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Ken Lonergan's “Manchester By The Sea” has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards and is about the relationship between a screw up Uncle and his Nephew - similar to his earlier “You Can Count On Me” (2000)... only this time both characters are older but no more wiser. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman for a handful of apartment buildings in Boston where he plunges a lot of toilets and deals with people at their worst – when things are broken. He lives in what looks like a converted storage area in one of the buildings and when he's not working he's drinking and picking fights in bars. He's a complete screw up. But when his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has a massive heart attack and dies, Lee ends up the guardian for his 16 year old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) and has to quit his job and return to the town where he grew up: Manchester. He doesn't want to be responsible for *anyone*, and is trying to find someone else to take Patrick off his hands so that he can get the hell out of this town he once escaped. Patrick's mother Elise (Gretchel Mol) is a drunk who has been MIA for years – nobody knows where she lives or if she even has a place to live, so she's out of the running. Lee has an Aunt and Uncle who now live in Minnetonka, Minnesota... maybe they will take Patrick?


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A great method to create realistic sounding dialogue is by using specifics... and then having people get things slightly wrong. This happens frequently in real life, so when someone does it in *reel life* the audience recognizes it as how people really speak. Like using Confusion, it's all about finding a less linear way to get from point A to B in conversation through what we might call “controlled meandering”. Real conversation often wanders around before it gets to the point, but on screen we really don't have much time to waste... so we have to create the appearance of not getting directly to the point. When we use Confusion, we have a line that has at least two different meanings and the character responds to the wrong meaning and is corrected. With Specifics we are going to have a character say something very specific and have the other character get it wrong, and then be corrected.

In “Manchester By The Sea” the name of the town where the Aunt & Uncle live gets mangled by everyone except the protagonist. The script could have left out the specific location of the Aunt and Uncle, except using the exact location not only adds verisimilitude, it is a funny place to say... and throughout the story people keep getting it wrong and Lee corrects them. Which is what happens in real dialogue – people get little details wrong all the time. Sometimes they get corrected, sometimes they don't. But real dialogue is not perfect – people make mistakes. Now, the audience won't know if someone has made a mistake unless they know what they were supposed to say... and that requires specifics. The audience either needs to have that knowledge themselves or the story needs to give them that information so that they know the character is making a mistake.

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In "Manchester By The Sea" once we know the name of that town, other people start screwing it up, beginning with Wes the lawyer who gets the state wrong and thinks it's Wisconsin... and Lee corrects him. Patrick calls it "Wonkatonka, Minnesota" and Lee corrects him. And it happens several more times in the story where characters just can't remember the exact name of the town the Aunt and Uncle live in, screw up the name and Lee has to correct them. It becomes almost a running gag of sorts, but it also makes the dialogue seem very realistic because these characters get details wrong – just as real humans do. If everyone says everything perfectly correct all of the time, that's just not realistic. People make mistakes! So having people make simple mistakes like this in dialogue makes that dialogue more real. More believable. The film is just over 2 hours long and there are a handful of times where people get this one detail wrong, but that makes all of the rest of the dialogue seem more realistic. This is a great tool!

Of course, the other way specifics helps to create realism in dialogue is to add texture and color. You can have a character say, "I'm going to the grocery store" but why not use a specific grocery chain to add some flavor and realism? "I'm going to the Piggly-Wiggly" is different than, "I'm going to Safeway" which is different than, "I'm going to Whole Foods" which is different than, "I'm going to the Seven-Eleven" which is different than, "I'm going to Kroeger Groceries" which is different than, "I'm going to Price Chopper". I just went on Wiki and looked up supermarket chains and there are *hundreds* of them, many with interesting names that may not only tell us something about the region the story takes place in (adding color) but tells us about the character and what kind of food they eat. In Los Angeles there are a bunch of national grocery chains plus some smaller chains that cater to different segments of the population from the wealthy to vegans to all kinds of ethnic markets that specialize in foods just like mother used to make. I often shop at Vallarta Market which has all kinds of Hispanic food items... and is usually less expensive than the big chains. Even if you have never heard of Vallarta Market, it's that more fun for a character to say than just "grocery store"? This is kind of like Minnetonka, Minnesota – fun words for an actor to say that also make dialogue more realistic by being more specific.


