No One Is Safe
“Well, I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news.” Derek Channing announce, his tone seemingly sad but the glint in his eyes reflects a different vibe – a silent elation that contradicts his dull facade.
As the tall bald Executive Producer and Showrunner for the hit television prison drama series Inmates enters the writer’s room, Allie Novak could swear that the nasty grin that he is currently sporting in his smug face is directed at her. His eyes trailed along the blonde Story Editor’s body, his gaze slowing down on her chest and then seeking her blue eyes for a few seconds and letting out a soft sneer before finally sitting down at the head seat of the table.
There’s always something about his gaze that made Allie uneasy. His constant leering on the set would always feel so eerie, vomit-inducing creeps but today he seems even worse.
As everyone settled on their seat, waiting eagerly for the reason why this emergency meeting was called for in the first place, Derek cleared his throat, making sure that he had the attention of everyone in the room, and then he continued.
“Last night, our beautiful Director Erica Davidson has tendered her resignation, effective immediately.” He paused dramatically to look into everyone’s eyes waiting for the news to sink in. A loud audible gasp was heard, and suddenly Derek was bombarded with questions.
Allie looked across the room to where Franky Doyle was standing at. The usual sly grin on the flirty brunette Director of Photography’s face has been replaced by a pained look, her body’s rigid and she’s clenching her fist so hard, Allie thought that her hands would bleed by the intensity alone. Her eyes shooting daggers towards Derek.
“Calm down everyone, I know you have a lot of questions right now and everything will be answered in due course. As for the moment, I am not at liberty to tell you the details of her sudden departure except that it was personal to Erica. The network will issue a statement and it’s going to be a PR nightmare but let ‘em handle that.” He continued.
“Also, our Head Writer Mel Barrett has informed me that she has a family emergency and has handed in her two weeks’ notice earlier today. And one of our actress, Ksenia Kotsonis, has not renewed her contract with the network, or so I was informed and will not be able to finish this season with us”. Derek continued, shaking his head in dismay.
Another wave of hush whispers, eye rolls and confused glares loomed over the writer’s room.
“There is a silver lining to all this”, he said calmly.
“The director from Studio 10 has agreed to take us on. I think some of you might know her already – she does have a certain infamy to her name but I think she will just fit right in perfectly.” He continued, his head turned towards the direction of the door.
“And here she comes now, right on cue” and at that moment Channing slowly rose from his seat to usher the newly arrived director.
Everyone’s heads turned towards the door and for a few moments all they could hear are the staccato clicks of high heels on the marble floor. Seconds later, a tall woman with her dark mane cascading over her shoulders walked in. She’s sporting a sinister smile – a smile that conveys something in the tune of “trust me while I screw you over” – yes, that kind of smile.
A deafening silence fell upon the writer’s room. Everyone and their mother know who Joan Ferguson is. Her unconventional directorial techniques and unorthodox handling of production teams earned her notoriety in the television industry, and right now they are dreading for that same methodology to corrupt the production of their show.
Joan gave Derek a small nod and walked towards the vacant chair next to his. Her eyes scanned the room swiftly before settling herself down on the chair.
Allie looked on at the scene unraveling before her very eyes. She’d heard about this notorious director and if even half of these rumors were true, they might be heading for a very rough season. She watched Joan closely – her movements seem calculated, her actions with purpose. Her face was emotionless but, for a split second, was that a certain light in her eyes? She silently mused. Instinctively, she veered her eyes towards the direction of Joan’s gaze, resting either on Doreen or Vera. Interesting, she thought. The booming voice of Derek quickly interrupted her train of thought.
“Everyone, our new director, well she doesn’t need any introduction as we all know who she is, Joan Ferguson. Please, let’s give her a warm welcome” he announced to the entire team.
Everyone in the room gave Joan a round of applause except for Franky who’s still sporting an unreadable expression, her arms securely folded across her chest. When the applause dwindled down, Joan addressed them.
"Thank you Derek and to everyone for your kind welcome. Erica and I have very different… tastes and I will see to it that the remaining episodes for this season will reflect that.” she said with an icy tone. Joan sat down and gave another small nod to Derek.
“Another news is that Joan and I had a tone meeting earlier today and decided that there will be some new script and character arc changes for the last four episodes of our current season 2 which will spill over to season 3” Derek flashed Allie a sly grin.
"What changes would that be?” Will Jackson shot up. The tall muscular Continuity Supervisor raised the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind.
“Our top dog, our hero, our big bad protagonist Becca Smith will be killed off by the end of Season 2.” He said almost nonchalantly. “And that girlfriend of hers Ellen Jenkins should be given a new love interest in Season 3”. He said with a laugh, his eyes directly focusing on Allie.
Allie was dumbfounded. As soon as she heard the words “killed off”, her mind went completely blank. Not Becca, not her baby. She silently pleaded in her mind. Of all the characters that she had created and developed throughout the series, she has a special connection with Becca Smith and her fictional daughter Annie Smith, and significant other Ellen Jenkins. All three have real life inspiration to her that the sudden change in their story arcs even before they could have had their development left her in shock.
