This Friday, July 13, Sci Fi will air the Jimmy Palmiotti-written episode of its ongoing series, Painkiller Jane. In advance of the show’s airing (at 10 PM [Eastern Standard Time]), I shot Palmiotti in an email to get some behind the scenes info. Be sure to set the VCR, the Tivo, or heck—actually watch the show as it airs live this Friday (or catch the replay on Wednesday, July 17, at 11 PM [EST]).
Tim O’Shea (TOS): In a recent post on your Sci Fi blog, you wrote: “I am never home on Friday so I have to wait till Tuesday to watch the show.” So, will you be making an exception and staying home on the 13th?
Jimmy Palmiotti (JP): Yeah, this time I will. I have been getting better about catching the Friday night episodes since then. The only copy of the episode I saw was a rough cut and I had some suggestions because of story points that were not hit and cuts that didn’t make sense. They were able to nail a few of them and I was glad for it. Can’t wait to see how some of the effects were handled.
TOS: In a recent Philadelphia Daily News piece, Jerome Maida noted that you said at the recent Wizard Philly show that your upcoming Painkiller Jane episode will be the closest to your vision of the character. Given the structure and nature of television writing (versus comics writing) and the many “cooks” in the TV writing “kitchen”, just how hard was it to get close to your vision?
JP: Well, very hard because the writers and especially the show runner have always made it a point to let me know that this show is not the comic… many times. It has everything to do with the networks as well, not just them. Because I was a script consultant I would ask for many things to be added, taken out and changed and again this point would be made to me if I was asking too much. That’s the nature of the business and having a group mentality working against a single person’s vision. I understand it but don’t always agree with the choices…in the case of the show, I have made it clear that I always felt that there should be more action and that even with the voiceover work in the beginning and end, I still feel the show should be more about the main character and less about the team. Anyone that reads the comic can see the difference in a heartbeat…especially with the way the Jane character deals with things. The comic book Jane is in control of her world and when she isn’t, she lashes out. The TV Jane is part of a group finding her way in the world. Both have their strong points and weaknesses in my eyes and I understand the nature of things and now the process a bit more. This was all a learning process to me.
TOS: How is it that in the most recent episode (aired July 6) [spoiler alert, stop reading if you want to view the episode and not be upset], they kill off the Maureen character who is one of the main characters in the series…at times as crucial as Jane herself?
JP: Obviously I was not happy with that decision at all but it had more to do with the actress and less to do about the character and in the end, I think it helps people separate the comic book from the show a bit more and understand it’s a totally different character and set up. For me it’s like another version of the character that has its own life. I am glad for the Jane show and at the same time I am also glad I get to write the painkiller Jane book monthly for dynamite. Our vision stays intact with the comic book but the reality is that a million more people know about the show…that’s the facts.
TOS: As much as it pains you to see Jane being taken in different directions than you would if you had complete creative control, have there been some aspects that have pleasantly surprised you in terms of where they have taken the characters and the story?
JP: Well, I feel overall it’s a different story than the book , so I am enjoying the episodes that aren’t so much about the bad guys but the shows that get into the characters’ heads and what motivates them. I like anything where their personal lives interacts with the story and they have done a lot of that in the later episodes that is fun. It’s the idea of discovery that I enjoy about the series and the wonderful cast.
TOS: What can you tell folks about the episode (The League) that you wrote? I ran across this description: “A Neuro takes matters into his own hands when his friends abuse the powers he has given them.”
JP: Yeah, it’s about all good intentions gone bad and how you have to clean up the mess you created. It’s about as close to a superhero episode that the show will have, which might be a good thing or not. Since I was only writing one script this season, to get in there and add a little more action and attitude and what I feel I do best. The script had a lot more going on than the final cut, but that’s always the case with any TV show. There were many things that had to be scaled down because of time and budget but the director Paul Ziller really did a great job with what he had available to him. At the end of the day , unless I had total control of everything, this is a group project and my experience on this episode taught me many things, especially a real understanding of the process of film making. I am happy with the way it came out.
TOS: Were you on the set of this episode when it was shot?
