Most of the advice on this website is geared toward people who want to write scripts to *sell*. Folks who just want to be writers. But some of you may be interested in making your own films - having total creative control (yeah, right). About a decade ago I wrote the Screenwriting 101 column for the Independent Film Channel's magazine, and I regularly hang out at fim festivals with film makers... and have even made some of my own films. This year I plan on producing a film, so let's take a look at the TOP TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN WRITING YOUR OWN FILM....

ONE: Well, you still need to write a good script... but you need to write a good script that can be made cheap... and still be good. That's more of a challenge than writing a script where budget doesn't matter. RESERVOIR DOGS was written to be shot for $60k on my friend Fred Olen Ray's 16mm camera. Tarantino wrote the script to take place in a warehouse - an easy location to find. After Bender passed it to his acting teacher who passed it to Harvey Keitel, the budget went up... but it was still made cheap - as a $1.5 direct to video movie for Live Entertainment. The limited theatrical release was a fluke (you probably saw it on video).

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TWO: You need a great high concept or an interesting hook. High concept is not the same as high budget - SIXTH SENSE is high concept but not high budget. RESERVOIR DOGS is *not* high concept at all - there's no *unique* factor in that story. What you want is an idea that's cool on its own, not cool because of stuff you need to make the idea work. Think of INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS - aliens take over your friends! TERMINATOR - a killer android that looks human (there's this great Philip K. Dick story called SECOND VARIETY about killer androids who pass as human to get past security - you never know who is one!). PRIMER has some great limited time travel and multiple versions of the protagonists... and was made for what's in my checking account right now. For inspiration watch some TWILIGHT ZONE episodes: made on the cheap but often with wild and fascinating ideas. Find the wild idea where the *idea* is what's cool. I'm writing big budget script next year about people who can *instantly* change location with a pocket sized device. It's a chase thriller. The reason why you need a high concept for an indie film? The same reason you need a great idea in any other script - you want your story to be unique and interesting.

Though having a compelling and interesting concept will still be important, the other way to go is to find a niche audience that is not served by the mainstream media. Something with a very strong and loyal audience - even if there aren't billions of them. I have a friend who focuses on Lesbian leads, another who made a Western because there is a small but loyal audience for that genre. Finding that niche audience, then finding a great concept or hook to interest them is critical to finding an audience.

When I was at the VSDA a couple of years ago they had a panel on independent distribution - maybe 8 indie distribs. They said that there were about 27,000 independent feature films made every year - and only a very very small percentage get *any* form of distribution at all. If you want to be in the 2% that an audience gets a chance to see, you have to have a great story idea - one they haven't seen before. There are *thousands* of films submitted to Sundance every year for something like 60 spots. If your film doesn't star Sigourney Weaver, what else is there on the submission form that will make them want to see your film? The *idea*. Again, it may seem unfair that people judge an entire film on a logline - but an orginal concept is indicitive of creativity in other aspects of the film. A bland idea may mean bland characters and bland dialogue and bland situations.

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THIRD: What have you got access to? I call this the "Robert Rodriguez School Bus" - do you know someone with a bus you can use in the movie? If so, put it in the script! Make a list of all the interesting locations, props, vehicles, stunts, actors... whatever you can get! My first paid gig, NINJA BUSTERS, started with a list like this. The producers had access to locations like an automobile graveyard, a night club, a Chinese restaurant, a dojo, a warehouse, an apartment building... and elements like a friend who owned a Jaguar XKE and a friend who was a famous body builder and another friend who owned some standard poodle show dogs and one of the investors was a member of a motorcycle club... My job was to take all of these things and wrap a script around them. It's not as difficult as it may sound - characters have to live *somewhere*, why not in the apartment complex we have access to? And the villain had to drive a car, why not a Jaguar? And the villain had a henchmen, why not have him be a huge body builder? And they went to the nightclub and ate Chinese food and... well, I used everything on the producers "free list" in that script. When you are making a film for very little money, you need to use whatever you have! So make up a "free list" and use that stuff in your script!