“What the hell?” Franky’s frustrated tone echoed into the now quiet room. “These characters have just created a pivotal traction in our series and killing them off like that sounds a bit rushed. Are you trying to piss our viewers off? Franky snarled towards Derek.
She knows how much these characters meant not only to Allie as the creator but also to the other staff writers and producers who have helped develop their story arcs and have made the conscious effort to make these characters relatable and inspirational to their viewers.
“The fandoms gonna riot, Derek” Will chimed in, matter-of-factly.
“Let them! The more noise this season makes, the more we get publicity for it.” Derek said smugly.
“This is not going to work. We are going to be pissing off a lot of our viewers that we have worked our ass off to gain. We are already getting the highest viewership ratings for that time slot. Our show and our actors have been nominated and won in various award-giving bodies, then why are we voluntarily digging our own grave, so to speak?” Vera Bennett voiced out, shifting restlessly in her chair. As the shows Co-Executive Producer, the petite brunette, with larger than life presence, has actual knowledge of the numbers that the show has been generating for the network in nearly two seasons of its run. She is thus baffled by the sudden reckless decision to deviate the show from their original plot when they have gained great momentum as of this time.
"We are folding on a winning hand, boss. We have a royal flush but then we fold, it doesn’t make sense” Linda Miles interjected, the blonde staff writer not one to miss a gambling reference.
“We CAN make this work” Joan’s voice echoed in the room, earning a look of approval from the Showrunner.
“Let’s make Becca a tragic hero – let her die for the women, for Ellen. We spin it like that then the audience gets their hero and we get our shock factor. Everyone wins” Joan offers, still with that insidious smile.
“Not Becca. Nor Ellen. Doesn’t sound anything even remotely resembling a win.” Allie blurted out hastily. Her eyes in deep thought.
“But Ellen will be given a new love story arc, Derek mentioned earlier so I don’t know what part of that is losing? Doreen Anderson – the curvy tan-skinned staff writer replied to Allie looking at everyone for their approval.
“Are you kidding me? Jesus!” Allie hissed through gritted teeth.
Allie is livid. Did she just hear what Doreen said about Ellen winning at something?
“Assuming we go down this path, Ellen just lost the love of her life. After we have given her and Becca the mother of all love story arcs – the Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers plot arc, how then can we make Ellen fall in love with anyone else? It would be too soon for her, she hasn’t even properly grieved yet. Shouldn’t a better story arc for her then is to grieve and to rise above her own pain, be the person that Becca would be proud of when she leaves the prison? Or better yet, how about this? We let Becca live, she damn right earned her goddamned keep!” Allie is fuming, these are her babies, her characters being targeted and to have them be developed in such a horrible way did not sit well with her.
"They have just found each other, Derek. Becca just found her reason for being – her raison d’etre, and then she dies? That’s fucked!”a tall, dark haired Producer voiced out. Allie mouthing a silent thank you her way.
“That’s precisely it. It’s unexpected. No one in their right minds would kill off their main protagonist. And that is our mark in television history. In Inmates, no one is safe.” Derek bellows from across the room. A response that he had rehearsed quite a few times, hours before this meeting.
“It’s great for shock factor, I’d give you that ey. I’m not sure that our viewers will like it though and with Mercury in retrograde on a ghost month, might not be wise to take such a big risk” the tall raven haired staff writer named Boomer added.
At that moment, everyone at the table looked towards the direction where Boomer was sitting at, with bemused looks, even Derek gave her a comical eyebrow raise.
“What?” Boomer asked loudly looking at everyone’s confused stares, “Oi! There’s wisdom in the stars, you wankers, google that shit up ey” she continued casually.
The slight lightening in the atmosphere that Boomer’s musing provided was abruptly interrupted by Vera’s soft melodic voice.
“Not to mention, the kind of message that we are sending to the world if we do kill Becca off” Vera said in a low voice, her eyes in deep thought and barely whispering her words but everyone still managed to hear her.
"It’s just a show for fuck sake, stop trying to get emotional about it.” The slim dark haired writer with a messy bob interjected. Her voice dripping with disgust.
“It’s hard not to, Tina!” Allie bit back. “We might have created these characters but we do not have sole ownership over them anymore from the very moment that we offered them to our viewing public. We gave them larger than life personas, we made them relatable. We went the extra mile to have these characters connect with our own experiences and that of our viewers. And then with a snap of a finger, we take it away from them, from us. It’s not right. It’s just not right.” Allie continued her voice almost cracking, trying to keep the tears at bay.
“What message are you talking about Vera?” Joan asked with a smug grin, her entire body shifting slightly to the left to look at Vera directly.
"She’s talking about the impact of the show, the bigger picture so to speak.” Franky replied flatly.
“Which is what exactly?” Lucy Gambaro, the Casting Director with a short blonde hair who prefers to be called Juice, pokes at Franky.
