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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

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Academy Award®-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker, Carl Deal, Talks ‘Citizen Koch’ & ‘Michael Moore in TrumpLand’

by Susan Kouguell


Regardless of which side of the political aisle you stand, there is probably one point all sides can agree on – Academy Award® nominated filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin make thought-provoking films that challenge the audience to question the world around them. Their two recent films, which guest speaker Carl Deal recently spoke about at Purchase College, SUNY – CITIZEN KOCH and MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND – are no exception.

Academy Award®-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker, Carl Deal, Talks 'Citizen Koch' & 'Michael Moore in TrumpLand' by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

About the Filmmakers

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, are Academy Award®-nominated filmmakers, who produced and directed TROUBLE THE WATER, winner of the Gotham Independent Film Award, the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and the Full Frame Documentary Festival Grand Jury Prize. Deal and Lessin were, respectively, archival and supervising producers of Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11, winner of the Palme d’Or, Academy Award®-winning BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and co-producers of CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT and most recently Deal produced (with Michael Moore) MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND, which Lessin Executive produced.

Tia and Carl were nominated for an NAACP Image Award and a Producers Guild Award for TROUBLE THE WATER. Tia line produced Martin Scorsese’s Emmy and Grammy-winning film NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN and was consulting producer of LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD: GEORGE HARRISON. Her work as a producer of the series THE AWFUL TRUTH earned her two Emmy nominations, one arrest and a lifetime ban from Disney World. She is the recipient of the L’Oréal Paris/Women in Film’s Women of Worth Vision Award and the Sidney Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism for BEHIND THE LABELS, a film about labor trafficking in the US garment industry. Carl Deal has contributed to many other documentary films, and worked as an international news producer and a writer, reporting from natural disasters and conflict zones throughout the U.S., Latin America, and in Iraq.



The film tells the story of the changing American political landscape through the eyes of three Wisconsin state employees, all lifelong Republicans, who suddenly find their party taking direct aim at them, stripping away the economic ground their families have built and depended on for generations: Set against the rise of the Tea Party in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, a citizen uprising to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker collides with the Tea Party-aligned “Americans for Prosperity,” a group founded and lavishly financed by two of the world’s richest men — David and Charles Koch. As Republican working class voters find themselves in the cross-hairs of their own party and its billionaire backers, they are forced to choose sides.

CARL DEAL: “The film was made in 2011-2012, and came out in 2013. It’s very topical given the election season right now. What you see here is a behind the scenes; and today it’s still happening all over the country; there are still certain states that are being targeted in the same way as Wisconsin was targeted in this film.”

Protesters fill the rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capital in the run up to Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill in a scene from CITIZEN KOCH

Protesters fill the rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capital in the run up to Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill in a scene from CITIZEN KOCH

Advice for Storytellers

CARL DEAL: “This film began with the idea to do something about climate change deniers and along the way of making this, very early on, we concluded that we are filmmakers and we are people who are engaged with the world so we try to make media that engages with what is relevant today, in the moment. It became a movie about money and politics because we realized that’s where the problem lies. We never thought we’d be in Wisconsin; we ended up in Wisconsin sort of on a whim because that’s where the news of the day took us.   So, for you storytellers, I hope you always follow the story where it takes you, and get out of your head and not be fixed in following the idea that you have when you get support to do a project. Let the project also have a life of its own.”


Making a film that has the potential to stir up controversy carries its own set of risks. Deal was asked how one manages the issue of backlash and specifically how they handled it on CITIZEN KOCH.

CARL DEAL: “We got Errors and Omissions insurance and we made sure that we were insured in case anything happened that got in the way of us finishing the film. We knew we were taking on some powerful interests with it.  We were set to premiere at Sundance and our broadcaster was about to release the last transfer of the film when they called us and said we needed to change the title or else. The New Yorker did an exposé on it.”

New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer writes: “Lessin and Deal had provisionally called the film “Citizen Corp,” but they worried that the title made it sound like a film about a corpse. After Sundance officials pressed for a final title so that they could start promoting it, Lessin and Deal told ITVS that they had settled on “Citizen Koch.” The new title reflected the evolution of the narrative: reporting had focused increasingly on the pitched battle in Wisconsin over the efforts of Scott Walker, the Republican governor, to ban collective bargaining by public-sector-employee unions. As the  reported, Koch Industries was among Walker’s primary financial backers in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

CARL DEAL: “The title of the film is so important sometimes. The “Citizen Koch” title was a direct reference to Governor Scott Walker; it set up expectations for viewers who thought it was an exposé about the Koch brothers, which it wasn’t. Think about your titles.”

