How do you show someone not doing something? "He didn't run." What does that look like? It looks like just standing there to me.

HART'S WAR wasn't a bad film, but it was an unsatisfying one. It's well photographed, has interesting characters, no shortage of plot, a couple of good twists, and even tackles some interesting issues. So what went wrong?


At first HART'S WAR wanders around for about an hour looking for a story - The movie opens with young Lt. Hart (Colin Ferrall - no relations to Will) working in Allied HQ during World War 2. While chauffering a soldier and a case of champagne to a General's office, he's captured by the Germans... interrogated for enough screen time to make us wonder if that's what the film will be about... then sent by train to a POW camp. The train ride to the POW camp seems like a movie in itself - when snow covers the POW markings on the roof of the train it is attacked by US planes who think it might be carrying supplies. Several POWs die (one in Hart's arms) and they end up walking the rest of the way to the POW camp. After numerous subplots involving the evil Nazi Commandant (Marcel Iures) and ranking soldier Bruce Willis locking horns, and the problems of integrated prisoners of war in a still-segregated military, the film finally settles on a story - a courtroom drama.

Black fighter pilot Terrence Howard is accused of murdering bigoted prison camp crime kingpin Cole Hauser (yes - relation to Wings) and Willis insists on an official military Courts Martial before the Germans execute Howard. Hart is given the job of defending him. Howard says that he's innocent, and the case is purely circumstantial. What little physical evidence there is when Hart is appointed seems to substantiate Howard's story of innocence. It looks like Howard was framed because he's Black - previously another Black POW was framed for trying to escape and executed. Howard is presented to us as an innocent man falsely accused.

There are two problems facing Hart in the Courts Martial trial:

1) He was a second year law student when the war began, and the soldier acting as prosecutor was a hot-shot Harvard educated lawyer before being called up. Hart doesn't even know the basic rules of a Courts Martial, and doesn't own a trial manual.

2) Willis orders him to lose the trial. You see, Hauser was murdered outside of the barracks AFTER lock-down. While the Nazis think the POWS are safely locked up for the night, they are actually sneaking around the camp doing mischief. They have a secret door (complete with hinges) built into the latrine (yech!). Even though Willis is a POW, he's still trying to fight the Nazis in whatever way he can - stealing supplies, giving bread to the starving Russian POWs, etc. Willis can't let the Germans know they have a way out of the barracks after lock-down... even if it means an innocent man will be sentenced to death. Allowing the Germans to believe that two POWS found a way out of the barracks to settle their personal dispute is okay, but Hart can not introduce other suspects without explaining how they could be outside the barracks after lock-down. In war, sometimes a man must jump on a grenade in order to save his fellow soldiers... Hart is ordered to lose the trial and let Howard be executed to save all of the other POWs. So Hart does his part to win the war... by losing the trial.

Do you see the problem with this scenario? It's a negative goal. We are placed in the position where we must root for Hart to fail, so that an innocent man will die.

And how can we tell the difference between Hart losing the trial on purpose and losing it because he's incompetent? Guy is a second year law school student who doesn't know what he's doing, right? How can we see someone *not* accomplish something?



This is not a scenario where Howard sacrifices himself by jumping on a grenade to save the other men - Howard just sits there in the courtroom, the prosecution is performing the actions. Hart is not sacrificing himself, nor is he DOING ANYTHING to aid in the sacrifice... Hart is DOING NOTHING. He is going through the motions of investigation without digging too deep, he is going through the motions of defending Howard without doing a good enough job to win. His goal is to do nothing... so how do we know he's achieved it?

The only way to show that a man is NOT running is to have everyone else run. If everyone is standing still, how will we know that one guy isn't running? If some people are walking and others are running, our guy could be NOT running or NOT walking. It's only when EVERYONE is performing an action EXCEPT our guy that we can know he's NOT performing the action... and there are still variables that might explain why he isn't running. How do we know he's not running on purpose? He might be not running by accident or stupidity! So if we're trying to show our guy isn't running because he's brave, we still haven't really shown that. It's almost impossible to clearly show a negative goal - someone NOT achieving something on purpose.


A couple of years ago I was up for a rewrite on a Dennis Hopper film about a college town cop chasing a serial killer who sent quizzes to College students - if they answered the questions correctly, he killed them. See, the quiz was all about pop culture, and the serial killer thought college kids should spend more time reading War And Peace and less time watching FRIENDS and listening to SmashMouth's latest CD. The leading lady was smart... but is she smart enough to answer the questions wrong? I pointed out to the producer that two types of people could escape the serial killer - college students who studied so hard they didn't have time for pop culture, and complete morons. But what about college students who studied hard AND also knew the names of all of the characters on FRIENDS? I knew all kinds of things about Brittany Spears, but I don't think I'd ever heard one of her songs all the way through at the time. You can know pop culture and know others things as well - one doesn't exclude the other. I'm kind of a knowledge junkie. I know that the Pledge Of Allegiance didn't contain any reference to God before 1954 - before then the separation of Church & State was taken more seriously. I know that James Buchanan was the only "confirmed bachelor" President - he never married... maybe he was Gay? I know that there are 287 Indian Reservations, and that each is a nations within our nation. I know that Phoebe's twin sister is named Ursula. I know that Galileo not only discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, he invented the thermometer.

