How did a TV pilot about incest, drug addiction, and imprisonment lead to today’s writer getting Pixar’s “Inside Out” assignment? Read on to find out!

Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: We follow a group of adults in various stages of arrested development, highlighted by a strange man who’s secretly imprisoning his wife.
About: So you know that mega-hit from this past weekend, Inside Out? Well, it wasn’t just Docter who wrote it. One of the writers was Meg LeFauve. How did a relatively unknown writer score a writing gig on one of Pixar’s biggest movies? This pilot is how. Just goes to show that if you write something good, it might not sell, but it can open a lot of doors for you. “Girl in a Box” is said to have been LOVED by Disney and Pixar CCO, John Lasseter.
Writer: Meg LeFauve
Details: 66 pages

2015 Sundance Film Festival Portraits - Day 2

Ben Mendelsohn to play the evil “Frank” all the way

What I love most about this success story is that Meg LeFauve’s pilot about the terrors beneath the surface of our everyday lives couldn’t have been further from a children’s movie about animated emotions. Then why was she chosen for Inside Out? It’s because this industry celebrates one skill above all others – character development.

If you can write convincing interesting characters, you can do it in any genre. Sci-fi, Western, Drama, Comedy, Adventure, it doesn’t matter. Character creation is about finding the truth of the character, giving them unresolved issues in both their exterior and interior lives, and then throwing a bunch of shit at them and seeing how they react. To this end, Girl in a Box is a terrifying delight. With emphasis on “terrifying.”

Our seemingly unrelated cast of characters begins with Jane, a sort of zoned-out 24 year-old beauty who’s just moved into the neighborhood. When we meet her and her older, socially awkward husband, Frank, the two have crashed neighbor, John’s, home, so that Frank can find some clients for his one-man computer business.

It becomes clear to us that something’s off about Jane. She seems eternally zoned out. But that doesn’t stop John, who’s a few months away from marrying his wife, from flirting with her. Despite Jane’s beauty, flirting seems to be a new experience for her, but one she cannot reciprocate for long. There’s fear in the back of Jane’s eyes. That much is clear.

You see, Frank is imprisoning Jane. He keeps her in a box at night, and controls her every move. How long this has been going on, we can only guess.

Meanwhile, across town, we’ve got 20-something drug-addict Dara, who’s just moved back into town. Dara needs a place to shack up while she gets sober and hits up her cousin, Michael, a local attorney with a big future ahead of him. The two seem to have some kind of weird chemistry together, and we can tell that he’d never say no to her.

We also learn that when Dara was young, she snuck out at night when she was supposed to be babysitting Michael’s sister, Casey. While partying with her friends, Casey walked off and that was the last anyone ever saw of her. Needless to say, Dara’s never been forgiven from either Michael’s side of the family or her own. Which has only pushed her into using more.

Towards the end of the pilot, we figure out what’s going on. Jane, the girl in the box, is Casey. And neither Dara or Michael realize that their sister/cousin is only a few blocks away from where they live. Will they ever figure this out? And will Jane, who’s finally building up the courage to take chances, find a way out of this prison she’s lived in since she was a little girl?

tumblr_nfmjasNeXx1rjjxpno1_500

Kristin Kreuk for Jane?

The first thing that popped out at me about Girl in a Box was LeFauve’s VOICE. The writing here was stronger than the writing I’ve been seeing lately. And you don’t realize how plain writing is until something comes along that’s better. LeFauve’s stuff is better and it’s because her words and her choices have more life to them.

For example, when we first meet Jane, we hop inside of her POV. And the world becomes FLATTER, less colorful, because Jane’s entire life has been a nightmare. She hasn’t lived a minute of freedom in 20 years. So naturally, she’s going to see the world differently. That was clever.

And there were little things – breadcrumbs almost – to keep you turning the pages. Like when Jane goes to the bathroom at this party and slips one of the pretty seashell-shaped bars of soap into her pocket. We’re curious. Why would she do that? We want to know more about this girl.

The conversations between characters didn’t have that nailed down stiff feeling to them I read in a lot of scripts/pilots either. There was an electricity floating just beneath the dialogue. Like when John meets Jane out in the garden.

John is out there hiding from his fiancé and her mother. So right away, the scene’s got some charge to it. We’re not standing in the middle of a room full of people boringly sharing backstory. John’s got a secret and since we just saw Jane steal that bar of soap, we know she’s got a secret too. This is how you bring a conversation to life.

