March 23, 2009

Writing for the Screen w/ Studio Reader Stan's Stephen Kogon

The Writer

Born in Maryland, Stephen Kogon [MySpace] now lives in Los Angeles and works as a writer.

As a screenwriter, he’s had several screenplays optioned, including two from the producers of Free Willy and The Thomas Crown Affair.

In 2001, he semi-finaled in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition with his script, The Fells Point Five.

In 2005, he had his novel, Max Mooth – Cyber Sleuth and the Case of the Zombie Virus published.

Since 2006, he has written the web comic strip Studio Reader Stan (, which satirizes the entertainment industry.

Stephen founded The Reading Writing It’s Exciting Program ( in 2005, a literacy program designed to help kids read and write at their grade level. In conjunction with Barnes & Noble, the program has put on several reading events in which several hundred elementary school kids have been able to perform something they’ve written.

In 2008, Stephen started the Web site, dedicated to helping teenagers live healthier.

Studio Reader Stan

Check out the first cartoon made for Studio Reader Stan!

Writing for the Screen

For those of you who write for different arenas - big screen, boob tube, stage, page, web - what are elements that differ for you as the writer in regards to how you SEE the story unfolding in each arena?
Well, the novel that I wrote was adapted from one of my screenplays, as are the ones that I am writing now, so the story basically unfolds the same way. The main difference is, quite simply, length. If you transcribed a 100 page screenplay word for word into manuscript form, it would be 50-some pages.

Screenplays have more in common with short stories or novellas than novels that are over 45,000 pages. In a screenplay, you have to worry about length because if it doesn’t generally fall into the 100-120 page range; it’ll have a stigma to it. And often if it’s over 120, it’s overwritten anyway. So, in that respect, a novel allows for more freedom. That’s where the easier distinction ends. With novels, you have to do a lot more painting the picture with your words. I’m still much more comfortable with screenwriting because I’ve done that longer, and I know if I write every day, I’ll be done in a few months. A manuscript I recently finished took me over a year.

What similarities, things no matter the medium, are important for a good story to be told?
I think the main thing is the characters. Something about them has to make the reader or viewer want to keep reading or watching. Whether the character is likable so we root for him/her, or relatable in a way that reminds us of ourselves or someone in our lives (which creates a connection), or is just so fascinating that even though he/she isn’t likable or relatable, we are still compelled to see how their journey ends.

Do you think the way we write for movies, plays, TV, and the web have changed the way the novel writer comes to his or her page? If so, how?
Well, I can’t speak for other writers, but I think TV and the web have so rotted my brain that … uh, forget that I admitted that. No, this is hard to gauge, but they may have affected my attention span and/or what I think the audience’s attention span is. One thing I’m always fighting with is overwriting. And as you’ve seen by my answers so far, I’m failing miserably in that fight. In regards to my web comic strip, though, if you look at the first 50 or so, they’re a lot longer and wordier. Regular comic strip readers would email me that they thought they were too long, so now I really try to economize my words. And I think doing that has helped me to economize my words with screenplays as well.

How has the internet and the marketing/promotional opportunities that exist there helped to create a buzz with the writing you do?
It’s let me focus on what I do best, write. If I had to promote in person or over the phone, I’d never do it. With the web comic, it’s helped a lot because I can just post a link to it from MySpace or Facebook or anywhere, and same with the cartoon which we put on YouTube. For my book, I emailed a lot of libraries around the country and told them about my book and sent them my reviews. It was a little time consuming, but I got the book into at least one library in 40 some states and some in Canada.

What three things should writers have in their arsenal if they want to heighten their chances of success?
Passion, drive/work ethic, and patience. Look how brief that answer was. I’m learning.

What are three sites that writers of your field should bookmark for great information?
This is a tough one for me because there’s SO much information about the craft of writing on the Net I feel overwhelmed by it and end up not visiting those sites very often. The sites (like Drew’s Script-O-Rama) where you can download screenplays for free are invaluable. I’ve found the best way to learn is to read well-written material. A site like is good for finding information about all the various film festivals. Done Deal is also a great site for information about agents, production companies, and script sales. And if you want some wit and humor to go with your learning about who’s buying what, then Script Girl’s videos on YouTube will work for you.

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