Shelby Nicholas, Levin-Hokin Premium 2021

Shelby Nicholas’ thesis screenplay, We Unravel Like String, is for an animated feature. Its young heroine, Vivian, is stitched together with visible seams, which, unbeknownst to her, makes her different from other children. Her mother, a violinist, keeps her home to protect her from unraveling, and tells her she will only be ready for the outside world once she is able to play all the music in their library on her own violin.


By age thirteen, Vivian is a consummate musician and is increasingly desperate to break out of the confines of their home. Her mother insists she isn’t good enough, but Vivian notices that by tightening the strings on her own body, she can play even better. At first, Vivian sees this as a miraculous secret solution. But soon her strings fray and weaken, and when her mother discovers what she has been doing, she takes away Vivian’s violin. At the same time, a mysterious letter-writer lures Vivian out of the house and into the city’s underworld with promises of information about, and solutions for, her fragile health.


This screenplay is a major undertaking of imaginative, gothic world-building, and Shelby has been developing and refining it through multiple drafts. She has also been working on stunning character design and other aspects of the project’s development. Thematically, Shelby created a parallel between Vivian’s manipulation of her strings and an eating disorder, which gives Vivian’s journey to understand her body profound urgency.


Shelby is a supremely thoughtful, passionate and dedicated artist.