And it’s also because these characters are so distinct. Creating distinct characters takes a long time for screenwriters to learn. The problem is that you’re only one mind as a writer. So even though you’re switching back and forth between characters on the page, you’re still staying in your own brain.

This is why a common criticism a lot of new screenwriters get when people read their screenplay is: “All your characters sound the same.”

When creating characters, you have to define something unique about them, a dominant trait that makes them stand out. You do this for everyone and now, when you shift between characters, your mind shifts into that trait, allowing you to “speak” from a different perspective.

And we see that here. Jane is detached. Frank is socially awkward and creepy. Dara is mischievous. Michael is the golden boy trying desperately to live up to his reputation. There’s very little overlap in any personality traits here, which is another thing that helps each character feel like their own person.

This all might sound obvious to you. I can hear writers saying, “Duh, that’s what you do. You make characters different.” And yet time and time again when I read amateur scripts, the characters are laughably undefined. Either writers try to make them too complex, giving them so many traits that you don’t know which one defines them. Or they haven’t defined their characters at all, assuming you’ll get a “feel” for them because they, the writer, have a “feel” for them.

If you’re selling your characters on a “vague feeling,” I got news for you. Your characters suck.

Any time you read a script and each character in that script feels DIFFERENT, you know you’re reading someone who knows what they’re doing. Because most writers either don’t put the effort into making their characters unique, don’t think it’s important, or don’t know how. If you can nail character creation – if you can write 5 or more distinct characters that all feel like individual people – that’s when companies like Pixar start calling you.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This is a really easy way to improve your character creation. Go through every character in your screenplay and assign them ONE DOMINANT TRAIT. Then make sure you hit on that trait over and over again. Han Solo – He’s a cocky motherfucker. Claire from Jurassic World – all she cares about is work. Anna from Frozen – she’s a goofball. Amy from Gone Girl. She was vindictive. The character will evolve out from that dominant trait to have a number of secondary traits. But you need that dominant trait as an anchor. That’s the trait the reader needs to identify that character.

  • Scott Crawford

    OT: Congratulations to local lad Tom Holland (he grew up in Kingston six miles from where I now live) on becoming Spider-Man. From playing Billy Elliot on the West End to starring opposite Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, to more recently one of Mark Rylance’s sons in Wolf Hall. I always thought he would go far. If you want to find out more about Tom Holland, why not read this book… by his dad!

    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/817gWZE3WpL._SL1500_.jpg

    https://twitter.com/domholland

  • kevin thomas

    If anyone has the pilot I’d love to read it:

    kevthomz@gmail.com

    Thanks in advance.

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent. My e-mail is mr.scottcrawford @ hotmail, if you want to contact me directly.

    • aaron

      If someone could send it to me I would love it!

      b(dash)rooks@hotmail.com

      Thx u!

      • Scott Crawford

        Sent!

        • Midnight Luck

          can you send along to me?
          Thanks a million.

          m [at] blackluck =dot= com

          • Scott Crawford

            Sent!!!

          • Midnight Luck

            thank you!

          • Altius

            Hey Scott, would you send one to me, please?

            ParkerJamisonFilm at gmail

            Thank you!

          • Scott Crawford

            No problem!

          • Scott Crawford

            Sent!!!!!

    • masteryas

      Hey Scott, would you mind sending me the pilot too please?

      yassirmalik @ hotmail.com

      You’re the best!

      • Scott Crawford

        Sent! And thanks.

  • Scott Crawford

    Meg LeFauve also writing Captain Marvel. With Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy).

    http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/marvelcinematicuniverse/images/0/04/CaptainMarvelLogo.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20141029105253

    It kind of shows, does it not, how important it is to have a good writing sample.

  • Andrew Parker

    So why’d she steal the soap?

    • James Inez

      For her secret stash of personal items.

      • Andrew Parker

        Makes sense. Wouldn’t want the box to get too smelly.

  • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

    Didn’t realize how much I loved this website until I spent the last 12 hours refreshing every half hour or so, waiting for today’s article.

    • Scott Strybos

      Today has not been a productive day. I’ve felt off, been unfocussed, distracted…

  • Poe_Serling

    “One of the writers was Meg LeFauve. How did a relatively unknown writer score a writing gig on one of Pixar’s biggest movies?”

    As one astute commenter pointed out the other day, Meg LeFauve was a film executive (VP of Production, then President) at Egg Pictures (Jodie Foster’s company) for almost ten years. Those kind of connections in the industry are great door openers too.

