the opportunity to pitch your project to industry folks and they are intrigued by your idea, they’re not going to want to hear, “Well, glad you liked the pitch. I’ll send you the script when I’m finished.” It’s going to be hard to capture their attention again. It’s challenging enough to get attention from executives at a pitch festival or pitch meeting so I would advise on having the screenplay written. Before you pitch your project, make sure that you copyright it and register it with the Writers Guild of America

Top Ten Pitching Tips

  1. Depending on what has been requested, a pitch can be as short as a single sentence or as long as a few paragraphs or more.
  2. Your pitch should follow your main character’s journey and major plot points. Highlight your protagonist’s goal and the major obstacles in his or her path, including the antagonist.
  3. The genre must be clear and consistent.
  4. The pitch should be an accurate reflection of your screenplay, including the style, tone, and plot.
  5. A pitch meeting is like an audition. You’re selling yourself in terms of professionalism, not only your story.

To read more:

Susan’s Ask the Screenplay Doctor: How to Pitch a TV Series


Jeff Greenstein with the cast of the new award-winning series Husbands Jeff Greenstein (far left) with the cast of the new award-winning series Husbands.

How can you pitch a new TV series? Screenplay Doctor Susan Kouguell finds an answer to this question of the month with Jeff Greenstein, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of Dream On, Friends, Will & Grace, Parenthood and Desperate Housewives

Question: One of my partners and I have begun creating a pitch for a new television show.  We’ve great faith in the idea, but I’ve never pitched for TV before.  Is there a different approach to presenting our ideas when it is time?  Besides a treatment, should we have a “pilot episode” teleplay at the ready?  Should we also have a synopsis of several episodes?  What do you recommend?

Susan’s Answer: Pitching for television takes skill, a lot of preparation, and some luck. Writers must know the company to whom they are pitching and the types of projects they are seeking.

For television, it is generally recommended to…

Read more:


Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Submitting Your Screenplay Etiquette

Pointers for good etiquette for submitting your script.


When I began writing this Ask the Screenplay Doctor monthly column about four years ago, the editors had noted that this is not a column where writers can post their loglines synopses of projects, or submit queries – or even their screenplays. I know how challenging it is to get your query, synopsis, and scripts read and considered, but you are wasting your effort by sending them to someone who doesn’t want them. If you want to post those, feel free to do that through the Screenplays Available/Wanted page on

Of course, if you need advice about screenwriting, the business of screenwriting, then by all means, email me your question — but leave out the logine, treatment, or script.  So, with this reminder, here is some advice on this topic.

Top Five Pointers for Submitting your Project

  1. Confirm that the company you are querying is indeed accepting unsolicited material. (Unsolicited is defined as work that is not submitted by an agent, manager, or entertainment attorney.)
  2. Follow the company’s submission rules. For example: If a company requests only a one-page synopsis, send them only a one-page synopsis.  Nothing more.
  3. Only submit your logline, synopsis and/or script to companies who have requested it. When you submit work to a company that is not seeking unsolicited material, your work will be rejected. You are wasting your time and you are wasting the time of the person to whom you have submitted your unrequested work.
  4. Research the companies, film executives, and agents to confirm the spelling of their names and their titles. Film industry folks don’t appreciate seeing their names misspelled.  Executives’ titles frequently change — the industry person who is there today may not be there tomorrow.  The Hollywood Creative Directory and IMDBPro are two suggested sources (among others) to find extensive contact information for film executives, production companies and studios.
  5. Never submit a logline, query letter, synopsis, and/or script that has not been proofread. For screenplays, it is critical that you follow industry standard format.

To read more of my column:

Susan’s Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Writing for Documentaries


Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Writing for Documentaries

Inspired by the upcoming all-documentary Salem Film Fest that runs from March 6 – 13, and my March 6 online class Writing the Documentary, this month’s column is focused on the process of documentary writing.

In documentaries, writer/filmmakers have their own work and creative processes; what works for one may not work for another. I talked with four award-winning documentary filmmakers: Allie Light (In The Shadow Of The Stars), Emer Reynolds (Here Was Cuba), Eric Steel (Kiss the Water), and Alan Zweig (15 Reasons to Live)

And I asked each one of them this question:

How does your process start or is it different each time? For example: Do you begin by writing an outline or with a list of interview questions? How much do you draft and how much do you leave to chance? And, what do you find are the pros of cons of both?



Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Beating Writer’s Block and Getting Feedback on Your Script

This month’s questions cover one end of the screenwriting spectrum to the other – getting stuck more than halfway through on a screenplay – and once the draft is completed, how to find the best feedback.

Get some tips to break through that writers block!

Screenplay Doctor: Arguably there are some people who do not believe in the term “writer’s block.” (Maybe the word “block” is unproductive and getting you stuck…) But let’s not get stuck in terminology.  Let’s get you back to writing.

In my experience teaching and consulting, not to mention with my own writing, sometimes the reason one is struggling comes down to the fact that something is not working in the script. It could be an issue with the plot or characters, or the way you’re approaching your storytelling process.

Top Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block and Getting to the End of the Finish Line:

  1. Put your script aside for a period of time and give yourself some breathing room.
  2. Set attainable goals and realistic deadlines. For example: Maybe writing five pages daily is unrealistic with your work schedule.
  3. Write character biographies in your characters’ voices. (My book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! offers templates and examples from films to guide writers.)
  4. Synopsize the script in prose, in a short story form. This helps to give you distance from individual scenes and characters, and helps to hone in your plot, find plot holes, and to follow your main characters’ journeys with more objectivity.




Ask the Screenplay Doctor: 2013 Retrospective and Questions

2013 was quite an exciting year of columns, ranging on tips about marketing a screenplay, to the pros and cons of film schools. Thank you for your enthusiastic responses to my columns.

A special thank you to all my 2013 inspiring interviewees from across the country, who not only offered invaluable advice, but their honest insights into all aspects of writing, filmmaking and the film industry:

Thelma Adams: Self-described “outspoken” film critic, offered insights into the world of movies past and present, and gave us a glimpse into what critics look for in a film.

Film Critic Thelma Adams

Ann Flournoy: Louise Log Web Series director took us on the adventurous journey of making a web series with tips on her successful crowd-sourcing with Seed&Spark.

Anne Flournoy, creator of web series The Louise Log

Jon Gartenberg: President of Gartenberg Media Enterprises, talked about experimental filmmaking, distribution, and what’s happening to the field in this modern age.

Jon Gartenberg, President of Gartenberg Media Enterprises

Jeff Greenstein: Emmy-Award sitcom television writer, director and showrunner of such shows as Will & Grace and Friends, shared tips on breaking into writing for television, sitcom trends, and more. (Since our interview, Jeff is now the director of the new CBS sitcom Mom.)

Showrunner, producer, and writer Jeff Greenstein

Sydney Levine: President of Sydney’s Buzz pulled back the curtain on the international film industry with sage advice on getting films seen and distributed in the global market.

Sydney Levine, President of Sydney's Buzz.

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez: Award-winning Manakamana documentary filmmakers discussed the process of making their unforgettable feature, at our sit-down at the Locarno Film Festival, where they later took the stage as big winners.

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, the filmmakers behind Manakamana


Genine Tillotson: Director of Harvard Square Script Writers talked about HSSW and the benefits of joining a writers group.…

Genine Tillotson, left, leading a meeting of Harvard Square Screen Writers.

JD Zeik: Screenwriter and SUNY Purchase Professor who’s worked with James Cameron, Alfonso Cuaron, and 50 Cent, and more. We talked about film school and the film business.

Professor and Screenwriter J.D. Zeik

To read more of my January column:




Joining a screenwriters’ group is a terrific way to have your work read by others, to receive feedback on your writing, as well as to share resources, brainstorm ideas and insights about the film business.

How do you find a group in your area? Contact your state’s film commission for suggestions, as well as organizations like the Independent Film Project ( which has chapters throughout the country, Women in Film and Video New England (, and check listings in screenwriting and film publications.

To read more of my article and interview with Harvard Square Script Writers Director:



Photo Credit: Matthew Pompa/Flickr

Top Ten Screenplay Competition Tips

Winning or placing as a finalist in a screenplay competition is one way to get your foot in the industry door and might help get your work some recognition. Competition winners are often listed in trade publications, and this might grab industry folks’ attention. Having a winning contest credit could give you the needed edge over other projects vying for industry attention.





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