Let's Do Lunch

As common as they are in movies and TV shows, scenes involving meals are some of the hardest for new screenwriters to write. This stems from a combination of time management issues, handling dialogue between chews, and the tendency to provide excessive direction (i.e., picks up fork, spears two carrot slices, brings fork to mouth, takes bite, etc.). The screenwriting exercises in this month’s issue all revolve around events that could happen at lunchtime.

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.

The older you get, the more complicated the concept of the midday meal.

When you’re in preschool or kindergarten, lunch is a blissfully happy time that’s bookended by play, a nap with a blankie and more play.

 

Throughout elementary school, there’s the angst of (1) trying to avoid bullies who will steal your lunch money, (2) leaving your lunch sack on the bus, (3) breaking your thermos, (4) worrying whether the cafeteria ladies with the hairnets are secretly trying to poison you, (5) trying to eat your lunch fast enough so you’ll have extra time to play, and (6) wishing that Taco Tuesday was more than once a week. 

 

As you move into high school, lunchtime becomes all about who you’re seen with. Do you eat junk food and hang out with the cool crowd or are you one of the geeks who brings pita bread and hummus and eats by himself under a tree? Rarely is a teenager’s lunch a time to relax, either, especially if the class immediately following it involves a chemistry test that wasn’t studied for.

 

It doesn’t get better by college where it’s now economics that govern your lunchtime habits, more often than not based on whether to put fuel in your car or fuel yourself to stay awake.

 

As for climbing the corporate ladder, lunch is never “just a lunch”. It’s about making connections, schmoozing with clients, sealing deals, picking up the tab, and putting it on an expense account. Worst of all, you can’t even order exactly what you want, especially if you believe the etiquette mavens who have declared that certain choices like ribs, chili dogs, and anything with Thousand Island dressing identify you as a rube.

 

Oh for the days when you could just eat your PB&J, catch some Z’s, and know the world was OK…

 

TABLE TOPICSsandwich00


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

 

  1. What’s your favorite school lunch?
  2. Who do you usually have lunch with? What do you talk about?
  3. If you could have any class right after lunch, what would it be?
  4. What dinner leftover would you least like to find in your lunch box the next day? Why?

THE SALMON THIEF

 

GoldilocksandBearIt was bad enough that she ate their porridge, broke a chair, and then took an uninvited nap in one of their beds. Less than a week after her escapade at the three bears’ house, Goldilocks has returned, this time helping herself to the lovely salmon that they had planned to have for their midday meal. “This is much too much!” Mrs. Bear declared in exasperation. “I’m going to have a talk with that girl and find out what her problem is.”

 

Your assignment: Write a three-page scene between Goldilocks and Mrs. Bear in which the latter uncovers the truth behind the intruder’s behavior and makes a suggestion to resolve it.

 

THEY’VE GOT A SECRET

TablesforLadies

 

In this painting by American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), we see four people at a Manhattan restaurant. One of them has a secret which – when revealed – will change the life of one of the other three. Is it the cashier? Is it the lady arranging items on the table? What about the couple in the corner?

 

Your assignment: Assign names to the people in this painting and create brief character profiles for them including such things as where they live, whether they have families, and why they’re in New York. Give thought to the secret-keeper’s motivations for breaking silence on this particular day, then write a two-page scene in which the truth is revealed and those who are present respectively react to it.

 

LittleGreenManLUNCH ON MARS

 

It’s the 23rd century and your Martian pen pal, Teflak, has invited you to spend a week at school with him. It’s exciting on the first day to sit in class and see what Martian students your age are learning. As lunchtime approaches, however, you start to get nervous. Teflak has assured you that he has made arrangements for your favorite Earth foods so you won’t go hungry. When you walk into the cafeteria, you can’t believe your eyes. You immediately think that what you’re looking at would make a great set design for a Sci-Fi movie.

 

Your assignment: Start out by drawing a sketch of what Teflak’s cafeteria looks like. When you’re satisfied with your drawing, translate this to a brief written description in proper screenplay format that addresses elements such as color, lighting, spatial relationships, and the inclusion/placement of unusual objects.

 

THE BEST FRIEND’S CHAIR

chair

 

Every day at noon you and your best friend always sit at the same table and eat lunch together. There are only two chairs and this suits you just fine because lunch is the only time you have to catch up on news. Today, however, your best friend has stayed after class for a few minutes to ask the teacher a question and you have gone ahead to the cafeteria. Right after you sit down, a new kid approaches and asks if it’s okay to join you. This new kid is not only someone you’d really like to get to know but also happens to be a member of the opposite sex. You’re torn between saying “yes” (and hoping your best friend will understand) and saying “no” (and maybe never getting a second chance).

 

Your assignment: Write a two page scene that involves you, the new kid, and the best friend. It should not only reveal the choice you make but also the consequences of that choice.

 

HarlemLunchroomFINE DINING

 

In 1916, photographer James VanDerZee opened a studio in Harlem and proceeded to capture on film the workaday lives of its African American community. One such photograph was the Manhattan Temple Bible Club’s lunchroom, a place where patrons – including single ladies - could enjoy a stylish meal at a modest price.

 

Your assignment: Assign names and relationships to the three ladies in front of the lunchroom. Along with the faces visible through the window, they all appear to be waiting for someone’s arrival. Is it a relative? A customer? A celebrity? An agent of the IRS? Using this tableau as your opening scene, write the first three pages of a movie involving these characters and the individual that shows up.

 

LUNCH DATE WITH HISTORYPatriots

 

Through the miracles of time travel, you can invite any famous person from the pages of history to come to the 21st century and have lunch with you.

 

Your assignment: Decide which famous person you want to dine with, why this person would be your top choice, and where your lunch will take place. Write a one-page scene in which you and the famous person exchange words for the first time. What would be the first words out of your mouth and how would he/she respond? Take into consideration as well whether you arrive at the venue simultaneously or one of you gets there ahead of the other.


 

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, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.