In the writers’ room with Flashpoint

Mark Ellis, Stephanie Morgenstern, Adam Barken and Larry Bambrick on writing the final season, and the best pitches that didn't make it to screen (including Barken's alternate theme song).

As the SRU winds down after five seasons, Playback asked the Flashpoint writers’ room to reflect on scripting the drama’s final season. Here, Mark Ellis, Stephanie Morgenstern, Adam Barken and Larry Bambrick talk about the challenges they encountered, and their best ideas that didn’t make it to screen.

The Flashpoint season five writers included also Alex Levine, Dan Godwin and Aubrey Nealon.

Was it difficult to figure out how to write and close the characters’ story arcs, or did you know from the beginning what would happen?

Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern: Knowing this was our last year, we had the theme of legacy in mind: what do you carry from the past, and what do you leave for the future?  We used this theme as a guide so we could bring in a sense of closure, but also a sense of forward motion so that we don’t leave viewers feeling empty-handed at the end. But we didn’t know the specifics of each character journey in advance – those were discovered by the writing team as we went along.

Larry Bambrick: They were terrific conversations about should anyone die during the final episode? What would be the best decision for the show and for the fans? Were we being true to the show if everyone survived? And what should the last scene be? What did we want the show to “say,” ultimately? And finally paying off Sam and Jules… instead of the constant “will they/won’t they?” Watching Winnie and Spike get closer in the final season was great too.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered in the writers room?  

ME & SM: The challenge was mostly not to accidentally repeat stories we’d done already. This got harder each year because the show’s formula is grounded in some pretty firm conventions. Like, the timeline of a single shift, the emotional dilemma at the heart of the threat, the sense of “there but for the grace of God go I”… We have to avoid long standoffs, stay on the move, set lots of ticking clocks in motion, balance tactical with talk-tical, and navigate plot twists and red herrings without turning into a clue-collecting detective show. Trying to keep stories real and un-repetitive within these boundaries was tricky.

Morgenstern and Ellis at WGC Awards

Adam Barken: The challenge to Flashpoint was always the same — how do you make a dangerous antagonist also sympathetic and ultimately redeemable? — while posing the greatest possible risk not just to the public, but our team as well. Lots of experienced writers have said this is one of the hardest shows they’ve ever had to write. And it is. But that’s also what makes it so rewarding when you figure it out each time.

LB: For me, it was just that the show is such a specific, small target. How do you keep the show fresh and different when you always have to have a gun call, or a hostage taking, or a bomb threat? And without repeating yourself?

Also, staying awake around 3 p.m. after the huge catered lunches was really tough.

Did you do anything differently in the writers room this time around for the final season?

ME & SM: In season five we hit the ground running. For the first time, we had a team of writers who were all veterans of the show. We knew where we were headed. There was a sense of an ending. It was very satisfying to circle back to themes we’d established in the first season, and to introduce the new one of legacy. What do we fight for? What do we leave behind? How do we want to be remembered? These questions drove a lot of our Season Five stories.

LB: When we were out of the writing room, we did lock it and shut the blinds to hide the index cards on the wall.  They were too many spoilers. I remember Hugh Dillon coming into the room at one point and carrying on a conversation with us (Adam, Alex, Aubrey Dan and I) and never meeting our eyes because he was just so busy reading the cards on the board, and pretending not to.

Were there certain characters that you didn’t expect to become fan favourites, or vice versa?

Sergio Di Zio (Spike)

ME & SM:Each character developed their own following. But Spike’s character really took the fans by storm, especially in the last few seasons. Sergio Di Zio brings a lot of charm, intelligence and versatility to the role. Writers would fight over who got to write the Spike episodes. Sam and Jules developed an extremely passionate following. Fans got a little mad when we put their storyline on hold for an episode or two. And it’s been a great gift to write for Dillon and Enrico Colantoni.  These two great actors brought depth and soul to the series and it is no surprise to us that they have a huge following.

AB: I don’t know if any of us expected “JAM” [the Jules-Sam romance] to become so central to so many fans. When we started in the Season One it was something that occurred to us as we went along. The chemistry between the two actors was undeniable, but how do you work in romantic stories while keeping an audience on the edge of their seat? Again, it was real challenge – but once it started to work, we ran with it. And the fans sure responded.

LB: For me, I’m always amazed at the, uh, ardour from the JAM fans. And interesting to hear that in the early early days you guys saw Ed and Jules being a thing…

Additional thoughts on the Flashpoint writers room?

