When I was a teenager, I had a huge crush on Audie Murphy after watching all of his movies.
One of the things on my wish list, in fact, was to actually meet him in person.
On a day in May of 1971, I came home with the exciting announcement that I had just been cast in my first play at the Gaslighter Melodrama Theatre. My joy, however, was quickly overshadowed by the evening news that America's most decorated soldier had been killed that same day in a private plane crash in Virginia. As I tried to absorb this devastating turn of events (eerily, the crash occurred while I was auditioning onstage), I remember rationalizing that getting one dream is sometimes at the cost of losing something else.
Ten years later I was in Washington DC and decided to take a tour of Arlington National Cemetery. I was aimlessly wandering around taking pictures when I suddenly looked down and realized I was standing in front of a simple marker. In death - as in life - he remained a soft-spoken Texan who didn't like drawing attention to himself. As I knelt down to read the inscription, I was reminded of how sad I felt that I never got the chance to thank him for being a hero to his country...and a hero to a starry-eyed teen.
And as if in response to that moment of sorrow, a light rain began to fall.
This month’s lesson plans are all about heroes – those that are larger than life and those that influence us by performing quiet, unsung deeds worthy of our respect and admiration.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What is your definition of a hero?
2. Who are the personal heroes in your own life (and why)?
3. Have you ever met your hero(es)? If so, were they the same way in person that you imagined them to be from everything you knew about them?
4. If you could time-travel and meet any heroic man or woman from the past, who would it be and what would you most like to ask him/her?
5. Celebrities in sports, film and music are often elevated to “hero” status because of their popularity. Why or why not is this a good thing?
6. The media has no shortage of stories about individuals that take risks just to show-off and put themselves in the spotlight. If an illegal stunt results in a tragedy (i.e., the May 2015 BASE-jumper deaths at Yosemite), should the deceased be lauded for doing something heroic or criticized for doing something stupid?
7. Who is your favorite action-hero in a movie and why? Minus their super-powers, would these individuals still be hero-quality?
8. Of the 50 good guys and good gals listed on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years of Heroes and Villains (http://www.afi.com/100years/handv.aspx), which one would you most want to have as your best friend, mentor or protector? (and why?)
In the “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947 and 2013) the “hero” is a daydreamer who suddenly finds himself in a real life action drama. Let’s say that your own protagonist works as a barista at a local coffee shop trying to work her way through college. As she makes the lattes and mochas and espressos, her thoughts frequently drift to daring exploits.
Your assignment: Write a three page scene where someone she idolizes as bigger-than-life is across the counter and while she is taking his/her order she’s told something that causes her to envision an escape from her dreary existence and the start of an adventure. What is she told? Does she quit her day job immediately and embark on a journey of high-stakes danger or just play it safe and keep pouring those coffee drinks?
SMALL TOWN HERO
What if the only claim to fame that a backwoods town has for the history books is that one of its native sons died a valiant hero during the war? And what would be the repercussions if they learned 50 years later that the wrong person was buried with honors in the local cemetery?
Your assignment: In the movie you want to write (and this can be any era), your protagonist and his/her family have always revered the memory of Great Uncle Joe and his bravery in battle. So, too, has the rest of the community and, in fact, they’ve not only planned an upcoming parade but also the unveiling of a statue in the town square. Write a two page film treatment wherein the protagonist is shocked to learn that there’s been a case of mistaken identity; the soldier they buried half a century before isn’t even related to any of them. Will s/he speak up to correct the mistake or allow the townsfolk to continue to live with a legend that makes them happy?
Sometimes the nerdiest people can surprise you with hidden talents. Take that mild-mannered, bespectacled reporter at The Daily Planet. Who knew that if civilization was in need of rescue, this guy could duck into the nearest phone booth, emerge in a caped costume, and fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Your assignment: Write a three page scene in which the protagonist of your story discovers that his/her best friend at school has a super-hero power that’s completely incongruous with their physical appearance, demeanor and social life.
In “Norma Rae” (1979), Sally Field portrays a single mother who takes up the risky cause of unionizing her workplace. Meryl Streep played Karen Silkwood in “Silkwood” (1983), a drama that explores whether the real life hero was murdered out of fear she would expose wrongdoings at a plutonium processing plant. Consider whether female heroes present different challenges for writing than their male counterparts. Is it because of the use of force? Note “AEon Flux” (2005) or the character of Natasha Romanoff in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014). Or is it because of our own perceptions of gender strengths and weaknesses?
Your assignment: Write a two page treatment for a female hero who is a military veteran and single mother of two who finds herself uniquely situated to save America. But at what cost?
FAME’S FLIP SIDE
Several super heroes of film are very wealthy individuals. Is it easier to be a super hero when you don’t have a day job? Is it easier to be an action hero when you are generating squillions of passive income? The mega-rich of the action genre includes Britt Reid (“Green Hornet”), Bruce Wayne (“Batman”) and Tony Stark (“Iron Man”). But what happens if the market crashes?
Your assignment: Write a three page treatment for a sitcom where these three formerly wealthy heroes are reduced to sharing an apartment. What happens when Batman can’t pay his dry cleaning bill, the Green Hornet owes Kato back due wages, and Iron Man’s most daunting battle is with the IRS?
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 31 books, 157 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.