Entretien avec Meg Le Fauve, scénariste chez Pixar

Entretien avec Meg LeFauve, scénariste.

Après plusieurs années passées en tant que productrice dans la société de production EGG PICTURES aux côtés de Jodie Foster, Meg LeFauve se voit ouvrir  les portes du studio Pixar où elle est engagée pour écrire le scénario du film « INSIDE OUT »  (Vice versa). Meg LeFauve écrira  le prochain  Captain Marvel

Vos questions, ses réponses.

Interview en anglais

1) You were first working as a producer, how and why did you start working as a writer ?

I’d always written but got wonderfully sidetracked being an executive and producer. But there came a point where I realized – this is it, now or never. I don’t want to be 80 and wonder “What if?” So I jumped out of a dream executive job and committed myself to writing. A lot of people thought I was crazy and that it couldn’t be done. I tried to ignore that and instead focus on my goal and stories.

2) Could you tell us how you ended up working on the script of Inside Out?

I actually met to work with Pixar on an earlier project but didn’t get that job, and instead of giving up, it only made me more determined!   I was first brought in as a writing consultant on Inside Out, and from there it evolved to writing. Because the film’s director, Pete Docter, is a writer, the right chemistry is important.   Josh Cooley, the Story Supervisor on the film, is one of the funniest people I have ever met and brought so much to the storytelling. Both Pete Docter and Josh Cooley are dreams to work with and I feel very, very lucky.

3) Is working on the script of Captain Marvel a direct consequence of your  work on Inside Out  or was it planned already?

Not that I know of. Marvel read a TV pilot spec I wrote and brought me in from that sample.   What’s funny is that my TV spec is very dark and twisted, so when execs had me come in to meet they’d be shocked I was also working at Pixar. They couldn’t quite put it together. But to me, great storytelling is great storytelling.

4) Have you ever worked on an animation script before and if not, was it a disadvantage to get into the team?

I had not written for animation before Pixar. It was a bit overwhelming at first – I had to quickly learn how the process worked.   I don’t think it was a disadvantage from other people’s view of me in the process. Everyone was very supportive of me learning the ropes. And ultimately we were all concentrating on the same thing – how to tell the best story.

5) There is a myth about Pixar screenplays. “20 rules of storytelling”  Is it true? And if so, were you confronted to those rules? 

I was not given any kind of Pixar rules.   The only rules are “what’s the best story” and how do we get there?

6) On an animation movie, how many of you are working on the story? What’s the role of every team member? 

I worked mostly with Pete Docter, Josh Cooley and Ronnie del Carmen (the co-director). We’d all break down the story together and then pages would be written. From there, the pages went to storyboard artists.   I was part of that storyboard process in terms of keeping up with what was happening to the story as it evolved. Our story board artists were incredible – they all are great storytellers in their own right, can draw, be emotional, be funny, set camera and articulate characters. Truly amazing to work with them. After that process, the storyboards went into edit to be cut together to later be shown as a film (so we could get notes and do it all over again). There were so many amazing, talented people working on the film as it developed through the system.   All led by the genius Pete Docter.

7) How long did the writing last from beginning to end? Did the character research, storyboarding, start while you were writing? If so, how did it influence your writing?

Pete did a lot of research in the beginning that I was able to reference when I came on – but mostly that work was done and we were focused on great storytelling. Ideally I would have written the full script before any storyboarding started, but there were times I was still working out a sequence while other sequences went into boards. And yes, storyboarding is hugely influential. To me, the whole process of finding this film was more akin to writing for TV where you have many creative voices coming together under a singular vision (Pete’s).

8) Was working on Inside Out it a full time job or did you have time to work on other scripts?

Very much full time.

9) In animation, there is no room for improvisation. Everything is very calibrated… When you saw a rough cut of the movie, were you ever asked to rewrite some scenes that didn’t work? What is the plan when that happens?

At Pixar the film is fully storyboarded and viewed many, many times. It’s all about getting feedback and then revising. And that process often means really taking things apart each time in order to rebuild and make them stronger. So eventually, yes we got specific sequences to rewrite – but always within the context of the whole.   And in my part of the process, there was improvisation. We had many brainstorming sessions and there was improvisation from storyboard artists. That’s why it was so fun.

10) Where does the idea of « Inside out » come from ?

Pete Docter tells the story that the idea came from observing his daughter, Elie, who had always been an outgoing kid. But when she turned 11, she changed. Pete said “Young Ellie in Up was a lot like my daughter at the time — full of energy and goofiness, and then, yeah, eleven….” She grew quiet and moody and Pete said, I wonder what’s happening in her head. He brought that question to Pixar as a possible movie, and “Inside Out” was born.

