W-File: Russ Cochrane

BY Philip Moscovitch

Russ Cochrane has been immersed in the world of cops for four years, working on Flashpoint and all three seasons of Rookie Blue – most recently as writer and co-executive producer. Although Cochrane has dabbled in longform (he wrote the screenplay for the Gemini-winning Last Exit), he remains firmly focused on one-hour drama – a format he grew up on and loves.

What is it about cops that continues to fascinate television audiences?

It seems obvious, but at the most basic level it’s about good versus evil, and that’s something that’s never really going to go out of style. Cops are regular people, but they have a tremendous amount of power and responsibility. It’s one of the few professions that deals with life-and-death on a daily basis,  and every situation police face is different from the one that came before.
When you're dealing with cops, how committed are you to technical accuracy?

On both Flashpoint and Rookie Blue I’ve had the chance to work with great police consultants. We make an effort to loop them into the process early so that our dramatic needs line up with what’s plausible. Then we have them vet the scripts to make sure we’re getting our procedure right. We try really hard to make sure that all the police procedure is authentic. But we’re also a TV show, and our consultants are aware of that, so they’ll often help us think through the most dramatic yet plausible option to a particular situation. Ultimately, though, what makes a cop show really work isn’t the technical nuts and bolts of policing, but how relatable the characters are doing the job.

On Rookie Blue we had a consultant tell us quite a moving personal story about going to a family’s home in the middle of the night to give a death notification of a loved one. We fictionalized the case and people involved, but we used that story as inspiration for one of our episodes. Instead of a big action set piece, the focal point of the episode ended up being this raw, emotional sequence.

How do you break story on Rookie Blue?

Breaking story is probably the hardest, most frustrating, and exciting part of the job. Because we have ongoing personal stories, we generally start by roughly arcing out the season in much the same way we would a single episode – doing our best to make sure that our 13 episodes feel like pieces that add up to a larger, satisfying story. The last few seasons, [showrunner] Tassie [Cameron] and I started by getting together early on to map out some tent poles for the season, then fleshing those out with the rest of the staff.

As far as breaking each episode of the show, we tend to approach it from a few different angles. First, we have the personal stories that have been arced out over the season. Next we try to find a really interesting procedural police case that can serve as great vehicle to tell the personal stories, or as an appropriate counterpoint to what’s going on in the characters’ lives. Then we try to land on a unifying theme for each episode.

Full article available in print edition.

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