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Story can be grown from character or character can be grown from story - it's a chicken and the egg situation. The two are so closely connected it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. In a pair of other tips I showed you how I started with the story for my Showtime film BLACK THUNDER and found the lead character who could best tell that story by finding the theme within the story (betrayal) then creating a protagonist who would not only be forced to solve the "plot" conflict of the story but would also have to overcome an emotional conflict based on betrayal. When you begin with a concept you reverse-engineer that way to find the best character for your story. The results are a character with an emotional conflict that is not only connected to the concept, but connected to *you*. This is not only a good method to use when you come up with the concept first, it's the best method to use with assignments when you are handed a story or concept or script and need to make it *your* personal story in order to maintain interest and do your best work. If a story isn't personal and emotional it will just be a bunch of things happening - and we don't want that. We want screenplays with soul. This time we're going to do it in reverse - we're going to start with a character and grow a story from him. This is the method I usually use when writing a spec script. I begin with character - and usually that character is some aspect of me. So let's create an interesting story from character.

1) Take one protagonist...

Let's take a computer programmer who has just turned thirty and realizes he's stuck in a dead end job. Is this what he'll be doing for the rest of his life?

2) Now we're going to look for an emotional problem. When we start with story, we have a plot problem - some sort of physical conflict - but with characters we're looking at emotions. There are several places to find emotional conflict in your character:

A) What does he fear? I don't mean a physical fear, like spiders or the dark, I mean something emotional. Does he fear commitment? Is he afraid he's not good enough? Is he afraid that he'll never find happiness? That nobody loves him? That he's not worth loving? That he'll never measure up to his father? That his best days are over? Dig deep to find this fear, because it will become what the whole script is about. This won't be easy, because our protagonists are really ourselves... and that makes their fears our fears. Hey! Those things scare us!

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B) What is his flaw? What is the mistake that he keeps on making over and over again. In LIAR LIAR Jim Carrey believes that a lie is better than the truth - that's his flaw. Again, these are difficult to dig for because they end up being OUR flaws - and who wants to admit they have any flaws?

C) What is the one thing in life they could not imagine themselves doing? The one thing they absolutely refuse to do? Make a list of all of the things you would NEVER do. Would you make out with someone of the same sex? Would you become a cannibal? Would you drive cross country with a serial killer? Would you live in the wilderness - sleep on the ground and eat bugs? Now pick the one thing that you absolutely will not do and give that to your character.

D) What is their dream... and how can it turn into a nightmare? I love to use this in thrillers - to let a character's big wish come true and have it go really wrong. Now they are stuck with this thing they've always wished for... and the baggage that comes with it. Want to be married to the sexiest person alive - the person everyone in the world wants to sleep with? Okay - now you get your wish, but how do you hang on to this person when everyone else in the world also wants them?

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Let's have our protagonist wish that he was someone special, not just a guy in a tie. He wishes he was Superman... but that turns into a nightmare when people expect him to actually save the world.

3) Now we're going to find the story that forces them to deal with whichever of the above you've decided on. If your protagonist has a fear of commitment, the plot will force him to get married - THE BACHELOR did this. If your protagonist's flaw is that he believes a lie is better than the truth, we're going to force him to tell the truth for 24 hours. If your protagonist can't imagine themselves living in the wild, we're going to crash their plane in the wilderness and force them to live off the land.

If our protagonist has wished to be Superman, and people expect him to save the world... there's an actual threat to the world and he HAS to save it.

4) The story we come up with takes the character to the limit. It's not a minor conflict, it's the conflict that really pushes them to deal with their emotional problem. If a character isn't going to lose everything if they don't resolve the story problem, you haven't found the right story!

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So our 30 year old computer programmer who is afraid his destiny is a dead end and wishes he was Superman meets a woman in a night club who tells him that he is the chosen one - it's his job to save the world from The Matrix.

Suddenly "Agents" arrest him at work and interrogate him about Morpheus and the underground movement. He is taken to meet Morpheus, who tells him the future of the world is in his hands. Yikes! The problem with being Superman is that bad guys want to kill you and everyone expects you to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, be faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a train. That dream just turned to a nightmare and there's no waking up! The more he tries to say "You've got the wrong guy, I'm not Superman" the more the situation escalates so that he HAS to be Superman. They need Neo to be the "chosen one"! At the same time, everyone around him seems to have more super powers than he has - there are kids who can bend spoons and make blocks levitate. He can't even do the basic fighting programs! He's a FRAUD and everyone needs him to be the real thing! Because we need to take the conflict to the limit and make things the worst they can be, Morpheus is captured and Neo is the only one who can save him... from the super-powerful "Agents". He HAS TO BE SUPERMAN in order to rescue Morpheus. He has to confront his fear that he's just an ordinary guy, he has to metamorphoses into the Superman he wished he could become. He has to grow as a character in order to survive...

The story comes from the character. The story is designed to force the character to deal with their flaw or fear or dream gone wrong or do the thing they will not do. Every scene forces them to deal with their emotional problem. Every scene is ABOUT the character's emotional problem - whether it's Neo not believing in himself enough to jump from building to building, or Neo surrounded by the magical kids, or Morpheus sacrificing himself so that Neo can live. The scenes all come from the character!

