Making strides from KSU to ‘CSI’

Theresa Edwards

Alum reflects on years at Kent State, directing ‘CSI: Miami’

Scott Lautanen, 1984 Kent State alumnus and director/producer of “CSI: Miami” spoke to Introduction to Mass Communication and Video Production classes last semester. His current big project is the “CSI: Miami” half of a two-part series crossover b

Credit: Steve Schirra

Inside a sorority house, 10 girls are dead. Someone slaughtered them, and now the goal is to find the killer using forensic sciences.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Scott Lautanen, of an upcoming plotline for “CSI: Miami,” a show for which he serves as director and producer. “Being able to do different stuff like that every day is kinda cool.”

Lautanen also films episodes of “CSI: New York” and has been with the original “CSI” since it started four years ago.

“I never go to the same place to go to work,” he said of his location.

The first show he directed was “Pacific Blue,” which he referred to as a “‘Baywatch’ rip-off.” He directed it when he got his break at directing first-unit, which is directing main scenes. He also directed the two series, “The Pretender” and “Dark Angel.”

But Lautanen didn’t begin his career directing first-unit. He started at Kent State as a telecommunications student.

After spending six years at Kent State and leisure time at Ray’s Place, Lautanen packed and moved to San Diego to live with his brother in 1984. Once there, he took a tour of Universal Studios, which sparked his drive to be a part of the entertainment industry.

Lautanen said he moved to California because he wanted to be warmer than he was in Ohio and all he knew is he wanted to work in show biz.

During his undergrad years, he had an internship with the NBC affiliate WKYC in Cleveland and was offered a job but didn’t take it.

The mailroom at Aaron Spelling Productions, however, welcomed him to his first post-Kent State job.

As he worked his way through the mailroom, Lautanen developed important connections and learned the business. He Eventually, made his way to Steven Cannell Studios, where he gained crucial experience working as a film editor and second-unit director, directing fights, explosions and car crashes. He also worked in the insert department, shooting close-ups and other pieces of film.

Exciting as his life in California may be at times, Lautanen said his years at Kent State were the best six years of his life.

While at Kent State, he worked at TV-2 as a news anchor and co-anchor in sports. At the time, he said, there weren’t any film classes available for him to take.

“What I learned there was television production, and it has nothing to do with making movies,” he said.

He also played intramural softball.

“I think I still hold the record for intramural at-bats,” he said.

Lautanen also worked as a student ambassador and gave campus tours because he felt the need to be more involved.

“I took one of my tour groups to lunch at Ray’s to give them the Kent State experience,” he said with a laugh.

After some of the parents found out and reported it back to the school, Lautanen was no longer invited to give campus tours.

Ben Whaley, assistant journalism and mass communications professor at Kent State, was Lautanen’s professor for several of his classes in 1982.

Last semester, Lautanen called Whaley so he could come back to campus and talk to current students.

While at Kent State, he talked to Introduction to Mass Communication and Video Production classes. He also had an evening set aside so other students could meet him.

“He’s been a very good student and he’s a conscientious alum – we can’t ask for anything better,” Whaley said.

Whaley passed Lautanen’s contact information on to Marianne Warzinski, program coordinator for CCI Commons, who arranged for Lautanen to speak on campus. This summer, she also got to go to Los Angeles to spend a few hours on the set with Lautanen.

“He’ll want to know everybody’s names so they feel like they count and they’re part of the crew,” she said of Lautanen’s on-set behavior.

He lets the actors interpret the script as they will, she observed.

Warzinski said she was on the set for a few hours, but what they shot turned out to be about two minutes of the episode.

Lautanen has two episodes he’s directed that are ready to air. One is “CSI: Miami” on Oct. 3 and the other is “CSI: New York” on Oct. 5.

But he has even bigger plans in store for “CSI.”

Lautanen is producing the first part of a crossover, or two-part episode for the “CSI” series. The first part will air on “Miami” and the second part will air on “CSI: New York.”

He said they do this so that viewers who enjoy “CSI: Miami” can try to get hooked on “CSI: New York”.

Lautanen has come a long way in the 21 years since obtaining his Kent State degree.

“I made larger strides than I thought possible,” he said. “It’s been a really good ride, and I hope it continues for a while.”

Contact features correspondent Theresa Edwards at [email protected].