Running the show: Falcons draftee picked many lessons from his mom on set of 'CSI: NY'

Falcons rookie Avery Williams says he has learned a lot from his mom, former "CSI: NY" showrunner Pam Veasey. Courtesy of Pam Veasey

Pam Veasey's phone rang on Saturday afternoon of the 2021 NFL draft, her son on the other end of the line. She expected the video call at some point that day, but this seemed early. So she picked up and asked Avery Williams, "What's up?"

Williams lowered his head. A baseball cap on it, Veasey saw the Atlanta Falcons logo. She couldn't quite believe it: Atlanta had taken her son in the fifth round. Mother and son couldn't be together for this seminal moment -- Williams didn't want anything big for the draft, and Veasey's work kept her in Atlanta -- but she'd seen all the work he'd put in along the way.

Veasey's phone started going off after they hung up. Actors, directors, producers and crew members texted with messages of congratulations and, in some cases, disbelief.

Williams' story is a good one. Overlooked by colleges in high school, Williams walked on at Boise State and became Mountain West special teams player of the year and an NFL prospect as a returner/cornerback. Hollywood was interested in his story, but not for the big screen.

This was more vested. Williams had grown up among these people due to Veasey's work as an executive producer on "The District" from 2000 to 2004 and "CSI: NY" from 2004 to 2013.

"When Avery got drafted, all these writers were like, 'Is this the kid who beat me at Nerf basketball that just got drafted?'" Veasey said. "I'm like, 'Yeah, that's him.'"

Williams didn't have a typical childhood. After middle school days at Campbell Hall in Studio City, California, he and his brother, Mason, would travel less than a mile to the CBS Studio Center, where they'd find their mother and spend hours in writing rooms and on sets.

To them, this was normal. Veasey worked in Hollywood for decades, first as a comedy writer and producer, including on "In Living Color," then transitioning to drama. Their school had many sons and daughters of actors and actresses -- and child stars, too.

Williams recognized it might be unique, but he didn't know anything else.

"I didn't take it for granted, and I knew it was a different field of work," Williams said. "But I've just grown up around it.

"I didn't think too high about it, but looking back on it, it definitely helped me build things in my life from a character standpoint."

When school ended and football practice concluded, either Veasey or her assistant, Margaret Fujii, would pick up Mason and Avery and bring them to the offices. There, Veasey implored them -- sometimes with little success -- to do homework.

There was a little bit of everything around to distract them as they became part of the ecosystem of the production, on a first-name basis with everyone involved in the making of "CSI: NY."

"They'd say, 'Hey guys, how's football going? How's school going?'" Mason said. "It was really cool. The thing that's really big for my mom when doing a show is she's very about family. Very about togetherness. It's a very chill vibe with her."

The brothers played Nerf basketball in a writers room bullpen, the writers sometimes joining them. They'd wrestle. On the lot, they drove golf carts -- production assistants helped teach them -- sometimes resulting in Veasey receiving calls from security about her too-young-to-drive kids. They discovered craft services, which Mason described as food amounts akin to college football training tables "but, like, times five."

"The best memories were me and my brother driving the golf cart around the studio with my mom's assistant," Williams said. "Going to get free food and free snacks at the set or whatever. That was ... you could imagine as a kid how cool that sounded to me."

On set, they played catch with Gary Sinise, the show's star and the man they looked up to as Lieutenant Dan from "Forrest Gump." They sat in actor Eddie Cahill's trailer and watched him play Grand Theft Auto. Later, Williams kept telling Veasey he wanted "Grandpa Fardo," which she eventually realized was him saying "Grand Theft Auto."

When an episode was finished, Avery and Mason accompanied their mom to "the mix," essentially a small movie theater complete with candy and popcorn to watch the final cut.

This was a way for Veasey to spend time with her children during the long hours of making television, exposing them to her industry and helping them understand her job.

Every morning in middle school -- Williams and his brother attended various schools in the Los Angeles area growing up -- Veasey and her sons piled into their car and drove an hour from their Pasadena home to school and work.

In those rides, Veasey sometimes murmured to herself. Always working, this was part of her process. She operates in the business of creating believable dialogue, so if an idea popped into her head, she'd say it out loud to remember it, check to make sure it sounded OK and then transition it from voice to page at the office.

Unbeknownst to Veasey, her sons noticed. They saw how she juggled her responsibilities and still had time to be in the rotation for snack duty at football games.

And how she helped make sure they had the best-decorated trunk for their elementary school "trunk or treat" contest each Halloween at Don Benito Fundamental School. They won first prize because, of course, a Hollywood art department would win first prize.

