Novels and screenplays are two entirely different animals. The writer of a brilliant novel may not have the skills required to write a screenplay... and vice versa. Though, for the most part, these skills can be learned - so a brilliant novelist can probably write a brilliant screenplay... and vice versa. But they are different mediums, and require different skills. Just because I can drive a car doesn't mean I will instantly know how to fly a plane. And techniques and literary devices that work well in novels often don't work at all in a screenplay - can you imagine a film that is nothing but correspondence projected on the screen? (Epistolary novels)

Yet writers often attempt to use a technique that works in one medium in another, with varied degrees of success and failure. Many novels contain multiple plot threads that eventually connect at the end. When I was offered the job of adapting ANGELS & DEMONS, the main reason why I turned it down was because it had two separate plots that eventually came together at the end - and that usually doesn't work on film. We only have a couple of hours to tell a film story, and telling *one* story in that amount of time is usually a challenge. Plus, the shifting back and forth between stories can be confusing and often lessens audience identification and involvement. As I've said in other Script Tips - one movie, one story. Multiple stories is a device that works well in novels, but is close to impossible to pull off on screen.

But what if you want to give it a try? This Script Tip explores the methods that work best when you plan on telling two stories in one screenplay...

The great Dalton Trumbo adapted Edward Abbey's novel into LONELY ARE THE BRAVE with two stories which meet up at the end (with a bang) and it's a great film... but part of that is our foreknowledge that Carrol O'Conner's truck driver and Kirk Douglas' cowboy are on a collision course. Part of the adaptation was to give O'Conner's trucker very little screen time. The script focuses on Douglas' story thread - the novel was called BRAVE COWBOY not TRUCK DRIVER (in a strange way, this movie is the predecessor of FIRST BLOOD). An entire story thread about a draft dodger never made it to film at all, and the small town sheriff exists only as part of the cowboy's story in the film. Part of adapting a multiple story novel is often picking which of the stories to tell... and jettisoning the others.


So when Steve Zaillian, the closest thing we have to Dalton Trumbo today, came out with his new film AMERICAN GANGSTER, I was prepared to love it.... but I didn't. People have asked me about the structure - the idea of cop and crook stories that come together at the end. That's been done many times, the best of them is Michael Mann's HEAT. In HEAT the cop (Al Pacino) and the crook (Robert DeNiro) really only have one scene together... and it's one hell of a scene. Compare that scene to the Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe scene in GANGSTER. Kind of disappointing.

If you look at HEAT, there are three stories:

1) The cop chasing the crook.

From early on Pacino is chasing the wrecking crew guys, trying to get a bead on them, following them, spying on them... interacting with them in some way. Though Pacino and DeNiro only have the one scene, the rest of the movie is cat and mouse with Pacino chasing DeNiro and his men - actively pursuing them. There is direct conflict between Pacino's team and DeNiro's team from the very beginning of the movie until the very end. That conflict is what *drives* the story.

In AMERICAN GANGSTER Russell Crowe is after drug dealers, and targeting Blue Magic... but we mostly see the big board and not much actual investigation on his part. And he has no idea Denzel and his team even exist - until the very end of the movie Crowe believes that Italians are behind the drug trade, with the African Americans just doing the sales work. The concept that an African American is the big drug kingpin comes very late in the film. Eventually we have the undercover buy scene... and that takes us to the dirty cops rather than Denzel and his crew. So it's really a dead end. Not much actual pursuit or police work in GANGSTER... and no direct conflict between cops and crooks. Story is conflict - without that direct conflict we have two separate stories until the very end.

2) The crook's life.

Here's where HEAT totally kicks ass over AMERICAN GANGSTER. Early on, DeNiro gives his big rule for surviving as an armed robber - "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." This rule makes him a man alone (who claims he's not lonely, but who does he think he's fooling?). Right after he reveals this rule he meets a woman in a book store and begins a relationship. This creates a great conflict - we want DeNiro to find love and have a relationship... but we know this violates his big rule (and that rule is there for a reason). So we are torn. Should he keep her? Dump her? And as the police close in - the *relationship* is in jeopardy. The crook's life story is directly tied to the cop & crook story!

In AMERICAN GANGSTER they attempt to contrast Denzel as the family man with Crowe as the guy losing his family in a divorce... but there is no *conflict* in either story. Denzel just rises to power and brings his family along. Sure, there's a quick scene with a brother who screws up, but there is no drama *built in* to his story. He just rises to power.

If you just compare the Denzel part of the story to a movie like SCARFACE (either version - but Pacino stars in the remake) it's also the lesser film. In SCARFACE with have Tony coming to America with nothing and struggling to work his way to the top. Every step to the top is filled with conflict - and chainsaws and bathtubs. Denzel *starts out* as Bumpy's right hand man - the #2 guy - and after Bumpy is killed, he instantly becomes the #1 guy. No conflict, no struggle - it's automatic. Now, he's more intelligent than Bumpy and manages to build his empire... but it's a pre-existing empire. Not as dramatic as starting with nothing and fighting your way to the top. Hey, I'm not even going to mention the wife/sister emotional conflicts in SCARFACE. So, even if we just look at the gangster side of the story, GANGSTER is lacking the drama and emotional conflicts that other gangster movies have. That makes it difficult to sustain this half of the two story movie. If each story were exciting on its own, we have something to involve us in each story until they come together at the end.

