Susan Kouguell, Screenwriting Lecturer
Purchase alumna (Culture and Society B.A.) and so much more
In the Beginning…
When I entered Purchase, I was a classically trained violist with a love for writing. I started making experimental narrative short films while an undergraduate with fellow Purchase classmate, Ernest Marrero (Visual Arts); he had seen my on-campus poetry readings and performances, and we decided to collaborate on a film. But there was a catch. Neither of us were majors in the film department.
We made a Super-8 short film, with the amazing support from professors Jon Rubin and Thomas Gunning, and others, including my literature and writing professors Lee Schlesinger and Richard Stack. One film led to a second short made on campus in the film building (AKA the basement of the music building) – and over the course of six years all our six films were acquired for the archives at the Museum of Modern Art and one for the permanent collection, another selected for the Whitney Biennial; overall our films were screened in over 50 international festivals and museums, including the Centre Pompidou Beaubourg Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum.
Supporting the Writing and Filmmaking Passion
My trajectory is an exciting adventure in whiplash – from guerilla experimental filmmaking with actors speaking in poetic verse – to working for the Hollywood studios. I served in various development jobs as a story analyst, story editor, acquisitions consultant, and ghostwriter, for many companies, including Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films, Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions, Warner Bros., and Viacom, and was a writer-for-hire on over a dozen feature films. A life-changing opportunity came in the form of working with director Louis Malle on his documentary And the Pursuit of Happiness for HBO.
In 1991 I formed my motion picture consulting company Su-City Pictures East, LLC, working with clients worldwide still to this day. My teaching career began at the School of Visual Arts, then it was on to Tufts University and Harvard, and a summer stint at the Prague Film School in the Czech Republic. (I continue to present international seminars and serve as a judge for screenwriting competitions and film festivals.) In addition to my position at Purchase, I am a visiting film professor at the Pratt Institute.
Receiving grants and fellowships enabled me to continue exploring my artistic passions while keeping my creative spirit alive.
- Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program,
- The MacDowell Colony, Pen Grant
- The Edward Albee Foundation
- Jerome Foundation
- New York Foundation for the Arts
- Art Matters Inc.
- Cummington Community for the Arts
- Creative Artists Public Service (CAPS)
- Brooklyn Arts & Cultural Association
- Artist’s Space
- and more –
Other Forms of Writing
As Senior Contributing Editor at Script Magazine my interviews encompass a wide-ranging scope of independent, foreign, and Hollywood filmmakers. Additional articles have appeared in INDIEWIRE and MovieMaker Magazine. My screenwriting books The Savvy Screenwriter (St. Martin’s Press) and Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays have been found on top 10 lists and excerpted by other publications.
Combining my music background with writing, I wrote choral texts for composer Alvin Singleton (“PRAISEMAKER” featured on the “Singing Rooms” CD and Spelman College Commencement piece “THE WORLD IS HERE WITH ME”); oral texts for artist Annebarbe Kau’s sound piece “Kopfstand,” which premiered in Bonn, Germany. Currently, I am collaborating on the choral piece “BELIEVE ME” with Purchase faculty member Ryan Homsey.
Full Circle Moments
Over the last few years I’ve experienced poignant full circle moments. In 2014, I returned to Purchase, but this time in a new role… teaching Screenwriting I and II, TV Writers Room, and as a senior project advisor. Professor Lee Schlesinger (who was also my Junior Field Exam and senior project supervisor when I was an undergraduate) and I now cross paths in the halls.
After a long hiatus, I returned to making solo experimental narrative shorts/new media projects: Official Selection at the New York City International Films Infest Festival; Refugees Welcome Film Festival (Berlin, Germany); Semi-Finalist Alternative Film Festival (Toronto, Canada); Leiden International Short Film Experience (Netherlands); SPE (Society for Photographic Education) Festival (Cleveland, Ohio); and Experimental Forum (Los Angeles) Honorable Mention Prize.
Words of Advice
Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out into the world, but make informed decisions while always trusting your gut instincts. Write and make films about subjects you’re passionate about. Words have power.
Susan Kouguell, Lecturer in Screenwriting