JP: Yes, I was there a week before shooting going to all the prep meetings, helping Paul with casting, scouting locations with the crew and working with the guys to get artwork done in time for the episode shoot. I enlisted Amanda Conner to do the main piece of art for the episode that featured the comic cover of the characters that inspired the bad guys in this episode. . On a break I would visit the set of the episode before and hang there a bit, but mostly we were working out kinks and such on a daily basis till the actual shooting began. I was there for most of the episode’s shoot and being there really helped the episode in my eyes. I managed to get permission from Matt Hastings (Consulting Producer) to add back scenes that were taken out of the original script I wrote and was able to add dialogue and clear up some points that were dropped as well because of time and what-not. The cast really has some great character suggestions and I was more than willing to listen and apply them as well in scenes . When you watch the episode, you will see the characters seem to be a bit more animated and comfortable with each other because we worked on that a bit while I was there. The cast and crew were especially vocal how much they felt I was helping being on set to answer any questions they had and it was especially satisfying on a number
of levels to do that. It was mostly general stuff about the Jane character and her background and such, but I guess any production would benefit by having one of the creators on hand to help out. I really enjoyed the process and again, felt I was able to add some minor details that might have been missed or neglected. Hey, we all want to feel useful, right? Lol.
TOS: After Jane, who was the character you most enjoyed getting to write in this episode?
JP: Conner would be the next up for me because he is trying to be the alpha male all the time and I personally write Jane as the alpha male, so the interaction between them is always more fun than many of the other characters. In the comic Maureen is my favorite, but for the show Conner is it. It’s tough when you have the Andre character always being the boss, Seth being the doctor and Riley always being the computer hack to dig into those characters unless time is really taken to develop their lives. Over the course of 22 episodes the writers do just that and make you care for each and every one. I especially tried to flesh out Conner and Seth a bit more. When I wrote the first draft of the script, I had almost every scene I could feature Jane and Maureen together, but I got the word that Maureen was out and had to change it all, so we substituted Maureen’s part with more Conner. I actually think it works pretty well.
TOS: What do you appreciate most about Kristanna Loken‘s portrayal of Jane?
JP: There is a lot I can rave about when the subject of Kristanna comes up. I think she is fantastic on so many levels . She has a lot invested in this series and works harder than anyone on the show. Being an executive producer opens the door for a lot of things that she has to deal with on a daily basis and being the star of the show makes it even more time consuming. She lives and breathes the show and after episode 22 I can imagine she is going to need a break for a bit. To me, she embodies the spirit of the character, has the chops to nail her attitude and is physically perfect for the role. The best experience I am getting out of all this is getting to know Kristanna and becoming her friend. She has the qualities I admire most in a person and that’s a rare thing. Amanda and I were lucky enough to spend some down time with her recently and it was a blast. She really enjoys life and the opportunities given to her. I dig her the most.
TOS: As you noted in a recent post on the Sci Fi boards, the ratings for Painkiller Jane were solid in certain demographics for June: “…SCI FI Friday, leading to the series and season finales of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis respectively, as well as new episodes of Painkiller Jane outperformed the same time period last year by +70% among Adults 18-49 and +56% among Adults 25-54.” Have the Sci Fi execs seemed pleased by these numbers?
JP: If they aren’t, they need help. Look, there is a lot more than numbers in measuring a show’s success and I think they are smart enough to understand all that by now. The show may not be a super hit, but it’s holding its own, is part of one of the most successful months for SciFi ever and is 22 new hours of original programming that probably cost them half of what their other shows cost to produce. When you have so much air time to fill, you have to fill it and Jane is a quality program that has gotten better with each and every episode. I admit that out of the gate with the show Painkiller Jane. That said, they determine at some point soon if there will be a season 2 and for me, I got my fingers crossed on a number of levels.
TOS: Are there other episodes that you wrote in this season? Did you get a chance to direct any?
JP: My contract was a clear and simple one. It said I get to write one episode and direct one episode. Well, I wrote the one airing July 13th at 10pm, as far as directing…it’s a long and involved story that Insight Films and I are still dealing with. As far as this season, I will not be directing an episode. Check back with me in the future on this and I might have a better and more enlightening answer.