Okay, and now let's compare the *crimes* these crooks are involved in. In AMERICAN GANGSTER Denzel is basically on the phone making deals, or in Thailand making deals. Neither is exciting. Though it may be *interesting* on an intellectual level that he's treating drugs as a business, movies are visceral. They are emotional rather than intellectual. Watching a businessman do business is... dull. The most excitement we get in Denzel's story is when he blows away a rival during lunch... and that's a great scene. It contrasts the concept of business and crime. What we needed were fewer scenes of Denzel doing deals and more scenes with Denzel doing away with rivals. Except that would turn him into a gangster instead of a businessman.

There are some cool movies that look at the business of crime, including that GODFATHER movie starring DeNiro and Pacino. But Michael Corleone wasn't afraid to mix business and murder. That was the point. When we soft-pedal the crime aspects of a criminal business, we end up removing the conflict and ending up with a movie about making deals... and that doesn't even have as much conflict as an episode of THE OFFICE. If Denzel Washington is playing a crook, he needs to act like it.

In HEAT Robert DeNiro is involved in *armed robbery* and we not only get that great set piece robbery and shoot out, we get all kinds of action along the way. Shoot outs. Suspense. Chases. You could remove every element of the "Pacino story" and still have a great film. Now, Denzel's story could have focused on the action side of his business (a previous version of this story, Larry Cohen's BLACK CAESAR, focused on the war between the black crime lord and the Mafia), but it focused on the businessman side. You may say, "Hey - that's the story!" but watching a guy make phone calls is boring. Not the best choice for a story about a crook...

Even though HEAT has that great street shootout, what makes it more involving than GANGSTER isn't the *action* it's the *conflict*. Sure, that conflict is explored through machinegun fire... but it could have been dramatic conflict. We need conflict for drama... and then we need to actually have dramatic scenes. The closest GANGSTER gets to any sort of conflict is that quick scene when Frank's brother Huey (the always amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor) screws up... but this is resolved almost immediately. The conflict doesn't build, it's just a quick episode in the gangster's life.

3) The cop's life.

In HEAT Pacino is having the same kind of relationship issues as Crowe in GANGSTER... Both are dealing with realtionship and family issues. The difficulties of a cop's life on a family. But those problems are tied to the cop chases crook story in HEAT, and connected to nothing at all in AMERICAN GANGSTER.. In HEAT, every time Pacino needs to spend time with his wife or daughter, the case comes up and he has to dump them (creating big dramatic conflicts). He is constantly having to chose between job and family, and he picks job every time. This escalates his family problems. Even when he is with his wife, there is conflict about the times he wasn't with her. The conflict escalates throughout the story - coming to a big breaking point when his daughter needs to be rushed to the hospital at the moment the case is really breaking. Now there's a dramatic decision!

Compare this to Crowe in AMERICAN GANGSTER, who gets a bunch of fairly dull scenes in court getting a divorce and then *not* fighting for joint custody of his daughter. Crowe doesn't even try to keep his relationship going - which makes his life non-dramatic. The relationship is dead when the film begins - and just stays dead. No conflict, no struggle, no drama.

Now, you may say: "Hey - based on a true story. What choice did they have?" Well, no story on film is really true - everything gets dramatized... and the other folks who were involved seem to think Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts exaggerated everything and made them the stars... when there were two other major black crime lords in New York at the time (one doesn't even get mentioned in the film - and that is the guy who, up until this film, was seen as the #1 black crime lord of all time). If they fudged some major things in the story, why not fudge some minor ones and make it more dramatic? Instead of starting out with Richie's marriage on the rocks, why not show it disintegrating (more dramatic) throughout the film? If you are going to fudge the facts here and there, do it to make a better film - a more dramatic film.

Though AMERICAN GANGSTER got a couple of Oscar nominations, HEAT is the movie that people quote lines from and buy on DVD. I think GANGSTER will end up a forgotten footnote, and HEAT will remain a classic.

The key to any story is conflict. If you have multiple story threads, the key is to make sure each thread has a strong conflict that escalates throughout that thread, creating dramatic scenes - you don't need to have cars and buildings exploding, but people's tempers need to explode. Film is a dramatic medium - so we need to see that drama exploding on screen. A novel can be internal, a film is only what we can see and hear (externals). We need to bring the conflict to the surface in dramatic confrontations - with or without automatic weapons. And while each story thread has its conflict, each story thread *must* impact the other to create conflict and drama. All of the threads end up part of the big story, so they must be connected - entwined. HEAT and AMERICAN GANGSTER are similar stories, yet where HEAT is an amazing, exciting, involving epic, AMERICAN GANGSTER is an epic style film with two great actors that looks good and tells a story... but comes off like a dull documentary. Uninvolving.

The key to telling *any* story is conflict - the key to telling more than one story in a film is also conflict. The more you fracture the film, the more important conflict becomes.





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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Making Your Own Movie?
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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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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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NEW: Update with casting for films 7 & 8!

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!




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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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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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 MP3 is $10.00!

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"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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*** 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!

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*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)

Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 170 pages!

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Over 240 pages!

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

He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 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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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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*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)

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

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

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!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

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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copyright 2020 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 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 MP3!


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

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