I Stole Shia LaBeouf's Unproduced Screenplay
I stole Shia LaBeouf's unproduced screenplay while interning for a film festival. I never thought he'd be involved in infamous allegations a year later...and what my thievery means today. (A memoir)
"The whole celebrity culture thing - I'm fascinated by, and repelled by, and yet I end up knowing about it."
- Anderson Cooper
There are moments you regret because of the pain it caused you. There are other moments you regret because of the pain it inflicted - either intentionally or unintentionally - upon someone else. This is a story about the latter scenario.
It was December, 2019. Raymond, my brother, was driving me around our New Jersey suburban streets at night. We listened to hip hop music from his Spotify library. Plugging his phone into our shared car's aux cord is something of a sacred ritual between us.
A Brockhampton song played. It was a slower jam of theirs: either BLEACH or CANNON, I can't remember. Brockhampton, the American hip hop collective known affectionately as "America's Boyband," was Raymond and I's saving grace back in the late 2010's. We had attended several concerts and related to their songs' themes about ambition, not fitting in, and loyalty. I even met members of the collective in 2017 at a secret meet and greet after one of their NYC shows.
After a minute or two of talking about the band's latest hijinks, Raymond asked:
"Did you hear? Apparently, Shia LaBeouf is writing a screenplay about Kevin Abstract."
I hadn't heard. It wasn't surprising, though. Every hardcore fan knew Brockhampton's openly gay leading man, Kevin Abstract, was obsessed with Shia LaBeouf. One time, Abstract livestreamed himself walking on a treadmill next to his old house for ten hours. The stunt was done to teach viewers about empathy (particularly empathy for celebrities), and was inspired by Shia LaBeouf's paper bag mask at the Berlin Film Festival.
When Raymond told me about the screenplay news, I couldn't help but feel proud of Kevin. Isn't that the dream: getting recognition from your idol? Kevin had gone through a rough patch the year before. Things were uncertain with Brockhampton after one of their founding members, Ameer Vann, was accused of sexual abuse and had to be kicked out of the group. It was nice to know things were looking up for him and his collective.
After Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf was riding on a wave of critical acclaim. It would be nice for Kevin to be honored by him. With a movie, him and Brockhampton could finally go from artists only nerdy kids (like Raymond and I) knew to mainstream superstars.
Of course, when Raymond told me about the screenplay news back in 2019, it was just a rumor. No one knew if it was actually true. There was no solid proof Shia LaBeouf wrote a screenplay about Kevin Abstract. Only whispers in the void of the internet.
Flash forward to February, 2020. I'm in a small office located in Dumbo, New York. By some miracle, I'd been hired as an intern for a well-known film festival just after finishing college. For safety's sake, let's call it the Massachusetts Film Festival. (Just so you know, I'm going to be using a lot of pseudonyms in this memoir.)
The Massachusetts Film Festival is known for its famous screenplay competition. One of my college professors told me if your screenplay won in the Massachusetts Film Festival, you were set for life. The best of the best scripts are submitted to it. Sometimes, those scripts are submitted by famous people.
On that February evening, I was helping my manager - let's call her Annie - set up the office's conference room table for a pizza party slash screenplay discussion with some Massachusetts Film Festival judges. Besides being my manager, Annie was also a programmer for the festival. Basically, everything that got submitted to the festival had to be approved by her. She had to read every 100-page script, watch every shitty short film. All the judges could love a screenplay, but if Annie felt like it didn't fit within the festival's prestige, it got rejected. She was the gatekeeper.
We were accompanied by another intern named Kyle. (A curly-haired artsy kid from France who loved independent film and took frequent breaks to smoke weed outside the office.) Eventually, our judges arrived. Three of them: an actress named Taylor who I still talk to today, a professor dude from Fordham University, and a Boomer-aged yet respected script analyst who worked for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That day, he brought us mini booklets of 2020 Oscar-contending screenplays to keep. We'll call him Bobby.
It's common for film festivals to hold periodic meetings for judges so programmers know which films or screenplays stand out in the crowd. Although it wasn't mandatory, Annie wanted Kyle and I to attend the first meeting so we got a sense of how the Massachusetts Film Festival worked.
After scarfing down pizza and Coca-Cola, Annie gazed at the judges. "Okay, let's start with screenplays we liked. Bobby?"
