Meg LeFauve has cemented her name in today’s screenwriting world with significant credits on some of the biggest films of recent years. With titles like The Good Dinosaur and Captain Marvel, it’s hard to estimate the magnitude of people she has touched with her work. LeFauve received her first Academy Award nomination for her contributions to Pixar’s Inside Out in 2016. Prior to taking the leap into professional screenwriting, she had many years working as a producer alongside the incredible Jodie Foster.
With all this experience, LeFauve started a podcast with fellow writer Lorien McKenna called ‘The Screenwriting Life’. McKenna’s credits include Pixar’s Brave as well as Inside Out. The two share all of their knowledge that may be helpful to aspiring artists while nurturing a community and safe space for writers to have open discussions. ‘The Screenwriting Life’ was part of the Popcorn Talk Network and can now be found on Apple, Spotify, and more.
We had the pleasure to sit down with Meg LeFauve for an exclusive interview. We discuss her experience writing for leading studios such as Pixar and Marvel, how the ongoing pandemic has affected her work, and what advice she can give to the aspiring writers of today.
To begin, how have you been coping with continuing your writing during lockdown?
ML: As a writer, I’m lucky in that writing at home was already my job. The greater challenge of course, is staying connected to people and life, which is where I hoped to be drawing my writing from, but I have found that zoom is helpful in terms of still staying connected with people and for my work. Of course, I’m doing a lot of zoom meetings and learning how to pitch on zoom. For me, I’m very lucky in that I can continue my work.
Let’s discuss your podcast, The Screenwriting Life. Could you tell us a bit about what your podcast is about?
ML: It’s with myself and Lorien McKenna, who is another writer. I met her when we both worked at Pixar. We started it because we love creating community, especially of writers and artists, and because we wanted to give back what we as writers have now learned and insights that we might have. So it’s about craft, the craft of writing, but it’s also about what it’s like to be a writer, to be an artist, how to live that life and the challenges built into it.
Being a writer or any kind of artist means constantly being asked to be self-aware and pushing yourself – to evolve, be vulnerable, and put yourself out there. We’re interested in talking about that on our podcast and how you do that exactly, what it’s like. We really try to create a space for artists to feel the support in doing that and that they’re not alone. That was our intention and it seems to be helping people – they are coming back for each podcast and are very excited about it. They send us emails if they are feeling inspired and it is helping their writing and understanding of the artist’s life. It’s helping them continue to stay inspired and keep writing, especially now during the lockdown.
On that note, could you tell us more on how you came to be a screenwriter?
ML: I was a producer for many years. I worked with Jodie Foster at her production company Egg Pictures, and she was really my mentor in storytelling. I’m very fortunate to have learned what I know from her and I learned from every writer, director, or executive that I worked with as a producer. So I’m bringing all of that knowledge and mentoring into my writing. When it was time to renew our deal, I realized that if I didn’t do the dream, which was to write – what I came to Hollywood to do, I may never do it. So I made the jump and decided to quit the best job in Hollywood to become an “unknown” for the years it takes to become a writer.
I knew how to develop a story, but it’s very different to sit down and be the writer. It’s literally a different part of your brain. So I had to write all the bad scripts because everybody has to write to learn their craft. I was a screenwriting major at Syracuse University, which was wonderful and I had a great mentor there, Sharon Hollenback. But I had moved away from it and so I went back to it at 42 to give it a try and see what could possibly happen if I was brave enough to jump into that pool, which is also I think why the podcast is important to me because being an artist and putting yourself out there is an act of bravery – I just want to support people in doing that.
Let’s briefly talk about Inside Out, as you are one of the credited writers. What was your experience on writing the Pixar film, developing the individual characters based on different emotions?
ML: It is Pete Docter’s film, I am very proud to have helped Pete create his film. I consider myself one shoulder that was put underneath to help lift it and create the film, but it’s Pete’s film. I came in when they had chosen the emotions and locations and really helped create the story and what the story was going to be. It’s a very collaborative experience. It’s almost closer to television in that it’s a room with multiple storytellers coming in from different disciplines, be that storyboard artists or the co-director. Our co- director was Ronnie del Carmen and he’s a true genius, and Josh Cooley was the head of story.