Character-Driven and Context in Citizen Koch

CARL DEAL: “There are many different ways to make a documentary film. There’s a trend now to make only character-driven documentaries and those can be really beautiful and emotional stories, and I also think the context for these stories is really important. Not every audience is going to understand the context with an emotional connection to characters so that’s why we did it both ways here.”



Oscar-winner Michael Moore dives deep in the heart of hostile TrumpLand territory with his daring, profound, and uproarious one-man show. When the show gets banned from the first town they tried, Mike moves on to an even bigger community of Trump supporters in the ironically-named Clinton County, Ohio.



Join Susan’s ‘Writing the Animation Feature’ Online Class September 29

Writing the Animated Feature Film at Screenwriters University

In this 4-week course, you will learn key screenwriting and animation writing concepts that will allow you to take your idea and turn it into a working outline for a movie that you will then be able to write from. Essentially, you will learn how movies ‘work,’ and when and where things need to occur in your story to keep an audience engaged. By the end of the course, you will have a thoroughly reviewed ten-page treatment of your film.

Next Session:  September 29

Susan’s Webinar: Write Innovative Character and Plot: Analyzing Oscar-winning Screenwriter Diablo Cody

Join my Webinar: September 12, 2016 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM  (You don’t need to be ‘live’ to join!)

Write Innovative Character and Plot: Analyzing Oscar-winning Screenwriter Diablo Cody

At a Glance

  • During this live webinar, you’ll learn what film executives seek in a winning screenplay.
  • Gain an understanding of Diablo Cody’s work.
  • Learn how to write captivating characters while staying true to your plot.

Capturing the attention of film industry folks is vital to getting a screenplay out of the proverbial drawer and onto the silver screen. Your screenplay must stand out in the crowded and competitive world of scripts with not only compelling characters and powerful plots, but a distinct voice. Fitting that bill is — Academy Award winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, (Best Original Screenplay Juno) — whose thought-provoking characters challenge storytelling expectations by both following and breaking the traditional narrative rules.

Susan Kouguell will explore Cody’s distinctive writing while using it to teach you how to write a better script. Kouguell brings to this class a unique perspective; working in various capacities in the film industry, as a writer of over a dozen feature assignments, as a story analyst and story editor in the development departments of studios and independent production companies, and as a screenplay and film consultant at her company Su-City Pictures East, LLC since 1990. Susan will offer insights into both film executives’ and audience’s expectations without compromising your creativity and vision, incorporating her industry experience as a script consultant, screenwriting professor and author of Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!.


  • What film executives demand in a successful screenplay.
  • Analysis of films by the same writer to illustrate a variety of approaches to consider.
  • How to discover the core of your characters.
  • How to avoid common screenwriting pitfalls.
  • Tools on creating characters an audience will care about
  • Insights on Diablo Cody’s most popular characters


  • Screenwriters seeking insights to elevate their characters
  • Screenwriters seeking tips for writing success from an industry insider who’s been in the film trenches (and survived) for over 25 years.
  • Aspiring and professional writers looking for hands-on and inspiring tools for constructing compelling characters.
  • Writers who’ve had their scripts rejected and want to learn why.
  • Writers who want to challenge themselves.
  • Anyone intrigued and interested to learn more about Diablo Cody’s work.
  • Writers, filmmakers, and producers living and working anywhere on the globe curious to learn more about the craft of writing.

BONUS: With purchase of this webinar, you will receive $79.99 off of a yearly subscription to the Screenwriting Tutorials website, which has specialized tutorials from experts that explore screenwriting topics covered nowhere else on the web!

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: This webinar will be broadcast using GoToWebinar. To see if your system is compatible with GoToWebinar, please review this page, which lists the system requirements for the software.

Join My Online ‘Writing the Family Feature’ class starts Thursday.

