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Done Deal Interview w/Bill Martell
by World Wide Will

William C. Martell at the Showbiz Expo William C. Martell
at the Showbiz Expo

Bill has written 17 produced films for cable and video, including 3 HBO World Premiere Movies, 2 CineMax Premiere Movies, a couple of films made for Showtime and a couple of films made for USA network. Plus numerous direct to video movies. The Washington Post said, "William C. Martell is the Robert Towne of made for cable movies" in a review of one of his films, and he was the only non-nominated screenwriter mentioned on Siskel & Ebert's IF WE PICKED THE WINNERS Oscar show a couple of years ago. His family comedy INVISIBLE MOM won the Santa Clarita Film Festival's Best Family Film award. In his opinion, his best film is HARD EVIDENCE (WarnerVision) and it out rented the Julia Robert's movie SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT (Warner Bros.) when both were released the same day... got better reviews, too (but that may not be saying much, the Julia Robbers movie wasn't very good, Bill feels). Blockbuster Video featured HARD EVIDENCE in their monthly flier as a sleeper title.

IMDB only lists 13 or 14 of his films... they only list the films that have his name in the credits and have been released in the USA or England or Germany. There are a couple of films that don't have his name on them that are on video in the USA... he won't tell you the titles even under torture.

Where are you from and where did you grow up?

Concord, California - I was born in the same hospital, the same month as Tom Hanks. Concord was this small town between Oakland and Stockton. My family business is water wells and farm irrigation - so I'd really be digging ditches if I weren't writing scripts! Now I go back to Concord and don't recognize it. In my life it went from being a bedroom community to the San Francisco Bay Area to it's own little city. When I was a kid we had to shoo the horses off the field to play baseball.... now there aren't any fields left!

When were your first interests in films? In writing? Also was it something that came naturally?

My parents used to go to the drive-in, lets the kids see the cartoon, then put them to sleep on the back seat of the car. I was the oldest, and remember watching "Dr. No" reflected in the back window of the car. I saw a bunch of movies reflected in the back window of the car... and thought all people in movies were left handed. Later, my Aunt managed a movie theater in the neighboring town of Orinda, so we got to see all of the Disney films for free. I also watched old films on TV. Bogart, Flynn, Robinson, Cagney, William and Dick Powell... I had a big crush on Ann Sheridan - the redheaded girl in all of those black & white Warner Bros. films. I also watched Bob Wilkins' "Creature Features" (out of Oakland) on Friday and Saturday night, and the sci-fi movies on "CPM Theater" (out of Sacramento) on Sunday afternoon. I just thought movies were a way to escape my working class life and go on an adventure.

At the same time, I was writing short stories and drawing my own comic books for my friends ("Fly Man - The Human Fly!"), but when I was in junior high school I saw an ad in the back of my grandmother's TV Guide selling scripts from your favorite TV shows. I bought scripts for "Rockford Files", "Columbo", "The Law", and a bunch of others. I realized that people actually wrote TV shows and movies. Here were the words that Jim Rockford actually said. Here was a description of a car chase. Here was that great scene with Columbo, the Hypnotist, and the Blind Witness. That's what a script looked like. So I wrote a couple of scripts... really bad stuff. Longhand. But in format.

Where did you go to college and or did you ever study film/writing?

Flat broke blue collar kids don't really get to go to college. I had a 30 hour a week job working in a movie theater as Assistant Manager (and Acting Manager) my last two years of high school. My grades were okay, but nothing that would get me a full scholarship. So I went to a community college, DVC, on the other side of town. They had a Film Appreciation class - watching movies, making an 8mm film. I had already made a bunch of 8mm films in High School, and ended up buying the first Super 8mm Sound camera in the Diablo Valley (camera shop special ordered it). The class was a joke, but it was the only film class in town.