"Sure!" Bobby enthusiastically replied, "So there was this fantastic script I read last week called Minor Modifications. About a Black Texas teen who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. He's a rapper."
Hmm. Sounds familiar.
"And he lives a pretty hard life. His mom and sister aren't supportive, he struggles with his sexuality, he wears a helmet like a mask..."
Bobby went on to describe specific details about the script. The crazy thing was that I knew exactly who he was talking about. A wave of anxiety washed over me. Was someone ripping off my favorite rapper's life just to win a screenplay competition?
I wanted to stay professional during the meeting, but an instinctual force made me blurt out the question burning in my head.
"Are you talking about Kevin Abstract?"
Bobby stopped speaking. Everyone at the table looked at me like I had a third eye. And not a good kind of third eye.
"Who's Kevin Abstract?" Bobby asked.
My heart slid into my stomach. Someone had clearly written about Kevin Abstract's life, but didn't give him proper credit?
"He's a rapper from the hip hop group, Brockhampton. You've never heard of them?"
Everyone shook their head 'no'. Even hip stoner Kyle looked confused. I gave Bobby and the table a history lesson about Kevin Abstract, his group, Brockhampton, and how I'd attended three of their concerts in the city.
"They made a short film called Billy Star not too long ago," I informed the table, "where Kevin wore a helmet over his face. It's his character, Helmet Boy. Did the script mention him? I dunno if the screenwriter is ripping off Billy Star..."
Before I could let any more details slip, Annie cut me off.
"Thank you Kathryn," she said. "Yes, Bobby. The screenplay you read was submitted to us by a well-known A-list actor."
As per the rules of The Massachusetts Film Festival screenplay competition, Annie was not allowed to say who the A-list actor was. But as soon as I saw Bobby's mini script of Honey Boy sitting next to Annie's plate of pizza, I knew exactly who it was. Judges are not allowed to know the names of the screenwriters whose work they read. Annie and I were the only two people in the room who knew the actor.
The rumors were true. Shia LaBeouf had written a screenplay about Kevin Abstract's life. And I wouldn't be ending my internship empty-handed.
Stealing Shia's Script
Getting a copy of Shia LaBeouf's top secret screenplay was far easier than I thought it would be. While Reddit geeks spent months unsuccessfully trying to leak the screenplay off the 2020 Hollywood Blacklist, all I had to do was search for Shia's name within the Massachusetts Film Festival's submissions masterlist and download his work off Coverfly. Intern privileges are the best.
Of course, I told no one from the festival about my thievery for fear it would get me in trouble. As an intern, I was allowed to read and review submissions, but only the submissions assigned to me by Annie. I remember one day in the office she said to someone, "I just sent an email to Shia LaBeouf! We're friends now," and me thinking, Yes, I have his email in my contacts, too.
Anyways, I didn't just steal LaBeouf's screenplay for myself. I mainly stole it for my brother. I wanted to prove Raymond right. The night of the pizza party meeting was the same night I hopped on a bus to Jersey to visit family for the weekend. I couldn't wait to tell Raymond everything.
"You're serious?" Raymond asked after learning about the meeting. Ironically, we were listening to hip hop music in our car, just like the night when he told me about Shia LaBeouf's script. "What's it called again?"
"Minor Modifications," I replied. That evening, I offered to print Raymond a copy of the script. To my astonishment, he declined the offer because he wanted to be surprised when the movie eventually hit theaters. He still hasn't read it to this day.
I, on the other hand, had no problem reading the 113 page script in one night. It's been over a year since I sat down and read the entirety of it, but I still remember everything. There are so many things to love: the characters, the setting descriptions, and of course, the music.
Because I don't want to get sued by Shia LaBeouf's lawyers (I'm sure he has a stellar legal team), I'm not going to drop too many details about Minor Modifications. You're not getting any spoilers here! If you want a sneak peek, I managed to find a 6-minute reading from Wildsound Festival. You can check it out below.
But for those of you wondering - and I know there are some of you out there wondering - if Minor Modifications is better than Honey Boy, I can give you my honest opinion now.