Writing the Family Feature Film at Screenwriters University

What exactly a “family film” is can be hard to define—they can be humorous or deadly serious. They can be total fantasy or a (sometimes) painful reality. This workshop will guide you through the structural and thematic elements common among the most successful family films of all time. If you aren’t considering writing for this target market, you are ignoring a prosperous genre that attracts big names and big budgets. Besides all that,these stories spotlight relationships, high-stakes conflicts, and a quest: all exciting goals to look through and to try to achieve for any screenplay. By the end of this workshop, you will have a complete treatment for your feature length family film that has been vetted by a professional screenwriter, and also all the tools you need to see your project to the end.

Next session: September 8 – October 6

Looking for a World-Building Online Screenwriting Class?

Join me Thursday, September 8 for my four-week Online class

World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into at Screenwriters University

This course will offer specific tips for creating and implementing advice on building the world of your screenplay. Research advice and tips, strengthening visual storytelling in action paragraphs, developing and implementing settings, examining character and plot conflict as it relates to your settings, and genre consistency, will also be covered in this class. Original and unique worlds will set your script apart from the other screenplays, vying for attention from film executives; this course will also discuss understanding film industry folks’ expectations without compromising your vision and creativity.
Next session: September 8 – October 6

Susan Interviews Producer & Co-director Juliana Penaranda-Loftus of ‘Landfill Harmonic’

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“To have nothing is not an excuse to do nothing”
–Favio Chávez,
Conductor of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura

Favio Chavez (Orchestra Director)

After their awe-inspiring concerts made them viral sensations and put them in the spotlight of international media, The Recyled Orchestra of Cateura has been featured on 60 Minutes, NBC News, People, Time, Wired, Oprah Magazine, NPR Music, and more.

LANDFILL HARMONIC, the award-winning documentary has received over 30 awards at international festivals.

As a classically trained violist, I had the opportunity to play with a youth orchestra when I was a teenager and travel on concert tours to South America and the Far East.  Whether we played in the jungles of the Amazon or a president’s palace, and regardless of the audience’s economic and ethnic backgrounds, these six weeks of summer travel and approximately 30 concerts, forever impacted my life.

The often-used phrase “the universal language of music” is not a cliché, it is indeed the truth and underscored in the documentary Landfill Harmonic.

Several years ago when I first saw the 60 Minutes piece about Favio Chávez and his Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in Paraguay, it grabbed my attention and as time passed the story of the orchestra continued to pique my interest.  After viewing a press screener of Landfill Harmonic, I knew I had to set up an interview.

One doesn’t need to be a musician or even sing in tune, to be enthralled by the power of this film.

IMG_3471 violines


Landfill Harmonic follows the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a Paraguayan musical group that plays instruments made entirely out of garbage. When their story goes viral, the orchestra is catapulted into the global spotlight. Under the guidance of idealistic music director Favio Chávez, the orchestra must navigate a strange new world of arenas and sold-­out concerts. However, when a natural disaster strikes their country, Favio must find a way to keep the orchestra intact and provide a source of hope for their town. The film is a testament to the transformative power of music and the resilience of the human spirit.

Producer and co-director Juliana PenarandaLoftus

DSC_6213 Juliana head shotRecently I had the opportunity to speak with producer and co-director Juliana Penaranda-Loftus by phone for our interview.

Juliana Penaranda-Loftus began her career working in production for prime time television shows in Colombia. After completing her Bachelor’s degree, she moved to the United States where she received her Master’s Degree in Film from the American University in Washington, DC. After September 11, she directed and produced a documentary about Aid Afghanistan, an organization fighting for the right to educate women. The organization used the documentary to raise funds to support schools and programs in Afghanistan. Since then, Juliana has produced several independent feature films and in 2009 established her own production company, Hidden Village Films with the purpose of producing films of social relevance. In 2012 she was one of eight women selected by the American Film Institute for their Directing Workshop for Women.

KOUGUELL:  Tell me about the evolution of this film.

PENARANDALOFTUS: Alejandra Amarilla (Founder and Executive Producer) contacted me at the end of 2008 to talk about the idea of making a documentary about underserved children in Paraguay her home country.

In April 2009, we traveled to start the research and find the story. It was the last day of the trip when we heard the story about Favio Chávez and his efforts of teaching children with recycled instruments. Alejandra loved the story from the beginning and as founder she selected from the options we had. I loved the story too. We saw the potential with Favio to be able to take the kids to where they are today.

