Sarah De Leon
"Life isn't about finding yourself...it's about creating yourself"
George Bernard Shaw
Writing : My Passion
Screenwriter. Script doctor
When I was in 2nd grade I knew two fundamental truths about school.
1: If you're good to the teachers and listen to everything they say, you're set for life.
2: Math sucked.
One fateful afternoon, instead of working on a math assignment like the rest of my class, I decided to write a poem about summer instead. Because even at the young age of 7, I was a little rebellious.
I was really getting into my sick Dr. Seuss-esque rhymes when I felt a small *tap* *tap* on my right shoulder. It was the student-teacher., Ms. T.
She had caught me.
I was mortified. I broke my own rule about how to survive school and I had never been in trouble with a teacher before. (I said I was a rebel, I never said other people knew about it).
I was already prepping the go-to child tears that I used whenever I thought I was in huge trouble but before I could say anything, Ms. T. leaned over and whispered: "Just keep doing what you're doing",
And then she just walked away.
So I kept doing what I was doing. I never stopped writing.
I considered being a novelist, a journalist, a poet, and a playwright. It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I set my sights on screenwriting.
(And I've only looked back a few times since.)
I believe the greatest stories are built around the main character's inner journey. The best advice about screenwriting I ever received came from one of my college professors. When creating the world of a story, he said to visualize a wheel. The main character is the center of the wheel. All the other characters, plot points, and themes are the spokes of the wheel that stem from that character. Who/what is their antagonist? Who is their character FOIL? What do they need to learn? What are they most afraid of? Without that center character driving the story along, the story has no purpose.
The wheel doesn't work.
Favorite Genres to Write: Comedy, Fantasy, Dramedy, Supernatural, Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age
Favorite Themes: Unity, Importance of Friendship, Growing Up, The Power of Laughter, Redemption,
Strength in Times of Hardship, Individuality, Family Is What You Make It, Love Is The Best Thing We Have
Favorite Tropes: Time Travel, Road Trips, Romance, Music, All-In-One-Night Adventures, Situational Comedy, Fantastic or Supernatural Intervention
My Best Skills as a Screenwriter: Dialogue, Character Development, World-Building, Relatability
In 2016 I was approached by a good friend of mine about writing a short film for him. He gave me one requirement: It must take place in a video store. No real reason - he just really liked that aesthetic.
Alright. Easy enough.
I thought to myself -- 'What's the worst thing that can happen to a store?' (Because my friend leans more towards Drama) Well, it can get robbed. Then I started thinking about how in a way, all video stores are literally being robbed of their existence due to the rise in digital streaming. And from there, a concept was born.
'Nothing Left to Lose' is a 10-minute short film about George, a recently widowed manager of a failing video store, and Emery, a millennial who doesn't really care about her part-time job. One night, they're visited by the most unexpected of robbers: a once-loyal customer.
This film addresses themes of loss, grief, and finally - what's really important in life.
The age of video stores is sadly over, but what truly matters is what they held inside.
Fun Fact: The video store we filmed in closed down a month after we wrapped production. The owner wanted to keep the store long enough for his child to be able to walk through it. Once his son was old enough to walk himself around the store, he put it up for sale.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a simulated writer's room where a team of students storyboarded a fun 6 episode web series. My classmate, Megan, came up with 'Ask Amy', a romantic comedy and a love note to a few beloved TV series.
The web series centers around Amy - the charismatic host of a college radio show who discovers she has a gift for hypnosis. Her attempts to use her newfound power to improve her friend’s love life backfires.
To add some flair to the series, the cinematography students wanted to style each episode to serve as an homage to television series that have made a major impact on popular culture.
The episode I wrote was styled after 'The Twilight Zone'.
Episode 3 Summary: Amy treats Devon to lunch so she can hypnotize him into liking her best friend, but she's surprised to find out he only has eyes for her.
(Unfortunately, I could only track down the first 3/6 episodes. If you're reading this and you know where the last 3 episodes are, I'll pay you $15 to send them to me. )
"What you're about to witness is what mankind would refer to as ... an awkward situation. In the next few moments, the scene that's about to unfold is a classic case of miscommunication directly caused by the impersonal effects of texting. Amy hopes to set her friend up on a date and what Devon doesn't realize is that he is on the outskirts of none other than...the Friendzone."
I channeled my inner Nora Ephron as I wrote this romantic diner scene.
Fun Fact: The hilarious actors portraying Amy and Devon improved a lot of the lines that made it into the final cut of the episode. They were perfect choices for the leads.
There have been many times that I've talked to a director, producer, or screenwriter who has a story they are incredibly passionate about but they can't seem to shape their vision onto the page in a way they are satisfied with. I love helping filmmakers bring their stories and characters to life using thorough communication, creative collaboration, and truly understanding the heart of the story they want to tell.
"I recognize the unique voice behind every filmmaker and can materialize their passion, energy, and style into a commercially appealing screenplay that satisfies their artistic goals."
My Process When I Collaborate
I talk to the filmmaker face-to-face (Or face-to-screen): The best way to dissect the essence of a story that someone else is trying to tell is by listening to them talk about it first. I call it a 'Word Vomit Session'. I want to know EVERYTHING. Initial inspirations, who/what the story is based on (if anything), their personal connection to the story, the major plot points, and anything about the concept that makes them passionate about it.
I prefer to see the person's face as they're talking because I can get a better sense of what kind of filmmaker they are and the bits of the story that really make their eyes light up. It's this sort of energy that helps me understand how to better shape a story.