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The second great lesson from “Manchester By The Sea” is the use of mystery when dealing with the protagonist. Lee Chandler is living in Boston and does not want to go back to Manchester... though we don’t know why until much later in the story. We don’t have to know *everything* about the protagonist up front, in fact it’s better (and more realistic) if they have some secrets that we will learn about later. We *do* need to know enough about the protagonist to have a good idea of who they are, and “Manchester” does this marvelously at the very beginning of the movie. Lee is a handyman for several apartment buildings owned by the same company, and we see him doing a variety of awful tasks - shoveling snow, cramming trash into the dumpster, getting yelled at by a tenant because her shower doesn’t work and she has places to be, and plunging a toilet that is *really clogged* (the film allows us to use our imagination about this, but the tenant apologizes in such a way to trigger the very worst that we can imagine). All of this makes us feel for Lee. He must have the worst job in the world. He is hard working and polite to the angry tenant - these small conflicts bring out his character so that we have a pretty good idea of who he is.

Three other things give us clues to his character: when we see the apartment he gets free of rent, it looks like a converted storage room or maybe a large walk in closet - it’s tiny and spartan. Not much room, not much in there. The second thing is strange: the woman who’s toilet he is plunging makes a pass at him, and he ignores it. Though he’s just been dealing with her poo, which may not be a turn on; she’s a very attractive woman. Why did he turn her down? The third character thing is when we see him drinking alone in a neighborhood bar after work... and then he *starts a fight* with a couple of other bar patrons who beat the crap out of him. What’s that all about?

So we have this mix of good traits and a bad one, and that gives us a pretty well rounded character. We know this guy... but we don’t know *why* he is the way he is. That mystery is what the story is really about. After Lee’s brother dies and he takes off the least amount of time possible to go to Manchester and deal with the funeral arrangements because he *hates* the town where he grew up, we begin to wonder *why*.

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Once he finds out he will have to raise his nephew Patrick (at least until he finds someone else better suited), Lee realizes he will need some sort of job in town. Now we get another series of brief scenes, like the handyman scenes, that give us a bunch of concentrated information... the main one being the scene at the real estate office where the Owner says they have no jobs, and as soon as Lee leaves a Woman comes in from the next room and says she never wants to see Lee in the office again. Wait, so not only does Lee hate Manchester, the people of Manchester seem to hate Lee. Why? By setting up the mystery, the audience wants to know - and that’s what drives the story.

As Lee interacts with townspeople, some treat him as a pariah and others treat him with pity, building the mystery while the story of Lee trying to figure out how to raise a teenage boy plays out in the foreground.

Because we know and like Lee from that opening sequence where he’s doing his job as a handyman, we care about him and wonder what happened to him in this town. Not only do some people hate him, the bar fight shows us that he hates himself. He has a powerful “ghost”, which is a mystery... and we get a clue every now and then throughout the story so that we can try to piece it together and we feel like the story is making progress.

Soon after we are introduced to Lee’s ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and they have the most awkward conversation in screen history, we get a flashback that solves the mystery and shows us the big moment in Lee’s life that made him who he is today. That moment is *more shocking* than anything the audience could have imagined. It’s important to exceed the audience’s expectations any time you reveal information that has been simmering for most of the movie. Every character has secrets, and using them to create a mystery about that character involves the audience in the story. We want to know why a nice guy like Lee gets into these bar fights he has no chance of winning. Why returning to Manchester is such a big deal to him.


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I always say that at the end of a story the protagonist solves the problem, or the problem solves the protagonist. Either way, there is a solution - an ending. Though Ted Talley (“Silence Of The Lambs”) says, "There's almost never been a movie made that couldn't benefit from its ending being a tentative affirmation. Anything more than that feels too pat", we still need a *decisive* ending where the story’s main problem has been resolved. There may be some subplots left unresolved, but the audience feels satisfied that story is over and knows they can grab their coats and leave the cinema. In “Silence Of The Lambs”, the serial killer Buffalo Bill is shot dead by Clarice (decisive ending to the main conflict), but Hannibal Lecter escapes and is out there somewhere (leaving a subplot unresolved). This adds realism to the ending of the story.

In “Manchester By The Sea” we get a different kind of solution to the main conflict... an unusual type of solution in American movies. The problem solves the protagonist - the conflict “wins”. The story is a tragedy, and instead of everyone living happily ever after - they don’t. That is another piece of realism in this story.