We started following up the story via phone calls and email.  I was doing pre-interviews over the phone and email. We returned to Paraguay every year, sometimes twice a year depending on what was going on.

The production took five years. We started shooting in July 2010 and the last shoot took place in September 2014.

About the Collaboration

Landfill Harmonic is directed by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, and co-directed and produced by Juliana Penaranda-Loftus.

Due to the filmmaking team’s outside work commitments and changing schedules, the process was further complicated by the need to reshoot some sections.  Penaranda-Loftus emphasized the importance of the great teamwork they had, which made this film become a reality.



Top Five Family Conflict Tips for all Genres: Examining Family Conflicts in Natalie Portman’s ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ and Daniel Burman’s ‘The Tenth Man’


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Examining Family Conflicts in Natalie Portman’s ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ and Daniel Burman’s 'The Tenth Man': Top Five Family Conflict Tips for all Genres by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Family relationships are complicated.  (Yes, that’s an understatement!)  Parents and children have their own specific backgrounds, attitudes, motivations, agendas, and feelings.  And this is in real life.

In a successful screenplay, these relationships must ring true in order for film executives to want to turn the page and keep reading, and embark on the journey you have created for your characters.

Regardless of the genre you’re writing in, the plausibility of the family dynamics and their conflicts are steeped in your characters’ histories.  Past successes, triumphs, arguments and failures are just a few of the elements that comprise family relationships.

Family conflicts can occur at any age. Becoming an adult does not necessarily shift the feelings a child has for a parent.

Opening this month, are two films, which center on family conflicts:  Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness in her directorial debut, adapted from the book by Amos Oz, focuses on a relationship between a mother and her 10-year-old son, and Daniel Burman’s The Tenth Man, centers on an adult son and his father’s relationship.  These two films are poignant examples that indeed family conflicts are complicated and continue to evolve at any age.

TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESSA Tale of Love and Darkness is based on the memories of Amos Oz, growing up in Jerusalem in the years before Israeli statehood with Arieh, his academic father and Fania, his dreamy, imaginative mother. They were one of many Jewish families who moved to Palestine from Europe during the 1930s and 40s to escape persecution. Arieh was cautiously hopeful for the future but Fania wanted much more. The terror of the war and running from home had been followed by the tedium of everyday life, which weighed heavily on Fania’s spirit. Unhappy in her marriage and intellectually stifled, she would make up stories of adventures (like treks across the desert) to cheer herself up and entertain her 10-year-old son Amos.  He became so enraptured when she read him poetry and explained about words and language; it would become an influence on his writing for the rest of his life. When independence didn’t bring the renewed sense of life that Fania had hoped for, she slipped into solitude and sadness. Unable to help her, Amos was forced to say an untimely good-bye. As he witnessed the birth of Israel, he had to come to terms with his own new beginning.

TenthMan_Poster_v2_webThe Tenth Man: This dramatic comedy wrestles with notions of identity, home and the intricacies of the father and son relationship. After years away, Ariel returns to Buenos Aires seeking to reconnect with his father, Usher, who founded a charity foundation in Once, the city’s bustling Jewish district where Ariel spent his youth. In the process of trying to meet his father Usher, who staves off a meeting with his son; roping him into a number of small assignments getting more entangled in his charitable commitments, Ariel meets Eva whose independent spirit motivates Ariel to come to grips with the traditions that once divided him and his father and rethink his own identity.

These two very different films in eras, settings, tone, genre, and plot do share important themes; the protagonists’ need to please and understand their respective parents.  In The Tenth Man, the father and son relationship is portrayed in a unique way; (without revealing too much of the film) although we hear them have conversations, the two share only a brief, yet satisfying, time together on screen.  In A Tale of Love and Darkness a young son’s adulation of his mother and their trusted bond becomes threatened as her health spirals downward.

In my book Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! I discuss family relationships. Here’s an excerpt:

Relationships between parents and children, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and grandparents, and so on, are wrought with misunderstandings, jealousy, poor communication, disappointments, as well as love, joy, and pride.

