Siena – climate change is here



Read about the episodes of Siena 2050 here:


2050 has changed the face of San Francisco. Climate change has put the low lying areas under water, and the trolleys have been replaced by amphibious vehicles. All the attempts at green living have been insufficient against the unrelenting tide of sea rise. The economy collapsed, and the few elite live on top of the San Francisco hills, or have escaped to safety in Marin county. Sea rise has changed society in the San Francisco Bay and all of beautiful Marin County is quarantined by a terrible virus. The beautiful people have broken out in sores and suffer with fever. Law enforcement, medical staff – all the helpers – are down, too. Young journalist and nursing student Kate was raised in privilege and wants to make a difference. She stands against her powerful family and goes to Senator Gregory for permission to go into Sausalito and Siena and try to cure the virus.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License. Photographer: Robin Capper
Fisherman’s Wharf – San Francisco. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License. Photographer: Robin Capper


The story is a 21st century update to the story of Italian saint Catherine of Siena. While Catherine left many letters and writings, and had mystical spiritual experiences, this story focuses on her unwavering commitment to treating the sick and poor, and her courage in standing up to Pope Gregory (updated here as a U.S. Senator) urging him to leave his opulent life and come back to serve his people. Over 35 years, climate change and economic collapse have changed San Francisco and Marin County. From sea rise flooding the landscape to overpopulation, a food crisis and economic inequality changing how Americans relate to each other, the way people live has changed more in the first half of the 21st century than in any other equal period. Kate is the youngest of many children in a wealthy, powerful family, and the ringleader of a group of idealistic young women seeking to change the world.

The Palazzo Publico in Siena, Italy. Credit: Penn Provenance Project, used by Creative Commons Attribution License
The Palazzo Publico in Siena, Italy. Credit: Penn Provenance Project, used by Creative Commons Attribution License

Kate Benincasa – mid-20s. The youngest child in a large, powerful family, she has worked several years as an investigative journalist, and has a very popular bay area news and advocacy blog. A very attractive brunette, her appearance carries an air of lightness. She seldom dresses up but dresses for utility and adventure. She thinks nothing of contacting anyone, asking any question, digging for any information. She has decided to return to university to become a nurse because she has a longing to care for sick people. Environmental hazards and overpopulation have brought an explosion of infectious diseases to California and other warm, coastal areas especially. Kate has had few real relationships and is not looking for one when she meets ambulance driver Freddy.

Kate Benincasa photo credit: Michael Sissons via photopin cc
Kate Benincasa
photo credit: Michael Sissons via photopin cc


HARPER – mid-20s. Kate’s best friend. Attractive, well-dressed redhead. A law student she seeks justice. Essentially she’s still rich and spoiled, and not entirely tuned in to the changes and life around her. She has idealism like Kate, but also an appetite for the good life, and a lack of caring that not everyone can have what she has. She also has a healthy appetite for men. With her long hours at her dad’s law firm, and few reprieves in sight this summer, she carries on a text relationship with Kate’s brother Giovanni, a mysterious man who comes and goes at odd hours and whom no one knows how he earns a living.

Harper.  photo credit: DeaVanesium via photopin cc
photo credit: DeaVanesium via photopin cc

MIA – mid-20s. Kate’s other close friend. Athletic and with a great sense of humor. Petite, also an ambitious woman trying to live up to her family’s expectations. Mia’s Chinese father fought in Vietnam after he married Mia’s Vietnamese mother. They came with Mia’s older siblings by way of a refugee camp and opened a Chinese/Vietnamese fusion restaurant which became suddenly trendy in the dot com age. Mia was a bonus baby, born 17 years after her next oldest sibling, though some say Mei-Doanh is actually her biological mother.

Mia Photo credit: Flikr user Sodachica, used by Creative Commons Attribution License
Photo credit: Flikr user Sodachica, used by Creative Commons Attribution License

FREDDY – First responder and ambulance driver in Marin County, he’s one of the few medical staffers who has held on. Freddy and his brother came from Seoul when they were in their early teens to attend high school at an elite boys’ academy and live with their famous psychiatrist uncle, with a goal of getting into an Ivy League school for pre-medicine. Freddy rebelled by escaping to Stanford. When the virus broke out, hundreds of Stanford medical students, residents, interns and instructors took a leave of absence to go and help. All the other guys in his house share are now in the fourth stage of the illness. Freddy befriends Kate from his loneliness, and his displacement from the rigor and structure of his medical residency in radiology, and he shows her the ropes.

Freddy Photo credit: Colin Logan, used by Creative Commons Attribution License
Photo credit: Colin Logan, used by Creative Commons Attribution License

CARLOS – the other first responder in Freddy’s ambulance, one of only two or three known to still be traveling around Sausalito and Siena. Carlos is a lifelong Sausalitan who worked in the canneries after high school, then took an EMT course at community college. His parents moved to Sausalito from El Salvador just before Carlos was born and ran a popular fruit stand until they had to close due to the virus. Carlos and Freddy pass out fresh fruit at the quarantined homes they visit until it runs out. He was pressed into ambulance service when the virus hit. He provides jokes and wise counsel to the more serious and diligent Freddy. When he notices the fascination between Freddy and Kate, he starts referring to her as “your Italian.”