Yes. Yes it absolutely is. If everything in the screenplay is put onto a screen, I can guarantee you Minor Modifications would win Shia LaBeouf a couple Oscars. And just so you all know, I don't make Oscar predictions lightly. I am involved in film festival judging now, and two short films I recommended for fests last year went on to become Oscar nominees. One of them actually took home the prize last Sunday. So yes - I know what I'm talking about when I say Minor Modifications is an Oscar-worthy script. It's worthy of critical acclaim. It's the biopic Kevin Abstract deserves.
Certainly my colleagues from The Massachusetts Film Festival felt the same way, because Shia LaBeouf's script ended up winning the screenplay competition last year.
Reading Shia LaBeouf's new screenplay before several other important industry people turned me into a snob. I remember going to a bar, catching up with a guy from college who I had a crush on and bragging, "I just read Shia LaBeouf's newest screenplay!" For some reason, I thought it would make him like me.
In March of 2020, I met an assistant - we'll call him Scott - to a casting director who helped out with Honey Boy. I attended an acting class Scott taught. After the session, I went up to him and said, "Hey...have you heard about Shia LaBeouf's new screenplay? Your company should cast it. I read it for my internship and you definitely want it."
Scott looked uncomfortable and said, "Um, well even if I knew about it, I wouldn't be able to talk about it."
I just couldn't shut up about Minor Modifications. Maybe it was because I felt special knowing everything that happened. Maybe because there was a secret part of me that wanted to work on its film set one day, and I thought talking about it would somehow manifest the dream into existence.
Even if I didn't get to work on Minor Modification's set, at least I could possibly see Shia LaBeouf at the Massachusetts Film Festival in June! I could compliment him on his script, and maybe even talk to him about Brockhampton!
But unfortunately for me, that never happened. Because the pandemic hit.
The Massachusetts Film Festival was held virtually, and Shia LaBeouf did a reading of Minor Modifications over Zoom. I remember the way he cried the line, "I WANT A BABY BROTHER!!!" to the camera and how he enthusiastically congratulated the other screenplay competition winners. I sent him a congratulatory email, but did not get a response back.
Shia also told the executive director of the festival why he wrote Minor Modifications. "I wasn't going to write anything after Honey Boy," he said, "but then I met Kevin Abstract and his group, Brockhampton. We sat down at the boys' house and talked about Kevin's life, and I got writing."
Shia also remarked about his writing ability. "I know I've still got a lot to learn about screenwriting. That's why I sent it to this competition for review - I just want it to be good."
The Massachusetts Film Festival wasn't the only screenplay competition Shia submitted Minor Modifications to. The Sun Valley Film Festival had given him their High Scribe Award and the script also won the Los Angeles International Screenplay Award. With Shia's win at our film festival, not only was he getting an award, but an all expenses paid trip to a writer's retreat house on Nantucket Island where he could further develop his script.
However, Shia's wins weren't without backlash. Writers who entered competitions Shia entered took to social media to voice their frustrations. They said the Hollywood star took away from the opportunities they deserved.
After all: Shia LaBeouf has several years of industry experience. He has talented writers, agents, managers, and production teams all at his disposal. So why did he need film festival competitions designed for newcomers in order to promote his work? Why did he need a fancy writer's retreat on Nantucket Island? He's a celebrity. He can pay for that shit himself!
To be honest, I didn't really know what to think about the situation. Obviously the rules of these competitions allowed anyone to enter, but I saw the points of these independent screenwriters. I didn't see Shia's strategy as anything more than just him trying to receive feedback on his work and attention for Kevin Abstract. I didn't think he was taking advantage of his privilege in any way.
At least, not until the FKA twigs allegations.
In mid-December, the English singer-songwriter FKA twigs filed a lawsuit against Shia LaBeouf for sexual battery, assault, and inflicting emotional distress. According to twigs, LaBeouf did several crazy things when they were in a relationship throughout 2019. Some of those crazy things included choking her, forcing her to sleep without clothes on, not allowing her to look at male waiters, and threatening to crash a car unless she professed her love for him.
Soon after, another former girlfriend of LaBeouf's came forward with more allegations. It wasn't surprising: Shia LaBeouf has a long history of turbulent behavior. He has been arrested several times on charges that have been dismissed, including assault and disorderly conduct. In 2015, a bunch of strangers even recorded him arguing with Mia Goth, his girlfriend at the time. After the men recording LaBeouf gave him a ride, he told them, “If I’d have stayed there, I would’ve killed her.”
