How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Words from the Masters

1 Oct , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Screenwriting consultant Susan Kouguell offers up words of wisdom from some of film's most successful screenwriters. Email screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

Since 1990 I have consulted on screenplays through my company Su-City Pictures East, LLC. Over 1,000 worldwide clients later, I still hear from (if not sometimes commiserate with) writers and filmmakers who are stymied, motivated, stuck, enthused, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, joyous and frustrated about their screenplays. I provide detailed feedback on their scripts and films, as well as encouragement mixed in with a dose of reality about the challenges many face in a film industry that is often fraught with rejection and false promises. For over two decades I have listened to their success stories and disappointments — their insecurities and their hopes to make their dreams come true — that finally, one day, their words will appear on the screen.

Some words of advice I offer to my clients and students that many tell me stayed with them over the years is this:

If you are not passionate about your screenplay, neither will be the film executive reading your screenplay.

Writing a screenplay demands commitment and passion for the material. Screenwriting is indeed challenging, but receiving feedback on your work, submitting your work to contests, producers, and so on, means baring your soul. And, over the years I have heard many stories of both triumph and frustration, and sometimes I must remind my clients that I am not their therapist but their Screenplay Doctor!

So, as the season has now officially changed to autumn and the leaves are just starting to turn in New England, I thought rather than continue to wax poetic about my consulting experiences, I would turn to well-known screenwriters and filmmakers’ and their words about screenwriting and filmmaking. While I might not personally agree with each quote, I chose them because some are thought-provoking, others are just funny, and hopefully others are inspirational.

“I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your screenplay, in your head, you’re also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.”
— Nora Ephron

“The way I write is very much without kind of a goal. I have something I’m interested in and then I decide I’m going to explore it. I don’t know where the characters are going to go, I don’t know what the movie is going to do or what the screenplay is going to do. For me, that’s the way to keep it alive.”
— Charlie Kaufman

“All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.”
— Jean Luc-Godard

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.”
— Martin Scorsese

“Truth is more peculiar than fiction. Life is really a startling place.”
— Mira Nair

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: ‘Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”
— David Mamet, Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business

“Summer movie idea: take all the sequels that are out right now, and make movies about their backstories.”
— Stephen Colbert

“If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”
— Billy Wilder

“So much of writing is about getting quiet enough so you can hear your characters talking. Sometimes I feel they choose you because they know you’re listening. You just have to shut up and listen.”
— Callie Khouri

“The only safe thing is to take a chance.’
— Mike Nichols

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Susan wrote The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page for more Savvy Tips.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Susan wrote The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page for more Savvy Tips.