Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Category: SCREENWRITER’S UTOPIA (page 1 of 2)

The Satisfying Scene


The Satisfying Scene

Scenes must have a reason to exist in your screenplay. Each scene must advance the plot forward through dialogue and/or visual storytelling.  Characters’ journeys drive the script’s narrative, and each scene must steer their journey forward.  Although some scenes might not even contain any characters, these scenes must still provide information about your plot, as well as your characters’ lives and actions. There is no set rule as to how many lines, paragraphs, or pages constitute a scene.

In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I analyze Sleepless in Seattle (directed by Nora Ephron, screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, and Jeff Arch).  Here’s an excerpt:

In the romantic comedy, reporter Annie Reed crosses the country to meet a man she has never met after hearing his young son on a call-in radio show, seeking help to find a new wife for his widowed father.

In this scene example we find Annie and Barbara, having a warm mother/daughter talk in the attic.

The Scene Objective:

Annie starts reexamining her feelings about Walter.

Scene Summary:

While trying on her grandmother’s wedding dress, the newly engaged Annie tells her mother, Barbara, about how she and her fiancé, Walter, met. Mother and daughter differ when it comes to believing in destiny, signs, and magic in a relationship—Barbara is a believer while Annie is a pragmatist. The scene concludes as Annie, wearing her grandmother’s wedding dress, hugs her mother and the dress rips. Annie now believes in signs.

The Scene Arc:

In the beginning of the scene, Annie doesn’t believe in destiny and expresses her certainty about her upcoming marriage to Walter. By the end of the scene, Annie is having some subtle doubts when she realizes that she doesn’t have the same type of magic with Walter that her mother felt for her father when they met, and Annie is beginning to believe in destiny.


About the Author

Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises (available at $1.00 with DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD: ).   Susan is a regular contributor to Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, Script Magazine and The Script Lab.

Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide.  Recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the MacDowell Colony, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Edward Albee Foundation, Kouguell’s short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.  Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, (Paramount, Viacom, Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions), wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog:





Many screenwriters share something in common.  Is it the agony and ecstasy of writing?  Well, for some yes, but for most –it’s about finding an agent, and when you do, finding the right one for you.

Indeed — finding an agent can be considered a full-time job. Not only have you written a brilliant screenplay but now you must write and submit queries, network and then network some more, and research agencies and agents that are the right match for you and your work.  Added to that is the endless time involved and sleepless nights, waiting for a response.  This journey can be challenging, often frustrating, nearly impossible, clearly nerve-wracking and nauseatingly gut-wrenching.

But then – alas.  You get the call. The email.  The response. An agent is interested in representing you!  Hallelujah. Congratulations! Break out the champagne.  Do the happy dance.  But don’t lose your common sense!

Yes, it’s wonderful 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.

Tips on Choosing an Agent

Read more:



Susan’s Screenwriter’s Utopia: A Look Back at THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL and Looking into the Future of Your Collaborations



I know the legend, Jonathan Shields,
the man will do anything to get what he
wants…Shields Pictures Incorporated.
Well, I’m flattered you want me, and
bitter you got me. Where do I start?

Just read these scripts, see how it’s
done, rough out a story line, and
then we’ll get to work. And don’t worry,
some of the best movies are made by
people working together who
hate each other’s guts.

Then we should make a great movie.

I usually do.

What about your last two?

I like ’em.

This excerpt from the Academy Award-winning screenplay by Charles Schnee from the 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful directed by Vincente Minnelli, underscores the stereotypical –and frankly, the often not so stereotypical relationships between screenwriters and their producers and directors. (The Bad and the Beautiful offers a behind-the-scenes look into movie-making and Hollywood; the title refers to the antagonist, the unscrupulous producer Jonathan Shields — The “Bad” and the protagonist “the Beautiful” starlet Georgia Lorrison.)

Hopefully your collaborations and work relationships with producers and directors will not be tumultuous and fraught with conflict as with the fictional screenwriter Bartlow and antagonist Shields.

The Honeymoon

The initial meetings with producers and directors can be filled with champagne and caviar, and congratulatory pats on the back on everyone’s brilliance, celebrating the future of breaking box office records and Oscar wins.  But when the champagne and caviar are polished off, the reality of the hard work is ahead.

The Honeymoon is Over…And Keeping the Honeymoon Period Alive

Unless you are the sole screenwriter, producer, and director of the film, there will be collaborators with whom you must work.  The truth is that a screenplay is the blueprint from which the director and producers create the film.  That means that everyone has an idea, (good or bad) and a lot to say (good or bad), and tempers can flare (not so good), and egos can be hurt (really not good).

