“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
Between 1974-78, television audiences enjoyed the fictitious adventures of astronaut/test pilot Colonel Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) as he used the superpower advantages of his new bionic implants to help rid the world of evil-doers. It staggers the imagination to realize that the passage of 40 years since the series debuted has seen the real-life development of medical marvels that make Austin’s reinvention almost seem like kid stuff. The writing exercises in this month’s lesson plans not only explore a variety of “what if’s” but also “why not’s?
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Which do you think would be worse to break – an arm or a leg? Why?
2. Which “sense” would you least like to lose forever – sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch? Why?
3. What catastrophic disease would you most like to see eradicated throughout the world and why?
4. Science and medical technology are enabling people to live longer than ever before. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your answer.
5. If a person has over half of her/his organs and limbs replaced with synthetic parts, is s/he still a human or a robot? Explain.
6. In The Six Million Dollar Man, Austin had his right arm, both legs and his left eye technologically enhanced. In the show’s spin-off, The Bionic Woman, Austin’s girlfriend receives new legs, a new arm and a new ear. If as the result of an accident you could have your arms, legs or one of your five senses replaced with awesome superpowers, what would your choice be and why?
Encouraged by their popularity in productions like The Walking Dead, Zombieland, World War Z and Dawn of the Dead, the zombies have decided to take over permanently. In the film you are writing, the last remaining humans are in lockdown at a remote outpost in New Zealand but time is quickly running out. The two lead scientists believe they have discovered two promising vaccines that will not only protect the humans from infection but also allow them to vaporize the zombies just by touching them. One of the vaccines will save 90 percent of the recipients; the other vaccine has a 50 percent chance of saving everyone but if it fails, all of the recipients of that vaccine will die.
Your assignment: Write a three-page scene in which the two scientists debate opposite sides of which vaccine should be administered before it’s too late.
HEART TO HEART
In 1967, South African cardiologist Christiaan Barnard became the first person to successfully perform a heart transplant. Although experimental kidney and lung transplants had made medical news prior to this (http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/transplant/html/history.html), Barnard’s accomplishment was considered a major milestone toward extending the warranty on human life. Since then, stem cell therapies and the development of synthetic materials have made it possible for individuals to survive – and thrive – against all odds. The question is: who gets chosen for a second chance?
Your assignment: The premise of the one-page movie synopsis you’re going to write involves three diverse individuals who are on the waiting list for a heart transplant. All three have been deemed healthy enough to undergo the surgery and it’s your protagonist who must make and justify his/her selection. Candidate #1 is a thirtysomething gang member with anger management issues. Candidate #2 is a wealthy elderly woman who has contributed substantially to the financing of the hospital’s new wing. Candidate #3 is a teenage girl with Down Syndrome.
Perfection is something that doesn’t occur in nature. When it comes to humans, this is a good thing because it means we are born into the world with a unique set of looks and traits that are subsequently shaped by our experiences and our environment. But what is everything could be genetically programmed prior to birth in order to yield a “perfect” child? Controversies abound about whether altering human DNA is advisable, especially if such tweaking was only made available to a select percentage of the population.
Your assignment: A childless couple signs up for a robot baby that will grow and develop just like a human child. In your three-page scene, they are filling out a questionnaire of all the programmable elements that will be uploaded to the little microchipster, including its physical appearance, talents, personality, and career aspirations. But what happens if these two can’t agree on anything?
LIFE ON ICE
Back in the 1960’s, a man named Robert Ettinger founded the Cryonics Institute, a facility inspired by Ettinger’s belief that - no matter what was ailing you beyond a cure - there would likely be enough advancements in medical technology in the future for you to be thawed out, treated and successfully healed.
Your assignment: The protagonist of your film has finally met the love of his/her life and is planning to enjoy a happily ever after. A grim medical prognosis, however, reveals that the protagonist has only one year left to live. There is an alternative, however. If s/he agrees to be put on ice within the next two weeks, s/he will be defrosted 200 years from now and will be 100 percent cured. Write a four-page scene in which the protagonist discusses this with his/her beloved and arrives at a decision.
The bad news is that the hero of your film lost both feet in a car accident. The good news, however, is that a pair of bionic feet were immediately attached and there doesn’t seem to be any adjustment problem. Well, except for one. The feet were manufactured in the back room of a record company and there’s a component embedded in the toes that causes your hero to start dancing whenever music is played.
Your assignment: Write a three page comedic scene in which your hero goes to a job interview and the prospective boss – all the while explaining the job duties - starts randomly channel-surfing on the radio.
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 30 books, 154 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.