On student film night, past class graduates came as honored guests. My chance to show my work to INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS! One guy was shooting documentaries. One guy made used car commercials. One guy was editing local TV. But there were actually three guys who were making movies. Jim and Artie Mitchell, the world famous pornographers, invited me to the World Premiere of "Autobiography Of A Flea" and this guy Paul Kyriazi who was making drive-in movies with limited partnerships. I gave Paul a script, later he offered me my first movie job...

As a manual laborer. I was building sets at 5 am on WEAPONS OF DEATH... not my idea of Showbiz. But it was cool to be on an actual movie set. I cracked jokes from the sidelines, made everybody laugh, and two years later when Paul called he asked me to write a script. In two weeks! They had some money to make a film, some actors, some locations, but their script was dumb. I had to write a brand new script around the cast and locations already secured. I wrote it, for a couple of months they continued to collect money from investors, then they shot NINJA BUSTERS. I quit my job (then at Safeway Grocery - midnight to 9 stocking shift) and worked on the film. Paul was going to roll this into a second and third film, and we talked about the next story between takes. It was a GODFATHER-like epic about San Francisco's Columbus Avenue, which separates Chinatown (Tong gangs) from North Beach (Italian gangs). At the core was a Romeo & Juliet love story between a Chinese girl and an Italian guy... in the middle of a massive gang war!

After NINJA BUSTERS wrapped, I wrote the script. But NINJA BUSTERs had gone through some financial problems, and the investors were no longer interested in films. Plus, changes in the tax laws made limited partnerships a bad deal. The epic, LIGHTNING STRIKES, was never made. I wrote scripts for some other locals trying to put together movies: a disaster script called HIGH RISE for some real estate guys, a great script about a rape trauma center called TAKE BACK THE NIGHT, a script about illegal barn fighting called FIGHTIN' MAN, and an epic kung-fu sci-fi script called RONIN. None of these were ever made, and I most of them I don't even have copies of (this was the time of carbon paper).

Tell me about writing your first script? What was your approach like?

I had seen so many films before I wrote STRYCHNINE GRIN that I knew structure by instinct. This was before Syd Field, so all we had was movies. I noticed that most movies had a three act structure, and any time a screenwriter or film director was interviewed they always talked about the three act structure. So my stupid Rockford Files/CHINATOWN clone was structured just like 95% of those old Warner Bros. films I'd seen. The first feature script I wrote was about a smart ass private eye solving a murder in San Francisco... and I filmed it in Super-8 sound! I blew up my mom's car, had fist fights under the Golden Gate Bridge... it cost me most of my Safeway earnings! My second script was a Hitchcock chase called ONE FALSE STEP about a janitor who overhears a terrorist plot to take over the Concord Naval Weapons Depot and steal the nukes.

What was getting your first agent like? How did that come about?

After my first career writing Drive In Movies ended, I got a job working for Safeway in their liquor warehouse. Driving a fork lift and Big Joe stacker. I did that full time for almost ten years, writing scripts in my spare time and on my days off. I wrote just under 30 scripts in that decade... and got an agent on one of them.

Now I had a Hollywood agent! Cool! I had sent out 100 query letters, got 3 responses, sent scripts and signed with the first agent to say "yes" (a mistake). My agent kept asking for scripts, but didn't sell any of them. After I pressed him to get something done and gave him a list of Agents Looking For Scripts from Variety, he actually got my adventure script TREASURE HUNTER optioned to some Germans for $5,000 against $40,000 if the film had been made. That was a lot of money back then! (The option expired and they never made the film... I got my script back).

But that was also the beginning of the end for that agent. I flew down for the deal, and he picked me up in this beat up old Datsun 4 door. After making the deal with the Germans, I asked if we'd be going back to his office. "NO!" Instead he'd buy me dinner. Do I drink? A weird question, I thought, but he took me to a crappy bar with a buffet, bought me a beer, pointed at the buffet and said "Dinner!"

