The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Jana
interview conducted by Matt Allair (10/01/2009)
Page editor: XScribe
In 1995, the very year that Jana Fain's career brought her to Los Angeles, during the brief time I worked at a retail store in Santa Monica, I remember a woman came in talking on a cell phone. There was nothing unusual in that. That was, until I heard her tell the person on the other end of the line that she was going to visit Chris Carter while he was working on his show.
I remember feeling a tinge of envy for her friendship and connection to Chris, as the X-Files was the hottest show running at that point. I had incorrectly assumed that the key staff and crew were unreachable, only to find out years later how false that assumption was. I have credited Jana Fain numerous times on this site for her assistance, and the number of doors she has opened up for the site and myself. Of course, I should stress here that her accessibility is a reflection of Frank Spotnitz's openness to the fans. While many Philes might be aware of who Jana Fain is and her importance to the final years of The X-Files as a series, as well as the television empire that 1013 Productions had evolved into during the years between 2000 and 2002, they might not be aware that she acted as a liaison on so many levels, between the fans, the studios, Frank and Chris, Big Light, and Alison Groves of the Big Light Social Network. I have to wonder if some fans appreciate the degree that Jana has acted as a kind of central glue to everything for nearly a decade. This isn't to take anything away from Gabe Rotter, or Brad Follmer from 1013, as they have been very kind and helpful, but Jana Fain has remained unusually accessible to everyone.
So, when she announced to me a month ago that she was leaving Big Light Productions at the end of September, it was a personal disappointment and loss, as well as the closing of another chapter within fandom history. As of this writing, I have to wonder how fans will process this development. I can only hope that the fans will realize how much Jana has enriched their experience. It isn't standard. So, my intent with this interview, aside from the usual grilling for information, was for it to act as a tribute to Jana's history with 1013 and Big Light Productions. The interview proceeded as follows…
Matt Allair: Thank you for taking the time to do this.
As a child growing up, what films or television shows inspired you, or made you want to work in this business?
Jana Fain: I watched a lot, and all of it inspired me because of the way that movies or television shows affected other people. Two of the movies that really affected me or coaxed me, are total girl movies--Grease and Gone with the Wind. I loved those movies so much because of the way people felt after they watched the movie or left the theatre. They were different than from when they went in. For whatever reason, they were happy after Grease, It was fun, they were singing, they were dancing. Or with Gone With the Wind. They actually saw a little slice of history, no matter how fictional it was or not, but people were affected and that inspired me. I wanted to have that affect on people, I wanted to work on things that made people feel different or think differently. So when I was a young girl, it was kind of set from the time I was 9 or 10-years-old (to work in the business).
Matt: I understand you got your break working with Carroll O'Connor. What was it like to work with him?
Jana: Well, he's very much like his character, Archie Bunker (laughs). He was very kind to me; he sort of took on a grandfatherly role. He kind of took me under his wing. Very sweet, but very opinionated. He could be off-color, quite a bit. He was always sticking cash in my hands during Christmas, which was great. He had very distinct ideas about women in the work place. He felt the men should be the boss, and they should be the producers, and the women could be the staff runners and the assistants. Which is ironic because his wife, Nancy, was a very strong role model for women; he was an interesting mix--a contradiction. I admire and respect him. He was a perfectionist. He would come in earlier than everyone every day to write and he would always be the last one to leave. I respected his work ethic. He and Frank actually have a very similar work ethic, which is pretty admirable.
Matt: After being involved with In the Heat of the Night, what was your next step? How did you manage to make a career out of it in Southern California?
Jana: Well, I kind of zigzagged, moving around. Heat of the Night went down and wasn't filming anymore, and nothing was coming to Georgia. Georgia was a right-to-work state, and movie studios and TV shows were staying away from the state at the time. So, I had a friend who had a friend working in Seattle, and she knew nothing about television production. She called and asked if I would come to work in Seattle and work as a local, and run the production office. She had no idea how to manage the day-to-day [work schedule] because television shows are so labor intensive, with regard to production. I jumped at the chance. I was in Seattle for about nine months, then went to San Diego, then I got a call from a director, Thomas Carter*, who asked if I wanted to come to LA and work as his assistant. So, I've been here ever since nineteen-ninety five.
Matt: I understand you started off doing a lot of production freelance work for studios like New Line. At the start of your career, did you find working on features to be more of a challenge, or less so, than working on television? Or was the experience just different?
Jana: Different, but I would say it's a little bit less of a challenge, because you're given more money, and more time, which is a luxury in production. In television, you have to get what you have to get in a day or two. You're shooting four, six, eight pages a day depending on your budget. It's much more of an intense high working on television than film. With film it's leisurely. You have days to shoot one scene; it could take all day to shoot one page. I definitely prefer television to film.
