What is it about an island that makes it such a popular backdrop for literature, television, and feature films?
Is it the isolation from society at large that allows the stranded wayfarer to reinvent himself? Is it the challenge of human survival, to draw upon one’s strengths and inventiveness in order to create a safe and comfortable habitat? Or is it just the preference of the author to deal with a finite number of characters on one small patch of ocean-view real estate? 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.Have you ever wanted to live on an island? Why or why not?
2.Assuming that food, water and shelter were available for a month-long stay, what three items would you most want to have with you on an island?
3.What would be the best thing about island life?
4.What would be the worst thing about island life?
5.If you had to share your island with only one person you know, who would it be and why?
6.John Donne is credited with the phrase, “No man is an island”. What do these words mean to you?
IT MUST BE FRIDAY
Back in 1719, Daniel Defoe was intrigued by the real-life experiences of a man named Alexander Selkirk and, accordingly, penned a similar tale called THE LIFE AND STRANGE AND SURPRISING ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE. With only his wits and a few meager provisions to sustain him, Crusoe set out to forge a new existence. Companionship was brought his way in the form of a native who, without the hero’s intervention, might otherwise have ended up as the appetizer for a tribe of cannibals.
Your Assignment: To your knowledge, you’re the only survivor of an accident at sea and have washed up on an uninhabited island. There’s enough natural food available on this tropic isle that you know you could stay there for a fairly long time until rescue comes. A few weeks pass and one day you suddenly encounter another human being.
•What does this person look like?
•Where did they come from?
•Did they just arrive or have they been living there longer than you have?
•Does he/she speak the same language you do?
•Is this person hostile or friendly?
These are the questions you’ll need to answer as you write a three-page scene describing what happens the first time you meet.
Extra Credit: Hollywood wants to make a movie about your adventures. Write a synopsis of the key plot points in this film and who you’d cast as yourself and the other island inhabitant.
What does the vintage TV series LOST IN SPACE have in common with a classic novel written by Johann David Wyss in 1812? In addition to the same surname of “Robinson,” both stories explored the theme of a family unit literally getting blown off course and ending up in a strange, scary world they hadn’t packed for.
For Wyss’ core characters, the SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, it was an exotic South Seas setting replete with exotic animals, pirates, and enough raw materials to construct an elaborate, multi-branch treehouse. The Space Family Robinson, stranded on an uncharted planet, didn’t have to worry about building a home from scratch (they brought their own) but they did have to contend with some of the network’s doofier-looking extraterrestrials every week and a conniving stowaway named Dr. Smith.
Your Assignment: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, families are something you’re pretty much stuck with for life. Imagine how you’d feel if you were stuck on an island with them for three entire months. Write a two-page conversation in which you and your family members have gathered around a campfire for your first island meal and are trying to decide what the “rules” will be for living in this new environment. What are the strengths and weaknesses that each member - including you - will bring to the group’s survival and level of morale?
Extra Credit: What do you think that living on an island with your family will change how you look at your life on the mainland after you get back? Write a voiceover monologue about your first day back in civilization and describe your feelings.
GINGER OR MARY ANN?
It has always defied explanation why five people would feel compelled to pack so much stuff for what was advertised as a three-hour cruise with The Skipper and his little buddy, Gilligan. From the opening credits, the SS Minnow didn’t look to be that much bigger than the 20 foot cabin cruiser my parents owned and which felt claustrophobic with half as many passengers and a small dog.
TV buffs have additionally pondered why it was so easy for total strangers (including astronauts) to hop on and off the island freely but the seven stars just couldn’t seem to figure it out. Suffice it to say, the premise did provide fodder for a “guy debate” that has endured longer than the series itself; specifically, would they rather have Ginger or Mary Ann as a girlfriend?
Your Assignment: You’ve just been hired by a television studio to write a comedy script about seven strangers who end up living together on an island in the Pacific. From the following list, pick seven characters, assign them names, and write a character profile about each one, including any quirks which distinguish their personalities.
•A Construction Worker
•A Jewel Thief
•A Homeless Person
•A Postal Worker
•A 5th Grade Math Whiz
•A Travel Agent
•A Cab Driver
•A Video Store Clerk
•A Corporate Executive
•A Zoo Keeper
•An FBI Agent
•A Championship Chess Player
•A Game Show Host
Extra Credit: Write a one-page synopsis of your series’ first episode that explains how your characters ended up on the island.
ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE
Sometimes it helps to read the small print on travel brochures. In this case, the getaway vacation to a remote island left out a crucial piece of information. Specifically, it was formerly used by the military to develop a special strain of combat mushrooms. The first morning you awaken to a strange sound outside and rush to the window. You can’t believe your eyes. Fortunately, you have your cell phone with you.
Your Assignment: Write a one-page phone intercut scene between you and the first person you think to call about this quirky fungi fighting force.
Extra Credit: Write a one-page synopsis of a new science fiction movie that revolves around this premise (and don’t forget to include how it all turns out!).
In 1979, Walter Farley’s book, THE BLACK STALLION, was adapted to a feature length family film. In this story, a young boy and a magnificent black horse are the sole survivors of a storm at sea. They form a fragile alliance of trust in the first half of the film which subsequently enables them to win an against-all-odds horse race in the second half.
Your Assignment: The bad news is that you’re going to be marooned on an island. The good news is that you can have one animal of your choice to keep you company while you’re there. There are only three restrictions to what you choose: (1) with the exception of birds, it can’t talk; (2) it can’t possess the size or ability to transport you off the island; and (3) you can’t kill it and grill it. Write a 500-word film synopsis about your relationship with this animal.
Extra Credit: You’re now marooned on a different island and come across an animal that does not exist anywhere else in the modern world. It can be prehistoric, mystical, or even from another planet. Assuming that you’ll be rescued and can take this creature with you, write a one-page storyline in which you explain what you’ll do with it when you return to civilization.
HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, WILSON
Time takes on a whole new meaning to Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck, in CAST AWAY. An efficiency expert for Fed-Ex, Chuck’s view of the world and of himself is turned upside down when he washes ashore on the tropical strip of land that will be his home for the next four years. Two things sustain him in this lonely environment. The first is his love for his fiancée whom he hopes will still be waiting for him if/when rescue ever comes. The second is his affection for a volleyball he has named “Wilson” and with which he carries on one-sided conversations to keep from losing his mind.
Your Assignment: Instead of another human or an animal to keep you company, all you have is one inanimate object. What is it, what name do you give it, and why is it important to you? Write a three-page scene revolving around how you and this object spend a typical day on the island.
Extra Credit: A meteor storm has seriously crippled the intergalactic station you have been living on. Your only chance for survival is to take one of the space pods and hope that you have enough power to make it to the nearest star. You take a last look around and realize you can only take one memento with you. What is it going to be? And how will it help you keep your sanity as you wait for someone to rescue you from your “island” in darkest space? Identify your target demographic for this story, the genre, and whether it would best be delivered as a short, a feature, or a documentary.
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, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.