Unstable family relationships are portrayed in writer/director Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale and in writer/director Tamara Jenkins’s The Savages. The Squid and the Whale examines the Berkman family’s transition and redefinition when parents Bernard and Joan decide to divorce.  Teenage sons, Walt and Frank, prematurely come of age, struggling with their conflicted and confused emotions, as they must cope with the repercussions of their estranged parents’ respective actions.  In The Savages, Wendy, an aspiring Manhattan playwright, and her brother, John, a theater professor in Buffalo, New York, are forced to come to terms with their respective troubled lives and romantic relationships, when they must take care of their unsympathetic father, who is suffering from dementia.

Equally complex father/son relationships are seen in Big Fish, (directed by Tim Burton, screenplay by John August) and Catch Me If You Can, (directed by Stephen Spielberg, screenplay by Jeff Nathanson).  In Big Fish, traveling salesman Edward Bloom’s fabled tales about his fantastical life captivate everyone but his journalist son, Will, from whom he becomes estranged.  When Will returns home to reconcile with his dying father, Edward does not understand how his stories have truly affected his son and Will struggles to accept his father for who he truly is. In Catch Me If You Can, Frank Jr., learns the art of deception from his father whom he tries to impress and financially supports. Although Frank Sr. senses that his son is a fraud, he does not confront him or tell him to stop his cons. As the plot unfolds, the father/son relationship shifts to Frank Jr. and FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who always tells Frank the truth, and repeatedly tells him to stop his cons.

Top Five Family Conflict Tips for all Genres

  1. CONFLICT: Agreements and disagreements, discords and disharmony, must be conveyed in a realistic way that readers can gain an understanding of what’s causing the root of their issues.
  2. EMPATHY: Readers need to feel something for your characters’ relationships whether it’s hate or love; they need to understand their dynamics, regarding the reasons for their discord or harmony.


Susan’s Interview: Maria Escobedo on Writing for Children’s Animation and Breaking into Television


Susan Kouguell Maria Escobedo

I had the pleasure to speak with Maria about her writing career and her new animated children’s show, Elena of Avalor, which recently premiered on the Disney Channel.

Full disclosure: I was the associate producer of Maria’s first independent feature film Rum and Coke, which she wrote and directed.

Maria Escobedo

Maria Escobedo

Maria Escobedo is a native New Yorker with a BFA in film from New York’s School of Visual Arts. She studied screenwriting at NYU, playwriting at The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and earned a TV Writing Fellowship from ABC/Disney.  Maria’s writing credits include ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and HULU’s Emmy-nominated Original Series East Los High.  Maria has written original movies for Lifetime, Disney Channel, and developed an original TV pilot for Nickelodeon.  She has also written for many animated children’s shows, includingDora the Explorer; Go, Diego, Go on Nick Jr.; Shapes for Peach Blossom Media, Nina’s World for NBC’s Sprout Network, Special Agent Oso on Disney Jr., and the new Latina Disney princess, Elena of Avalor on Disney Channel.  Maria is very proud to have worked for two of the most influential women in television: Shonda Rhimes and Dora the Explorer!

On the feature side, Citadel Entertainment optioned Maria’s very first screenplay. She later wrote and directed the indie film, Rum And Coke, which garnered critical and popular attention at international film festivals and is available on DVD and streaming.  Maria served as Co-Chair of the Latino Writers Committee at the WGA West for 5 years, and is currently an adjunct writing professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts.

I asked Maria to talk about her writing journey.

Escobedo:  When I made my film Rum and Coke I got a lot of attention. We did a huge festival circuit and I got a DVD and streaming deal. People who saw it said it was very character-driven and that I should think about writing for television because it was the place that nurtured characters. That’s what made me think about TV.  Being in New York — which is different now because there’s more TV going on now in New York — but 11 years ago TV just wasn’t what you thought about. Either you went into advertising or you made an independent film. That’s what my husband (Charles Gherardi) and I did.  The first script got optioned and the second one was Rum and Coke.

I wrote a couple of spec scripts for live action, including a Law & Order SVU and a Boston Legal, which got me the Disney Fellowship.

I received the Disney Fellowship about 10 years ago and that led to a writing gig at Grey’s Anatomy; that’s how I started my romance with Disney and NBC when I got into the fellowship.  A friend of mine who was working at Dora the Explorer at Nickelodeon said they had some positions there so that’s how it started to happen. Because of the WGA strike I started working in animation because it’s a different union.

