There’s a good reason Planet Earth has been nicknamed The Big Blue Marble.
A little over 70 percent of it is made of water which includes its oceans, lakes, gulfs, bays, rivers and streams. Interestingly, the amount of water in a human body averages between 50 and 75 percent. Perhaps it’s this boatload of kinship with H20 that inspires so many books and movies in which water can be a good, bad or ugly ingredient in an epic plot.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What’s your favorite thing to do in a large body of water?
2. How much water do you drink each day?
3. If you had lived at the time of Columbus, would you have believed in sea monsters? Why or why not?
4. If you had your own yacht and crew, where would you most like to sail it?
5. If you had no crew but enough food and water for a long journey, would you attempt to cross an ocean by yourself? Why or why not?
6. What time of day do you most like to look at a water-themed view?
7. Have you ever been on a cruise ship? If so, what were your impressions?
8. If the underwater equivalent of the Biosphere were seeking volunteers to live, work and study at the bottom of the ocean for one year (and with absolutely no “shore leave”), would you do it? Why or why not?
DID I WRONG THIS GUY IN SOME PRIOR LIFE?
In 1851, Herman Melville penned “Moby Dick,” a seafaring tale in which a vengeful Captain Ahab seeks payback against the great white whale that ate his leg and destroyed his ship. One hundred years later, Ernest Hemingway published “The Old Man and the Sea,” a story in which a washed-up fisherman named Santiago believes that catching a giant marlin will restore his reputation. And who could forget 1975 (“Jaws”) as the year that a great white shark made snacks of the locals and not only terrorized a seaside community but made theatergoers wary of going near the water.
Your assignment: Thanks to the magic of animation, the whale, the marlin and the shark are meeting after work at their favorite grotto. Write a four-page scene in which they discuss why their respective nemeses harbor such vendettas against them rather than trying to figure out how to just get along.
INTO THE DEEP
A dangerous mix of confidence and arrogance has seen many the ruin of mortals that attempt to prove their superiority over large bodies of water. In 1997, “Titanic” set sail with too few lifeboats and not enough wits to recognize that racing through a seascape of icebergs does not bode well for a flawless maiden voyage. In 1972 (“The Poseidon Adventure”), it’s another ocean liner’s final voyage that courts doom when a rogue wave flips the entire vessel upside down. Again, it’s a quest for speed – coupled with a lack of extra ballast – that spells disaster when there’s an undersea earthquake. Nor should storm warnings ever be taken lightly, a lesson that the crew of a commercial fishing boat learns in 2002 (“The Perfect Storm”) when they get caught in the confluence of a hurricane and a pair of extreme weather fronts.
Your assignment: Whether it’s a spooky campground, an abandoned amusement park or a supposedly haunted mansion, teens in horror movies will always go to whatever venue they’ve specifically been told to stay away from. In the two-page film treatment you’re going to write, your characters sneak aboard an old submarine that’s dry-docked for tours. Imagine their reaction when the top hatch slams shut, the vessel leaves the harbor…and starts to submerge! Who – if any – will survive? And who – or what – is behind this depth-defying danger?
A RIVER RAN THROUGH IT
In 1889 the combination of torrential rainfall and a broke dam upstream of Johnstown, Pennsylvania resulted in a flood that killed over 2,000 people.
Your assignment: Write three separate monologues (one page each) from the perspective of a minister who believes everything happens for a reason, a snooty maven obsessed with how soon her home and everything in it can be replaced, and a thief who realizes that if he’s presumed dead, he can assume a new identity. For extra credit, construct a short scene in which these three characters interact with one another.
A TREE GROWS IN YAKIMA
In Biblical times, the warning of a great flood compelled a man named Noah to build an ark large enough to hold his family, a pair of every species, and sufficient food in order that they all might survive 40 days and 40 nights of nonstop rain. In 1995’s “Waterworld,” the total melting of the polar icecaps has created a post-apocalyptic environment in which everyone is forced to live on the high seas. And the 2006 black comedy “Everything Other Than Japan Sinks” envisions a futuristic premise in which all of the continents are at the bottom of the ocean and the island of Japan is suddenly the only refuge that is still habitable.
Your assignment: In the film you want to write, there are no more oceans or lakes or streams. Yes, global warming has literally dried everything up on Planet Earth but your plucky group of main characters has left what remains of a parched Seattle to try to find water. Exhausted and nearly ready to give up after several weeks of walking, they reach Yakima and are astonished to discover a towering green leafy tree. Write a two page scene in which they react to what this discovery means.
TAKEN WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
One of the ironies of living on a planet that contains so much water is that large swaths of the world routinely experience the hardships of severe drought. While desalination – removing the sea’s salt and minerals in order to make all that water usable – would seem a smart solution, it’s also an incredibly expensive one that not only taxes energy resources but impacts the ecosystem as well.
Your assignment: In the movie you’re writing, a villainous industrialist has just opened the country’s largest, newest and sleekest desalination plant on what used to be a popular stretch of beach in Southern California. What s/he didn’t count on at the press conference is an activist who has discovered that pumping the voluminous amounts of briny residue back into the ocean will kill every known form of marine life within the next 10 years. Write a three-page scene in which these two engage in a heated argument.
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 31 books, 157 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.