Sure, Shia LaBeouf has struggled with alcoholism and PTSD from a rough childhood. If you've seen Honey Boy, you know that. But that doesn't excuse his terrible behavior towards these women. I know the phrase is "innocent until proven guilty," but given Shia LaBeouf's reputation, it's not hard to believe FKA twigs' claims.
When I first heard about the allegations, I felt this horrible icky feeling in my stomach. All those times I'd boasted about reading his screenplay or daydreamed about working on the Minor Modifications set, I'd unknowingly contributed to the wellbeing of an abuser. Maybe nothing's my fault. But still: I was part of a film festival that awarded him the top prize and a luxurious writer's retreat when there were several other deserving people who could have used it more. It's pretty embarrassing.
Not only do I feel bad for FKA twigs, but I feel terrible for Kevin Abstract. Shia Labeouf's bad behavior hasn't interfered with just one, but two talented Black musician's careers. While doing research for this memoir, I noticed the IMDB page for Minor Modifications was taken down - either because the project's been shelved, it's being kept a secret, or because Shia LaBeouf's been "cancelled." I think the third option is the most likely reason.
And because Shia LaBeouf is cancelled, I don't think Minor Modifications will ever be made into a proper movie. Which is a tragedy, because I think it's a fantastic story. It was the tribute Kevin Abstract deserved. It's that age-old debate of separating art from the artist. After knowing what he's done to women, would people still want to watch a new Shia LaBeouf movie?
It sucks for Kevin Abstract. After dumping his friend Ameer Vann for being a sexual abuser, now he'll likely have to dump his idol as well.
I don't know Kevin personally, but I did meet him back in 2017 after going to a Brockhampton concert. I remember him playing with a Harry Styles doll a fan gave him, talking to excited kids, and even giving a video shoutout to my brother who couldn't attend the event. If I could go back in time to that day, I would tell him to be more cautious of the people he lets into his life, even if they inspire him artistically. Never meet your heroes, right?
So with all this said...what is it I regret the most about stealing Shia LaBeouf's script? What is it I'm so embarrassed about?
Well, it's actually not the act of stealing the screenplay I'm ashamed of.
I'm ashamed I don't have the courage to leak it to the public.
As a Massachusetts Film Festival intern, I had to sign an NDA stating that during the judging period, I could not make any public announcements about the scripts or movies I was viewing. And even after the contest, I'm not allowed to publicly release the films or scripts I've seen. I said it once and I'll say it again: I'm a humble 23-year-old woman who does not wish to quarrel with Shia LaBeouf's lawyers. If I get sued, I'm ruined for life.
Still, that doesn't mean I'm not tempted to share LaBeouf's script around. Y'know that feeling when you watch a really good movie and you just want to talk to someone about it? That's how I feel about Minor Modifications, only I'm one of the very few people on planet Earth who's read it. It's frustrating.
I can't tell you how many Reddit replies and Youtube comments I've seen with people asking for someone to leak the full script. I could do it! I could very well do it whenever I want to, but I just don't know if I should.
Not only do I want to leak it for my fellow cinephiles and Brockhampton stans. I want to leak Minor Modifications to get back at Shia Labeouf - to right all the wrongs he's created. I want to leak it for Kevin Abstract. For FKA twigs. For all the talented screenwriters whose work wasn't considered because screenplay competitions and film festivals value celebrity-fueled publicity over supporting new artists.
Here's the truth. I'm a lost, unknown twenty-something just figuring out which direction my life is heading. I don't have money, fame, or much influence in the film industry. I don't think I'll ever have any of those things. But something about owning Shia LaBeouf's forgotten screenplay - a relic of a story that could have been - makes me feel like I have some semblance of power. It's like a secret of the universe only available to my eyes. I just wish others could see that secret, too.
When I told my brother I was writing this memoir in the car today, he said, "You should leak it! Just tell the world you'll give it away for $5000 or something. If you do it anonymously, you'll be okay."
The problem is, I've already published this story. And the title is literally "I Stole Shia LaBeouf's Unproduced Screenplay." So I can't really leak it anonymously anymore. Woops.
Ah well. No regrets.