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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

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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.

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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?

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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.”

 

 

READ MORE HERE

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. (www.caroldarcy.com)

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’

READ MORE HERE

https://www.stage32.com/blog/Susan-Kouguell-Interview-With-Award-winning-Australian-Filmmaker-Joe-D-Arcy

 

 

Writer and Director Leena Yadav Interview About Her New Feature Film ‘Parched’

Writer Director Leena Yadav On New Feature Film ‘Parched’

In a recent phone conversation with writer director Leena Yadav, we discussed her new feature film, Parched, which opens theatrically via Wolfe Releasing on June 17th in Los Angeles DVD_Amaray_Template.qxd(Laemmle Music Hall), New York (AMC Empire 25) and the Bay Area (Cine Grand in Fremont and Camera 12 in San Jose). This contemporary drama follows the lives of three Indian women who question the ancient traditions that hold them in servitude.

Ms. Yadav tackles the themes of gender roles, patriarchy, conditioning, and abuse with clarity and unapologetically.

With a budget just over 2.5 million dollars, Yadav describes Parched as an “absolutely independent passion project.” Shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic), the film’s visual sensibility adds another layer of both beauty and painful depth to the parched desert landscape and rich characters.

Leena Yadav On New Feature Film Parched…

Yadav: “Russell has an amazing eye for detail. I love the way he uses light and shade in every frame. A director – cinematographer relationship on shoots is almost like a husband wife relationship – high expectations and low tolerance!”

Writer Director Leena Yadav On New Feature Film Parched by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Rani (Tannistha Chatterjee), Bijli (Surveen Chawla) in PARCHED – Photo by Russell Carpenter, ASC – Courtesy of Wolfe Video

‘Parched’

Set in a remote rural desert community of North West India – widowed Rani, her vivacious best friend, Lajjo, and the exotic dancer Bijli – talk about men, sex and life, as they struggle under the oppressive rules of their traditional village ways.  But when Rani is tasked to find a teenage bride for her entitled fifteen-year-old son, they begin to question this status quo that favors men, sends child brides to abusive husbands, and ostracizes women for being educated and opinionated.  One fateful night, the women come together and take a bold step that will change the trajectory of their lives forever.

Director Leena Yadav - Courtesy of Wolfe Video

Leena Yadav

About Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Yadav: “I was raised to judge and treat people as human beings above and beyond their gender, religion, or caste.”

Born in Mhow, India, Leena Yadav is one of a vanguard of prominent female directors working in India. She began her career as a successful editor on commercials and an assistant director for television, and then went on to direct for more than 300 hours of television, including hit fiction shows and India’s first reality TV show. She made her directorial debut with Shabd (2005), which she also wrote and edited – and which bravely explores the psychology of love, marriage, creativity and freedom.  She wrote and directed Teen Patti (2010), starring two legends of cinema – Amitabh Bachchan and Academy Award Winner, Sir Ben Kingsley. Parched is Yadavi’s third feature film.

Writer Director Leena Yadav On New Feature Film Parched by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Surveen Chawla,front,Radhika Apte (left), Leher Khanmiddle (center) Tannishtha-Chatterjee (right) Photo Russell-Carpenter, ASC

The Screenplay Process

Yadav: “While I was writing the screenplay, I was suddenly struck with the idea that what I’m writing about is happening right here in my backyard in Bombay.  Everyone wants to believe that these problems and these kinds of judgments are happening elsewhere. We like to live in denial. The script process became so interesting for me when I was writing in Bombay and I sent it out to my friends across the world just to get feedback. No one reacted to it like a script; they all wrote back, sharing stories about their own circumstances. We all started feeling the universality of the subject.

The writing process continued when I went location scouting for villages. We visited over 30 villages in and around Bhuj, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. I was refused permission from a lot of villagers because people were saying, if women like you are here than our women will become corrupt, looking at you, seeing a woman who is empowered, who is in charge of herself. They did not approve of a team led by a woman (myself) who wore pants, didn’t cover her head and spoke openly to men. That gave me more juice (ideas) again and I came back home and I wrote more.

It was interesting with the younger generation of men in the villages – the current decision-makers, who had the biggest problem with a liberated woman team leader. One said to me, “If women like you enter our village, our women will get corrupted.” From this experience, I got the character of Gulab, Rani’s son. Gulab has been raised in a patriarchal world, where misogyny is the ‘norm’. He is as much a product of this world as he becomes its propagator. In that sense, Gulab too is a victim. The men who are his elders have bequeathed to him anger and aggression as survival tools. He has been raised believing that women are objects of lust and possession.”