I read what they have 3 times in a row: The first time I read the script is just for comprehension. The second time I read it, I take very general notes on what can be changed to improve the story. The third time is to really scrutinize every action, line, and dialogue.
I write detailed notes on what I'd change and why: I bring my notes to the filmmaker and I go through each note with them to assess what they like about my proposed changes vs the things that still need to be ironed out.
Once the notes have been greenlit, I write my first draft: I excel at character development, clarity, dialogue touch-ups, world-building, and scene structure. While I write, I keep in mind the creator's initial surge of inspiration and I mold my writing style accordingly to highlight the elements that they want to stand out. I recognize the unique voice behind every filmmaker and can materialize their passion, energy, and style into a draft that satisfies their artistic goals.
I will write as many drafts as necessary: Taking all notes into honest consideration, I will dedicate my time to creating a screenplay that both artists can be proud of.
By the time a draft of 'Athena' fell into my hands we were on a strict deadline. Pre-Production was in full swing but the director was still not satisfied with the script. He and the producer asked me to improve the overall clarity and structure of the story.
The director's initial inspiration was based on curiosity. "What would it be like if someone successfully built an AI that could write comprehensive, full-length screenplays?" The story he wanted to tell centers around a successful screenwriter whose hidden secret is a machine he built to write entire scripts for him. His con backfires when his AI becomes possessive over her work.
The characters and the plot were all there. The script just needed a fresh pair of eyes to reassess the scene structure and improve the dialogue so the story could flow well and continue to be compelling from beginning to end. This proved to be a unique challenge since many of the scenes featured lengthy conversations between a man and a machine.
In a single late-night writing session, I was able to piece together a story that contained the heart of Nick's vision with a clear and engaging story.
The changes I decided to make stemmed from the themes. Plagiarism, the classic story of an Icarus flying too close to the sun, and women's hidden voices in Hollywood were the thematic elements that helped me shape what ended up becoming the production draft of 'Athena'.
"Best Narrative Short Film"
When I received 'Brutal Affairs' the director had written roughly 13 drafts of the script. He had an aesthetic and characters in mind. The plot was where he fell short.
He came to me to get a new take on the story. He wanted a big, blown-out party scene and an ensemble cast. One of the antagonists was written with a particular actor in mind. He had thrown around many different ideas on where the story could go. Murder through poisoned wine was one of the angles for the climax. At one point, the party was set as a masquerade.
When it was my turn to put together a cohesive story with his vision in mind, I began to build the plot around the characters he wanted to feature. Who are they? What do they want? What could possibly go wrong at a dinner party? As I began to answer these questions, the plot fell into place.
Instead of a masquerade, it's a retirement party. Instead of a literal death, there's a death of a relationship. I'm incredibly happy about the way the overall script turned out. It was definitely one of the more chaotic pieces I've ever written but also one of the most compelling. I had fun writing a short film that covered the stories of 4 different main characters.
This 20 minute short is about an actor who is paid by a tenacious woman to pose as her boyfriend at a retirement party. His girlfriend's unexpected presence at the event complicates their plan.
"Best Short Film"
ATHENA (Sci-Fi Short Film, 2018)
Writer, Story Editor
A renowned screenwriter owes all his success to his self-built computer, Athena. He's put to the test when she becomes possessive of her latest screenplay.
AMERICAN LETTERS (Dramatic Short Film, 2018)
A widowed mailman entangles himself in the life of a new coworker whom he suspects is in a toxic relationship.
BRUTAL AFFAIRS (Dramedy Short Film, 2017)
Writer, Story Editor
A struggling actor is paid by a tenacious woman to pose as her boyfriend at a retirement party. His girlfriend's presence at the party complicates their plan.
NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE (Dramatic Short Film, 2016)
A recently widowed video store owner and his younger employee are betrayed by a once-loyal customer.
ASK AMY (Comedic Webseries, 2015)
Writer on Episode 3
The host of a college radio show discovers she has the gift of hypnosis and attempts to use her power to improve her friend's love life.
Episode 3: Amy treats Devon to lunch so she can hypnotize him into liking her best friend. Devon, however, thinks it's a date.
THE CURSE OF HEZEKIAH (Dramatic Webseries, 2015)
Writer on Episode 4
A highly regarded religious professor is driven mad when she suspects one of her students is Satan himself.
Episode 4: Evelyn attempts to present a new discovery to her colleagues but as her evidence fails to hold up, she hits a breaking point.
A HIGH SCHOOL SITCOM (Musical Comedy, Half-Hour TV Pilot)
An aspiring pop star with stage fright joins her high school's choir run by the Queen-Bee president who demands perfection from her rag-tag group of singers who are anything but perfect.
THE TINA ALDATZ STORY (Based on a True Story, Short Film)
Using this short film as a proof of concept, 13 Paces hopes to produce a movie based on the life of Tina Aldatz who is best known for her entrepreneurial spirit and many improvements in the fashion industry in spite of her difficult upbringing.
This short centers around the time Tina busted into a board meeting to present a business proposal and refused to leave until they listened to her.
ROCK BOTTOM (Dramedy, Half-Hour TV Pilot)
An infamous self-help guru reassesses what it means to truly help people when she moves in with her estranged sister and three other housemates who have also reached their personal rock bottoms.
A PORN STORY (Comedy, Feature)
A struggling screenwriter loses his job and begins to write for the porn industry where he finds comical success.
INVINCIBLE (Comedy, Web Series Pilot)
After losing a mutual friend in a tragic accident, a group of college students makes a pact to complete every item on his unfinished bucket list.