Collaborating on a screenplay and/or film can be inspiring and amazing, but it also can be very exasperating if you are not in sync with your writing partner or with the producer and/or director. Putting your cards on the table from the onset of your collaboration will avoid unpleasant surprises and hurt egos later on.  Be forthcoming about your expectations and goals for both the script and the collaboration, and don’t shy away from asking your collaborator’s goals and expectations. Understanding the director and/or producers’ goals for the project you’ve written will improve your chances for a positive collaboration.


#writingcollaborations #screenwritingcollaborations #thebadandthebeautiful

Susan’s Screenwriters Utopia: Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes


Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes – Screenwriter’s Utopia

Men, Women, & Children, and Jason Reitman & Themes – Screenwriter’s Utopia

At the Jacob Burns Film Center in October, film critic and JBFC president Janet Maslin interviewed director Jason Reitman after the screening of his latest film Men, Women & Children (based on the novel by Chad Kultgen) written by Reitman and Cressida Wilson.

Reitman: “I like making movies about the sides we don’t show.” Describing his film as an ensemble story, Reitman said, “I wanted to make a movie about relationships.  I think people have been cheating on each other for a long time.  Some of the things that the movie addresses are porn, girls with body issues, and relationships. We’re brave on a first date; there are certain things you stop sharing in a long-term relationship.





The chances of selling a screenplay are a zillion to one.  Maybe a billion to one? A million to one?  Or — if you’re lucky, the math is in your favor and the chances are less than that.  But yes, the odds are staggering.

The biggest and most important tip I can share with you is this — do not submit your screenplay unless it is absolutely brilliant.  Seriously if your script is not the absolute best it can be then your script will be rejected. Your screenplay is your calling card; it is your audition piece to gain entry into the film business. If you’re having doubts about the strength of your screenplay then it’s not ready to be submitted. Seek professional feedback from a screenplay consultant or industry professional. Keep in mind that if you ask a friend or family member, this person might not have the tools to determine a script’s strengths and weaknesses — and might not tell you the truth because — they don’t want to alienate you! The competition to get a script read by a film industry executive, let alone, having it be considered for production or even sold – are indeed staggering. Keep the odds in your favor.

Now that I’ve gotten the negative, depressing statistics out of the way, let’s look at the positive news. If you think outside of the proverbial box, you increase your chances of selling your screenplay.




Susan’s: Director Luc Besson talks LUCY and the Protagonist

The 67° edition of the Locarno International Film Festival opened with Lucy in the outdoor Grande Piazza on August 6 before a standing room crowd.  At the Festival, Luc Besson described Lucy as a thriller with action.  In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I write about how to develop characters in this genre.

In a thriller, your protagonist (often the ‘everyman’) must be in jeopardy and eventually outsmart the antagonist in order to survive. Readers must feel empathy for your protagonist and root for him or her to survive.  The suspense must continue to build as your story unfolds with intricate twists and turns.  Readers must sense the imminent danger.   You must build the audience’s anticipation, uncertainties and questions, and deliver on their expectation—while keeping them guessing.

Lucy is an engaging protagonist because she is identifiable and resourceful, and uses her physical and mental prowess to survive against all odds.  She is an unlikely hero.

Besson talked about his films with powerful action female characters, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element or The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, stating:

“I think Lucy is different because Nikita, Leeloo and Joan of Arc were very powerful women with skills, whereas Lucy is a totally average girl at the beginning of this story. What was interesting for me about Lucy was to take a character, who represented Miss Average. She could have been me, or she could have been you. She had no particular characteristics.  It’s the first time I took someone who is at the bottom of the ladder. She’s stupid in the beginning; she’s a student that maybe is partying too much, and sort of has a boyfriend. She’s away from home.



Susan’s Screenwriters Utopia piece: David Cronenberg, Subplots, and Plot Twists

On a recent trip to Amsterdam to the EYE (national museum of film)  I visited the major exhibition of director David Cronenberg’s work. One section, featuring clips and information about his film, A History of Violence, reminded me of this powerful work that I also referenced in my book, Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! – specifically in the chapters in which I discuss subplots and plot twists.

TOM STALL In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!

JACK STALL No, in this family, we shoot them!

Tom slaps his teenage son, Jack.

In A History of Violence (screenplay by Josh Olson), family man and small town Indiana diner owner, Tom Stall, becomes a local yet reluctant hero after he shoots two thugs, who attempt to rob him.  National news coverage of this event prompts the arrival of Fogarty and his two henchmen from Philadelphia to confront Tom.