We discussed the controversial climax of the film and agreed not to give any details away in this interview.

Yadav: “When I was working on the script and I thought: What is the big revelation that can happen? What is the big change? The answer for me was very simple. Each character would be questioning her circumstances. For me, that was the big resolution; their rebellion.

The small steps – that is what I always tell the audience. If a few people can start questioning their conditioning – like falling into the traps of boys don’t cry, girls don’t do this or that – then we can stop being so accepting of this conditioning.

We give so much lip-service to so many things. The whole thing with patriarchy is confusing because some of the greatest supporters of the patriarchy are women. The moment we get engaged in the gender blame game, we’re not going anywhere. We have to sit down together and talk this out.

The victims here in this film are also men because of their conditioning.  You can see their anger whether it’s a man’s confused sexuality or an impotent husband unable to have children. Anger comes from all kinds of suppression.”

Writer Director Leena Yadav On New Feature Film Parched by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Village elders in the environment in PARCHED – Photo by Russell Carpenter, ASC – Courtesy of Wolfe Video

Awards for Parched

With its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film has garnered awards and critical acclaim at numerous festivals worldwide, including the Stockholm International Film Festival (received  the first ever Impact Award to “support[s] headstrong filmmakers who are not afraid to bring up burning topics in contemporary society” judged, designed and presented by the legend Ai Weiwei); Best of the Fest at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Festival 2 Valenciennes  (France): Prix du Jury for Best Film and Best Actress; Toulouse Indian Film Festival: Audience Award for best film; IFFLA 2016:  Audience Award for Best Film and Best Actress; and Festival de Cinema des 5 Continents, Ferney France: Youth Jury Award for Best Film and Special Jury Mention.

Release Platforms

The film will be released via Wolfe Video on August 9th on DVD/ VOD, across all digital platforms, including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com, and will also be available same date on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers.

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Susan Kouguell Interview with ‘Parched’ Writer and Director Leena Yadav

 Susan Kouguell Interview with Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Susan Kouguell Interview with
‘Parched’ Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Recently I had the great pleasure to interview writer and director Leena Yadav by phone. In our no holds barred conversation, we covered not only the challenging themes of this film, including conditioning and gender roles, patriarchy, and abuse, but also the challenges of raising money (just over 2.5 million) for this — as Yadav stated, — “absolutely independent” film.

Thought-provoking and honest, ‘Parched’ tackles these tough and timely topics unapologetically. The cinematography (shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (‘Titanic’) adds another layer of both beauty and painful depth to the rich characters and desert landscape.

“I was raised to judge and treat people as human beings above and beyond their gender, religion or caste.”

–Writer/Director ‘Parched’ Leena Yadav

Susan Kouguell Interview with Writer and Director Leena Yadav

photo by Russell Carpenter ASC – Courtesy of W.J

 

‘Parched’

An evocative drama, ‘Parched’ follows the lives of three Indian women who question the ancient traditions that hold them in servitude. Set in a remote rural desert community of North West India — widowed Rani, her vivacious best friend, Lajjo, and the exotic dancer Bijli — talk about men, sex and life, as they struggle under the oppressive rules of their traditional village ways.

But when Rani is tasked to find a teenage bride for her entitled fifteen-year-old son, they begin to question this status quo that favors men, sends child brides to abusive husbands, and ostracizes women for being educated and opinionated. One fateful night, the women come together and take a bold step that will change the trajectory of their lives forever.

The story is set in Ujhaas, a fictional village. Yadav: “For the film, we invented a new dialect (for the villagers) that mixes Hindi with the local language, Kutchi.”

 

Susan Kouguell Interview with Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video

About Writer/Director Leena Yadav

Born in Mhow, India, Leena Yadav is one of a vanguard of prominent female directors working in India. She began her career as a successful editor on commercials and an assistant director for television, and then went on to direct for more than 300 hours of television, including hit fiction shows and India’s first reality TV show. She made her directorial debut with ‘Shabd’ (2005), which she also wrote and edited — and which bravely explores the psychology of love, marriage, creativity and freedom. She wrote and directed ‘Teen Patti’ (2010), starring two legends of cinema –Amitabh Bachchan and Academy Award Winner, Sir Ben Kingsley. ‘Parched’ (2015), Yadav’s third feature film, world premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and has garnered awards and critical acclaim at numerous festivals worldwide, including the Stockholm International Film Festival (received the first ever Impact Award to “support[s] headstrong filmmakers who are not afraid to bring up burning topics in contemporary society” judged, designed and presented by the legend Ai Weiwei); Best of the Fest at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; Festival 2 Valenciennes (France): Prix du Jury for Best Film and Best Actress; Toulouse Indian Film Festival: Audience Award for best film; IFFLA 2016: Audience Award for Best Film and Best Actress; and Festival de Cinema des 5 Continents, Ferney France: Youth Jury Award for Best Film and Special Jury Mention.