Now, when you write the screenplay, because it is all about the character you need to make sure you make the scenes and situations and dialogue and actions all about the character and their emotional problem. And make sure you have the big emotional decisions and big emotional moments in the screenplay. It does you no good to start from character, find the great high concept story that explores that character... and then *fail* to explore the character. Story *is* character. Every scene, no matter what it is - car chase, shoot out, big comedy scene - needs to be about character. If it's not about people with problems, what *is* it about? Fireballs?


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This works in any genre, because *story is character* - and the purpose of any story is to explore character. They are connected. When you remove the character, no one will care about your story - it will just be cardboard cut outs going through a series of incidents.

If you really want to explore a character with survivor's guilt, you will end up with a story where that emotional conflict will be pulled to the surface by the actions. You start with a character struggling with survivor's guilt - and usually your protagonist is secretly you... that doesn't mean that *you* suffer from some extreme survivor's guilt, but maybe you have some similar feelings that allow you to understand the character and you are using the extreme version of the emotional problem for dramatic purposes. One of the idea creation tools in my Idea Blue Book is *Magnification* where you take some small emotional issue and magnify it in order to make it exciting and dramatic.

1) Our protagonist is a war veteran - an ex-Airforce Pilot - who is in love with a woman but afraid to commit... so she breaks up with him. Like every character, he wasn't *born* afraid to commit - there was a cause to this effect. Part of our job as screenwriters is to understand human behavior and human motivation - to dig into our characters and find out *why* they do the things they do. We need this in order to create believable and consistent characters.

2) We obviously have a surface emotional problem, but what caused it? Our ex-Airforce Pilot who was the only survivor of a mission during the war. Because he was in charge of the mission, and those men and women who died were under his command... he feels responsible for their deaths. Yes, they were killed by the enemy, but if he had a different battle plan - would they have survived? If he had only (fill in the regret blank) - would they have been alive? Our lives are filled with regrets - and usually they are minor things. They may live on in the dark shadows of our minds, but they usually aren't big enough issues to control our lives. Except, this ex-Airforce Pilot may have caused the deaths of everyone around him - and *he* walked away without a scratch. This haunts him every hour of the day.

This is why he can't commit - because he's afraid of responsibility, afraid that everyone that he touches will die... and it will be his fault.

3) So you are exploring these character issues - what is the *worst* situation for someone with survivor's guilt to be placed in? What story will force them to be in that place and deal with their issues? What story brings out the character? What story allows you to explore the character deepest? What is the external conflict that will push that emotional conflict to the surface? Okay, we have the relationship issues - but will that really bring out the ex-Airforce Pilot past? Whatever elements of character we are exploring we need to find the *best* external conflict. The external conflict that is *connected* to the emotional conflict.

It's not some One From Column A meets One From Column B - all of these things are connected at a core level. Real life is random, we are telling a *story* - and that means things are connected.

Ted Stryker in AIRPLANE! feels guilty about getting George Zipp from his fighter squadron killed in the war and has not set foot on a plane since, so having your story take place on an ocean cruise is just stupid. Even in a silly comedy movie, it's all about exploring the *character*.

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Wait... you thought we were talking about some heavy drama? No! *Every* genre is character based. Even silly parody films are going to be character based if they want to connect with an audience. Here's my "proof": AIRPLANE! was a huge hit but the ZAZ follow up which I also love, TOP SECRET! - was a big flop. *Both* have a zillion gags, *both* have a ! in the title, and I can quote the hell out of TOP SECRET! if you wish - no shortage of really funny lines. But there really is no emotional conflict for Nick Rivers. He's just an idiot rock & roll star who wants to know if your daughter is 18. I'm sure they thought they were making a parody of CASABLANCA - but Rick *says* and *demonstrates* that he sticks his neck out for no man in CASABLANCA, Nick doesn't have any character based emotional struggle in TOP SECRET! No Ugarte character. So where AIRPLANE! was a hit (because it had characters struggling with emotional problems), TOP SECRET! flopped (because it's a bag of gags - great gags, but all of the characters are there to service the gags, rather than the gags being part of the characters). Even silly parody movies need characters!

AIRPLANE! is all about Ted Stryker's guilt and obsession with his past mistakes (mostly George Zipp's death). He has not set foot on a plane since then, and once he gets on this plane - all he can do is talk about how he screwed up his whole life by killing George Zipp. Whatever passenger is seated next to him would rather kill themselves than hear him go on-and-on about it. Character based comedy!

Why did he break up with Elaine? He was never himself after the war - and George Zipp's death. She dumped him. That's why he's on the plane, right? To get her back. So there is no movie without his emotional problem! No break up, no "smoking section?", no Howard Jarvis in the taxi - all of that comes from his guilt over killing Zipp... in a PLANE!