Plot twists can be illustrated through character revelations; who they truly are and what they are capable of doing for survival, loyalty, love, and so on, or during the story when an unexpected event occurs. In the case of this film, the plot twist unfolds when it is revealed that Tom Stall is not only Joey Cusack, an ex-killer from Philadelphia—but he has kept his true identity secret for twenty-years from his wife and their two children. Hence the title A History of Violence — the underlying meaning for Tom Stall centers on his own personal history of violence.

There is nothing more satisfying to an audience when they are taken by surprise, but plot twists should be true to your story and not tacked on just for the shock element.

To read more:

My latest article:

SUSAN’S Top Tips to Finding a Good Script Consultant in Screenwriter’s Utopia


Let me start by saying that in full disclosure — for over twenty-five years I have worked as a script consultant — first for studios and then as chairperson of my company Su-City Pictures East, LLC.  I am often asked, and again recently asked (which inspired this article), why writers should hire a script consultant and what to ask when looking for one.

When working on a screenplay for weeks, months, and possibly years, many screenwriters become so close to their projects that they lose objectivity and are unable to see problems in their work.  This is often the time a screenwriter might consider hiring a script consultant.

Submitting a script before it’s really ready to be considered jeopardizes your chances. Screenwriters generally have only one shot when submitting a script to a company and/or agent—once the script is rejected it’s nearly impossible to have the same script considered by the same company or agent even if you’ve done a brilliant rewrite. Film industry folks are inundated with material and the competition is fierce, so submit only your absolute best work.

Top Tips

  • Find out what projects the consultant has worked on, his/her professional background and accomplishments, and clients’ successes. Ask for references.
  • Choose someone with extensive industry experience and a solid track record.
  • You must feel comfortable, and you and the consultant should be a good match for you and your project. Trust your instincts.
  • A good consultant will offer objective feedback letting you know what the industry expects of your script and to what degree your script meets these expectations.
  • The consultant should provide a safe, non-threatening environment yet be honest, telling the screenwriter not just what he or she wants to hear but what he or she needs to hear.
  • The consultant should provide the necessary feedback and tools to make sure the script is ready to be submitted for consideration.
  • The consultant must have good communication skills and good attitude.
  • The consultant needs to listen and address the writers’ concerns and questions.
  • Many screenwriters receiving feedback feel very vulnerable and sensitive, so a good consultant should be mindful of this and of course, show respect for their clients’ work.

To read more:




“What is that script about?”

A logline is a one-sentence plot summary; it is also known as a written pitch. The first step in writing a logline is to ask yourself: “What is my script about?” and then answer the question.

A logline is not a tagline, as seen in a movie trailer or movie advertisement, such as in this example:


Will Jenny overcome her demons before it’s too late?


•           It sounds like a movie trailer.

•           It doesn’t tell us what the story is about or what the major conflict is.

•           The phrase “too late” doesn’t tell us what’s at stake in your story.

•           It includes the character’s name, which loglines should not.

•           Jenny could be a child, a teen or an adult.

•           It doesn’t tell us who Jenny really is.

Loglines must clearly and succinctly convey what the core of your story is about, using your story arc as your guide.


It’s a story about a teacher who learned life lessons as she discovered the meaning of life.


•           It’s written in the past tense.

•           “It’s a story about” is too wordy and unnecessary.

•           We don’t know what type of teacher or person she is.

•           “Learns life lessons” and “discovering the meaning of life” identifies the themes of the story, and it repeats the word ‘life.”  (A logline must not include the theme of your script; it should be evident.)

•           It doesn’t tell us what the story is about or what major obstacle she must overcome.


  1. Describe your story and setting, your protagonist, and his or her major goal and conflict/obstacle.
  2. Use present tense.
  3. Every word must do double duty. Less is more.
  4. Indicate how your characters are distinct by using strong adjectives to describe them.
  5. Show the reader how your story is different and unique, and what sets it apart.

To read more:





“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Who else but Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind could have said this memorable line?

Characters’ voices must be distinctive and not interchangeable with other characters. Readers must be able to identify who is speaking without needing to look at character headings. Always make every word count; sometimes less is more and the less said can prove more poignant.

Ten Top Tips to Writing Good Dialogue

1. Dialogue must clearly convey emotions, attitudes, strengths, vulnerabilities, goals, and so on, while revealing the details of your plot and advancing your narrative.

2. Every word of dialogue must be true to your character. Always consider your characters’ behaviors and motivations when they speak.

3. Consider silences and pauses your characters might use, or another character’s interruptions, to further convey tensions, actions, moods, and emotions.

4. In real life, most people do not always speak with flawless grammar in complete, formal sentences. Dialogue must not sound wooden or stilted.

5. To make your characters’ dialogue more identifiable consider using contractions, colloquialisms, slang, and so on, when true to your characters.

To read more:

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