There’s no question that politics can be a hot-button issue in a lot of people’s lives. Whether it’s an election for student body officers or aggressive campaigns for the country’s presidency,
the task of choosing one person over another can all too often cause ugliness to ensue, loyalties to be tested, and even friendships to come to an end. The exercises in this month’s issue all revolve around politics and how the various themes associated with the voting process can be used to better understand structure, pacing and character development in feature screenplays and shorts.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Have you ever run for a school office? If so, what was your campaign strategy and how would you describe the experience of getting your peers to vote for you?
2. What current political issues are you the most passionate about and why?
3. When you are old enough to register to vote, what party are you most likely to join and why?
4. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities you think a candidate for president should have?
5. Would you ever run for an elected office in your city, state or country? If so, what would your platform be?
6. What president in history would you most like to meet and why? What question would you most like to ask him?
Social media has become a popular way for people to engage in political debates. Unfortunately, the combination of posts, blogs and anonymous rants has also fueled a high level of angry mudslinging amongst people who might otherwise be more respectful of each other’s differences in opinion.
Your assignment: You and your best bud have always been at opposite ends of the political spectrum but have nonetheless managed to maintain an agree-to-disagree truce for the sake of the friendship. Imagine your reaction, then, when you discover s/he has been clicking “Like” and siding with Facebook friends in posts that cruelly attack your character and beliefs about a particular issue. To add insult to injury, s/he is carrying on as if you were oblivious to her/his participation in these negative posts. Write a three-page scene in which you confront the betrayal (which will either escalate or resolve it) or fashion an excuse to extricate yourself from the friendship without ever revealing why.
FANCY MEETING YOU HERE
“We may as well not vote this time around,” my ex-husband said to me the first year we were married. “We’re only going to cancel each other out.” It was about an hour before the polls were due to close. It was also raining heavily that evening and, admittedly, the thought of sloshing out into it to go cast ballots for our respective candidates was rapidly losing appeal. “Listen,” he continued, “you’ve had a really hard day. You shouldn’t have to cook tonight. How about if I just go grab us some Chinese takeout and you stay here and keep warm?” “That’s so sweet,” I replied (wise to his ulterior motives), “but why don’t I grab my coat and go with you?”
Your assignment: Write a two-page scene in which two people who agreed they weren’t going to vote arrive at the polling place at the same time.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST THURSDAY
When someone decides to run for office, his/her life becomes an open – and widely read - book. Everything this person has ever said or done becomes subject to scrutiny by the press, the public and especially by the opposition.
Your assignment: In a vicious two-person race for an opening on the city council, one of the candidates uncovers damaging information about his/her opponent who is currently ahead in the polls. The problem is that the incriminating evidence against Candidate #1 was acquired illegally by Candidate #2 who is involved in something equally shady. Write a three-paragraph film synopsis that identifies the main characters, what they were respectively doing, and how – or if - the information is used to influence the outcome of the election.
BY THE NUMBERS
In 1948, The Chicago Tribune prematurely issued what would go down in history as its most embarrassing political headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Owing to a printers’ strike, the paper had not only gone to press several hours earlier than usual but also banked on the predictions of a Washington correspondent who had a strong track record of calling presidential races. By the time the votes were fully tallied, the bogus news was already in circulation and had to subsequently be retracted.
Your assignment: The main character in your movie is a reporter for the school’s online newspaper who has been asked to count the votes to pick the new cheerleading squad. She’s excited that her favorite squad won because she knows that one of the girls will be moving out of state the following month and there’s a strong chance she’ll be picked for the slot. She writes up the winning story and hits the “send” button. An hour later, she discovers three ballots stuck in the bottom of the box that didn’t get counted. It’s only three votes but they give clear victory to the other squad. Write a two-page conversation between the devil on her shoulder who tells her that no one needs to know the truth and the angel on her other shoulder who tells her she has a responsibility to be honest.
LITTLE MISS INVISIBILITY
When I was in 5th grade, I decided to run for the illustrious office of class secretary. I made posters, I handed out lollipops, and I spent hours practicing my penmanship just so I could neatly record whatever monumental discourses transpired in the 5th grade Think Tank of student government. On the day of the election, I was standing by one of my posters when two classmates wandered by with their ballots and pencils, casually talking about who they were going to vote for. I held my breath in excitement when they got to the short list of candidates running for secretary. One of them read my name. “Who’s she?” her friend asked. The other one shrugged and replied, “Never heard of her.” I was devastated but rather than use that moment to introduce myself, I ran to the nurse’s office, said I was sick, and got sent home for the rest of the day.
Your assignment: Write a two-page scene in which the “invisible” candidate takes an assertive stand with his/her classmates.
VERY SPECIAL EPISODE
When a television series starts waning, three of the most common revival techniques are to throw a wedding, have a baby or mourn the death of “a beloved character.” Who’s to say that a desperate incumbent wouldn’t employ the same strategy to tug on voter heartstrings and turbo-charge his/her ratings?
Your assignment: Write a one-page film premise in which an incumbent employs one of the three strategies referenced above, successfully wins back the electorate, but then must actually deliver a marriage, a birth or a death within the next three months?
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, 144 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.