Later I found out his office was an 8 by 8 room without windows over a motorcycle repair shop in the slums of Reseda. By that point in time he had ruined a couple of deals I had set up for myself. I had met the brand new head of development for a low budget company which had just co-produced their first theatrical feature... this horror movie. They were looking for scripts. I pitched them my new script, and the guy said "Have your agent messenger it to me on Monday." I told my agent, he said he'd do it. I kept calling for progress reports, my agent didn't know anything. MONTHS later my agent admitted he still hadn't gotten around to sending my script! By that time the film had come out, become a huge hit, and the window of opportunity had closed. The horror film was NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the company was New Line Cinema. I fired my agent. I have not had an agent since.

Tell me about your first script sale? Who was it for and what happened?

My first HOLLYWOOD script sale: One of my DVC buddies, Jan Van Tassell, was going to drive to LA to see this actress from one of Paul's movies. She had a new film debuting at the American Film Market. I offered to drive and tagged along. When I first walked into the Beverly Hills Hotel for AFM I was amazed. The place was wall-to-wall movies! Hundreds of independent films, from genre flicks to Oscar nominated indies. And the producers TALKED TO ME. I said I was a screenwriter, they said "Send me your scripts". I ended up having meetings all week! More meetings than my agent had ever gotten me! By the end of the week I had two different producers who wanted the same script. But the script ended up selling to a third producer - a company called Spectacor Films that was going to make films for cable and PPV (before PPV existed). Spectacor got the script through a weird series of events. That actress from Paul's movie read the script and thought she would be perfect as the female lead, so she gave it to the line producer on this horror movie she was in. The line producer read the script and thought it would help him move up the Hollywood ladder, and gave it to a guy he knew at New Century Vista Productions. That guy took it to Spectacor. Next thing you know, I'm getting a phone call from some guy I've never even heard of who has no idea where this script came from... but he wants to buy it. I flew down and closed the deal - stayed in a hotel while they gave me story notes, did a rewrite, returned home and put in my notice at the warehouse.

Do you have a manager and or entertainment lawyer? Are they necessary and what do they do for you?

I just signed with Rob Gallagher for management, and I've had an entertainment lawyer for a while. You really need a lawyer in this biz to go over your contracts. My lawyer has put stuff in my contracts that I never even thought of. I now get bonus checks if a film sells a certain number of video tapes, if a film plays on certain cable networks, etc. I signed with Rob because I am in the process of changing my focus to theatricals, and I need access to theatrical producers. Weird as this sounds, I was the only non-nominated screenwriter mentioned on Siskel & Ebert's IF WE PICKED THE WINNERS Oscar show a couple of years ago, the Washington Post calls me "The Robert Towne of made for cable movies", many of my films out-rent studio films, those that are theatrical overseas often beat them in the box office... yet studio based producers have never heard of me. I wrote WarnerVision Home Video's top renter for 1995, yet parent company Warner Bros. has no idea I even exist. You'd think these companies would be looking to the home video divisions as a great place to find new talent, but they aren't looking there at all! Rob got one of my scripts out, and I ended up having meetings all over town on it. Now they know I exist.

You've written a number of scripts for what are called B-movies? How are scripts for these types of films different?

Budget. The average studio film costs $78 million, but B movies are usually made on a TV movie budget and schedule - $3 million (or less) and 18 day shoots (or less). All of that trickles down to the script. B movies have a limited number of locations and a limited number of speaking roles. You have to use imagination instead of expensive special effects. I do a whole class on this at the Script Magazine site (, but here's the quick version:

You are writing a high concept genre film (usually action, thriller, or family comedy) with only 8 locations and 15 speaking roles, no crowd scenes, no FX (or limited FX in sci-fi, I once had to write a sci-fi film with only 8 laser blasts), no weather, no big stunts, no expensive locations... and it has to be "actor proof" so that when they hire some B movie star who was a professional football player (and has no acting talent) he won't destroy your dialogue. You can write terrible dialogue for Morgan Freeman, and he'll make it sound brilliant... but if you write brilliant dialogue for these guys they'll make it sound average. Your film needs to at least be average!

