Giant asteroids, annihilation by aliens, fast-spreading plagues, nuclear holocaust, global warming. As Earthlings we have quite a bit to worry about.
With nary a moment’s notice, life-as-we-know-it could suddenly change in cataclysmic ways, forcing all of us to go back to Square One and start over. Would we have learned enough from the past to become kinder, gentler and more cooperative with one another? Or would a radically dystopian environment make it “every man for himself” and cause us to start honing our archery skills?
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Do you think the world will end in your lifetime? Why or why not?
2. How many movies have you seen in which a futuristic Earth looks like a pretty scary place to be? Which was your favorite and why did you like it?
3. Robert Frost wrote a famous poem that begins, “Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice.” What would the first two lines of your own poem be that represent opposing forces? (Example: “Some say the world will end in rain. Some say in sun.”)
4. If you knew for certain that life on Earth would cease to exist in one week, how would you spend the last seven days? Who would you want to be with before the lights go out forever?
5. If you put together a time capsule for future inhabitants to discover, what would you put inside to let them know what life was like before The End?
LAST ONE STANDING
In The Hunger Games, a 2012 film adapted from Suzanne Collins’ YA novel of the same name, teens and tweens are chosen by lottery to compete in a televised death battle in which there can only be one survivor.
Your Assignment: The futuristic film you plan to write is a comedy. Instead of archery, however, the game that’s now afoot is marathon bowling. Write a two-page scene in which the organizers of this competition explain the rules and the consequences of failure. Make it as goofy as possible.
SAY GOODNIGHT, EARTH
Earth is the target of an impending asteroid collision in Finding a Friend For the End of the World (2012). People react to this news in different ways – some going on about their lives just as before, some engaging in crazy behavior, and others wistfully wondering if there’s any chance to make up for lost time and revisit missed opportunities.
Your Assignment: The lead character in your film short decides that s/he wants to spend the last 24 hours of life on Earth with someone s/he had a major – but secret - crush on at school. A text message is sent and, amazingly, the recipient says “yes” and agrees to a meeting place. The problem, however, is that it’s not the person the sender thinks it is. Write a one-page synopsis that identifies the characters, describes their respective reactions when the mistake is discovered, explains what happened to the intended recipient, and provides a resolution to the mix-up. For the second half of this assignment, choose any scene from the story and write three pages of dialogue.
NOW BOARDING FOR STARS UNKNOWN
Whether it’s the vengeance of Mother Nature, a man-made disaster or an external threat, movies and TV shows often employ the premise that those with the wits to craft a successful exit strategy and set up camp in another world will then become the forefathers of a new civilization.
Your Assignment: Having kept a steady finger on the pulse of upcoming destruction, your lead character has built a rocket that is capable of leaving the gravitational pull of a doomed Earth and establishing a colony in the nearest hospitable galaxy. The only problem is that the spacecraft can only take ten people including the builder. Will s/he choose family and friends – none of whom have any useful skill sets – or select nine strangers that have the background and survival know-how to ensure Earth Two’s success and sustainability? Write a two-page film treatment based on this conflict and the influences, events and emotions that shape the decision-maker’s conscience.
THIS PLANET ISN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US
In Lissa Price’s YA thriller, Starters, a global epidemic has wiped out everyone who is middle-aged (i.e., parents, teachers, etc.). The only ones to survive are those who had already been vaccinated – the young (who are poor and living on the streets) and the old (who are extremely wealthy and living in mansions). This sets up a sinister dynamic in which – for a potentially lethal price - youthful perfection becomes a much sought-after commodity.
Your Assignment: In your proposed TV series, there are only two types of personalities remaining after a planetary plague. Whether it’s due to their looks, their belief systems or their habits (i.e., neat freaks vs. slobs), these polar opposites can’t even be in the same room together. Complicating the equation, one side has something that is vital to the other side’s existence. Write a one-page synopsis for the pilot episode that (1) introduces the two personality types, (2) reveals the controversy that will drive the series, and (3) ends in a cliffhanger.
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
It’s hard to imagine going without any modern conveniences – indoor plumbing, electricity, blow dryers, cell phones, computers. And yet some people purposely walk away from all of these modern trappings and embrace a blissful life of isolation out in the woods. Which is why they are likely to miss the memo that everyone else just caught the last shuttle off the planet.
Your Assignment: The self-sufficient lead character in your movie has been contentedly living alone for the past 15 years, totally unaware of what has been going on back in Civilization. Write a two-page scene in which s/he makes the discovery that someone – a friend or a foe? - has trespassed into this secluded realm.
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Opossums have been around since the Cretaceous Period. Not only does this mean that they were hanging around with dinosaurs but that they also had the adaptability to adjust to a changing environment and climate and find new sources of food – something that their big-footed pals couldn’t accomplish.
Your Assignment: You’ve been asked to develop an animated feature film about a talking opossum family that, through the generations, has kept up a lively tradition of oral storytelling about their species’ early years on Earth. Make a list of characters in your possum family and ascribe unique traits to each one. Then write a two-page scene in which one of them sees the first Neanderthal and holds an urgent family meeting to discuss what should be done about this potentially dangerous creature.
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.