 

Susan Kouguell Interview with Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Poster – PARCHED – courtesy of Wolfe Video

 

Release Platforms

‘Parched’ opens theatrically via Wolfe Releasing on June 17th in Los Angeles (Laemmle Music Hall), New York (AMC Empire 25) and the Bay Area (Cine Grand in Fremont and Camera 12 in San Jose). The film will be released via Wolfe Video on August 9th on DVD/ VOD, across all digital platforms, including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com, and will also be available same date on DVD via Wolfe Video and many major retailers.

The film is currently playing in France in its seventh week as ‘La Saison Des Femmes’, in Mexico as ‘Corazones Encontrados’ and in Belgium. Upcoming film festivals include Seoul International Women’s Festival (New Currents section), Edinburgh International Film Festival, London Indian Film Festival, and Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

 

The Evolution of the Screenplay

Yadav: “While I was writing the screenplay I was suddenly struck with the idea that what I’m writing about is happening right here in my backyard in Bombay. Everyone wants to believe that these problems and these kinds of judgments are happening elsewhere. We like to live in denial. The script process became so interesting for me when I was writing in Bombay and I sent it out to my friends across the world just to get feedback. No one reacted to it like a script; they all wrote back, sharing stories about their own circumstances. We all started feeling the universality of the subject.

The writing process continued when I went location scouting for villages. We visited over 30 villages in and around Bhuj, Gujarat and Rajasthan. I was refused permission from a lot of villagers because people were saying, if women like you are here than our women will become corrupt, looking at you, seeing a woman who is empowered, who is in charge of herself. They did not approve of a team led by a woman (myself) who wore pants, didn’t cover her head and spoke openly to men. That gave me more juice (ideas) again and I came back home and I wrote more.

It was interesting with the younger generation of men in the villages — the current decision- makers, who had the biggest problem with a liberated woman team leader. One said to me, “If women like you enter our village, our women will get corrupted.” From this experience I got the character of Gulab, Rani’s son. Gulab has been raised in a patriarchal world, where misogyny is the ‘norm’. He is as much a product of this world as he becomes its propagator. In that sense, Gulab too is a victim. The men who are his elders have bequeathed to him anger and aggression as survival tools. He has been raised believing that women are objects of lust and possession.

 

Susan Kouguell Interview with Writer and Director Leena Yadav

Photo by Russell Carpnter, ASC – courtesy of Wolfe Video

 

The Controversial Ending of the Film

We discussed the controversial climax of the film and agreed not to give any details away in this interview.

Yadav stated: “When I was working on the script and I thought: What is the big revelation that can happen? What is the big change? The answer for me was very simple. Each character would be questioning her circumstances. For me, that was the big resolution; their rebellion.”

The small steps — that is what I always tell the audience. If a few people can start questioning their conditioning — like falling into the traps of boys don’t cry, girls don’t do this or that — then we can stop being so accepting of this conditioning.

We give so much lip service to so many things. The whole thing with patriarchy is confusing because some of the greatest supporters of the patriarchy are women. The moment we get engaged in the gender blame game, we’re not going anywhere. We have to sit down together and talk this out.

The victims here in this film are also men because of their conditioning. You can see their anger whether it’s a man’s confused sexuality or an impotent husband unable to have children. Anger comes from all kinds of suppression.”

Getting the Movie Made

“Where I come from, it’s very Bollywood-driven and if it’s not, then it’s very star-driven or it’s very male-driven. I was told, ‘You don’t have any guys in the film, why don’t you at least get us known women actors like the big stars?” That’s when superstar actor Ajay Devgn gave us seed money and came on board as a producer. He said, ‘I support your film; you can use my name to get financing.’ He worked a lot with my husband, Aseem Baja, who is a cinematographer, and also a producer of this film; he has been the backbone of ‘Parched’. This is really a passion project.”

On Working with Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Russell Carpenter

“Russell has an amazing eye for detail. I love the way he uses light and shade in every frame. A director – cinematographer relationship on shoots is almost like a husband wife relationship – high expectations and low tolerance!”