    Over the years more than a few creative executives have made the jump into the screenwriting ring:

    >>Anya Kochoff (Monster-In-Law), Sean O’Keefe (Riders on the Storm), etc.

    • Ninjaneer

      I’ve always really enjoyed De Luca’s screenwriting interviews series The Dialogue.

      http://www.writersstore.com/the-dialogue-learning-from-the-masters

      There are clips of most of the interviews on youtube as well.

      • Poe_Serling

        For me, In the Mouth of Madness (written by De Luca) easily ranks in the Top 5 of John Carpenter films along with Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and depending on my cinematic mood Big Trouble In Little China or Escape From New York.

        Plus, you don’t see many mainstream films with a knowing nod to Lovecraft and his weird tales of horror.

        • Scott Crawford

          De Luca was running New Line when they made Madness. They couldn’t afford the ending he had written. His producer head won and he rewrote it for something cheaper.

    • Andrew Parker

      Same with two writers in the news the last few days: Christina Hodson (Unforgettable) and Ryan Engle (Rampage).

      Often this might be a case of correlation over causation. They might have ended up as creative execs because they wanted to eventually be screenwriters. I’m sure reading a ton of scripts and being around financiers gives you a good idea of how to craft a script that sells.

    • Scott Crawford

      Toby Emmerich wrote FREQUENCY then ran New Line.

      P.S. if you ever wondered what a script would look like if it followed the rules of Robert McKee fairly closely, watch FREQUENCY (Emmerich is quoted on the back of the book, and it has all the twists, turns, dilemma, choice between lesser of two evils, etc,). Good film.

      • Scott Strybos

        Great film. Great trailer too! (Maybe more so after you’ve seen the film because it is a bit spoilery)

        • BMCHB

          Love that movie. Definitely underappreciated. Really though Jim Caviezel would be huge after it.

          ALSO…Movie Trailer Voice-Over. I impatiently await the movie trailer voice-over becoming in vogue again.

    • Scott Crawford

      Other exectives turned writers:

      Peter Chiarelli (Kurtzman & Orci’s company) – The Proposal (submitted under a pseudonym, so no favoritism)

      Marc Haimes (Dreamworks) – Elevator Men

      • Dan B

        I think Carson mentioned once that the Proposal was sent in under a Woman’s name, with the writer thinking that would help him given it was a romantic comedy.

    • jw

      Very, very true Poe, but as the person who made that comment and as someone who has met and sat with Meg, I can also attest to the fact that she is absolutely brilliant and an undeniably kind human being. So yes, while having connections doesn’t hurt, you still have to be an amazing writer to make those connections work for you and she is, so they do.

      • Poe_Serling

        Yup, it’s all about talent meets opportunity.

    • Kids are Lonely Today

      And it helps to be a lesbian, to be in the New World Story Order; an insanely prejudicial thing to say..? Sure, but if you look at the posters on buses and in bus stops, these are lesbian/gay characters created by gay men and women looking out at you. Not a big deal, who cares? Right? Good point, but I see it as that: Be you. Be gay.

      In order to break into Pixar (what a horrible thought for any writer to possess, get a job at McDonald’s instead), you not only have to be insanely talented (connections are totally overrated); but you have to think a certain way as these animated films are part of a social engineering exercise: your politics are a huge part of it…

      Gay writers are preferred for these sort of projects, especially when we are discussing Pixar; Apple and San Francisco… I wouldn’t even bother writing an animated film- that’s bad advice, but if you think a certain way, can bullshit with the best of them… have large talent and a great manager…

      You might have a chance to enter this arena… but I think it’s better to invent your own arena… Star Wars is a good example of an arena invented; now why did Lucas write Star Wars..? He wanted his own arena so to be able to say the things he said. Life by definition has an agenda, what was his? What’s yours?

      Get a POV and stick with it… don’t deviate…

      What’s Pixar but ‘Tomorrowland'; we the viewer get blamed for the state of man… and Brad Bird is a cartoon maker from SF (Ground Zero, Social Engineering capital of the world).

      These animated films are cynical and 100% unoriginal… there’s nothing original here. This movie bites… all these cartoon movies bite: duh! Wake up people! Save us from yourself.

      That’s just what I think and why I have no interest in ‘Inside Out…’, it’s a kiddie film with an adult agenda, I don’t need to see that sort of sh*t, I just don’t. But you all run out and see it, enter its swamp if you must.

  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!!

    • James Inez

      Hey, uh, I think you know what I’m gonna ask. :) Can I get the script?
      jimmyoldreader@gmail.com

      • Scott Crawford

        Sent!!!!

