"X" Marks The Spot | Print |
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Written by Christina Hamlett   

What’s the last movie or TV show you watched and what was the biggest role in it that had no dialogue? New writers often forget that the setting in which a plot unfolds plays as significant a part as any of the story’s characters in creating a mood, engaging an audience’s imagination and holding their attention. The exercises in this month’s issue revolve around locations and how they can be used to inspire ideas and “set the stage” for feature screenplays, shorts and television programs. 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. How many cities, states and foreign countries have you lived in or visited on vacation? Which of these do you think would make the most interesting backdrop for a full-length movie? Why? Which of these do you think might be boring? Why?

2. What is your favorite television show? Where does the action primarily take place? (i.e., in an apartment, at a firehouse, on an island). Would the show’s premise still work if its current locale were changed to someplace else? Why or why not?

3. What is the funniest or strangest manmade landmark you’ve ever seen?

4. What is the grandest or most beautiful natural landmark you’ve ever seen?

5. What place in the world would you most like to travel to and what’s the first thing you’d want to do as soon as you got there?

6. What is your favorite place to spend time by yourself? What influence – if any – does the weather have on your outlook when you’re there?


Harrod’s in London is one of the most famous department stores in the world. For a lot of first-time visitors, the most amazing sight is its Food Hall – an astonishingly oh-so-posh grocery where you can buy every type of food imaginable. (It’s often said, in fact, that if you can’t find a particular item at Harrod’s, it probably doesn’t exist.)

Your assignment: Three best friends – all of whom hate fruits and vegetables – accidentally get locked overnight in Harrod’s. Even worse, they’re trapped in the Fruit and Vegetable section of the Food Hall. Write a two-page scene in which they contemplate what to do to deal with their growing hunger.


Rachel, Nevada may not be a familiar name but its proximity to Area 51 made it the perfect locale for some entrepreneurs to open the “Little A Le Inn” a couple decades ago and attract like-minded tourists who believe that life exists on other planets.

Your assignment: What better place for real extraterrestrials to blend in with Earthlings? Write a one-page synopsis of a film short in which an outer space family crash-lands in the desert. Their mistaken belief that this establishment is an actual way-station for aliens is matched only by the owner’s belief that the new arrivals are human actors in costume.


At the height of the Industrial Revolution in England, the need arose for a second bridge to span the Thames and accommodate the increased flow of pedestrian and carriage traffic into London. The finished product - Tower Bridge – quickly became one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

And what about the first bridge, you ask? In 1962, London Bridge was deemed unsafe, sold to an American real estate mogul, and dismantled for shipping to Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Since its original name was retained, you can imagine the confusion it causes insofar as which bridge is which.

Your assignment: A pair of pen pals decide to finally hook up in person and determine that London Bridge would make an interesting backdrop for their first meeting. The one who proposes this idea assumes that her friend knows she’s talking about the bridge in Arizona. The friend, however, excitedly hops a plane to the U.K. Write a two-page telephone conversation in which one calls the other to find out why the other one hasn’t shown up. (Note: You’ll need to look up an international timeline website to find out what time it is in both locations when the phone call takes place.)



California redwood trees are not only the tallest trees in the world but are also among the oldest. As you can imagine, these trees require a lot of water. In their natural habitat along the California coast, dense fog accounts for about 25 percent of the moisture necessary for their survival.

Your assignment: The protagonist you’re going to write about is passionate about social causes. (You get to pick the cause.) A philanthropist has agreed to write a big check to support the chosen cause on the condition that your protagonist spend one week living in a tree. The philanthropist gets to pick the tree and – you guessed it – it’s a towering redwood. Write a two-page scene in which the protagonist’s parents, best friend or romantic interest try to convince him/her that this is a dangerous idea.


There are lots of wild, wacky and just plain weird landmarks scattered across the United States. Nebraska’s “Carhenge”, for instance, is a circle of 38 vehicles set up in the same configuration as Stonehenge in England and spray-painted gray to look like ancient stones.

Your assignment: Visit www.roadsideamerica.com and either click on one of the popular themes or search for strange sights right in your own state. Whichever one appeals to you the most as a great setting for a movie, write a two-page summary that identifies the main characters, the conflict, how the attraction is used (i.e., a chase scene, a place where the characters work, a search for treasure, etc.), how the conflict is resolved, and why you chose this landmark.


Niagara Falls straddles the border between Canada and New York and its “Maid of the Mist” boat rides have been a longstanding attraction for tourists who don’t mind donning raincoats and getting wet in order to see a breathtaking (and noisy) cascade of H20. This natural wonder has even spent some time in the Hollywood spotlight. What many people believed, in fact, was a splash of computer generated imagery for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was actually footage of the real-life falls shot from the American side.

Your assignment: Write a two-page scene in which Niagara Falls is prominently featured as the backdrop during a conversation between two characters of your own choosing.


Lots of movies have used the deserts of northern Africa for scenes involving action, adventure, mystery and the supernatural. Some of these include:

· Hidalgo

· Indiana Jones

· Sahara

· Casablanca

· The English Patient

· The Mummy

· Lawrence of Arabia

· Alexander

Your assignment: Let’s give Ancient Egypt a fresh new spin. Write a one-page treatment for a prime-time sitcom that uses pharaohs, pyramids, camels and mummies. Your treatment should include a list of the recurring characters, the themes that drive their actions, and the 1-3 locations in which each week’s storylines unfold.

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 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it 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, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.