11) “Inside Out” tells us how important it is to let sadness into our life, to leave room for all our emotions. It’s such a beautiful and powerful message. How did you come up with it? Was is there from the start or did it take a lot of time and brainstorming to get there?

My understanding is that before I came on board the main relationship for Joy was with Fear. But that wasn’t’ working for Pete. He didn’t know, ultimately, what he was saying with that relationship. So he took a long walk (as he often did) and had a deep think.   And he realized that Sadness is what often connects us and that was a core idea he wanted to move toward in the film. That is when I came onto the project.   We knew we wanted Joy to realize the benefit of Sadness – so we needed to articulate what that meant and to find the story that would express that. That took a lot of brainstorming!

12) What are the major differences between writing live and animation?

From my experience, I’d say one of the major differences is working with the storyboard artists and having the amazing experience of being able to put the film “up” and see it – with an audience – in storyboard form. That’s just invaluable to the writing process.   Animation is such a collaborative process. We had fast turnaround times on the project and at first I felt very vulnerable putting such “fresh” pages out for people to read.   But then I realized that the artists around me were always sketching – had probably been filling sketch books since they were kids – so I began to think of my quickly written pages as sketches. Sketch it out and get feedback so you can sketch again.   It was scary but liberating.

13) You said recently that Pixar was a director driven studio, how do they work with writers? How does it work if a writer has an idea for an animation movie?

My job was to help Pete fulfill his vision of the film. I had to understand and feel that vision to be able to write it — but it was his vision. He was the guiding light. And I thoroughly loved doing it.

14) For the Marvel movies… How tied are you to the comic? Is there an editorial line you have to follow to remain coherent with the universe of Marvel?

Writing the Marvel film hasn’t started yet. We will start soon though and I will find out!

15) Did you know the Marvel universe before getting hired to write Captain Marvel ?

I knew it from the movies, but was not a kid who devoured comics.   My writing partner Nicole is very literate in the whole universe of Marvel, so we make a great team. (Of course I have read all of the Captain Marvel comics now…)

16) After writing such big blockbusters, how do you feel about writing for independent cinema ?

Indie film is my heart. I love how daring it can be. You can ask harder questions and really push the audience. I don’t know how indie film will fair in the future — with films becoming more expensive to release and the audience going to TV (where the writing and stories are also so good). But always indie film will be where I began and where my heart is.

17) On a more general basis, what’s your method for writing a screenplay? Do you start with characters? Plot? Concept?

In my own personal stories, I always start with some kind of inspiration. A character or world or emotional experience I can’t get out of my head. It dogs me. It keeps pushing in. Once I’ve decided, okay, lets see what’s here -then my goal is to get to a concept. I don’t mean that word in the way Hollywood can mean “high concept.” To me concept means having the basic building blocks of a story: theme, main character, main relationship, world, stakes, basic structure, tone and genre. In practical terms, the writing process evolves each of these as I write. Theme especially usually needs a lot of work to fully clarify.   It deepens as you write and discover for yourself just what it is you are writing about.   And of course once characters start talking and behaving they can really surprise you on the page.   I love that discovery process. But always I come back to these basic pieces.   And I always try to lean into my blind spots. (We all have them.) That’s why getting feedback is so key.

18) What are your references in term of scriptwriting? (book, movies… )

hmmmm. In the past I read all the basics. Aristotle’s Poetics, Lajos Egri, Linda Seger, Campbell’s Heroes Journey.   I also love books about filmmakers and how they think – like Alexander Mackendrick’s book “On Film-making.”   It also helped that as an executive I read many, many scripts. Many! And developed stories with writers. This knowledge deepened when I taught at UCLA grad school, and worked with students on their scripts. I found I kept asking the same questions over and over. So that starts to solidify things for me.   And ultimately I learned the most from my mentor/teacher in the storytelling process – my boss and executive – Jodie Foster. She is a true story genius. If I ever wanted to pitch her a possible story she’d want to know first “what’s the big, beautiful idea in here” — so that became how I built stories – first with theme; what is the storyteller trying to tell me about the human condition, what question does the storyteller have?   I learned to build a story from the inside out. Which is truly is what I’ve always said – way before I ended up writing on a film with that title!

19) What would be your advice for a young writer who wishes to work in animation?

I took a roundabout road to get to animation so I am not sure anything I can tell you can be re-created. Get to know animators. Get to know the people that make the animation you love. Intern at an animation house. Write animation samples and other samples -to show your voice, heart and craft.

20) The question “out of nowhere”: where do you like to sit in a movie theater?

Middle Front. I don’t get sitting in the back – that’s like watching TV. I want a FULL BIG SCREEN experience!