June 17th is National Apple Strudel Day. No, you don’t get a day off from school, your parents don’t get a day off from work,
there’s not going to be a Main Street parade, and it’s also pretty likely that you won’t find a greeting card in the Hallmark racks to commemorate this obscure occasion. Still, there’s something special about giving pause – and having cause – to indulge in your favorite things whether it’s an “official” holiday or not. The screenwriting exercises in this month’s edition all revolve around celebrations. For younger students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of script structure, these lesson ideas lend themselves to extemporaneous storytelling and role-playing skits. Older students are encouraged to draft scenes into correctly formatted screenplays as well as film them for peer review.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What is your favorite holiday? Why?
2. How do you typically celebrate this holiday (i.e., food, decorations, travel)? Is this consistent with how others celebrate or do you have special traditions that are unique to your own family? If so, how did these special traditions evolve?
3. Describe the best holiday you have ever had and the things that made it so memorable.
4. Describe the worst holiday you have ever had. Did it influence your feelings or expectations about the next time that holiday came around? Why or why not?
5. If you could drop one holiday from the following list and replace it with a new holiday of your own, what would your choices be and how would the new holiday be observed?
New Year’s Day
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1943 Norman Rockwell completed a series of four oil paintings depicting essential human freedoms. One of them, Freedom From Want, shows a multigenerational family gathered around the table for a turkey dinner. In a perfect world, holiday get-togethers such as this would always go smoothly and a lovely time would be had by all. In reality, however, there’s often that pesky undercurrent of anxiety that the meal won’t meet expectations, dormant squabbles will reignite or someone will use the convenience of having everyone in the same room as the platform to make an unexpected announcement. This year, it’s all going to be about the mischievous-looking guy in the lower right-hand corner who looks like he has a secret he can’t keep any longer.
Your assignment: Give each of the characters in this tableau a name and determine what their relationships are to one another. Then write a three-page scene in which the main character reveals a surprise that absolutely no one saw coming.
A GREEN INITIATIVE
Does the U.S. have a national vegetable? If not, should it be the humble potato? The plucky carrot? The crunchy radish? Or should it be something that everyone across the country could unanimously agree never to eat again as a show of patriotism and respect?
Your assignment: A powerful lobbying group that represents the agricultural industry has succeeded in getting your story’s protagonist elected to Congress. In return for their support, he has agreed to propose a new bill that will not only put celery on a national pedestal but also declare March as National Celery Month. Write a one-page monologue in which he or she addresses fellow politicians to passionately explain why celery is worthy of this honor.
HEARTS IN THE WRONG PLACES
Up until the time I met and married my knight in shining armor, I had no shortage of boyfriends who clearly didn’t put Valentine’s Day in the same category of global importance that I did. Yes, there’s no question that February 14th is a jackpot day for florists, confectioners, jewelers and even restaurants. Who wants to show up empty-handed and face a sweetheart’s tears, disappointment or undisguised wrath? Then again, how upset could she be if her beau just happened to catch a sniffle the day before…
Your assignment: Your lead character has observed from past years that heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are always marked down at least 50% the day after Valentine’s Day. Having successfully cancelled their date on the excuse that he didn’t want to spread any germs, he is convinced that she’ll never know he purposely delayed the purchase of her candy. Write a two-page scene in which – chocolate box in hand – he rounds the corner of a drugstore aisle and runs into her.
Be it a news room, a paper company, a police precinct, a radio station, a fashion magazine publisher, a law firm or even The White House, numerous TV shows have been built around the premise of an office environment and the people who work there.
Your assignment: Identify a workplace setting that has not previously been used in a television show. Make a list of the recurring characters for your new series, the jobs that they each hold in the organization, and whether any of them are related to each other or dating. For your pilot episode, choose one of the following occasions as the central theme or conflict:
• October 19th – Evaluate your Life Day
• April 4th – Tell a Lie Day
• September 5th – Be Late for Something Day
• Friday after Father’s Day – Bring Your Dog to Work Day
• September 19th – International Talk Like a Pirate Day
• January 18th – Get to Know Your Customer Day
• June 19th – Recess at Work Day
• August 18th – Bad Poetry Day
Write a one-page outline of the pilot episode which introduces your characters to the audience for the first time.
WHAT GOES AROUND
Pity the plight of the poor Christmas fruitcake. Even when it’s homemade and given with the best of intentions, has anyone ever actually eaten one? Just as December 26th is legendary as the day that everyone hits the malls to use gift certificates, exchange merchandise or stock up on discounted wrapping paper and ribbons for next year, December 27th (National Fruitcake Day) is when decisions are made to toss, store or re-gift these candied, nutty, brandy-soaked loaves of dread.
Your assignment: Your protagonist’s elderly aunt always gives him or her a fruitcake every Christmas. Although it’s accepted graciously, it’s also routinely kept in the same festive tin in which it was delivered and quickly handed off to someone else who will likely repeat the same cycle. At the time your story opens, six months have passed since the holidays and the aunt happens to ask how your protagonist liked the surprise that was baked inside. It turns out that as repayment for the years of kindness she has received, she hid an heirloom ring valued at $25,000 as an early inheritance. Write a two-page film treatment that follows the protagonist’s frantic attempts to locate it. Make the resolution of this quest a twist ending.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 134 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.