Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Get Started on a Story Development Career, With Disney & Pixar Writer Meg LeFauve

So, you want to work in story development? Development jobs range from script readers and editors to consultants, coaches, and production company executives. But everyone who works in story development has the same goal: to help other writers make their scripts better, more marketable, and ready for sale or production.  

Today, we’re talking specifically about development executives, the highest rung on the ladder of story development positions. A development executive usually works within a studio or production company to manage creative talent and help move stories from script to screen.

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If this sounds like a job you’d be interested in pursuing, you’re in luck. Because below, we’ve interviewed former development executive and current Oscar-nominated screenwriter and producer Meg LeFauve. Meg is best known for writing Pixar’s “Inside Out,” “The Good Dinosaur,” and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel.” She’s also produced Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated films and spent earlier parts of her career teaching master’s level story and development classes at UCLA. 

What Does a Development Executive Do?

Great development executives have an eye for excellent storytelling and the heart of a mentor to help writers take their projects from good to great.

Development executives are expected to stay on top of industry trends so that their studio or company is the first to develop a hit television show or film before the competition beats them to it.

How to Become a Development Executive?

While there’s no one path to follow to become a development executive, there are some skills you can start building now to put you in a better position to take advantage of a job opportunity in the future.

Below, Meg describes how she worked her way up into development by reading many scripts, watching video editors, asking the right questions, and landing an assistant job.

Read a Lot of Scripts

“If you want to be in development, you have to read a lot of scripts – which, back in the day when I started, it was hard to even get your hands on a script, but now you can get them online – just to know how to read a script and learn how the story moves on the page,” she began. “And then, once you start to get some sense of them, you need to get your hands on different versions to see the change.”

Other writers we’ve interviewed have compared the process of comparing different versions of scripts to a “mini film school education” because you’ll learn so much seeing how a script improves over time.

“Or, something that I did when I was an assistant to learn this is I was able to get my hands on the film on the lead script, and I read it, and then I watched the movie. And you can see all the dramatic changes that have happened,” she said.

Get Into the Edit Bay

You can learn a lot from the other crew members considered storytellers on a television show or movie, even in the cutting room!

“I learned a lot about it as a development exec when I was in edit,” Meg explained. “If you can get into an edit bay, the editors are the storytellers. They are the last rewrite. So, learning that. It’s just about learning the different places a story goes.”

Work Well With Writers

“And then you really need to have a skillset to work with a writer,” Meg said. “So, even if it’s your friends, other emerging writers, and you want to be a development executive, read their stuff.”

Meg suggests giving other people notes on their work for practice. You’ll learn and get better at it with every script.

When sorting through story issues, Meg suggests you avoid dictating and instead ask questions.

“Don’t tell them, “this is wrong, do this.” That’s not what development is. Development is, “I don’t understand right here; what’s happening?” “What is this about for you?” “So, the main character, I’m confused on what she wants and why she wants that.” And let that writer talk back to you, and that starts to supply the answer of where you need to go next in the draft.”

The trick is, Meg continued, that you don’t go through this process just once.

“You do that five times so that you’re really learning what that writer is understanding about it. And what ideas worked and what didn’t,” she said. “So, it’s really just exposing yourself to that.”

Become an Assistant

“Then, in terms of actually getting the job, it’s about becoming an assistant,” Meg said.

Many creatives successfully break into Hollywood by taking the assistant route, and Meg specifically suggests becoming an assistant at a talent agency. But hope is not lost if you can’t land an assistant role.

“That can happen because you’re in the mail room – just you get into that company however you can. And you eventually become an assistant, and now your job as an assistant is to read scripts, do coverage, start telling your executives some things you would do in development, and then you get promoted up into the development ranks,” she concluded.

In Conclusion

The essential skills to learn to become a development executive involve drawing the best possible story out of a writer and knowing how to spot talent when you see it. You’ll also need to keep up with industry trends and be an avid reader; there are a lot of scripts out there to sort through!

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The best way to develop these skills is through practice. Lucky for you, there are a ton of writers out there just waiting for great, thorough feedback on their scripts. How rewarding would it be to help them take their work to the next level?

Cheers to developing that skill,

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