I call this "chain saw juggling". On an A movie, you have to juggle character and plot and dialogue and actions and story and sub-text and theme and a bunch of other things. Well, on a B movie you have to juggle all of those chain saws PLUS limit locations, limit cast, limit effects, limit night scenes, remove crowd scenes, etc. It's twice as many chain saws!

B movies have nothing to do with quality... in fact, most of my films are better reviewed than studio films. The reason The Washington Post compared me to Robert Towne is that one of the film reviewers there named David Nuttycombe noticed that I had written a bunch of films he gave 3 stars (out of 4) to. I got e-mail from somebody in Maryland asking if I knew I had this critic-fan at the Washington Post... what a surprise! Since then I've found other reviews of my films, many of them citing the quality of the writing (without ever mentioning my name). I had a meeting at Warner Bros. a few years ago on a B movie script that everyone at Warners thought was an A movie script. Same thing happened with this guy who has produced two Ah-nuld films... he thought my script was an A picture, when it was written to be made on a B movie's limited budget. B = Budget.

Can you make as much money doing films of this nature?

An interesting question. The two things that cable films and DTVs have that theatricals DON'T have are opportunity and volume. They make about 800-1,000 cable and DTV films a year and only about 200 theatricals. So there's a much better chance of actually selling a script. Those 200 studio films tend to be written by established writers, and the cable and DTVs are written by inexpensive writers. You can't afford to pay William Goldman $1 million if your total budget is $2 million and half of that is going to the star! So you have a much better chance of selling a script. If you took all of the writers writing scripts aimed at studios and averaged their income, and took all of the cable and DTV writers and averaged their income... I think the cable and DTV average would be greater. We just work more often, and a much higher percentage of our material sells and gets made.

But not only is there a much better chance of selling a script, there's a much better chance of selling two scripts or three scripts. This is a volume business. I've had years where three scripts sold and actually got made. That's three checks in one year! If you are a good writer, you will build a relationship with a bunch of producers who will be CALLING YOU for scripts. While I was writing DTVs, I turned down twice as many jobs as I took. I even gave away stories because I didn't have time to write them. How many theatrical writers sell three scripts in one year? How many sell one script every three years?

On a DTV or cable film you make about 2% of a film's budget, but the producer usually subtracts the star salaries before figuring the 2%... On most of these films half the budget goes to the star! So you can't get rich writing cable films and DTVs, but you can earn a living...

By the way, the writer of a big studio film seldom sees 2% of the film's budget in his pay envelope.

What has proven beneficial about writing scripts like this? Things you've learned?

I've learned how to do more with less. If you can just throw in an expensive stunt or effect to solve a story problem, you haven't really solved the problem. On DTVs you are forced to solve the actual problem. No location change to a different character to take you away from the problem, you're stuck in THIS location with THIS character and you have to make it work.

I've learned how to streamline and distill a story to its essence. In a DTV every single eighth of a page of your script counts... so you have to get right to the point.

Because most of these films are designed as foreign theatricals, I've learned visual story-telling and characterization. I've learned how to write a script that really sells foreign. CRASH DIVE climbed to #3 on one of the Hollywood Reporter territory charts, selling more tickets than the big theatricals from the studios! Studio producers and development folks often don't understand how to create a product with an international audience. Every single film I have written did well foreign. At AFM one year a Polish distributor actually knew my name and wanted to have his picture taken with me. I've written films that did well in Japan, the Far East, Eastern Europe, I've even had theatrical hits in Germany.

The strangest part of foreign territories is that my films go head-to-head with big studio films, and frequently out perform them! They also usually are better reviewed. I have a review of GRID RUNNERS on my homepage from a British magazine that favorably compares it to VIRTUOSITY and JUDGE DREDD (two other sci-fi films that were released in England at the same time). In fact, when Entertainment Weekly reviewed VIRTUOSITY they said GRID RUNNERS was a better film.

