Shia LaBeouf, who got to the quarterfinals of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for up-and-coming screenwriters two years ago for his script for last year’s “Honey Boy,” has now entered a second contest for aspiring scribes. And won.
Earlier this month, the Sun Valley Film Festival declared LaBeouf’s “Minor Modifications” the winner of its High Scribe award — which offers him “one-on-one meetings with some of the industry’s finest to discuss their work” as well as “mentoring from an experienced professional.”
The victory by LaBeouf — who has starred in dozens of films, including last year’s “Honey Boy” — has led to frustration and confusion from other emerging screenwriters, questioning both how a festival focused on helping undiscovered talent could award a star like LaBeouf, and why someone with the actor’s name recognition would even enter such a program in the first place.
“Any ‘screenwriting competition’ that awards its top prize to an established Hollywood screenwriter doesn’t deserve your $50,” writer Kyle Andrews wrote. “Not to take anything from the guy at all, he’s a great artist, but for a company to take money from hardworking, undiscovered screenwriters looking to break in and give their top prize to SHIA FREAKING LEBOUF [stet] is a level of ballsy I can’t begin to comprehend.”
“I lost a screenwriting competition to Shia LaBeouf. I hope he puts that $1000 and 1-on-1 consultation with a producer to good use,” wrote another screenwriter on Twitter.
A rep for LaBeouf defended the star’s actions. “Shia entered the competition as an emerging writer,” the representative said. “He is thrilled to be a part of the community and thrives off of any opportunity to gain insight, constructive criticism and knowledge from those with more experience…and that’s in regards to any art form.”
The competition, which is part of the festival’s screenwriters lab, is based on blind submissions, and lab organizer Emily Granville said the only restriction is that the script can’t have been optioned already. (Some screenwriting competitions put a limit on how much money entrants can have made as writers.) Festival organizers only discovered LaBeouf was the writer when the judges (led this year by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan) determined he was a finalist. Granville said that at first she thought it was a hoax — “I thought, that’s tacky,” she said — but the script was just so good.
“The mission behind the festival is about trying to give people a leg up who need help trying to get into the business… and we we’re proud to work with a lot of producers,” Granville said. “That’s something that Shia doesn’t need help with, I’m sure, but we decided long ago that we would judge a script on its merits, regardless of who writes it.”
The script is based on the true story of Brockhampton rapper Kevin Abstract, who got his start as a Texas teen struggling with identity, finding meaningful relationships, sexual fluidity and his direction in life. LaBeouf and Abstract have previously talked openly about their close relationship, with Abstract calling LaBeouf his mentor.
Earlier this year, LaBeouf also posted the script for “Minor Modifications” to the Black List, the platform started by Franklin Leonard for screenwriters to make their work available to readers, as well as potential buyers and employers.
In 2018, LaBeouf entered the PAGE International Screenwriting competition, with the script that would go on to become director Alma Har’el’s”Honey Boy” — a hit at 2019’s Sundance that went on to gross $3.3 million globally. The film, based loosely on LaBeouf’s childhood, starred Noah Jupe (and later Lucas Hedges) as a young actor struggling through a tumultuous childhood with a father (LaBeouf) dealing with mental health issues.
LaBeouf will next appear in David Ayer’s indie crime thriller “The Tax Collector,” and was recently cast alongside Florence Pugh and Chris Pine in Olivia Wilde’s upcoming psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling,” set in an isolated, utopian community in the 1950s California desert.