Ruby Witt, a former Border Patrol star and newly promoted ICE investigator, struggles to keep up with her secret life in the smuggling underworld.
Writer + creator + actor
Q + A with Estella Gabriel
How has your background influenced the stories you want to tell?
I’m a bilingual actress and screenwriter from San Jose, California. My mother is from Juarez, Mexico, and my father was of Scottish and English descent. I was an actress first, which taught me quite a bit about storytelling. I have written a feature film, “GRINGAS,” and two TV pilots, “ICE” and “ORO.” I have a fiery passion to create worlds, dynamic characters and powerful stories with meaning.
I’m drawn to the world of immigration because my mother and her siblings emigrated here from Mexico. I grew up with a humble, kind mother who didn’t speak English and who worked at McDonald’s and as a housekeeper. As a young kid, I was her translator, and I’d write out checks for her at the grocery store, bank and other establishments. I know the world of Mexican immigrants as the American daughter of one, giving me both the perspective of the American and the Mexican.
Why are you interested in developing this story as a series and why is this material uniquely suited to the episodic format?
The inspiration for ICE came from GRINGAS, a feature screenplay I wrote. While working on that script, I learned a great deal about the agencies tasked with protecting the Mexican/American border. This triggered the idea for ICE, which stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE is about two worlds. The ostensible “good guys’” world is composed of ICE and the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol), but in reality, those agencies are rife with corruption. According to news articles, there have been more than 700 corruption cases opened by the internal affairs division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection since 2006.
Then, there’s the supposed “bad guys’” world of the traffickers (humans and drugs), which is primarily composed of the powerful tribe of the Red Cloud Reservation. Where they intersect and spill over is the source of conflict for each episode of this series. ICE explores the gray area where most of the characters in the show reside.
Is there a specific approach in tone, production, narrative or aesthetic that is central to the execution of this series?
The narrative is structured around one central ICE case and one smuggling assignment per season, with the exception of season one where one ICE case will be transferred and another will begin. How each ICE case and smuggling assignment relates to one another and how Ruby must juggle the two and their respective characters without the inevitable intersection - in order to avoid prison or being killed – along with the complications of her personal life is what keeps the tension and suspense firing on all cylinders.
ICE is set in a no-man’s land – over 2,000 miles of Arizona’s treacherous Sonoran Desert, the gateway through which billions of dollars of contraband enters our country. The series makes highly effective use of its vast desert setting. Its focus on contemporary social issues, like immigration and human trafficking, along with heavy moral ambiguity, strong, compelling dialogue, and a diverse cast of characters make it well-suited to recent trends in the cable and premium cable landscapes.
How did you develop your main character and the supporting characters?
Every protagonist that I write about is a part of me. Ruby makes the decisions I would make under her circumstances, we have similar character flaws and strengths. The characters that are in her world are people that are either in my life or have been in my life in the past, maybe what those around me would be like when they aren’t at their healthiest mentally. I also have my family mixed in, the same dynamic my step-daughter and I have, but with my daughter’s personality. It wasn’t planned that way; it just kind of came out that way.
ICE won SHOWTIME'S TONY COX SCREENWRITING AWARD in the One-Hour TV Pilot category in June of 2015. It was a Second Rounder in the AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL AMC One-Hour Pilot category achieved by only 10% out of 8,600 entries. It was also a Quarter-Finalist at the SLAMDANCE SCREENPLAY COMPETITION earning a spot in the top 25 for Original Teleplays out of over 2,500 entries.
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