Kouguell: What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?

Escobedo: When I got the Disney Fellowship the decision was to move to Los Angeles for the year and then return to New York and then we ended up staying because there was work here.

ELENA OF AVALORKouguell: How did you get involved with Elena of Avalor?

Escobedo: I’m a freelance writer this season on the show. I was a freelance writer on a lot of animation shows; many times these shows don’t have a staff of writers. They’ll have the head writer and the show’s creator and then the rest of the writers are freelance.  Elena of Avalor actually did have a small staff and when I had gone in for the interview they had already filled their room but they asked me to write one of their freelance episodes and that’s what I did.

What I love about the Elena character is that she’s older, she’s already 17. The episodes are half hour; many Disney Junior shows are 11 minutes each. There’s a lot of humor in this show, more so than in some of the younger shows. Elena has her faults, she’s not perfect and yes, she’s wonderful, loving, and is always thinking of others, but there’s a sense of reality to it and that’s what I love about her.  There’s adventure in what she tries to do but it has that heart that makes great Disney.

Kouguell: Tell me about your experience working in the various writers’ rooms.

Escobedo: It’s both exhilarating and intimidating.  You bond with the other writers, sharing stories. Everyone in the room adding their own point of view makes it so much more of a collaborative effort.  You’re able to talk about the story and the script. The characters are real; you go home thinking about the characters and the story.  Features are so much slower to make than in television where you have the time to really develop the characters in the stories.  But in TV there’s a deadline to get the show done in a short amount of time.

Grey’s Anatomy was the first time I was in a writers room. Coming from the feature world I just always sat in front of the computer and wrote by myself or with my husband/partner.   I actually loved it and I fell in love with TV.

My experience in children’s animation has been that you’re pitching your episode and you get some feedback from the group, which is always good, but you’re pretty much on your own to write it.   You go back and forth with the head writer, and then the network is giving you notes – and that’s similar to live action.

There are smaller writers rooms or there’s no writers room at all; you’re just getting together every so often to pitch what your next story is and work it out, and then go back and write.

Nina’s World was an interesting writers room because I was really writing from my bedroom and Skyping with the other writers. Most were in Toronto, Canada and there were few here in Los Angeles. Most of the time we did it from our homes.  It was different because we were pitching our own episodes — we really weren’t writing them together.

Kouguell: As a Latina woman in the industry, what changes have you seen?


Award-Winning Writer & Director Thomas Bidegain on Directorial Debut Film ‘Les Cowboys’ & Breaking Screenwriting Rules

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“In ‘Les Cowboys’ things are not what they appear to be.”
–Thomas Bidegain

Cowboys_Web-FilmTrack_lgOn a sunny day in midtown Manhattan, I had the pleasure to meet with French writer and director Thomas Bidegain about his new film Les Cowboys.  A longtime collaborator of filmmaker Jacques Audiard, Bidegain has written scripts for Audiard’s Rust and Bone, A Prophet, and Dheepan, as well as for Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, which was the 2014 French Foreign Language Oscar submission.

We began our conversation talking about writing controversial and hot button subject matter, as seen in the film Where Do We Go Now, which he wrote in collaboration with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. (The film centers on a group of Lebanese women who try to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in their village.)

Bidegain: “I went to Lebanon for a month to write with Labaki; they already had a script but they were not quite happy with it and we found the right tone for it. It’s a great film about women.”

When describing his latest film, Les Cowboys, which took a year-and-a-half to write, Bidegain stated:  “It’s the story of simple folk who are projected into the chaos of a world they don’t understand.”

About Les Cowboys

Thomas Bidegain, director of Les Cowboys. Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

Thomas Bidegain, director of Les Cowboys.
Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

Country and Western enthusiast Alain is enjoying an outdoor gathering of fellow devotees with his wife and teenage children when his daughter Kelly abruptly vanishes. Learning that she’s eloped with her Muslim boyfriend, he embarks on an increasingly obsessive quest to track her down. As the years pass and the trail grows cold, Alain sacrifices everything, while drafting his son into his efforts.