 ME & SM: We worked with some of the best writers in the business, and learned something different from each and every one. There are writers we wanted to work with but never got the chance. Here’s hoping for another kick at the can…

Barken

AB: Easily one of the most supportive, collaborative groups I’ve ever worked with. And for so many sad and painful stories, we laughed an awful lot. I guess we had to.

I think we all knew, in the first season, that this was something special, something unique. But I don’t know if any of us really considered how much of an impact it would make. How could we? We started by wanting to tell original stories about cops who we admired, and people who we could all relate to.

Looking back now, I’m struck by how Mark and Stephanie and Bill and Anne-Marie managed to keep the show pure, and true to what it was, right from the beginning: a show about the human cost of heroism, and finding people in the worst 20 minutes of their lives. It is a great testament to them that it never really wavered from that idea, that heart.

And it is remarkable to me how supportive, how proud, the Canadian TV community has also been with regards to Flashpoint. The sense that this show’s success wasn’t just a one-off, but an example of what we could all achieve. Looking at many of the shows that have come since, I have never been prouder to be in this industry, or more hopeful about our future. Flashpoint kicked something off. It’s still going.

David Paetkau and Bambrick at WGC Awards

LB: Reading “End of Series” (instead of “End of Episode”) on the last page of the script for the last episode made me incredibly proud and sad at the same time. I regret that we were never able to organize a field trip to a gun range.

I was always amazed at how the board (especially in season four when we had 18 episodes) goes from acres of blank space to gradually being filled with index cards.

I loved the fact that we were able to bring Ed and Parker so full circle from the beginning of the series. It is too bad that we couldn’t end it in the bar where they ended the first episode.

Lucky that we got the chance to listen to incredible experts talk about what doing this job is really like (including U.S. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman about his book On Killing and John Proctor — professional hostage negotiator). Along with Jim Bremner of course and the incredible folks at the TEMA Conter Memorial Trust.

I’m stunned that we were followed on Twitter by fans all over the world (they watch us in Japan?).

I’m so happy we got a chance to use the .50 cal.! Found this in room notes from Dan from Nov 5th, 2010:  “We’ve always wanted to do something with a .50 cal long-range sniper shot…”

Hugh Dillon (Lane) and Enrico Colantoni (Parker)

I like the fact that we still called our pitch sheets “one pagers” even after they grew to six pages.

I always loved doing research and finding out things like: the NYCity Bomb squad goes on 2,500 calls a year!

I recall sitting at my cottage reading three seasons worth of scripts before I began on Season Four. How much I loved doing that — up early every morning with a cup of coffee sitting on my dock reading scripts.

 The “Flash” in the Pan

Admit it – during late nights, with too little (or too much coffee), you must have considered alternate realities for the characters, or imagined them in ridiculous scenarios. So, what were some of these stories? What were your best episode pitches that didn’t make it to screen?

 ME & SM: The series finale was originally one hour. When it grew to become a two-parter, we had to sacrifice another script that was already at draft, which was very difficult. It was a great story by Alex Levine about a troubled young man and his conflicted allegiance between two fathers – his biological ‘bad dad’ and his well-intentioned foster dad.

Unthinkable as it now seems, the original plan had been for Ed and Jules to be secretly involved – no one had anticipated the electric on-screen chemistry between David and Amy Jo. Sam was also going to be a master at knitting. And we never did get around to the Stanley Cup being abducted. Or the all-musical episode, led by Victor Garber as Dr Toth. The room also had a running gag about ghost of the late teammate Lou, who’d give us profiling intel from others who had ‘crossed over.’ And then there was the very special episode SRU: Aruba episode… where the calls are hot, but the drinks are cold.

From finale part 1

AB: I do remember warning Mark and Steph way back when that putting Ed and Wordy in their band “Gunmetal Blue” would probably look like an 80′s cop show train wreck. “SWAT by day, Rockers by night!” Uh oh.

We spent a lot of time working on the romantic lives of Ed and Parker – Ed was going to be tempted to infidelity, and Parker was going to fall for a brilliant psychiatrist. But in the end, that wasn’t the way we wanted to see Ed’s marriage challenged, and I think we realized a brilliant shrink would be a better dramatic foil to Parker – hence Toth.

I kept pitching a sassy, tough, sexy detective, “Luscious” Lupinsky, to work with the team. Because apparently I actually did want to make it an 80′s cop show train wreck.

At one point, I remember we thought Donna Sabine might be a danger to the team – a negative force that shook the trust and foundations of the SRU. But I’m glad we didn’t go that way – in the end, she was one of my absolute faves to write for.

I love our theme song. But for some reason, the theme song I wrote was never even considered!  It goes like this: “Flashpoint!  The point of the flash!  Taking it to the EXTREME!  YEAH!” How this was passed over, I will never understand.