"We created a graveyard so we had this crazy head coming out of the back end of the trunk," Veasey said. "The back end of the trunk was a graveyard and had a house and lights and dead trees. The art department made this sort of patch of dead grass, and we put these headstones in and then we had this head that was created by the prosthetic company and I set it on the end.

"And people thought it was real. The kids would tiptoe up to it, grab the candy and run away. It was a big hit because we had what looked like a live head in trunk or treat."

Veasey made it clear to staffers that kids -- hers and others -- were welcome at productions. On one, they had a show dog. That was always how she had wanted it to be, from the time she had a bassinet in an edit bay when Mason was an infant.

On "In Living Color," before Williams and Mason were born, the hours were long. The competition to create comedy was fierce. Veasey co-wrote the first "Wanda" sketch with Michael Anthony Snowden and the man who created the character, Jamie Foxx. She wrote music video parodies and the "B.S. Brothers," played by David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson.

The show launched a multitude of on-camera careers, including those of Foxx, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans, while Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Ann Inaba were "Fly Girls" and Rosie Perez was a choreographer and director.

Neither Williams nor Mason has asked Veasey much about "In Living Color." To them, it never registered -- it was before they were born. By the time they saw her work, she had moved from the funny to the serious.

"I wanted to write drama," Veasey said. "It was like, how do you go from that great show and just do anything? I moved over to drama and showed them I could do that. But it's a tough crossover.

"They would say, 'You're a comedy writer.' I would say, 'No, I'm a writer. I can do almost anything.' So I was always calculating the next change."

That attitude -- confident enough to believe you could do anything as long as you had a plan -- connected with Williams and Mason. Veasey had a multitude of sayings -- "Organization is the way of getting it done" was one of them -- and preached about verbalizing goals to speak things into existence.

On a vacation when they were children, Veasey, who has always been into sports, had her sons read chapters from John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success."

"We got to see firsthand how she works, how she runs a show, basically," Williams said. "And how she handles her leadership role. You just sit there and take all that in and it just rubs off, the more you get in that environment and start to learn things."

Mason said it rubbed off on his brother more than mom or son might realize. They both create lists of goals and put them in spots -- Williams on a bathroom mirror and a whiteboard in his room; Veasey with sticky notes on the sides of her desktop computer -- where they are always visible. Their calendars are in the same places in their rooms, in clear eyeline at all times.

Veasey's mantras stuck. So did studio time, where Williams watched actors rehearse the same scene over and over again before filming. Williams sat in on his mom's meetings where they dissected and edited scripts. He saw the detail that went into it, how they weren't afraid to criticize to improve the product.

"You can imagine how intense that might be," Williams said. "And to watch them do things like that, you can't do things last second and get good results, and that applies to sports as well."

At Boise State, Williams sometimes sat in on coaching meetings led by Bryan Harsin. It reminded him of his mother's meetings. How the general goals were the same. As Williams continued at Boise State, grabbing more of a role, he applied those same lessons.

Veasey watched, happy to be in the background holding her son's helmet in a corner as he signed autographs.

After the calls and texts subsided following the draft, Veasey had a realization: She might be in Atlanta for the start of Williams' career, filming her latest project as showrunner for "Long Slow Exhale," starring Rose Rollins and Josh Lucas.

Veasey was excited. So was her current crew -- mostly Falcons fans asking "when do we get to see him and meet him?" But as her drive mirrors his, the two have barely seen each other since Williams was drafted. They spent time together after the last OTA and during Memorial Day weekend.

Veasey understood, even if Mason had to tell her to stop calling because moms are still moms and she wanted to make sure he didn't need anything.

"He's going to camp," Veasey said. "He goes into the Avery Focus Vortex."

Shooting on her show wraps in August, two days before Williams' preseason opener against Tennessee. Meaning she'll be around for training camp. As long as Williams allows it, she'll stay for his first NFL game.

She'll take her cues from her son as to whether she can come to a practice or the preseason opener. It's how he always has been and why he didn't want a draft party. He sees it as a step, not a goal. As part of the plan, not the entire plan. Things learned from his mom, the person whose success he wants to at least match.

The two of them realize they have similar careers. That people may see just the final product -- on television for Veasey, on the field for Williams -- but that the real work is in the preparation.

Williams first saw it on set, then in college, and now with his own professional career.

"The harder workers you're around, it's only going to elevate you," Williams said. "If you're around people that don't live up to the standards that you have, you might not get any better. I think it was just naturally being around her and all the work she still puts in until this day. It's definitely motivating."