Final Words

“This film is my reaction to a misogynistic society that treats women as objects of sex, where their greatest role is to serve men. Giving my women characters a voice that observes, absorbs and reacts was what drove me to write this drama about ordinary women who are driven to extraordinary ends.”

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Coming of Age in ‘Morris from America’ and ‘Little Men’: Creating Empathetic Protagonists

 

Coming of Age in ‘Morris from America’ and ‘Little Men’:
Creating Empathetic Protagonists

by Susan Kouguell

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Coming of Age in 'Morris from America' and 'Little Men': Creating Empathetic Protagonists by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Markees Christmas in ‘Morris from America’

It was serendipitous timing.  At a recent press screening I attended, two independent films, Morris from America followed by Little Men, played back-to-back.  Why was it serendipitous timing?  While these two poignant films are significantly different, they are both coming-of-age stories, centering on 13-year-old male teens thrown into a fish-out-of-water situation by their fathers.

The definition of the term fish-out-of-water is when a character must navigate and cope in a foreign setting, culture, situation, or occupation.  Here are some examples: A naïve protagonist must survive living in a new environment (Splash); a man disguises himself like a woman (Tootsie, Some Like it Hot); a child lives as an adult or vice versa (Big, Freaky Friday); a spoiled protagonist must survive in a disadvantaged setting or vice versa (Private Benjamin, Trading Places).

morris from america 2

Markees Christmas (L) Craig Robinson (R) in ‘Morris from America’

About Morris from America

Morris Gentry, a 13-year-old who has just relocated from the Bronx with his single father, Curtis to Heidelberg, Germany, fancies himself the next Notorious B.I.G.,—a budding hip-hop star in an EDM world.  To complicate matters further, Morris quickly falls hard for his cool, rebellious, 15-year-old classmate Katrin. Morris sets out against all odds to take the hip-hop world by storm and win the girl of his dreams.

Written and directed by Chad Hartigan (This is Martin Bonner), Morris from America won two prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a Special Jury Award.

'Morris from America' and 'Little Men' are two poignant coming-of-age stories, centering on 13-year-old male teens thrown into a fish-out-of-water situation by their fathers. - Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Michael Barbieri (L) Theo Taplit (R) in ‘Little Men’

About Little Men

When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves from Manhattan back into his father’s old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends the charismatic Tony, whose single mother Leonor, a dressmaker from Chile, runs the shop downstairs. Soon, Jake’s parents Brian (a struggling actor) and Kathy (a psychotherapist) — ask Leonor to sign a new, steeper lease on her store. For Leonor, the proposed new rent is untenable, and a feud ignites between the adults. Meanwhile, the boys develop a kinship; Jake aspires to be an artist, while Tony wants to be an actor, and they have dreams of going to the same prestigious arts high school together. But they can’t avoid the problems of their parents and the adult conflict intrudes upon their friendship.

Directed by Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, Keep the Lights On, Forty Shades of Blue), screenplay by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharia.

Creating Empathy

Readers need to feel something for your characters. Whether it’s love, hate, disdain or pure delight, film industry folks expect to understand why your characters get along or don’t get along with their friends, family members, and others.

African American Morris Gentry (in Morris from America ) stands out in the German Caucasian youth center due to his skin color, and endures racial epitaphs, as teens sling stereotypical provocative words at him.  Though Morris is not yet fluent in the German language, the words are not lost on him.  For Little Men’s Jake, an aspiring artist, his move to Brooklyn and a new set of classmates who taunt him for not participating in their sports games (similar to Morris) makes the world of the new borough further isolating.

The two distinct settings of Brooklyn (Little Men) and Heidelberg, Germany (Morris from America) illustrate foreign and alienating worlds for protagonists Jake and Morris.  These two young teens must learn to navigate their respective new environments while overcoming personal familial obstacles.  Their respective journeys are successful because theirsituations are relatable; Jake and Morris are vulnerable, flawed, and believable.  They are empathetic.

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

By: Susan Kouguell | May 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

About the Film: Joe’s Violin

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

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

Kahane Cooperman talks about Joe’s Violin

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

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

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

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

About the Film: Mulberry

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

About the Director: Paul Stone

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

Paul Stone talks about Mulberry

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

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

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

About the Film: Starring Austin Pendleton

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

– See more at: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/interviews-features/kouguell-interviews-tribeca-film-festival-whoopis-shorts-filmmaker-joe-darcy#sthash.vaZMxlNv.dpuf

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.’

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Susan Interviews Russell Rothberg, Executive VP Drama Department Universal Television

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kouguell: What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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