During our LATV Fest coverage this summer, our Jim Halterman featured the inside world of the television staffing process with four writers vying for coveted (and very few) spots on writing staffs. One of those interviewed, scribe Elizabeth Davis, was then waiting to hear the fate of the ABC freshman series "Castle" but, proving that the show deserved time to attract a larger audience, the Nathan Fillion-Stana Katic starrer is now a solid ratings performer in year two with Davis on board as Story Editor. "One Man's Treasure," the episode airing tonight, was penned by Davis so it was a good time for Halterman to sit back down with the writer to talk about her experience constructing an episode of a hit network television series from outline to writing the script to the actual shoot.
Jim Halterman: How does "Castle" work in terms of constructing each episode in the writers' room?
Elizabeth Davis: We are a writers' room show this season and because of the nature of 'Castle' as a procedural each episode is going to have its own murder, its own world that you're going into. The way our season worked this year is people came in with opening ideas and also crime roles, those sort of big picture things. Initially you really just work with our two showrunners - Andrew Marlowe and Rene Echevarria - to see which ideas they responded to and they're great as to sending you down a direction and approving certain things you came in with and then also giving adjustments on certain things. Then, you spend a fair amount of time working on it on your own, sort of trying to flush the ideas out and then coming up with maybe a rough outline. Then, once they have figured out the order of the episodes and who is writing which one then when yours is up to bat - at this point as the writer you've done the 3-4 page document to pitch to the network and the studio - your rough outline goes into the writers' room and then things can change just depending on what the room decides upon. How things usually have worked with most episodes is a lot of the big picture ideas will stay the same but in terms of the procedural beats, it's really the room that beats that out. Then you're sent out to do your final outline.
JH: When you're doing that outline, what comes first? The procedural story or the romantic comedy/character stuff?
ED: It's really about nailing down what that crime is going to be and how interesting the turns and reversals and surprises in the episode will be and then most of the stories are figured out thematically for the B story. Some of them are arcs that we talked about earlier in the season so there are certain episodes such as when the book launch [of Fillion's Castle character] would happen, which I believe was episode 205, but it's a case-by-case thing. I thought of the B-story with Alexis (played by Molly Quinn), which is something I came in with at the beginning of the season. The main thing with that was that I really loved figuring out a story for her that would get her out of the loft and then, in an organic way, get her into the precinct. So that was a process where [Castle] is bringing her into work with her but it's connected to her personally.
JH: So, in integrating Castle's home life with the crime work maybe there could be a murder at the play that Castle's mother, Martha (Susan Sullivan) is in so she can be brought into the case side of the story?
ED: We haven't talked about that but that's a great idea! Susan is so great and her comedy instincts...in fact, one of my favorite scenes [in the episode] is the helicopter scene because her facial reaction and just the way she can so brilliantly just land the lines and even with her body movement. She's great.
JH: So after the outline is approved and you actually sit down and write the script what is the writing experience like?
ED: This is actually one thing I really love about the 'Castle' experience and that's the way we do the writers' room this season. Those procedural beats are really solid by the time you go off to do your script. For me, then, the fun of it is the character stuff that you get to put into the script. 'Castle' is that great hybrid type of show when it's a procedural but so much of it is also the romantic comedy and the humor and great character stuff. This time around I really found that writing the script was so fun because of that.
JH: Were you able to be on set when your episode was shooting?
ED: Yes, the great thing about the 'Castle' experience is that when it's your episode you really have complete ownership of it. From prep, you're in every meeting, talking with the director about things that still need to be worked out and then when it's shooting you're on set every minute of every day. The great thing about this experience, even compared to last season, is that Andrew involves us in post. There are certain times when he's working with the editor and he brings the writer with him and makes them a part of the process. For me, one of the coolest aspects of this episode was getting the exposure to post-production. I had seen a little bit about it before but this experience really makes you realize what a huge part of the finished product is due to the work they do in post.
JH: Of course, one of the key elements of the show is the will they/won't they attraction that Castle and Beckett have for each other. What are the rules that the writers have to follow to keep that on track?
ED: That was really something that was discussed a lot at the beginning of the season and Andrew was pretty specific about giving his temperature on how fast he wanted that to accelerate. The great thing is that the individual writers go in and try to put their flavor and come up with interesting ways to progress it in a very slow, measured fashion but that's definitely an Andrew thing where he knows exactly how fast and what rate it's going to be parceled out throughout the season.
JH: For example, there's a great little bit in your episode where Beckett (Katic) is watching Castle use a cappuccino machine and there's no dialogue but it really feeds into the attraction between the characters. Is that something you put in the script?
ED: I'm going to give credit to the brilliant Helen Shaver for that. I had such an amazing time with her. She's the first female director that I've worked with. It was one of her great ideas that she brought to the script. I think as scripted it was just that [Castle and Beckett] grabbed coffee and Helen had the great idea, 'let's do a montage of actually seeing moments and making a meal out of that.' It was great.
JH: There's also moment where Beckett is showing Alexis the evidence room. Did you know beforehand that such a room existed?
ED: There's a writer on the staff - Will Beall - who used to be an LAPD detective and then wrote a book while he was still a cop and he's amazing. Everyone seems to go to him with a million questions but he's just a fountain of knowledge about the way things really work. When I first started thinking what could Alexis do in the precinct, just those initial ideas that came out were things that were too big. The idea that she would have anything to do with the actual case files... in the precinct there are details of murders and crime scenes so one of the considerations was finding something that was age appropriate.
JH: I think because viewers have seen Alexis at home with her dad where she'll say something that inadvertently informs the case he's working on so it didn't feel contrived that she'd be at the precinct.
ED: There is actually something in the episode and it started as kind of a joke for us but the scene where Alexis has hit a dead end and she has a hot chocolate with her dad and he actually says something that inspires her. That was meant to be a reversal of what we've often done. It's interesting because I wonder how many viewers will actually get that but you never know. The other thing that I was really happy with in terms of how that storyline came was that I think it advanced [Alexis's] relationship with Beckett because the scene where Beckett is giving her the instruction in the evidence room is actually the first scene with just the two of them.
JH: And five years ahead, if something does happen with Beckett and Castle, then we already see the seeds of her being a mother for Alexis.
ED: We just screened the episode for the writers and one of our upper level writers saw the scene where Beckett tells Alexis to be the one to talk to the victim's daughter and return the found photo album... she also said it was nice because you can almost see it as a mother-daughter moment.
"Castle" airs every Monday night at 10:00/9:00c on ABC.