Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you're gonna get.
- Forrest Gump
Among the many elements that make a movie enduring – and endearing – is if one of the characters utters a quote that ultimately becomes synonymous with the storyline. Decades after the movie has been made, it only takes the memory jog of that familiar quote to bring it all back again. Our lesson plans this time around employ a bit of reverse engineering; specifically, to start with the line and build a character and plot around it.
1. In 2005, the American Film Institute released its list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time (http://www.afi.com/100years/quotes.aspx). These included such lines as, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” (The Wizard of Oz), “Bond. James Bond” (Dr. No), “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” (Jaws), “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary” (Dead Poets Society), “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” (Dirty Dancing) and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” (Casablanca). What is your own favorite movie quote and why does it have special meaning to you?
2. In Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff of Nottingham sums up his life as, “I had a very sad childhood. I'll tell you about it sometime. I never knew my parents. It's amazing I'm sane.” If you were to sum up your own childhood thus far for use as a movie quote, what would you say?
3. A catchphrase is an expression or short phrase that becomes commonly associated with someone because it is repeated so often. Examples of this include, “Thank you, thank you very much” (Elvis Presley), “D’oh!” (Homer Simpson), “Did I do that?” (Steve Urkel), “To infinity and beyond!” (Buzz Lightyear), “Elementary, my dear Watson” (Sherlock Holmes). What catchphrase would friends say is your signature line?
AS THE COOKIE CRUMBLES
Now and again there are movie quotes that sound as if they came straight out of a fortune cookie:
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (Love Story)
“There’s no place like home.” (The Wizard of Oz)
“If you build it, he will come.” (Field of Dreams)
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” (The Godfather II)
Your assignment: Hop on over to http://www.fortunecookiemessage.com and click on “Fortune Cookie Quotes.” From the 600+ plus pearls of wisdom in the site’s database, choose any fortune you like and that you think would make a great movie quote. Determine the following: (1) The genre of your new movie, (2) the setting and circa, (3) the context in which the line is spoken, (4) who says the line and (5) who hears the line. Now write one-page of dialogue in which your fortune cookie quote is delivered for inevitable posterity.
Why should movie stars get all the great one-liners that become part of our national lexicon? Despite their popularity in fiction, the following characters have come to your public relations agency and would like to be assigned their own snappy and memorable catchphrases that future readers will associate with their personalities, accomplishments and philosophies of life:
Anne of Green Gables
Alice in Wonderland
Your assignment: Choose any character from this list, come up with a quotable signature line and pen a one-page scene in which s/he uses it for the first time.
An actor’s memorable movie quote has a lot in common with an advertising slogan that is created to hype a product. Consider, for instance:
“Don’t leave home without it.” (American Express)
“The ultimate driving machine.” (BMW)
“Have it your way.” (Burger King)
“It’s the real thing.” (Coke)
“Because you’re worth it.” (L’Oreal)
“I’m loving it.” (McDonalds)
“Just do it.” (Nike)
“It’s everywhere you want to be.” (VISA)
“We try harder.” (Avis)
“Breakfast of Champions.” (Wheaties)
Your assignment: If the hero or villain in your movie idea were a cereal, a snack food, a car, or a beverage, what would his/her catchy slogan be? Write a one-page scene in which this distinctive tagline is used in a conversation. (Note: If you have a favorite advertising slogan, use it to jump-start your imagination on this exercise but change enough words to make it sound original.)
THE SIX-WORD STORY STARTER
In 2009, the editors of SMITH Magazine published Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak, a collection of short submissions that, in a minimalist context, speak volumes about the human condition. For example:
Her funeral made us a couple.
Baseball is much better without you.
Will always follow you. On Twitter.
Married the second guy who asked.
Love means lying about my weight.
Overly romantic soul, both wrong era.
I couldn’t get on the plane.
Your assignment: Choose one of the story-starters from the above list. Write a one-paragraph synopsis for a film short that revolves around the selected premise. Then compose a memorable quote for the lead character to say which relates to the core theme of the story.
JUST ONE MORE THING BEFORE I GO
Unlike real life, characters that die in dramatic movie scenes are often given exactly enough time to deliver one last – and sometimes lengthy - articulate soliloquy to inspire those gathered around them in their final moments. In real life, people don’t always know the clock is ticking and, accordingly, say things they wouldn’t necessarily want to be remembered for. My step-grandfather, for instance, signed off with, “Hey, Maris, fix me more toast while I’m in the can.” I’m sure my grandmother would have much preferred a final loving endearment, a compliment on her new apron, or even an insightful observation about the weather before he collapsed face-down on the linoleum. But no, it wasn’t meant to be. Nor did the late Conrad Hilton, iconic founder of the global hotel chain that bears his name, depart the world with a stirring, motivational message for the ages. Instead he said this: “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.”
Seriously. We don’t make these things up.
Your assignment: “Real” life meets “reel” life in this exercise in which you are writing an epic film based on any historical figure of your choice. The dearly departed person whose story you’re portraying will die by the final credits and, as everyone knows, Hollywood actors love, love, love scenes in which they get to deliver an Oscar-worthy monologue. The mega-watt star you have lined up for your movie wants this speech as the centerpiece of the death scene. Herein is the problem. If you keep the story historically accurate, the truth is that his/her famous last words just weren’t that quote-worthy or, as was the case with Albert Einstein, spoken in German to an attending nurse who had absolutely no idea what he was saying. If you can take creative license with the character’s final speech – well, that’s your assignment. Write a two-page death scene in which you put words in the mouth of your dying protagonist in a way that sounds completely plausible and consistent with what is known about his/her personality.
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.