“Let me put it this way, Juice” Franky bit back and started writing at the dry erase board. She drew a circle and wrote “Becca Smith” inside.
“First, Becca has been suffering from domestic abuse, her act of courage landed her inside on remand.” She wrote “1. Domestic abuse” under the circle that she drew.
“Second, then her daughter died after being targeted by the drug lord top dog” she again wrote “2. Annie’s death”.
“Third, after finding out why Annie died, she exacted revenge – that brilliant plan within a plan writing masterpiece, thank you very much Allie for that.” She gave Allie a small nod and proceeded to write again on the board, she wrote “3. Becca’s Revenge”
“Fourth, she was then pitted against other prisoners by the governor to be Top Dog” she wrote “4. Top Dog”
“Fifth, and then there were the riots, the fire, the endless attempt to kill her”she wrote “5. Attacks”
"After all that– the deaths, the depression, the slow decline – she found a life line, her reason for being as we kindly put it” she wrote “6. Raison d’etre”
Franky drew a big circle covering the 6 items that she wrote down and put a big “X” mark over it.
“If we kill her off, all these will amount to nothing. The system failed her, it defeated her. It sends a deadly message that there’s no hope – at the end of the day, we are all fucked.” Franky put down the marker and took a seat beside Allie.
“Becca Smith deserves better.” Franky whispers to Allie in a defeated voice. She was so engrossed with her mini-outburst that she hardly noticed her mobile phone vibrating in her pocket for some time now, sending the call straight to voicemail after a few attempts.
Another uncomfortable silence fell in the writer’s room. Everyone seemed to be contemplating on Franky’s ruminations. Derek was in deep thought as well, it rattled him briefly. “This is going to be a bit harder than what I expected it to be” he silently mused. Taking a different approach, he stood up and went to the board and drew a vertical line, dividing the board in two sides - the left side where Franky’s illustrated narrative was written and on the right side he wrote “Becca Smith vs Governor Freak” and “Ellen Jenkins” below it.
“Thank you for your rather… passionate rundown of the series we had, Franky but let’s put a pin on that for a while. Just indulge me for a little bit.” Derek said almost pleadingly.
“I envision a showdown of some sort with Becca and Governor Freak, how would that play out?” He asked everyone in the room.
"Well, if we are going that way, let’s make the Govna hotshot Ellen – as collateral damage, making it appear that Ellen dies because of it. Becca then goes on a murderous rampage to exact revenge on the Govna. What do you think?” Kim, the small Asian writer with long black hair stated candidly.
“But at the final moment, Ellen survives and so does the Govna.” It’s brilliant! Tina continued enthusiastically.
Derek gave a sly smirk. He knew that Kim and Tina will always have his side and would very well go along with whatever he wants.
“And what about Ellen’s story arc? What? We just randomly pair her up with a new inmate. They bond and that’s it? Are we seriously gonna shit on Becca’s memory? It’s absurd, Derek.” came Allie’s instant reply.
“We could always go for the classic rescue romance trope, Ellen saves a new inmate from the path of her own self destruction. We create a conflict allowing the new person to make a choice and she would of course choose Allie.” Doreen explained almost smugly.
“Isn’t that a bit derivative?” Linda voiced out.
“Everything is a bit derivative, you’re point is?” came Tina’s bitchy reply earning a frown and an eye roll from Linda.
“ANGER!” Joan roared from behind, slamming her hand on the table for greater impact, effectively startling and silencing everyone.
“Make anger Ellen’s central emotion for the season. Anger can turn all that… love in to resentment, rage and even… hate.” she continued.
“What? That’s absurd! That doesn’t sound like the Ellen that we’ve been writing. It’s like a different person altogether. Our viewers ain’t buying that. That’s just horrible character development.” Allie voicing out her dismay.
“Make her angry enough to make her move on quickly.” Doreen quickly jumped in.
“We give her a line that goes along like, I can’t fall for another woman with a death wish, something like that and make it work” Derek mentioned almost casually.
And just like that, the room suddenly cracked in to life. A number of things happened simultaneously, Allie stood up, her hands flailing angrily in the air, replying to Derek and Doreen. Franky pointing her index finger accusingly at Joan, trying to get a rise out of her but to no avail as the director just eased into her chair and pursed her lips – a small smile forming into them. Vera and Will double teaming against the now suddenly vocal Lucy Gambaro. The staff writers Linda Miles and Boomer Jenkins found themselves in a heated screaming match against the other staff writers, Tina Mercado and Kim Chang.
The tension in the writer’s room reached an all-time high. They call it “war room” for a reason and this is precisely what is happening right now. The showrunner, producers, directors, story editors and staff writers fighting amongst themselves on the direction of their characters and the pros and cons of deviating from the original story arcs that they have developed for the show. Everyone fighting for their creations, for the show, for their viewers, for the fandoms. It’s a battlefield – a messy chaos within the confines of the writer’s room, and the winner will ultimately dictate the future of the show.