Matt: Robin Benty** seems like an important connection for you; how did you first meet?
Jana: I was working for Thomas Carter. He was directing a pilot--The Michael Hayes pilot--which starred David Caruso. We were shooting on location in New York. She was working for the writer, John Romano, and we immediately bonded on set. She's been one of my closest friends ever since.
Matt: What was your first impression of the 1013 Production offices when you arrived there? Was it intimidating? What were your responsibilities during that period?
Jana: Very intimidating. Everyone on the crew called the 1013 offices the "Big House," No one wanted to go into the Big House because it was scary (laughs). Chris and Frank were in there. It was like being called into the principle's office when you had to go into the Big House. It was pretty funny when crew would come in and they were usually shaking in their boots. Very intimidating. My office was next door to Frank's, and cattycorner to Chris Carter's, and basically, I was brought in to manage the staff. I hired and fired all of the assistants, script coordinators, and researchers. When a television [series] is in its seventh, eighth, and ninth year it's so large [with] such a large staff that you need someone that can work as a liaison for the studio and the production company. There wasn't one person available to do those things, to negotiate raises, to provide an open ear to the staff, to help them with whatever they needed. I was the liaison to Chris and Frank for them, and I was also the liaison for them to the studio. I enjoyed it every day. It was the best crew, the best staff--smart, hip--working there. It was really a good experience, and I worked next door to Frank.
Matt: When you started working at 1013, did you get any advice or input from the previous office managers whom had worked there?
Jana: They didn't have one. Chris had an old assistant whose name was Mary***, and she was promoted to the VP of the company. She dealt with all of the merchandising for the X-Files in conjunction with Chris. She was trying to manage the staff and it just wasn't working out, They needed one person to deal with it because there were ten to fifteen of the staff members that had no one really representing them. That's why they created the position, and I went in and took over the job.
Matt: So, you were obviously working directly, I take it, with Frank right from the start at 1013, or did that come later on?
Jana: I was sort of my own boss. I didn't really take orders from Chris and Frank because I was really representative of all of the staff, but once a week I would try and meet with Frank about problems they were having, or things they wanted to see differently with the staff. It was more of a side-by-side relationship.
Matt: What would be your fondest memory while working at 1013 during that period?
Jana: I had a lot of fond memories. The thing that really stuck with me was that every Monday morning, I would meet with the staff, we would meet in the conference room, and we would talk about the weekend and what we did, and what the week held for us.
My fondest memories are a collection of memories; it’s really the camaraderie that you get when you are working side by side with people for ten to twelve hours a day.
Matt: Did Frank have a clear vision regarding what he wanted to do when he started Big Light Productions?
Jana: He did. When the X-Files went down, he liked the way that I worked, and I liked the way that he worked, and so I wanted to go with him, with his company. He wanted to produce smart television, he did not want to compromise on that for anyone, in any way, and he never has. Frank has written and developed I think some of the smartest pieces of material that I've ever read. For whatever reason, they haven't been made because, I think sometimes his material the network is afraid of it because it's on an intelligent level; it's not on a mainstream, underestimating-the-audience level. He knew from the very beginning he wanted to make things that were smart.
Matt: Was the experience of working on Robbery Homicide Division with Frank an interesting one?
Jana: Michael Mann made it interesting. Frank and I really bonded on that show, and it was like going to war. Michael Mann has a very specific personality, and Michael Mann micromanages every single aspect of every single day. Frank and I really had to bond together to make things as light and fun as possible for the writing staff, but we got some really great television out of that show, which was fun. But we left there, and that's when we set up our own offices in Beverly Hills.
Matt Allair: In your role, you must have read the work of a lot of writers. Is there a common quality or trait you'd look for when suggesting writers to Frank?
Jana: Yes, I would say one of the most distinctive qualities is clarity, and the ability to get a point across in a descriptive manner without it being muddled. A lot of writers--a lot--make the mistake of putting too many ingredients in the soup, and the script loses its focus, and you just want to throw your hands up in the air, [and] not finish reading it because some writers are overly ambitious about their own talent. So, clarity is one of the things that I look for when I am reading a piece of material. In my opinion with all of the writers that I have read, if you don't have a clear idea of your project in an outline form, or treatment form, or some tangible thing that you can look at, so you can clearly see where you are going, where you just came from, and where you want to be, inevitably your script is not going to work, and I think a lot of writers don't take the time. It's a lot of work to fully think out an outline for something. A critic on paper should look at it. Which is one of the things that writers working for Frank were constantly impressed by, Frank wrote his thoughts clearly on note cards, clipped them on a board- a big flat bulletin board--so you could tangibly touch the story, and if it does not make sense on that board, it will not make sense on paper, and time and time again he was proven right about this. You can tell the writer just sat down and thought: "Well, I'll just type out my story, then my script," without fully really thinking that they had to work out the problems, or the traps that they were going to fall into.
