Start Your Engines

From the time the first Model T became available to the masses in 1908, our love of cars and the open road has never faded. 

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Not only is the automobile indispensable for getting to school, getting to work, going on a date, and taking a family vacation but it has also figured prominently in movies and television. A car can be replete with slick gadgetry and driven by secret agents like James Bond or caped crusaders like Batman. It can take its passengers on whimsical flights of fancy (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), speed its way to life in the past lane (Back to the Future), or dispense advice (Knight Rider; My Mother the Car). And, of course, cars garner quite a crowd whenever the stakes of competition are high (The Great Race, Days of Thunder, Cannonball Run, The Love Bug). There’s even a BBC television program called Top Gear in which the trio of hosts introduce viewers to some of the most expensive cars in the world, engage in various comedic contests, and perform low-budget makeovers on vehicles that have clearly seen better days. This month’s lesson plans are all about our favorite way to get from one place to another.

TABLE TOPICS

These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.

1. What was the first car you can remember riding in?
2. If money were no object, what car would you most like to own? Why?
3. If you were a spy and could outfit your car with all manner of special devices, what would be your top three “must-haves” and why?
4. Highway or surface streets?
5. Not all drivers drive on the right-hand side of the street. If you were traveling to a foreign country on vacation where drivers drive on the left, would you try this or would you find some other means to get where you wanted to go?
6. What is your favorite car color?
7. What is your least favorite car color?
8. Big car or small car?
9. If you were a scientist and asked to design a car that could run on something other than gasoline or electricity, what’s the craziest (and least expensive) thing you would come up with?
10. A lot of people give their cars a special name as a way to acknowledge the car’s personality. What would you name your car and why?

Taxi! Taxi!

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From the first days of film, actors have been saying “Follow that car!” and “Step on it!” when they get into a cab. A staple of urban settings and film noire, the cab has literally been a vehicle for comedy (Taxi – the TV series), psycho-drama Taxi Driver (1976), and crime movies such as Collateral (2004) with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. What is it about cab drivers that make them compelling characters in both leading and supporting roles? Is it that they are, in essence, a captive audience for the fare? Or maybe is it because a cabbie is the quintessential reluctant accomplice who must abet the plans of the passenger if for no other reason that s/he must make sure the passenger gets to their final destination, regardless of what happens when that occurs?

Your assignment: Write a one page synopsis for a possible television series where a struggling funeral home operator in San Francisco decides to make some money on the side by signing up to drive for Uber using his hearse to pick up rides.

My U Joints are Killing Me!

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My Mother the Car was a short-lived television series in 1965 featuring the lead character’s deceased mother reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile. Seventeen years later, Knight Rider had its hero driving KITT – short for Knight Rider Two Thousand – a loquacious and sometimes contrarian vehicle whose dialogue made it appear that the car was the brains to David Hasselhoff’s brawn and perfectly coiffed hair.

Your assignment: Write a three page scene where these two cars are in the waiting room at the local garage. What do they notice about each other? What experiences do they recall?

Super Sale

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Batman, the Green Hornet, and even 007 have impressive rides to get them around town in short order. In True Lies, Bill Paxton is an archetypal used car salesman who tries to convince women he is a secret agent. That works until he tries to seduce Jamie Lee Curtis, who happens to be super-spy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife. But even Arnold has a scene where he pushes the envelope as a prospective buyer in a vintage Corvette Paxton is trying to sell him. There is something about fast cars that generally are part of the super hero image. While Superman can fly, however, he doesn’t have a set of wheels.

Your assignment: Superman decides it’s time to get a car after watching how people fawn over the Batmobile. He goes to a neighborhood car dealership to scope out what’s available. Write a three page scene where a car salesman tries to sell the Man of Steel the perfect car to fit his image.

Road Trip

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In the National Lampoon Vacation movies, we follow the misadventures of the Griswold family as what is supposed to be a time for the family to relax and have fun inevitably turns into various humorous disasters. Summer vacations are part of America’s culture, especially when the family gets in the car and enjoys the open road. But families are not always on their best behavior when spending long hours looking through a windshield as the world goes by.

Your assignment: Write a two-page film treatment for a family summer road trip. The Cullen family, however, has one little problem. They’re vampires. Chronicle their adventures and what happens when they take a mortal girl/boy friend along with them.


Like a Good Neighbor

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Car wrecks are inevitable. In film, they can also be downright spectacular. Fortunately, in the real world most accidents involve minor scrapes and dents to cars and the obligatory exchanging of insurance information. It’s not the best way to meet new friends, as was the case in Tin Men (1987) where competing aluminum siding salesmen first come upon each other when their cars crash.

Your assignment: Write a three page scene where two food truck drivers collide while competing for a prime space in front of an office building. What kind of food is in each truck? What happens when the drivers start talking? What do the office people do for lunch?


ChristinaHamlettAs 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, 134 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.