The film is inspired by director John Ford’s The Searchers (screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, from the novel by Alan LeMay) about a Civil War veteran who embarks on a journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe. But the story departs from Ford’s film in unexpected ways, and escapes its confining European milieu as the pursuit assumes near-epic proportions in post-9/11 Afghanistan.

The Evolution of the Screenplay

TB:  “I’ve worked a lot with Noé Debré.  It was an idea I had and I told him the story. We took notes and we ended up with a six-page treatment and that’s pretty much the film. I went to see a producer and he bought it.  It was always a very tight script. The first version of the screenplay was 85 pages and the story takes place over the course of 15 years.  In the script, the characters don’t talk too much; the people are from the mountainside so it’s true to their characters.

Producers always want you to have likeable characters but if the characters are likeable then nothing can happen to them. For example, the father’s obsession to find his daughter Kelly turns into a form of narcissism.”

Kouguell: “It’s interesting how the protagonist shifts midway through the film from father to son, as Kid gradually takes on the role of the caretaker and continues on his father’s quest to find Kelly. On one level, the story is about a father and son relationship, yet the father’s journey to find his daughter underscores a father who doesn’t know his daughter at all.”

TB: “Yes, the father is myopic.  He thinks he’s a cowboy and believes that the Muslim Community is the Indians.”




Susan Kouguell Interview With Award-winning Australian Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy

Susan Kouguell Interview With Award-winning Australian Filmmaker Joe D’Arcy

By Susan Kouguell

In the final days of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting Australian filmmaker Joe D’Arcy, whose 6-minute short film Je suis un Crayon(I am a Pencil) curated by Academy-award winner Whoopi Goldberg, was included in the animated shorts program. This program was described as ‘showcasing imaginative storytelling and captivating craft’ and indeed Je suis un Crayonwas no exception.

Susan Kouguell Interview With Awardwinning Australian Filmmaker Joe DArcy

D’Ary with his wife Carol and Whoopi Goldberg

D’Arcy and I have continued our talks via email from our respective homes in Australia and New York. Since our initial meeting, ‘Je suis un Crayon’ was a finalist at the (Academy accredited) St Kilda Film Festival where it received a ‘Highly Commended’ award and has just been invited to Academy-award winner Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in July.

(My first interview for Script Magazine with D’Arcy focused on the writing of ‘Je Suis un Crayon,’ this piece is centered on the filmmaking aspect. READ ARTICLE HERE🙂


About Joe D’Arcy

D’Arcy wrote, directed and produced the award-winning film, ‘Beauty’. He was a finalist in ‘Project Greenlight’ where he wrote, produced and directed from his feature film the dramatic comedy, ‘Follow the Tao’ for the ‘Project Greenlight’ TV series, an initiative set up by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. D’Arcy has successfully integrated dual careers of filmmaking and Clinically Accredited Psychotherapy. He has worked professionally as an actor, writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor.

Je suis un Crayon’

Joe D’Arcy: “Je suis un Crayon’ is dedicated to the expression that exists within all of us. The original Charlie Hebdo crew dedicated their lives to free expression and after they were murdered, three 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. 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.

Susan Kouguell Interview With Awardwinning Australian Filmmaker Joe DArcy

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. 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.”

A Family Affair

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 is very talented, award- winning creatives: My wife Carol is an accomplished oil painter, my daughter Jazz (20) is a singer songwriter and composer and my son Byron (16) 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?’”

The D’Arcy Team

Carol D’Arcy – Artist/Animator

Joe D’Arcy: “Carol has spent over 30 years painting, primarily in oils. Her work is hanging throughout the world, and she has had sellout exhibitions in Australia, she runs a private gallery from our home and is currently in discussion with a Gallery in Chelsea, New York to exhibit her work. (

When Carol agreed to work on the film, we had no real idea of the level of commitment required to complete the project. For approximately three months we worked about 3-4 days a week at 20 hours a day and then whatever time we could squeeze in around our day jobs for the rest of the week. Carol was phenomenal to work with. Carol’s ability to research and learn animation coupled with her willingness to do whatever it took to complete the project was the key to the film’s creation.”