4) Remember, we have to take the character's emotional conflict to the limit. So Ted Stryker is on a plane for the first time since the war... and the pilots had the fish (while the doctor had the lasagna) and they get food poisoning and fart and have bird's eggs in their mouths, and we need someone who can fly a plane and did not have fish for dinner! And that's Ted Stryker - a guy who is racked with guilt for killing Zipp and the rest of his squadron IN A PLANE and hasn't been on a plane since the war.

It's *connected* - not some random external conflict glued onto some random emotional problem. Just like THE MATRIX, just like LIAR LIAR, just like introverted romantic adventure novelist Joan Wilder having to go on an adventure and finding romance - the pieces are connected and come together to create a whole. Your screenplay is like a jigsaw puzzle and in order for the audience to see the picture the pieces have to fit together. Forcing one piece into another does not result in a picture.

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So Ted Stryker is the only one who can fly this plane who didn't have fish for dinner... but he does not want to be responsible for killing a whole plane full of people (including the woman he loves) just like he killed George Zipp in the war, so he does everything he can to get out of flying that plane. See how the situation is designed to bring the specific emotion al conflict bubbling to the surface? The pieces connect. Though AIRPLANE! Is a parody of another film, so it basically hijacks the character issues from ZERO HOUR (1957) - which is also about a guy named Ted Stryker who is haunted by a decision he made during the war that killed everyone in his squadron and boards a plane to chase down his wife and son... when the pilots get food poisoning and he's forced to deal with his demons and fly the plane. The took the serious character and serious story from ZERO HOUR and added jokes - but keeping that great emotional core... and using it for character based jokes like the passengers who get stuck sitting next to him being bored to death (literally).

And much of the other comedy in the film is character based, from Lloyd Bridges' Steve McCroskey picking the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, to the late great Stephen Stucker's Johnny who sees the world differently than you and I. The supporting characters have character flaws and fears and issues that create comedy.

What's the worst that could happen to the protagonist in AIRPLANE!? - Ted feels responsible for George Zipp's death - and now they want to make him responsible for all of the passengers on a pretty white plane with red stripes and curtains in the windows. What if he kills all of them? He must struggle with that emotional conflict, get through it ("Win one for the Zipper!" - this *is* a comedy) and literally sweat buckets of water to get that plane back on the ground safely so that everyone can go down the fun slide. It's a silly movie... that has real character issues at its core.

Emotional conflict and Physical conflict. Solve (or deal with) the emotional to resolve the physical. You can start with the character and the emotional conflict and find the physical conflict that best brings out the character. But first we need to really know our characters - what is their fear or flaw or worse case scenario or dream? What drives them? What is that thing under the surface that tints almost every decision they make?

Movies are about people with problems.


Want To Look Like An Expert?



Does this gun fire 6 shots or only 5? In all of the excitement of writing your action scene, you might not have done the research... and your hero could be out of ammo! Whether you are writing a novel or screenplay, you can save your hero, and your story, by doing a little research first! This book looks at Why you should research, Whether you should research First or Later, PLUS the importance of World Building in Science Fiction, Fantasy... and the worlds you explore in every other genre. Movies like JOHN WICK and THE GODFATHER take place in their own unique worlds... and writers must create them! YOU are the technical advisor on your Screenplay or Novel.

Using movie examples like TOP GUN, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, BLUE CRUSH, ADVENTURE LAND, several of my produced films, JOHN WICK, the novels of Donald E. Westlake and Thomas B. Dewey, SPY KIDS, the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, SOYLENT GREEN (which takes place in the far off future of 2022), and many others we will look at researching stories and creating worlds. The 8 Types Of Research, the 10 Types Of Information To Look For, 12 Important Elements Of World Building. Plus chapters on How To Rob A Bank and Commit Murder And Get Away With It for those of you interested in crime fiction, and Researching The Future for those writing science fiction, and Levels Of Reality if you are writing about a version of the real world.

No matter what you are writing, this book will help you find the facts... or make them up in a convincing way! Mid-June


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If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.

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"The Presidential Suite of the Hollywood Hoover Hotel looked like a bloody battlefield: bodies everywhere, furniture broken, red liquid dripping from the walls, dead soldiers littering the elegant Berber rug as clouds of smoke overhead bounced between two air conditioning vents.

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*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!


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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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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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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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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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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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*** SCENE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!


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*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

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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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NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!

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Over 240 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!

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.

ONLY $3.99 - and no postage!



Strange Structures!



Contained Thrillers like "Buried"? Serial Protagonists like "Place Beyond The Pines"? Multiple Connecting Stories like "Pulp Fiction"? Same Story Multiple Times like "Run, Lola, Run"?

This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock's 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock's *silent* films! We'll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Only $5.99 - and no postage!



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!

Only $5.99

The new  MP3s are available now!


NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute MP3 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 MP3 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 MP3 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 MP3s!



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 2023 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 MP3! The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8 MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!


A Whole Week Of Programming!
(no actual sex is involved)
From Trailer Tuesday to Film Courage Plus to THRILLER Thursday to Fridays With Hitchcock and more! My blog has all kinds of great stuff! Check it out! Lots of cool stuff every day!


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


Take classes on MP3!