Screenplay Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire (Justin Daab)

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live?

I am Justin Daab. Born and raised just outside of Chicago, but I’ve been living in downtown Chicago for the past 30 years.

What’s your hobby?

Professionally, I am a design thinking and innovation consultant. When I am productively procrastinating, I am a musician, composer/producer, amateur luthier, and year-round bicycle commuter—at least when people are actually commuting. Also a darn fine dancer (though, admittedly, not all at the same time).

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed you as a Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

So, if I have anything resembling a superpower, it would be to spot look-alikes. Just google Bryan Cranston and Gordon Lightfoot. One day, I realized that Ed Helms and Hugh Grant, despite being wildly different personalities, had surprisingly similar facial structures. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it, so to speak, and I just started walking through scenarios.

Say they were half-brothers; why is one American and one English? And from that line of inquiry, I came up with the basic relationship between the main characters that drove the rest of the screenplay outline and character development.

 I wrote the treatment a few years back, but it sat in a Google doc unattended to until COVID-19 hit. Writing the actual screenplay was part of my lockdown projects. The actual script took just a few months of getting up early and writing before everyone else in my house started their days. Along with this, it took a few obsessive weekend writing sessions.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

My first step was to write a three-page script outline that defined all of the basic plot points, main characters, motivations, points of conflict, resolutions etc.

In my 20s, I auditioned and was accepted into the Second City Conservatory here in Chicago, and learned the techniques for improvisational comedy. It really influenced me on how to write a film script, especially writing dialogues. I tend not to think too much, but rather start conversations in my head and let those conversations flow onto the page without much editing at first. Of course, I go back later and revise, but the first draft of a scene usually comes to life without much anguish.

Other than that, I thought about how each scene might fit into a classic hero’s journey:

1. The Ordinary World

2. The Call of Adventure

3. Refusal of the Call

4. Meeting the Mentor

5. Crossing the First Threshold

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

8. The Ordeal

9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)

10. The Road Back

11. Resurrection

12. Return with the Elixir

I guess every screenwriter should probably give Joseph Campbell co-author credits.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

For me, that’s kind of a funny question. There’s a pivotal scene in the screenplay that is driven by the realization that the words we use to define ourselves can distort or impede our abilities to see or understand who we really are and what will make us truly fulfilled.

I have never defined myself as a screenwriter. I guess, if anything, I am a storyteller, and in this case, I thought the most compelling medium for telling this particular story was a screenplay. I had written and directed television commercials, but “Créme Victoria” is actually my first attempt at crafting a feature-length script.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?

Pardon me if I sound like a terrible cliché here, but I’d have to say, Akira Kurosawa, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Aaron Sorkin, and Christopher Guest.  I think I took the idea from Kurosowa, that a character’s motivations could be resolutely internal. The world throws seemingly insurmountable challenges at them, but they don’t really change. They become the immovable object being struck by an unstoppable force, which can only lead to something great and unpredictable.

From Kieślowski I took away an understanding that an intimate, deftly executed visual can convey intense emotions and reveal motivations more powerfully than pages of dialogue (there’s actually an obscure homage to a scene from his movie, “Blue,” in my script).

But when there is a need for dialogue, no one is better than Aaron Sorkin. I think I learned from Sorkin that dialogue could and should provide a bit of meta-cognition; meaning you should not only know what your characters are thinking but how they’re thinking about what they’re thinking. He also showed that characters could be unapologetically smart and good, and still be wildly interesting and entertaining.

And, finally, Christopher Guest showed me that nothing is funnier or more entertaining than people taking themselves way too seriously and that important stories can be told in a series of seemingly unimportant moments.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

Like most people, I’ve binged watched plenty. But I think I tend more toward the analytical and methodical than obsessive. That being said, I think stand-out experiences for me in that regard were Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy,  the Battlestar Galactica series from the early 2000s, Breaking Bad, West Wing, pretty much every Kurosawa film, Schitt’s Creek, and, most recently, my guilty pleasure is the French language series, Call My Agent.

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

Reaching back to my 10-year-old self, sitting in a dark, air-conditioned theater, the camera pans down from the opening scrolling text to the horizon over Tatooine in the original Star Wars. I remember almost feeling the weight of Vader’s massive star destroyer as it kind of moved from the top of the frame and cruised straight into my amygdala. Never had I seen anything like it, nor been transported so quickly and fully into a fantasy. It made me completely rapt… for basically the next six years.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

Totoro. I really can’t think of anyone besides Hayao Miyazaki who could create a being with effectively no voice, context or background, yet their presence is totally magical, positive, and welcoming.

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

I’d probably want to speak with someone from 2121 and ask how we ever mustered the political will to address climate change. My fear is that I’ll dial the phone-to-the-future and no one will be there on the other end of the line to pick up.