Winner David Robinson
CHICAGO SCREENPLAY QUESTIONNAIRE
- What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?I’m David Robinson. I’m originally from New York, and have lived in Detroit and Chicago, before making my home in Los Angeles. Hobbies? I spend a lot of time with my dog and three cats—8 cats, at one point and lately I’ve been obsessed with a British reality show, “Don’t Tell The Bride,” wherein the groom is tasked with organizing the entire wedding (including choosing a wedding gown, bridesmaid’s dresses, the venue, and every other intricate detail), without any input or knowledge from the bride. I find it to be an interesting exercise in tolerance and the power of love. At least that’s what I choose to believe to help push the guilt of watching away.
- Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now? It was, I thought, a very simple idea, that flooded into my head instantly after watching one of my cats, Donny, use his paw to slowly and methodically push a half-eaten can of cat food across the countertop, sending it over the edge, crashing to the floor. He was so proud. So satisfied. He looked at me with such inquisitive confidence that I immediately started to wonder, what else could he accomplish if he really put his mind to it? As far as the timeline for creating the actual script, I think I was very lucky. For me, the process moved very quickly. In all honesty, it took me about four days to write the (admittedly, not so great), first draft. After about two months or so of seeking feedback from a few wonderfully creative friends, whose opinions I treasure and incessantly bouncing every implausible, crazy, or workable idea I could think of off the head of my partner David— who is not a writer but the most logical human being I’ve ever known—I felt as though it was time to start submitting the script to different competitions.
- From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process? Oh boy. To be completely honest, I’m not sure that I can. It’s funny. I recently had this exact conversation with my partner. I really don’t know how it happened. I wish I could point to a “process” that I have, that I’ve used in the past—a personal work ethic that I apply to all of my scriptwriting—but I must confess (and I knew this would come out sooner or later), that this is the first full-length screenplay that I have ever written and committed to. (You can probably tell, as I know you shouldn’t end a sentence with the word to. There! I’ve done it twice!) Sure, I’ve dabbled with shorter pieces and attempts at sections of screenplays, but this is my first fully realized piece. I think, however, that other training and experiences I’ve had have greatly contributed to the unexpected ease in which this piece came to fruition. For many years I was the Artistic Director of my own theatre company, The Foundry Theatreworks, based in Los Angeles. We were a very “writer-centric” company, focusing almost exclusively on original work. So with every workshop, every production, I was lucky enough to be working with brilliant writers who opened themselves up to collaboration. They taught me so much in terms of structure, plot, character, plot movement, you name it. And on top of it, I was lucky enough to direct these innovative, sensitive, and funny human pieces when it was time to present them on stage. It was invaluable. So, in terms of process, I’m sure my past experiences have given me a bit of an edge in terms of the process of creating a piece. As far as it being a “finished” draft, yes, maybe in its present incarnation for now but I’m sure I’ll continue writing and perfecting this script. I wake up in the middle of the night just to change a phrase, a sentence, a word. Coming from a person who is rarely satisfied, I think the evolution of this script will be ongoing, to say the least.
- When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter? I realized it while it was happening. I knew one thing: my earnest belief in this idea. I didn’t know where this script was going. I didn’t know what additional characters would enter into it besides my two “leads”. I didn’t have a plot. I didn’t have an outline. I didn’t have a whiteboard. I didn’t plan a single thing. Wait. That’s not true. The one thing I did think about first were the scenarios surrounding some of the deaths that took place in the script. Since one of my main characters (arguably THE main character) was a cat, it was very important to me that every death caused by the cat happened as the result of the cat being curious and “cat-like”. Every death had to be the result of the cat only doing what was in its control – nothing human-like, nothing other worldly, nothing that a cat wouldn’t do. And I wanted it to be cute. To a point, of course. Other than that, I just started with the other main character, Margaret, in the middle of a typical day and I just wrote. I kept writing, full speed ahead and the ideas within the script just fell into my head and onto the page as I wrote. Don’t get me wrong. The whole 110 pages or so didn’t just magically flow out of me all at once. But every idea I had just seemed to build upon itself in my head so I would write sections and set them aside until I eventually pieced it all together. So there! I guess I answered your previous “process” question after all. See? It just sort of happens.
- Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow? Hmmm. That’s tough. For me, I don’t think I can say that someone’s entire body of work is influential. I believe even the “greatest” artists have hits and misses. But in terms of my script, “The House Cat,” and where it is now, I would love to believe that it’s tone is in the neighborhood of the Coen Brothers—although their work is way up high in a mansion on a hill, and I just moved into one of the leftover 50s track houses at the very edge of town. In terms of films I appreciate and personally like, the genres and sensibilities take in quite a range. I love and appreciate everything from “In Bruges,” to Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger,” to the fabulously original Austrian version of “Good Night Mommy,” to a really great independent film I recently streamed, called “The Death Of Dick Long.” One thing I will always believe—any genre, with almost any budget, star-powered or not, can work beautifully if it knows what it is. That’s a problem I personally have with many films—they don’t know what they are. I believe that if you remain true to your story, with a fully realized tone and concept, then everything you create within should fall into place—voice, dialogue, timing, progression, visuals—all of it.
- Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why? Well, I have already confessed my current obsession with “Don’t Tell The Bride,” but others? Let’s see. TV: Seinfeld (I relate to the sensibility), Everybody Loves Raymond (what I consider to be a “perfectly crafted” sitcom), Breaking Bad (of course, Cranston for days), and there was this really shortlived drama a few years ago called, “Pan Am,” with Christina Ricci—I loved the look and feel of that show. Movies: I’ve watched plenty of movies over and over and over. The Godfathers (who hasn’t), The Abyss (lovely, progressive action sequences), Notting Hill (the perfect Rom-Com), Thelma and Louise (“the shorter one, the one with the tidy hair-do…she left me a huge tip”), Brokeback Mountain (beautiful tragedy at its painful best), Another Woman (beautifully told self-realization story of a woman in her 50s)—all those, and more. I do have an actual favorite movie of all time. A very little known made-for-tv movie from the 70s that I saw repeated somewhere, called “Just Me and You.” It’s a very simple story of two strangers traveling cross-country in a car, written by Louise Lasser, and starring Lasser and Charles Grodin. The story is all about the words, the connection, and the attitudes of these two slightly off-center characters. Very rich.
- What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why? This one’s easy. The 70s. (Very late 60s). Hands down, for me. This is the era, I believe, when filmmakers made the transition from, mostly, stock ideas and characters—devoted wives, authoritative husbands, good cowboys, bad indians, a very distinct line between good and evil—to telling stories of real human beings, no matter how gritty, unlikable, dangerous, or messy. And not to say that there aren’t great movies in all eras, but I believe this was the era when a new focus was put on real, relatable stories.
- Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why? Another tough one. You guys are good. I don’t know if I can say I have a singular favorite, but I like the messy ones. I like Norma Rae—complicated, messy, but a fighter. As previously mentioned, both Thelma and Louise, probably for the same reason. I’m a sucker for any “blonde” female character who is underestimated. Huh, I think I just realized…most of my favorite characters are women. That’s cool.
- If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them? I’d probably bring my parents back to iron out a few things there.
BY CHICAGO SCREENPLAY AWARDS DEPT.