FOURTH: Limit and centralized locations. Every new location means a crew move, where time and money is spent that does *not* show up on screen. Think CASABLANCA rather than a road trip. Maybe 4-6 locations *total*. And you want to mix up the locations - too much time spent in the same room will drive the audience crazy. You need EXTs. and INTs. You're probably going to have around 40-45 scenes in your 90 page script, so you want to alternate locations to keep things moving. A *variety* of locations. RESEVOIR DOGS uses different rooms in the warehouse, and different *times* in the warehouse - like the planning of the crime. Use common sense with locations - nothing expensive.

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FIFTH: Limit your characters to 10-15 speaking roles. And you want interesting characters, because you don't have the money to entertain the audience with all kinds of big FX and explosions - so the people have to be interesting. You're going to use *dramatic explostions* - even if you're writing an action flick. You also need "actor proof" dialogue - stuff that will sound great even when the worst actor you can imagine is cast (they will be). A big budget film can depend on the actor to make the character work, in a low budget film it's all in the script. Any characterization is through actions and situations - not *acting*. You may end up with local actors in every role - and *unpaid* local actors at that! We can't depend on great delivery of a line, the *line itself* has to be great.

Here's a trick I often use with non-actors. NIGHT HUNTER starred Don "the Dragon" Wilson, a world champion kick boxer who broke into acting in Cameron Crowe's SAY ANYTHING as John Cusack's mentor and idol... and turned that into an acting career as a B action star. Don is great at kicking people in the head, but not a great actor, and my job was to protect him - and make him look like a great actor. So I did two things: create strong situations that would do the acting for him, and partner him in most scenes with a character who would be played by a professional actor and put the burden of the scene on the pro actor. I made Don's character a damaged guy who didn't say much - mostly brooded. Then I put him in situations that would be emotionally painful for his character - and all Don had to do is walk into the scene and look tortured. The *scene* did the acting. In other scenes, the leading lady would have all of this amusing dialogue that would only require a couple of words of response from Don - in that tortured soul mode. In those scenes, a skilled actor made Don look really good. In scenes where Don was required to act, I gave him dialogue that did all of the work. Lines with multiple meanings that made him look deep, clever lines that made him look clever, and those bad-ass lines that action stars get to say.

If you have access to a good actor, you can write some great scenes for them and that will make everyone else look good. But if you just have the people you can round up playing roles, make sure the situations do the bulk of the acting, and make sure they have some great "actor proof" dialogue - clever lines, lines with multiple meanings, and sometimes short to the point lines that make them sound totally in control. A low budget film puts the weight on the shoulders of the writer.

SIXTH: No kids, no weather, no animals... nothing you can not control. You want ext-day instead of ext-night (lighting is expensive and time consuming).

SEVEN: One extras location... but you can thread it through the script. Another trick is "confined cameos" - have good roles that are confined to one location with many scenes in the script - and you can cast a "star" in that role and make it look like he's in the whole movie.

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EIGHT: FX, Stunts, Etc. A car chase is more expensive than a space ship battle! I know that's hard to believe, but a car chase is done for real - you close down a street, have stunt men, and crash cars. A space ship battle can be done with models - and the world is full of FX geeks who want a break. It's probably easier to get some kid in Kansas to play around on his laptop for cheap, than it is to get stunt men to risk their lives for cheap. Plus, you have to pay for all those cars you wreck (but think practical first). One thing to consider - if you're writing an action film, the action is the *star* - so make sure you have enough action to sell the script. I'd come up with one amazing stunt or FX bit that the producer can put in the trailer. Think of this as the high concept action scene - make sure it's unusual and cool. Guess what? Film is not reality. Think of how you can piece together an amazing stunt or cool action scene through editing. While you're at it, we live in a world of internet, right? Get a friend in some exotic land to shoot some "second unit" footage with an actor dressed in your character's costume and use it... with your star cut in with close ups. With film, anything is possible... if you can figure it out.

EIGHT AND A HALF: That said, no CGI (unless you know an actual expert who will do it free or within your budget). In the old days when we shot things on film, the joke was always: "We can fix that in the lab". Out of focus? Under lit? Camera fell off the tripod in the middle of a shot? We can fix it in the lab. Obviously, you can't fix any of those things in the lab so you were screwed. These days instead of "fix it in the lab" people say: "We can fix that with CGI". You can't. If you are doing a monster movie and you think you are going to do the monster with CGI? Think again. You don't have access to anyone with that level of talent. Best thing to do is *always think practical* and only use CGI to clean up small stuff. Spaceship? Build a model, use digital to remove wires. Anything that requires an expert to do well? Go practical instead. CGI is not some magic band aid. Build it for real... just like people did a decade ago.

