And now, the continuation of my David Rambo interview.
CC: Writers are told to write what you know. A lot of them take it literally. You’re not a CSI. What does the phrase write what you know mean to you?
DR: “Write what you know” is both the most helpful advice and the most useless. What’s important is to be willing to learn, to do your research, and write the human condition persuasively.
CC: Novel writers are told to read, read, read. As a TV writer do you watch a lot of TV? What do you watch? If you don’t watch a lot of TV, why not?
DR: I don’t have much time to watch TV. Frankly, I find broadcast TV often too willing to play safe for fear of offending viewers, yet the result is offensive because it’s so insulting to a viewer’s intellect. I’m not a big fan of the current trend toward supernaturalism as the answer to everything from crime solving to love trouble. Among the shows I do enjoy right now are “Two and a Half Men,” “Mad Men,” “Californication,” “The Closer,” and all the “Law and Order” shows (especially the original). My default channel choice is Turner Classic Movies, followed by the news channels. And I’m so boring — on weekends I love BookTV on CSPAN.
CC: Even bad writing can teach you something. Is there something you learned from a piece of bad writing? Either play, book, TV or movie. No need to tell us what the work was.
DR: I’ve learned more about playwriting from watching performances of badly written work than good.
CC: What has writing for TV taught you?
DR: Deadlines. Economy. Clarity.
CC: Screenwriters are always told about the “rules”. Formatting is important but how important is it to have the margins just right, the font courier (not courier new), few or no parentheticals, no camera angles?
DR: I think what most readers are looking for is originality, not perfect typing. A voice, a sensibility — that’s what gets attention.
CC: Who are your favourite authors?
DR: My tastes are all over the place: William Shakespeare, Gore Vidal, Agatha Christie, James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Thornton Wilder, Willa Cather, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Michael Chabon, A. A. Milne, Mark Twain, Kinky Friedman, Horton Foote… so many. The pile on the nightstand never gets any smaller.
CC: They say Hollywood is all about who you know, but for those writers who aren’t comfortable asking for a favour (let’s face it a lot of writers are introverts) what advice can you give on breaking in?
DR: The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel taught me, “Circles rise together.” Writers need to reach out, form associations, make friends and contacts, and stay in touch. That’s a circle. As one rises, all are lifted. Try it, you’ll see. Don’t go it alone.
CC: What exactly does a writer/producer do?
DR: Writer/producers do everything, and have to be ready to do anything, to get an episode written, cast, filmed and edited. Usually it’s for our own episodes, but we’re on call to help as needed with whatever is in production. We read the drafts of all the scripts, and see rough cuts of all the episodes.
CC: Does CSI use a series bible?
CC: How close do you stay to the series bible?
DR: It’s a reference. There are some conflicts between what was originally on the CBS website about our characters and what we actually had on the show, but I think those differences have been reconciled. Just this morning, I needed the name of a strip club, and wanted it to be one we’ve mentioned before. Thanks to the bible, I named it “Seven Sins.” It was last mentioned in “Big Shots.”
CC: In a long running series like this how much of the character’s future is pre-ordained? Did the writers know from the beginning when they brought Sarah Sidle in that she and Grissom would be together?
DR: I wasn’t there at the beginning, so I can’t answer the Grissom/Sara question. We start every season, months before filming, discussing the characters, where they’ve come from, where they might go. We come up with tentative season arcs for each one, but they usually end up being more guides than hard and fast lists of events that we must use.
CC: How long does it take to write an episode?
DR: Usually about a week or two to “break” the episode in the writers’ room, talking through the plot, putting beats up on the white boards, etc. I think the longest that’s ever taken has been three weeks; it’s usually much less. Then it takes about two days to get a written outline organized. After that, the writer or writers take a week or ten days to get a writer’s draft written. Over the next two weeks, that draft will be rewritten and rewritten as notes come in from all departments, right up to, and often during, filming.
Good to know I’m not the only one who rewrites until the very last possible second.
Part 3 will be up Wednesday.
Until next time…