Carlos. Photo Credit: Jorge Conteros. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License
Carlos. Photo Credit: Jorge Conteros. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License

SENATOR GREGORY: on his fourth marriage, he is about 60 with three preteen children at home and his thirty-something wife. He is estranged from half of his adult children from previous marriages at any given time, and still drinks a good aged scotch after paying a half dozen tuition bills. He is part of the fifth generation of an illustrious political family from Massachusetts, but moved to California and became an independent. He started out an idealist and made great changes that affected opportunity and equality in Marin County, his district when he was in congress. A fourth-term senator, he has seen resources become scarce and the public become more desperate and violent. His efforts to help have been thwarted, so in his cynicism, he has ensconced himself in luxury and sought multiple soft places to land. He is an old family friend of the powerful Benincasa family.

Senator Gregory. Photo Credit: Neil Moralee. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License (Flikr).
Senator Gregory. Photo Credit: Neil Moralee. Used by Creative Commons Attribution License (Flikr).


The story is entirely set in San Francisco and Marin County in 2050. In Marin County, the story is centered on Carlos’s neighborhood in the old town of Sausalito, and on the fictional next town over of Siena. The streets of Siena are flooded. Carlos, Freddy and Kate wear high tech, sanitizing, waterproof coveralls when they leave the amphibious ambulance they drive. At the home where Carlos’s parents and younger siblings live, they remain in quarantine, though they are all well so far. For decades, the family has operated a small but productive orchard, and run a very popular organic fruit stand that was the cornerstone of a daily outdoor market in Sausalito. When the virus started and no one could venture out, Carlos and Freddy delivered citrus, bananas, avacados and other shelled fruit to the homebound until their fresh supply ran out and everyone was quarantined. The open market now serves as a repository for a paltry supply of medical supplies.

Russian Hill, San Francisco Photo Credit: public domain
Russian Hill, San Francisco Photo Credit: public domain

Locations in San Francisco include Fisherman’s Wharf, now operating on an elevated board walk, where visitors can still buy Ghiradelli Chocolate, sourdough puffs with any kind of flavor (including, until recently, berries from Carlos’s family’s orchard) rent surfboards and go parasailing. While the virus has successfully been kept out of San Francisco by the Marin county quarantine, families in the neighborhood where apparently an old football player turned criminal named O.J. Simpson grew up a century ago have begun to complain of mysterious sores. There are also strange symptoms beginning in the overcrowded rental houses surrounding UC-San Francisco. The 49ers have moved inland and south to Bakersfield, and are having trouble acclimating to the unrelenting dry heat of the desert after playing for years in the temperate (but admittedly growing more humid) climate of San Francisco bay.

The footage cuts to Senator Gregory representing victims of the virus in Washington, and successfully bidding for funding to fight the virus, though no one knows what good it will do. Senator Gregory has a townhouse in Virginia where he hosts some of the world’s most powerful people. While he is a hard-working senator, he also uses his time in Washington as a break from family life and to live as a bachelor, just as previous generations of his family have done. He has not missed a vote, nor a session on the Senate floor, in over five years. Yet he finds the time to create lavish nights of entertainment and back scratching to move and shake in an increasingly cutthroat city.


The idea of a future Catherine of Siena saving her corner of the world came from a quote from the original Catherine in the 1300s:

“Self-love has poisoned the whole world.”

Catherine couldn’t have known how literally that statement could be taken 700 years later, with the effects of climate change, economic inequality, and the consequences of thirty progressive ages of narcissism.

Because this quote drives the concept for the show, everything is heightened in the surroundings and props: the homes are still cozy with lush furniture, but the art on the walls and the gadgets from kitchen to bathroom to garage are more complex and full of LED lights than we’ve yet seen. Medical devices are shiny and high tech, the amphibious ambulance is set up for a nearly impossible standard of efficiency. The orchard and greenhouses are colorful and lush, and everything surrounding Senator Gregory is silver and stainless steel with opulent touches.

In costuming, each character has an iconic color or duo that predominates their clothing in each episode. Kate is always in white with denim or dark blue. Senator Gregory is always in silver/gray. Freddy in red, Carlos in black, Harper in green, Mia in orange. The shades and hues of each color, the patterns created, and the styles of clothing to match the occasion are as open as the imagination. Patients with the acute illness are given scrubs or tee shirts and sweats in a pewter gray with bright pink belts or sashes and ordered by law to wear these colors unless or until the virus is cured.

The homes of patients contrast with the coziness of the other homes. All of the furniture is covered in dark gray tarps meant to be antibacterial. Dark curtains partition the rooms, and the patients from each other. They are allowed to be in the same space for an hour a day to care for and feed one another as necessary. Kate, Carlos and Freddy come to each acutely ill home as often as they can with food provisions and medicine. They do have unlimited television and Internet access, and can call family and friends on their phones as along as they identify themselves at the beginning of each call and after stating their names say, “Acute virus.” This is to prevent the thought of visits or breaking the quarantine.

This series is visioned as a web series of approximately 20 episodes of twelve minutes each, with a series finale of approximately 30 minutes in which researchers have found an antidote and the patients begin to regain their health. The quarantine is lifted. An assassination attempt lands Senator Gregory in intensive care on a visit to Marin County and he is treated there alongside the worst viral cases who are just beginning a long recovery. This leaves the series open for a second season.

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