Matt: Have you been interested or tempted to try your hand at writing or producing?
Jana: Well, I've done a bit of producing, of course. A part of my job is making things happen and pulling elements together, which is what a producer does. I just haven't been given that title. I mean I have [produced] with a couple of other people and a couple of other projects. I've never been interested in writing because I do not have the patience. I cannot make myself sit for over six hours to write something (laughs).
Matt: I understand you are proud of the work on Night Stalker. What is your fondest memory of working on The Night Stalker?
Jana: My fondest memory is actually right before we went to work on it, Frank walked into my office and he said, "We've been picked up." We found out we'd been picked up for a broadcast series on ABC, and we were so excited and so proud. I can see him clearly in my head now walking into my office and he was so excited telling me that.
Matt: Do you have a favorite Night Stalker episode?
Jana: I do actually, and it's one that Frank wrote. I can't remember now if it aired. I don't think that it did, or it may have aired late in the order, but it was one of the first scripts that he wrote. It was called "Into Night", and it was this really fun, creepy script about these people who were being found dead, and they had been mummified. It was everything the show should have been until ABC decided the show was too scary, and that we could not put monsters in our show. They picked up a monster show, but then decided they didn't want monsters (laughs). They told us that the monsters had to be human, and the shows had to be more like thrillers, (but we didn't know that yet and that's why) Frank was able to write, and we were able to shoot this fun script.
Matt: Do you think the fan involvement for such shows as The X-Files and Millennium has gotten more sophisticated compared to fandom in the 90s?
Jana: I do, and I think part of that is simply because of the way that the web and internet has expanded. There are so many social networking forums for people to connect on, and people are so smart now because they've been exposed to so many different things, I definitely think it's gotten more sophisticated.
Matt: I'm curious to know if you have been following the new developments with the Millennium campaign, especially this report that Lance Henriksen found some financial backers to put up money for a movie. Do you think the odds are increasing that a Millennium movie will happen?
Jana: You know, I don't know, I actually did not know that Lance had found financial backers. I think that's great. I loved Millennium, and actually, I loved Millennium more than the X-Files then right before I went to work on The X-Files (sheepish laugh). I thought Millennium was so dark and great, and I was actually friends with Klea Scott, and so I'd love for a Millennium movie to happen.
Matt: All right, cool. Regarding the shows and films you've been involved with, do you have any favorite writers? Or writers you have a fond memory of?
Jana: Vince Gilligan, absolutely. He's such a fantastic writer, he's so creative, and he such a sweet, kind, normal human being, and probably Tom Schnauz. I adore Tom. He's hysterical and funny and he also, like Vince, makes everything better.
Matt: Do you have any favorite actors or guest stars, you have fond recollections of?
Jana: Not really. I like all of them. None of them really posed any big problems. They all were just fun to work with. We didn't have any big diva behavior.
Matt: What are your current favorite television shows to watch?
Jana: Right now, I'm watching the PBS Ken Burns documentary about national parks, but on the flip side, I absolutely love Top Chef and Project Runway. Big Love is one of my favorite shows of all time, and Californication of course. I have to watch that because of David.
Matt: Now that you are moving on from Big Light Productions, do you have any idea what you plan to do next?
Jana: I don't. I've had such a fantastic time working with Frank, I'm suspicious that any person or company can sort of come up to that level. So I think I have a long road ahead of me in trying to find a place where I had as much fun and learned as much as I did with Frank. So the door is wide open. I think the one thing I'd want the fans to know if they read this and are curious [is that] Frank is every bit as kind a human being as they think that he is. He was that way the day that I met him, and he was that way on my last day working with him. I think that kind of a person is not only rare in this town, but rare in general. It was a great experience.
Matt: Again I want to thank you for your many years of support. I've been incredibly appreciative of everything you've done for me and the website.
Jana: Thank you. You guys are really one of the reasons that the job is so awesome. I'm definitely going to miss dealing with you guys on a weekly basis, but I'm sure we'll run into each other again.
Matt: Thank you again for your time.
Jana: Thank you, Matt.
In many respects, Jana Fain has truly acted as a keeper of the flame for the last decade, and she will be missed. Whatever her next career paths have in store, I hope they are as fruitful for her as those paths she traveled over the last decade. I wish her the very best.
*) Thomas Carter is a highly prolific director, writer, actor, and producer who has won several Emmy and DGA awards in television and film. Some of his films of note include Metro with Eddie Murphy, and Save The Last Dance.
**) Robin Benty: As described by Jana Fain in her interview with X-Files News, Robin was the website producer for 1013, and suggested Jana Fain be recruited to manage the office staff.
***) Mary Astadourian was Chris Carter's assistant, as well as the vice-president of Ten-Thirteen from 1997 to 2002.
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