Now that studios are becoming more aware that 60% of a studio film's income is from the international audience, the tools I have learned may come in handy.

I've learned how to keep budgets down. My cable film STEEL SHARKS is a good example. I had read in Variety that the Navy and Department Of Defense will give you free access to aircraft carriers and other heavy equipment if your script is technically accurate. I took this article to a producer along with my technically accurate script. We ended up making a huge Tom Clancy-style techno thriller on a MOW budget. We had Billy Dee Williams on an aircraft carrier, Gary Busey on a nuclear submarine, and followed around a Navy SEAL Team on exercises to get some amazing footage... no stuntmen, these were the real guys jumping out of helicopters in SCUBA gear! I used all of the money saving tricks I knew on this film (details in an article on my homepage called "Blockbusters On A Budget"). This film could have been made by a studio with a $20 million star and STILL cost LESS THAN HALF of the average studio film's budget.

In fact, many of the money saving tricks I have learned (confined cameos, centralized locations, etc.) can be used to make less expensive studio films. These tricks were what kept studio films from the golden age like KEY LARGO and CASABLANCA inexpensive to produce. It's almost as if the studios have forgotten them! Now that everyone is trying to find a solution to escalating movie budgets, it really surprises me that studio based producers aren't hiring low budget writers... guys and gals who KNOW how to make a $3 film that can compete with a $78 million studio film in the foreign market.

Are there any pitfalls in working in the world of B and C films? Are there really the shady producers out there?

There are shady producers EVERYWHERE. Remember David Begelman? How about Paretti at MGM?

Anyone with $20 can get business cards printed that say they are a producer. Bottom line - what have they actually produced? Can I go down to my local video store and rent it? I only work with real companies that have real offices (often own their own buildings). Deal with real producers.

Do you recommend more writers take a shot at writing for less expensive features to cut their teeth and hone their writing skills?

John Sayles first produced script was "Piranha" for Roger Corman. Patrick Shane Duncan ("Mr. Holland's Opus", "Courage Under Fire") broke in with "Beach Girls". The first sale for Jeff Maguire ("In The Line Of Fire") was a script called "Vampire Lust". Robert King ("Speechless", "Red Corner", "Vertical Limit") wrote a script about killer cockroaches for Roger Corman. Ferris and Brancato ("The Net", "The Game") wrote almost a dozen films about killer babies, vampires, crazed killers, and genetic mutants for the B Movie market. The list goes on and on. Name any big time writer... they probably started writing low budget movies.

What were your experiences like working on these projects? Did you work closely with the director and or producers?

The good news is - you are the only writer on the film. The bad news is - that means you will be destroying your own script in rewrites. You work closely with producers, directors, actors, foreign sales guys, and often gets notes from the cable company. All of these people have input on your script. A star once had me rewrite an entire script so that he could wear his lucky leather jacket! The original character in the script wasn't the kind of guy who would wear a leather jacket. You get to go out on set... look for me in movies that I have written! I often do cameos. You can see me in INVISIBLE MOM and NIGHT HUNTER in full-screen close ups!

Do you do much research when preparing to write a script? Do you travel? Take tours? Visit libraries?

Tons of research. You have to know everything your characters know, so I'm always in the library reading books and articles. Since almost no books are on the internet, you still have to use the library. I read five books on cloning and a stack of articles for my HBO World Premier Movie GRID RUNNERS. I had submarine specs for my HBO World Premiere Movie CRASH DIVE and knew every room onboard. I actually toured a submarine and aircraft carrier for STEEL SHARKS. I sat at the launch controls for the nuclear missiles, but they wouldn't let me push any buttons because I'd blow up San Diego.