Just because someone knows about pop culture doesn't mean they haven't been doing the homework in their college class... And it creates a situation where if our leading lady wants to survive, she has to answer the quiz questions wrong. She has to look stupid to prove she's smart. That's a contradiction. Stupid people also look stupid, but they aren't smart. And there's something just wrong with rooting for a character to fail on purpose - it's impossible to know if that person failed because they worked hard to fail, or if they failed because they really are incompetent. My suggestion was to have the serial killer asking college exam questions... but the story was supposed to be about the evils of pop culture, so I did not get that rewrite job. Problem is, it's almost impossible to show a negative goal has been achieved on purpose!


A negative goal puts the audience in a strange position - it's natural to reward someone for their efforts, to root for people to succeed. But when success is measured by failure, it's easy for the audience to become confused. Do we cheer when OUR TEAM drops the ball? When OUR TEAM screws up? Our natural instinct is NOT to cheer - but to be angry or disappointed. If we're angry and disappointed at the hero's success in achieving his goal we're not feeling satisfied at the end of the film. It's difficult for the audience to root for failure... and that creates an unsatisfying story situation.

Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Our hero is doing nothing... and it's hard to cheer him on.

So in HART'S WAR we are rooting for Hart to lose the case - but is Hart trying really hard to lose the case, or is he just a moron who would have lost the case anyway? Remember - he's the underdog in the trial, the 2nd year law student. So he may just be incompetent. Do we want the audience to reward his incompetence? That's another problem with a negative goal - because the only way to see the goal is by failure when the hero should have succeeded. For a failure to fail is undramatic - Hart should have been the slick Harvard lawyer who has never lost a case... because then we would know he is losing this one on purpose. Also, there would be some drama built in to that - he would have to swallow his pride and look like a loser... in order to be a winner.

But that scenario doesn't really work, either: If Hart is above failure and perfect... Well, perfect characters are undramatic and boring and difficult to like. He'd have to be some sort of arrogant prick for the story to really work... and audiences *want* to see that type of character fail. Drama practically requires the hero be an underdog - we don't cheer for Goliath, we cheer for David. But for a negative goal to work, we have to take Goliath's side in the battle with David. The thing that makes a negative goal work for the story also manages to repulse the audience - we don't want to root for the big guy to stomp the little guy!

I'm sure the decided to make this novel into a film *because* the story was subversive - certainly not because the audience was clamoring for a World War 2 Courtroom Drama. But the scenario out-clevers itself. To show that Hart isn't losing the case because he's a moron he can't be the underdog, in order to gain audience sympathy he must be the underdog. That's another contradiction that tears the audience apart when you're dealing with a negative goal story.



Though in a novel this might have worked due to the thoughts and feelings of the character, those are elements that do not translate to the screen. I haven't read the screenplay, but can imagine a clever writer finding ways to "cheat" in thoughts and feelings so that the scenario worked on the page and we understood that Hart was trying to lose... but since none of those things would ever end up on the screen, the movie was doomed to fail. We can not know that he is failing *on purpose* on screen. We can only know if he is failing or succeeding. Any "cheats" that tell us *why* stay on the page - never making it to the screen and the audience. In a novel (or a screenplay full of "cheats") the reader may understand that Hart is trying to fail, but on screen all we can see is the failure itself. The audience can't read the "cheats" and probably hasn't read the novel, so they never get that critical information.

We can't really show Hart *not* investigating the crime. We can't really show Hart *not* calling a witness. We can't really show Hart *not* asking a witness on the stand an important question. We can't really show Hart *not* objecting to a question. So how can we really know that Hart is losing the case on purpose? How can we show a negative goal? And if we can ever figure out that question, we come to the other big question: How can we get an audience to root for our hero to fail and an innocent man to be put to death?

You can show people DOING THINGS on screen, but it's almost impossible to show them NOT DOING THINGS. A man not running might also be not walking or not singing or not flying or nor skipping or not strolling or not jumping up and down or not... We can't really know what someone is NOT doing or NOT saying. Film requires people doing things - we can see the MOTION. If Hart never makes a motion - either in the courtroom or in the field investigating - nothing is happening. There is no information being imparted to the audience. That's why HART'S WAR is just an okay movie - the most important thing the hero does is... Nothing.

How do you show a character *not* doing something?

Beware of any situation where a character's goal is NOT to perform an action. Beware of creating a story where the hero must fail in order to succeed. Beware of stories with negative goals.


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!

All of the answers you need to know, from a working professional screenwriter with 20 produced films and a new movie made for a major streaming service in 2023! 

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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!

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All About Rewrites!



Rewriting In Waves?

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The Rewrites Begin!

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!

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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!

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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!

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NEW in 2020!

Making Your Own Movie?


Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?

You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!

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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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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"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.

Mitch Robertson stepped over the body of an ex-child star turned sex tape star turned pop star and entered the room, spotted a gun on the floor and picked it up... careful not to spill his coffee with three pumps of mocha syrup from Penny’s Coffee Shop. That coffee was gold, the only thing keeping him going in this dazed state of wakefulness. The gun felt light. Holding it, he saw the silhouette of an 80s action star sitting sideways on a tipped over chair. Motionless. Was he dead? Mitch was still hung over from the Awards Party the night before, and wondered whether this was all some sort of crazy nightmare that he would wake up from... but when he tripped over the brown legs of a bottomless Superhero, flaccid junk encased in a condom but still wearing his mask, and hit the edge of the sofa, gun skittering and coffee spilling, he realized that it was all very real. What the hell had happened here?"

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Tips FAQ

My New Script Secrets Newsletter!




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


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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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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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Over 240 pages!

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

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Strange Structures!



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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.

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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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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 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 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!