Though the event that brings Lee back to Manchester is the death of his brother and the need for someone to raise his nephew, the story is really about Lee’s character. Every story is secretly about the protagonist, and the conflict is designed to bring that character to the surface; and that happens here. We learn more and more about Lee as deals with his past in Manchester - that conflict exposes the conflict within. But this is a “character study” and is more about Lee than it is about having to raise 16 year old Patrick. The Patrick story ends up a subplot designed to focus the story on our main plot: the tragedy of Lee.

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Every screenwriting book I have ever read focuses on the protagonist solving the problem, but in a tragedy the problem wins. Hamlet never does get his act together - though Hamlet does fight Polonius’s son Laertes is a duel to the death by swords, each is mortally wounded. Hamlet’s cheating mom Gertrude drinks poisoned wine and dies, and Hamlet realizes his uncle Claudius was behind everything from his father’s murder to that duel with Laertes, and kills him... the whole story was about Hamlet growing a pair and taking responsibility for the Kingdom... and he fails miserably at that! Norway’s army attacks Denmark and kills anyone not yet dead and takes over. So, obviously Hamlet doesn’t really solve the problem, the problem solves Hamlet. With an ending like this, the subplot story needs to be resolved by the protagonist in some way so that their failure at solving the main plot is more palatable.

In “Manchester” Lee finds someone to raise Patrick, and gets the heck out of town. Manchester *wins* against Lee. He leaves in defeat. This is not the typical ending for a Hollywood film, not even the typical ending for a story from anywhere. But as long as the audience knows that Patrick will be well taken care of, they will allow Lee to *lose* the battle with his “ghost” (symbolized by the town) and drag himself away in defeat. A story like this is the opposite of “Silence Of The Lambs”, the main conflict is never resolved but all of the subplot conflicts *are* resolved. A perfectly acceptable way to end a story.

“Manchester By The Sea” uses these three methods to create a sense of realism in its story, as well as several more. Even if you are writing a genre story instead of a straight drama, these are great tools to use when constructing your characters and writing your dialogue and coming up with a completely unusual and unexpected ending.




NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!

All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!


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NEW: Updates on TREADSTONE TV show!

All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

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He's back! The release of "Terminator: Dark Fate" is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 35 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!







Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.

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Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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*** STRUCTURING YOUR STORY *** - For Kindle!

William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!

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Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

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The new CDs are available now!


NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute CD packed with information on writing Film Noir and Mystery scripts. Using examples from CHINATOWN to OUT OF THE PAST to DOUBLE INDEMNITY you'll learn how to create stories in this dark, twisted genre. How to plant clues, red herrings, suspects, victims, spider women, fallen heroes, the funhouse mirror world of noir supporting characters... and the origins of Film Noir in literature Noir dialogue and how noir endings are different than any other genre. All of the critical elements necessary to write in this critically popular genre.
The Noir & Mystery Class is only $15 (plus $5 S&H). First 20 on Limited Black Disk!


IDEAS AND CREATIVITY - 80 minute CD packed with information. Tools to find ideas that are both personal *and* commercial. Hollywood wants scripts with High Concept stories... but not stupid scripts. Developing *intelligent* high concept ideas. How to turn your personal story into a blockbuster - or find your personal story in a high concept idea. Brainstorming and being creative. Ideas and Creativity is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

WRITING INDIES - Writing an Indie film? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos. Using examples from SWINGERS, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and others, this 80 minute CD is packed with information. How Indoe films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Structures, using BOYS DON'T CRY, RUN LOLA RUN, HILARY & JACKIE, and others as example. Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget. Writing Indies is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

WRITING HORROR - The essentials of a horror screenplay - what do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS and OPEN WATER have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience. Writing Horror is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H).

Click here for more information on CLASS CDs!





Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

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*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!

Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

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*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!

This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!

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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!

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Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

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Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

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Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

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Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more. * * * Buy It!

copyright 2019 by William C. Martell

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bluebook E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there will soon be novels.

Furious Action Class

Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD! The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!


Every screenwriting book in the world!
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From the latest screenwriting book to guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the discount!


Each Blue Book is 48 pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!

THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The Market!


My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER

Available Scripts


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