NINE: If you are making an action movie or thriller, think PERSONAL. Fist fights, foot chases, shoot outs. Person on person violence. That's the great thing about low budget action - you remove the buffers and have action scenes that are more personal. Think about what makes this fist fight unique. Without all that money, you have to use *imagination* and *creativity* to make the action scenes interesting. I like to put on my Jackie Chan hat and find weird weapons in every day life.

TEN: Dog Juice. Because you don't have stars or big FX or any of the other things you'd find in the average $100 million Hollywood film, you need to take things to the limit. Faster pacing. Bigger stakes. Bigger emotions and actions and everything else. And think genre. RESERVOIR DOGS, EL MARIACHI, PRIMER (sci-fi). The movies that sold big at Toronto Indie Film Fest a few years ago were *horror* movies. The Weinsteins paid millions, not for dramas, but for MANDY LANE and BLACK SHEEP. Even the indie distribs want *genre* films. They are easier to find an audience for. Just because it's a genre film, doesn't mean it's dumb or undramatic. The best genre films *subvert* or *re-invent* the genre. They do the unexpected...

And that's what all great scripts do - something we haven't seen before tht startles and excites us.


How Do I do That?



New to screenwriting? You probably have questions! How do I get an Agent? How do I write a phone conversation? Do I need a Mentor? What’s does VO and OC and OS mean? What is proper screenplay format? Should I use a pen name? Do I need to movie to Hollywood? What’s the difference between a Producer and a Production Manager, and which should I sell my script to? How do I write a Text Message? Should I Copyright or WGA register my script? Can I Direct or Star? How do I write an Improvised scene? Overcoming Writer’s Block? How do I write a Sex Scene? And many many more! This book has the answers to the 101 Most Asked Questions from new screenwriters! Plus a Glossary of terms so that you can sound like a pro! Everything you need to know to begin writing your screenplay!

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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.

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

Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is well over 200 pages!

ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!


All About Rewrites!


Rewriting In Waves?

*** REWRITES Blue Book! - For Kindle!

The end is just the beginning! You’ve finished your story, but now the rewriting begins! This 405 page book shows you how to rewrite your screenplay or novel to perfection. Everything from Character Consistency to Shoeboxing to How To Give And Receive Notes to 15 Solutions If Your Script’s Too Long! and 15 Solutions If Your Script’s Too Short! to Finding The Cause Of A Story Problem to Good Notes Vs. Bad Notes to Finding Beta Readers to Avoiding Predictability to Learning To Be Objective About Your Work to Script Killer Notes and Notes From Idiots to Production Rewrites and What The Page Colors Mean? and a Complete Rewrite Checklist! The complete book on Rewriting Your Story!

ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!

All About Endings!



The Perfect Ending For Your Story!

The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
But What About The Last 10 Pages?

Creating the perfect ending to your story! This 100,000 word book shows you how to end your story with a bang, rather than a whimper. Everything from Resolution Order to Act Three Tools to Happy or Sad Endings? to How The Beginning Of Your Story Has Clues To The Ending (in case you were having trouble figuring out how the story should end) to Falling Action to How To Avoid Bad Endings to Writing The Perfect Twist Ending to Setting Up Sequels & Series to Emotional Resolutions to How To Write Post Credit Sequences to Avoiding Deus Ex Machinas, to 20 Different Types Of Ends (and how to write them) and much more! Everything about endings for your screenplay or novel!

Only: $4.99

NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!




Distilling Your Screenplay!

Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics?

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph? This 100,000 word book shows you how! Everything you need to know! From common logline mistakes (and how to solve them) to how your pitch can reveal story problems to the 4 types of pitches!

272 Pages - ONLY $4.99!



*** 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!

$4.99 - and no postage!



Movie Magic Screenwriter is the best selling screenplay formatting software and the choice of Hollywood professionals. Screenwriter automatically formats while you write so you can focus on what you're writing, not where it goes on the page. It also formats for television, stage, novels and comic book scripts so you've got an all in one package for any story you want to write. Academy Award Tech Winner!

* * * Buy It!

copyright 2024 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!
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the Amazon.com 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


Take classes on CD!