        • James Inez

          Thank you kindly!

          • AB

            Same here, if at all possible? Much appreciated! thatguyfilms [at] gmail [dot] com!

          • Scott Crawford

            Sent!!!!

    • kent

      Scott, you are one busy dude. You up for sending it one more time? Kent

      • Scott Crawford

        Sent!

  • James Inez

    I think the storyline is pretty intriguing also. I wonder if you have great characters, if that automatically leads to a great plot or vice versa? Because if you have great characters, they’re probably gonna say or do or be involved in something interesting. So maybe great characters and a great plot go hand in hand?

  • James Inez

    I’m guessing it’s only the Pilot, which sucks cause I really want to know what happens next. That’s the sign of a great story. Even if she had connections. That leaves me wanting more.

    if Miss LeFauve ever reads this and has more episodes, please send.

  • fragglewriter

    The TV show might have a new angle, but does it have enough steam to last more than two seasons?

    I would like to read th script. Please toward to fragglewriter at yahoo dot com

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent!

  • BBuff

    I’d love a copy as well if someone is still willing to send it over.
    b.buffington44@gmail.com.

    Thanks!

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent!!!!!

  • Malibo Jackk

    Feeling naked without this script.
    If anyone can help…
    malibujackk at gmail dot com

    • Midnight Luck

      If you get it, can you send it my way as well?
      Thanks
      it never got to my inbox.

      m {at} blackluck =dot= com

      if I get it, I can send it along to you as well.

      • Scott Crawford

        It’s been sent now… hopefully!

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent!!!

  • Acarl

    Great, great article!!

  • Buddy
  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!!!!!!!!!!

  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!!!!!!

  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Loved the review but I loved more the premise of the script itself. A brief Google search shows that it’s based on a true story: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043291/Cameron-Hooker-kidnapped-young-hitchhiker-held-SEVEN-years-denied-parole.html

    Also…WHY AREN’T THEY MAKING THIS?!?!

  • hankdumont

    I’d love to read this too! hankdumont@gmail.com THANKS!

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent!

      • D’Brickascript

        Any chance you (or anyone) could also send it to dbrickashout@gmail.com? Thanks so much!

      • wrymartini

        I’d dearly love to read it as well if at all possible! At wrymartini2000@gmail.com… I will be forever in your debt.

      • bex01

        Hiiii Scott….. little late to the party on this one but wondering if you or any other kind soul might forward the script onto me for a read?
        babelfish79 at gmail dot com
        :) :) :)

    • Bfied

      I’m dying to read this. Would you mind possibly sending me this to bfiedler21 at gmail dot com at your convenience? I’d greatly appreciate it! Thanks!

  • drifting in space

    Am I the only one who didn’t enjoy this and was bored to tears by page 15? I had high hopes going in and gotta say, kind of disappointed.

    Feels flat, doesn’t feel like a TV show. More like… a Lifetime original story or something like that.

    The dialogue was so stiff. I didn’t really feel any energy underneath it. No rippling subtext. In fact, it felt kind of on-the-nose.

    • Logline_Villain

      You are not alone. A very rare time I was genuinely disappointed by script/pilot that reportedly brought the goods.

      • HRV

        I read the whole thing. Found it to be a depressing, frustrating script. The only likable person was John. Frank was one of those characters you simply want to beat the crap out of, which I guess would be a desired response. Even though Jane/Casey was kidnapped and brainwashed it was hard to connect with her as the natural feeling is: Why isn’t his girl trying to escape?
        There were a number of name errors as well.

        • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

          There are cases where captors takes their victims to supermarkets, etc, and they don’t try to escape.

          Somehow in their minds they feel it’s normal… or are too scared (not just of trying to escape and being caught, but of the outside world, leaving the only thing they’ve ever known into a place they don’t know anything about).

          And sometimes they even grow affection for their captors, and it’s not until they get help that they see the actual damage done to them, and the love turns to hate.

          • HRV

            Stockholm syndrome. It’s just weird to get into that point of view when you haven’t been there.

    • Bfied

      Drifting,

      You don’t happen to have a copy of this that you wouldn’t mind sending over, would you? I’m dying to read this and would really appreciate it. Bfiedler21 at gmail dot com

      P.S. I have a pretty extensive script library myself if there’s something you’re looking for

  • Bfied

    Does anybody have a copy of this they wouldn’t mind sending to fiedl103@mail.chapman.edu? I’d really, really appreciate it. Thank you!