A screenwriter has to be an expert on everything. I always say I'm an "instant expert" - give me a subject and a month to do research and I can tell you all about how stealth coating absorbs radar, and the two types of design technology and do a fair song-and-dance about how "active" stealth might have been created to make a completely invisible warplane (research for a made for Showtime film I wrote a few years ago called BLACK THUNDER). I'm currently working on a script about salvage divers and I've read a dozen books on the subject. I'm doing a script next year on dreams, and I've interviewed some folks on the Stanford Lucid Dreaming Project. Another script I have planned takes place on the International Space Station, and I have diagrams of the space station and a contact who was a Soviet Cosmonaut who spent more time living on MIR than anyone else... He knows what living for long period of time in space is like. Research actually opens the doors to great story ideas. After touring the aircraft carrier for STEEL SHARKS someone gave me this script called AFTERMATH that took place on a carrier. It was laugh-out-loud funny! It's like this guy had never even seen a PICTURE of an aircraft carrier! The worst part about this script is that you will NEVER get the Navy to let you onboard a carrier after reading it, PLUS this guy missed all of the really cool real stuff on an aircraft carrier that would be fantastic in a film.

On STEEL SHARKS the Navy accidentally gave me a DOD Intel report when they were Xeroxing a bunch of information for me... I turned that Intel report into a script called SHOW OF FORCE about an aircraft carrier group surrounded by enemy aircraft... with the President of the United States onboard. It's kind of THE ALAMO on an aircraft carrier... and it really
could happen!

Are their any screenwriting books you recommend? Magazines?

Read a bunch of screenwriting books, then throw them away. I learned the three act structure just from watching movies... there weren't any screenwriting books. That may make me sound old, but you have to remember that Syd Field's book didn't come out until the early 80s! Before that, screenwriters were on their own. I think there's good basic information in screenwriting books, but not much about actual writing. It's mostly theory by guys who have never sold a script. That's one of the reasons I wrote my book SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING - because there were no books about TECHNIQUES rather than theories. You have to actually write scripts to learn techniques. SECRETS OF ACTION is currently out of print, but should be back out early next year. I've also been tinkering with a low budget book and one on character building tools... I teach online classes at Script Magazine's website on both subjects and have at least 200 pages of
material on each. Might as well turn that stuff into a book or two!

Since I write for Script Magazine, I think everyone in the world should read it, even if they have no plans to write screenplays.

What's a typical writing day like for you?

Sleep late, caffeinate, write about 5 good pages, see a movie, go to sleep.

Do you outline all your scripts first? Write treatments?

Always outline. You need a road map! Without a road map you'll be spending so much time trying to figure out how to get to your destination that you'll miss all of the scenery! I think of it as two creative steps - the outline is one creative step, the writing is another. Trying to take two steps at once means you'll fall on your butt.

How do you approach rewrites? Any method or path that you typically follow?

Dig into the material for answers rather than trying to graft on something from the outside. The biggest problem with rewrites for producers at ANY level is that they usually try to solve a script problem by grafting something on, rather than going back to the central concept of the script and solving the actual problem. You end up using what I call "script spackle". It covers the crack, but hasn't solved the foundation problems. That crack is still there, under the spackle. I was up for a rewrite on a cable film recently, and my take was to just solve the script's problems without grafting on weird subplots or changing the central high concept. The script had a great idea, but was poorly written and seemed to forget what that great idea was after a couple of pages. It took a side-road instead of the road the high concept would take. So that great idea was MISSING from the script! The very reason they bought the script wasn't being used! The producer was more interested in grafting on a NEW high concept that had nothing to do with the central high concept... and allowing that missing original concept to remain missing! Now when they pitch this script it will take an hour! It's so needlessly complicated! I decided not to take the job.

You teach a lot and give a great deal back to the writing community, why?