So it was much more of a room experience. Then once we broke the story and had outlined it, I would go and write the script. I found it to be an incredible experience. With animation, you make the movie multiple times in storyboard and as a writer, to have the chance to see the script as a film multiple times – there’s nothing like that in terms of getting the next better version and learning. as a writer, what works and what doesn’t. I loved it and I also loved working on The Good Dinosaur with Peter Sohn and all the incredible artists, I had an amazing experience doing that.
As you said, Inside Out isn’t the only Pixar film that you’ve worked on. You’ve worked on various projects including some additional story work for Onward. What are your thoughts on Onward‘s theatrical release being cut short in favor of an early Disney+ debut?
ML: I mean, they were so wonderful to give me that credit. I really was just a consultant and friend of the film, really just a sounding board for Dan Scanlon and his bravery for digging into that film. I think it’s an amazing movie and I’m sorry for Dan and the whole team that they didn’t get the wide and long release that the film deserved, but I’m also really happy about how many people are now seeing it on Disney+ and the incredible audience and reactions they’re getting. I’m just so happy that the most important thing has happened, which is that it’s reached its audience and it’s being received, being loved, moving people and creating conversation. That’s the most important thing.
Since you’ve collaborated several times with Pixar in the past, do you hope to continue working on future Pixar films?
ML: Yeah! It’s a blessing and it’s a privilege to work on Pixar films in terms of their incredible creativity, their incredible storytelling and the reach they have. So, absolutely!
To switch gears, you helped write the story for Captain Marvel. How was it to craft the story of a female superhero that would go on to empower female viewers of all ages?
ML: The best experience for me was getting to meet and write with Nicole Perlman, who is just an incredible writer, human being, and now I’m proud to say friend. We had a lot of fun, but it was a challenge. It’s an incredible challenge to write one of those movies in the best sort of way. The bar is very high. We did have discussions about writing a female superhero. We did find, though, what worked best was to just write the story about a human and not get too overwhelmed by the worry of representing all women. What we needed to do, most of all, was write a great character and a great person – but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have discussions about it.
I remember sending Nicole an article I had read about trying to teach girls coding and how they were having trouble and girls kept quitting. I said, “Let’s have a discussion about this. Why is this happening? Why are girls taught that they can’t make mistakes? Why are girls taught that they can’t embrace their own power?” And part of embracing your power is failure, the ability to fail and see it more as feedback instead of your character. All the things that we were curious about in terms of ourselves and our friends, there were many discussions. We used a lot of our own experiences.
Within our audience, there are people who are looking to break into the industry in different specialisms, including producing and screenwriting. Do you have any advice for young screenwriters or producers who are trying to break into the industry?
ML: Putting Covid aside because the industry is in a different place at the moment, I think it will come back though. In terms of as a screenwriter, my advice is what they’ve heard before which is write. It’s wonderful to learn by going to seminars and reading books, but the way you learn to write is writing. What you need to become a professional writer is three solid samples. Each sample is going to take many, many rewrites and you need to gain as much notes and feedback as you can. Evolving your craft, evolving your voice as a writer, finding out what you like to write and what you’re great at writing is a journey and that’s the journey you have to take and dedicate and be disciplined on your own.
Nobody can help you with that is about being an artist and again it’s why we started our podcast because I want to help you do that. It can feel a little bit lonely, but it doesn’t need to because we are here there is a community to support you in that journey. As a producer, I think internships are incredibly important if you can do it because you need to get into the web of meeting people and finding out how the business works. I found working at an agency for a year with my grad school put me into the center of the business. You have to be ready for it because it’s a challenging job, but you learn so much and meet so many people. So, as a producer it’s all about getting yourself into the business and that’s if you want to be a creative producer or an executive and move into those ranks. If you’re looking to be line producer, it’s about getting a PA job or getting on set or at this point making your own small, short film and learning that craft.
To bring us home, do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to make our audience aware of?
ML: I have a film at Netflix, it’s animated movie based on the children’s book My Father’s Dragon, which is being done by the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, and the director is Nora Twomey, who did The Breadwinner and is an amazing artist and storyteller. It’s just been an incredible experience working with her and that company. So that has been the focus at the moment and then I have a few things that are I’m writing, but I can’t tell you about just yet so you’ll have to wait and see!