When David said he would be willing to answer questions I went to town and asked as many as I could think of. Here’s Part 3.
CC: How often do the writers bend the truth to maximize the conflict or action?
DR: Our only real cheat is time. Most of our cases are solved over the course of one or two shifts. Our lab results come in incredibly quickly. Our people sometimes work for what would literally be three days straight with no fatigue (and with an attractive and fashionable change of wardrobe and nobody’s hair gets tired). We do a phenophthaline test for blood in two steps, rather than the three it takes in the real world. But all of the science is researched, verified and correct. We don’t bend science for action, but we will compress time.
CC: What’s a typical day like in the writer’s room?
DR: There’s usually 4-6 of us in there. There’s also a lot of eating, a lot of water consumed, a lot of conversation we would never have at home or in polite company… but that’s the process. The ideas have to flow, and when they don’t, it’s sometimes really agonizing. We toss ideas out, and when it’s the right idea, the room seems to know it. Everything is outlined on the white boards that line the walls. The room sometimes goes until very late at night when it’s humming or a deadline looms; outside plans are canceled. When the room is good, it’s exhilarating, and when it’s not, it’s dreadful. But the process works — mainly because the writers come from so many diverse backgrounds and specialties.
CC: Has there ever been a real case the writers have wanted to do but it was too unbelievable?
DR: Happens all the time. Our kinkiest episodes seem to be the ones inspired by real events.
CC: With all of the cop/crime scene shows out there right now and their popularity; what do your scriptwriters look for to make your series stand out?
DR: CSI: created a genre. We’re interested in stories that when told through science are exciting.
CC: Forensics has become quite popular. What role do you feel CSI and the CSI franchise has played in making science “cool”?
DR: It’s had a huge effect. Enrollment in college forensics courses went up enormously as a result of CSI:. Municipalities have had less trouble raising funds to build or expand their crime labs. Juries have high expectations of evidence, and prosecutors and criminalists are finding that they have to be thorough in their preparation. I think the overall effect is positive and, frankly, I’m thrilled to be associated with the TV show that’s played a role in that.
CC: How did the strike affect you and your team? Are they raring to go, or like the actors in Hollywood, did it set everything back; did it affect you at all?
DR: We’re all dealing with post-strike stress disorder. Having to go on strike in the first place was both demoralizing and inspiring. Fan support was tremendous, and really helped keep us going for those 100 long days. I’m just happy to be back at work.
CC: Jorja Fox’s character left because all the violence and crime was getting to her. Does the subject matter of the show ever get to you?
DR: Honestly, at times it does get to me. And I try to put that on the page, because if it’s getting to me, it would be getting to our characters, too. I think law enforcement professionals, by and large, play a heroic role in society, but they’re human. It does get to them. That they continue to do their jobs nonetheless is inspiring. I like it when our characters reflect that.
CC: For some of the more difficult story lines, how do you leave it at work when the day’s done and not let it get to you?
DR: It’s important to have a full intellectual life away from work. I go to the theatre, read, cook, entertain, travel — yoga helps, too.
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: Besides this interview (thanks again), do you do anything else to give back to the writing community?
DR: I teach when I can. I also support The Actors Fund of America, which provides services and assistance to everyone in entertainment. During the strike and since, The Actors Fund kept a lot of writers and those who work with them from disaster. It’s a great organization, very much in need of donations now to help refill the coffers (www.actorsfund.org).
CC: Are any of your plays still being produced? Where?
DR: I’ve been fortunate to have written plays that are widely produced. This summer, my play THE SPIN CYCLE premieres at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, California. My play THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS is all over the country; there’s a production starring Judith Ivey opening at Northlight Theatre in Skokie at the end of May. GOD’S MAN IN TEXAS and THE ICE-BREAKER are always being done somewhere.
Thanks, David for being so patient and answering so many questions. With the workload after the strike it was incredibly generous of you to take the time to answer all my questions.
Until next time…