Over the years, young adult stories have helped Sabrina Sherif do two things: learn English and establish her identity as a storyteller.
For the Canadian-Algerian writer (who grew up in Spain and Montreal), shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Canadian staple Degrassi: The Next Generation, instilled a love for the genre, in addition to making her feel represented.
Little did Sherif know that years later, her passion for noir-style YA series Veronica Mars, another show that taught her English, would lead to her big break.
After graduating with a MFA in film and TV production from the University of Southern California in 2014, she got the call to work as an assistant for producers Diane Ruggiero-Wright and Danielle Stokdyk on then-newly greenlit comedy iZombie (The CW) with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. “They taught me everything about TV writing, so to have learned from them was the greatest gift ever,” she says, noting that she had completed a pilot inspired by Thomas’ Mars during her studies.
Following her stint in L.A., the writer is now a year and a half into calling Toronto her new home. It’s a move that has seen the 29-year-old rapidly expand her work in the Canadian marketplace – which includes serving as a junior story editor on Another Life (Netflix); a development deal with Simon Barry’s Reality Distortion Field banner for an original YA script; a Wattpad adaptation; and Nelvana’s upcoming series, Hardy Boys.
On one of her most recent writing credits, Another Life, creator Aaron Martin says Sherif showed she was never afraid to speak up. “She has the confidence naturally inside of her to know when to say what she wants to say,” he observes.
When looking to staff the show, he says it was her writing sample that helped her stand out, demonstrating an ability to write fun, natural dialogue; an ability to write commercially; and a strong sense of what she wanted her script to be. “I read a lot of samples when I’m staffing and most of the time, they’re sometimes painful to sit through. Hers was one that I read through beginning to end and knew that she was awesome,” the writer/producer notes.
Sherif has also quickly developed herself into a voice for new coming-of-age stories – a perspective that has helped her career take off.
“As the first project to emerge from eOne’s deal with Wattpad, we knew that it was imperative to find a screenwriter with a fresh, acerbic voice; a diverse, underrepresented point of view; and a real passion for YA programming,” says Andrew Kelly, eOne director, development. “Check, check, check for Sabrina.”
Based on writer MJ Gary’s Wattpad tale, The Numbered is set in a dystopian world where everyone’s level of perfection is scored out of 100 – leading to those who achieve an 80 or above to live charmed lives. It’s one of two projects selected to be adapted into TV pilots as part of the agreement.
Working with Kelly, Sherif helped eOne select the story. “She immediately responded to the prescient themes of The Numbered and how they were explored through relatable characters, coming-of-age and relationship drama, along with some thrilling revolutionary action as well,” Kelly says, adding that she pitched the story as her take on The O.C. meets The Hunger Games. Additionally, he says, it was the narrative’s diverse cast of characters that really resonated with her and eOne, making it the perfect project to speak to a new generation of viewers.
While her script is in its final stages, the goal is to start shopping the pilot to various platforms and players this fall. In the meantime, Sherif and eOne will be tapping into the Wattpad community to get direct feedback on her adaptation from superfans of the story.
Speaking about her adaptation, the writer says she sees the project as an opportunity to represent new YA audiences, giving them the chance to see themselves on screen. “To have fans on board is a huge privilege that I don’t take lightly,” she says.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Playback magazine
Photo by Tulica Singh