Jazz D’Arcy – Composer

Joe D’Arcy: “After Jazz was given the opportunity, at age 9 to compose the soundtrack for the short film ‘Just One’ in 2004, (won second place in the Australian primary Schools Film Festival), her desire to compose for TV and screen was triggered. Her later projects include the TV drama ‘No Brainer’ (2011), and soundtracks for the award-winning short films ‘Boy Soldiers’ (2014) and ‘Instinct’ (2015). Susan Kouguell Interview With Awardwinning Australian Filmmaker Joe DArcy

Jazz D’Arcy

Jazz was in Denmark at the time we were making the film and after a few discussions on Skype, she began to compose the soundtrack and theme song. Jazz could only access equipment after midnight as she was using a borrowed laptop, keyboard and mic. Jazz would normally compose with ProTools but had to use GarageBand because of limited access. Jazz managed to deliver an amazing original soundtrack and theme song that fit all of the film sequences perfectly without ever seeing the finished film. Her intuitive ability to match the timing of the sequences astounded me and the quality of her work and voice was breathtaking.

Byron D’Arcy – Assistant Director, CGI and Colour Grader

Joe D’Arcy: “Most people are either highly creative or skilled technically. Byron is both creative and technical and so when working with him, everything is possible. Byron’s credits include: ‘Cab’ (working title) 2016: Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor ‘No more turning Away’ (2016) documentary (re-enactment) about Iranian asylum seekers’ Cinematographer; (2015) ‘Je suis un Crayon’ (I am a Pencil) Assistant Director, CGI and colour grade; ‘Instinct’ (2015) Co-writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor/CGI (Shindig Student Film Festival winner); 2015 Awards Australian Cinematography Awards (ACS) Gold Award winner for ‘Boy Soldiers’.

Susan Kouguell Interview With Awardwinning Australian Filmmaker Joe DArcy

D’Arcy with son, Byron

In 2015 Byron began working at Fotomedia Productions Australia in the ‘Emerging Director’ program. Next semester Byron will begin an internship in the multimedia department at All Saints Anglican School.”

The Filmmaking Process

Joe D’Arcy: “After discussions and advice from VFX supervisors, Simon Dye and Sterling Osment, some research on the Internet, YouTube, etc., we formulated a strategy for the animation. 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 5,000 images in total). We went with 25 images per second and then manually selected it down to 17 frames per second — for effect. (I’m sure there are easier and quicker methods, but this was our method). 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 and so she put out an open call to her artist friends on Facebook to work as cel artists under her guidance.”

Filming of the Live Drawing

Joe D’Arcy: “The basis for the images and the sequences were mostly worked out during the script phase of the project. This was necessary in order to create seamless transitions from one image to the next. (The image sequence of the pencil drawing/shooting and the subsequent pencil protest were created during the drawing stage by Carol). During the drawing/animation stage, Carol often created simpler and more effective images than originally envisaged, drawing from her depth of creative experience, beautifying or enhancing the original ideas.

The Voiceover

Joe D’Arcy: “After scouring the web, listening for a voice with ‘heart,’ I came across voiceover artist, Pierre Maubouche, who (seems to effortlessly) express heart in much of his work.”

3D Animation

Joe D’Arcy: “Sterling Osment (frameworkvfx) completed the 3D animation of ‘The Pen’. He was so meticulous in his detail that we spent two days going back and forth before settling on just the ‘eyebrows’ for ‘The Pen’”

‘Je suis un Crayon’ and Its Impact

Joe 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.”

The Filmmaking Community on the Gold Coast of Australia

Joe D’Arcy: “We live on the Gold Coast, which is a regional coastal area about 50 miles south of Brisbane. There is a very small filmmaking community in the area where I live. Although we sometimes receive support from Chris Fleet at Fleet Lighting, as well as local production companies, Fotomedia and AbleVideo (who mostly work on Corporate videos, commercials and documentaries), there are very few people in our community who make live action narratives.”

Funding in Australia

Joe D’Arcy: “Funding really does not exist for most independent filmmakers in Australia. At the best of times, funding is allocated to filmmakers with solid commercial credits. However under our current government, which seems to be anti — ‘the arts’, funding is not available to nearly all filmmakers. ‘Live action narratives/animations’ are often self-funded by filmmakers who ‘have to’ make films, i.e. insane obsessed people.”

Current Projects

Joe 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.”

Upcoming Screenings of ‘Je Suis un Crayon’




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