MessengerServiceGuyNews travels much faster in the 21st century than it did in the time of the Ancient Greeks. Technology has not only fueled our need for speed but also increased our level of impatience to be “in the know”. The screenwriting exercises in this month’s issue all revolve around newsworthy events of the past, the present, and the world of fiction and how they can be used to generate ideas for movies, documentaries and TV shows. For younger students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of script structure, these lesson ideas lend themselves to extemporaneous storytelling and role-playing skits. Older students are encouraged to draft scenes into correctly formatted screenplays as well as film them for peer review.




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

  1. What newspapers/magazines does your family subscribe to?
  2. Which section(s) of these publications do you always read first? Why?
  3. Do you watch news programs? If so, which ones?
  4. Do you watch talk shows? If so, which ones?
  5. Have you ever looked at a supermarket tabloid? If so, what’s the most bizarre story you have ever read?
  6. Do you use email and/or text messaging? If so, how many times a day do you use it?
  7. Do you have a cell phone? If so, how many times a day do you use it?
  8. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone by hand?



The next time you watch track and field events in the Olympics – or even when you’re doing laps and running relay races at school - take a moment to reflect that marathons trace their start to a man named Phidippides in the 5th century B.C. While much has been written about his famous 26-mile dash to Athens to deliver a victory message (whereupon he collapsed immediately after), he had already made a 280 mile round-trip just the previous week in an attempt to get military assistance from the Spartans. Although his appeal was earnest – the Athenians being mightily outnumbered by the Persian armies – his timing wasn’t quite stellar. “Listen, Phidi, we’d love to pitch in,” the king told him, “but the moon and stars aren’t quite right for us to take on new projects. Can you come back in – oh, I don’t know, maybe a week from next Thursday?”


Your assignment: Write a two-page scene between the King of Sparta and Phidippides in which the latter tries to convince the monarch to show a change of heart. This can be a comedy, a drama and/or use modern slang. Follow this up with a two-page scene in which an exhausted Phidippides returns to the battlefield with the bad news that the Athenians are on their own.



RockwellFreedomIn 1943, The Saturday Evening Post published the first of four “freedom” paintings by Norman Rockwell. His inspiration for the images came from a speech written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The painting above is called “Freedom of Speech” and reflects Rockwell’s remembrance of a town hall meeting he once attended in Vermont.


Your assignment: You’re a documentary filmmaker who has heard that a controversial topic is on the agenda for the next town hall gathering. You learn that the man standing in this painting is a key speaker and you want to build your documentary around why he has decided to speak up. Develop a one-page proposal in which you (1) identify the topic, (2) determine whether he is for or against this topic (and why), and (3) decide what kind of imagery and interviews you would incorporate in your documentary to make this a compelling show for viewers.




It’s a wonderful summer evening and you’ve found the perfect fishing spot in a tranquil ScottishLochNess loch. Even though the sun has started to go down, you’re in no hurry to leave, especially since there’s now something tugging the end of your line and it feels like it could be pretty big. Imagine your astonishment when a large green head rises out of the water and blinks its eyes at you in curiosity. You’re nose-to-nose with the legendary “Nessie”! You reach into your backpack to grab your cellphone…and immediately regret that it’s not the one with a camera feature. You’ve got to call someone, but who? The city newspaper? Scotland Yard? Your mom?


Your assignment: Write a two-page phone intercut scene between you and the person you decide to call about this astonishing sighting.




DeclarationofIndependenceThe Founding Fathers are throwing the media event of the century and you’ve been invited to attend. Your artist friend John Trumbull says that the tableau is already giving him ideas for his next painting. Your own interest in the signing of the Declaration of Independence is that it has all the makings of a great movie – compelling characters, lively dialogue (Ben Franklin as the quintessential quipmeister), and an element of risk for committing treason. Just as things are about to get underway, John Hancock discovers the inkwell has gone dry and there’s not a backup. Nor is the local print shop open today because it was prematurely declared a holiday. The confusion of all this tickles your funny bone.


Your assignment: Write a three page comedy sketch in which the panicked patriots try to come up with a solution before word getsSwordinStone leaked to the public.




Your producers at the network are looking to boost ratings and there’s an upcoming tournament at Camelot that may be just the ticket. You’d like to build a competition around pulling a sword out of a stone and the winner getting to be king…or queen.


Your assignment: Select six contenders from the ranks of fairy tales and write a YouTube speech for each one in which they tell viewers why they think they should win.




KimonoIn February 1942, Executive Order 9066 called for the relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps in remote areas of California, Utah, Arizona and other states. In early April you learn the terrible news that your best friend Sumiko and all of her family are going to have to abandon their strawberry farm, their house, and all of their belongings and be sent far away. Sumiko gives you her most treasured possession for safekeeping. What is it?


Your assignment: Write a one page voiceover monologue representing the “letter” that Sumiko is not allowed to mail to you. In addition to referencing what she has entrusted to your care, incorporate the things she is observing and what she is feeling so far from home. Decide what types of imagery would be shown during this voiceover.

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 [email protected] or through my website at

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.