The real reason probably has to do with my deep-seated need to be... Screw that psychological stuff! I had to learn everything through trail and error, so I'm just trying to save everyone else all of those dumb failures that I had. Also, I actually learn when I teach. I was doing an online class recently on beginnings and endings of scripts, and somebody brought up the end of a film that didn't seem to fit the pattern of movie endings I had discussed. So I had to sit down and analyze why and how that ending really worked. I realized there was a pattern that I had never considered before, and noticed other films that fit the pattern. You learn something new every day! Now that pattern is part of the class. Every time I have to break a script down into elements, I learn how to build a script.

The Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival had me out for a screenwriting seminar last month, and I'm going to be at the Santa Fe Screenwriters Conference in May. I write a column for the Independent Film Channel's magazine on screenwriting, and do regular online classes at the Script Magazine site. Every time I do one of these, I really have to study the craft of screenwriting to find the answers to student's questions... and I come away knowing more than when I started.

You also do writing for magazines? Which ones and do you enjoy writing articles?

My articles for Script and Hollywood Scriptwriter and IF Magazine are part of my learning process about scripts. It all began a decade ago when I subscribed to the newsletter that spawned Script - all of the articles were from Gurus who had never sold a script... some of their advice was dead wrong. I wrote a letter to the editor saying that I could write better articles... and they took me up on it! Until 5 years ago, I didn't even get paid for my articles. Though I'm getting paid now, it's beer & pizza money every two months... I'm not a Guru, just a guy who writes scripts and shares what I've learned. I just want to see good movies when I pay my $8, and the only way for that to happen is to have good scripts.

What's the one thing you wish more writers knew or recognized about themselves and the industry?

Two things that are related:

a) Screenwriting is not art. A film costs $78 million to make, and no one spends $78 million on art. Those producers want to make their $78 million back, plus make a profit. Screenwriting is just one part of a film... the script isn't the finished product and isn't intended to be seen or displayed in any way. So a FILM might be art, but a SCREENPLAY can't be art any more than an artist's model can be art before the artist paints her. Whether something is art or not isn't ours to judge... that takes the test of time. What we see as art today may be seen as pretentious crap ten years from now (if you'd like, I'll name some movies). William Goldman has a chapter in ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE about the golden year of film 1939 (a similar article in November 1999 Premiere Magazine on 1950) that has this huge list of great films from 1939. The thrust of the chapter is that they just don't make them like they use to. When you look at this never-ending list of great 1939 films you may notice how many of them made the recent AFI list of 100 greatest movies ever made, or you may notice that most of them are classics that still play on TV today (GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ and STAGECOACH and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and GUNGA DIN) but what you may not notice is that every single film on his list of great films was made by a studio as popular entertainment. They are popcorn films. GREAT, WELL WRITTEN popcorn films, but the primary reason they were made was to entertain a mass audience. That's the reason why they survived - they were both entertaining and well made. Ever hear of a movie called Dr. EHRLICH'S MAGIC BULLET? It was made in 1940, script by John Huston, and is about the guy who found a cure for syphilis. Very serious subject matter, a great film... forgotten because it's not entertainment. A film CAN be art, but it MUST be entertainment.

b) We are in a partnership with the audience. We are storytellers, which means we are telling stories to other people. If you are only interested in telling stories to yourself, please see your nearest psychiatric professional. Talking to yourself is what crazy people do.

Being in partnership with the audience means we are trying to share our emotions with them. Make them feel what we feel. My friend John Hill (QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER) says that films are EMOTION pictures, and he is right. Our job as screenwriters is to transfer our emotions to an audience or reader through the medium of the written word. Think of it as three gears. The writer is the first gear. The "writer gear" moves the "Script gear" which in turn moves the "reader gear". Our job is to move that reader. To create an experience FOR THEM. Every word we put on the page should be working to move the audience... to create emotions within the audience. If you have a sentence which isn't moving the audience, get rid of it. Remember that the audience is out there... on the other side of your computer screen. They are your partners... don't let them down!

Note: Most of Bill's articles can be found at Script Magazine's online site, where he also frequents their message boards.
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