Exclusive: John-Paul Nickel on the Warehouse 13 Finale

Exclusive Interview with John-Paul Nickel for Warehouse 13 on April 17, 2014
Interview with Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

John-Paul NickelTo many fans' dismay, Warehouse 13 unfortunately reached its end last night on Syfy. The writer of the series finale, John-Paul Nickel, who also wrote the episodes "The Greatest Gift" and "The Big Snag," recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on the episode.

In the series finale, fans got to see the characters' defining moments. Nickel had some of his own from the show to share. "I started as a fan of the show, not on it in any way, and then I got hired as the writers' PA, so I went from fan, to coffee bitch, to guy who wrote the series finale...I kind of have a few defining moments. The first is, Jack gave me the second Christmas episode ("The Greatest Gift") to write, and the fact that I got to write not just like a freelance staff, not just any episode in the series, but the Christmas special. And there were extenuating time circumstances involved with that, so to be able to write quickly and still be treated like a writer on the staff, and to be given that chance to actually sit down and write the story and be welcomed aboard, and write and do rewrites, and then go up and shoot, just like I was any writer, to me that was amazing.

John-Paul Nickel"And then when we were shooting that Christmas episode, the one that I had written, Jack was directing that also, and he was shooting first unit, and I said, "I'm going to go over and watch second unit." I went over to watch second unit, and some of the actors were having trouble with one of the lines. They wanted to say something different, but they didn't know what they wanted to say, but they didn't want to say what was in the script. So I went to Jack, and I said, "Hey Jack, there's something happening over there; they want a new line," and Jack looked at me, and he said, "Well give them one."

"And so I went back and I gave them some new lines, and that was kind of the moment when I realized, 'That's how much Jack trusts his writers, and he is going to give people a chance to do their best.'

"Ever since that moment on the set - that was very early in the shooting - whenever someone would say, "That line's not working, or I need a joke here or something," I knew I was safe to pitch a line on set, and that Jack would be receptive to that. It's not that I didn't think he would be, it's just, you know, you're on set; it's your first time there; you're caught up in things; you don't know what you can get away with, so to speak. So I think that when Jack said, "Just go give them one," that was the defining moment for me and gave me the confidence to be able to function on set and to pitch.

"I also got to go up to the set this summer, because Jack directed three episodes. Jack is always on set; he's always rehearsing with the actors and always giving them lines. The only times he's not on set is when he's in meetings, when he physically can't be there...So because he was directing three episodes, he actually asked me to come up and be the writer on set, because the way it works per episode, is during the eight days episode one is shooting, those are the days episode two is prepping. Then when episode two is shooting, episode three is prepping. So when Jack was prepping the episodes that he was going to direct, he was already on set, and he asked me to come up this summer to be the writer on set. That was my first time being the writer on set for episodes I had not written, and that was an amazing, wonder learning experience."

As a fan, it was a big deal to Nickel to have written the finale. "I'm a fan of the show. I couldn't have found a better fit for me as a show as a writer as an actual genuine fan of the show. It was such an honor not only to just end the show, and not only to end a show that is loved by so many people, but to actually end a show that I myself loved. I wouldn't let myself write "end of series" in the script until the very last writer's draft, and even then there were moments writing it I got choked up, and not because of the words I wrote on the page, but because of how we as a team and as a group broke the story at the moments we all came up with together, and then seeing them there on the page and the reality of it."

Nickel talked in detail about working on the finale. According to him, the writer's room of Warehouse 13 really is a collaboration. "The way the show works in general, and the way most writers room works, is as a room we break out the beats of the story. We literally have a giant wipe board and a dry erase marker in the room, and we as a team figure out what the best direction and what the best beats of the story are going to be, with Jack leading the room and kind of being the final arbitrator of quality, so to speak, because no one knows the show or the characters better than Jack.

"And the way Jack runs the room; everybody knows what episode they are writing. So we broke out the story knowing I was going to write it, but it was the entire writer's room pitching in and coming up with the beats, and that includes Jack, as well as him saying, "Yes, no, maybe." "

It was partially because of the timing that Nickel ended up writing the script of the finale. "It's a little interesting; we were breaking my episode at the time we received what I call the renewalation...We were planning a thirteen episode season. We had broken and written four episodes. They had already finished the outline of a fifth episode, and we were then breaking for the sixth episode, which was actually probably going to air ninth or tenth - a musical episode - that I was going to write. And we were going to do it all with original songs, with the cast singing, but we were breaking it early because the preproduction involved was going to be insane. So we were in the middle of breaking my episode when we got the news."

Originally he was going to co-write the script with one of the other writers, but they moved on to other series, so it was left up to him. "To Jack's credit, he had the faith in me to let me write it. I will be forever grateful for it."

Warehouse 13Even so, Nickel was quick to give much of the credit to Kenny, who is always really involved in the episodes taking shape. "Jack always takes the final pass on everything. In many ways really every episode should say written by the writer and Jack Kenny. I have heard that Jack does not rewrite people nearly as much as other showrunners. But the fact is all the best jokes are always Jack's. All the best moments are always Jack's. And that's really how it should be with any good showrunner. It's just giving credit where it's due, because everything's so collaborative. I mean the story structure and everything I wrote, and the beats moment to moment are everything I wrote, but Jack goes through everything with a fine-tooth comb and makes everybody look their best, which is why he's the showrunner."

Nickel really couldn't say enough about all that Kenny does and how it helps the show. "A perfect example of why what Jack does is amazing, is the scene in the finale where Pete and Myka confess their love to each other. Nowhere in his pass or my pass of that scene did they ever say, "I love you." What I had written in my pass and what Jack did in his pass, there was a lot of subtext, it was all very subtle, and it was Eddie [McClintock] and Joanne [Kelly] saying, "I feel like we need to say I love you out loud," and then Jack rehearsing that scene. If Jack hadn't been there it probably would have been done as scripted, and it wouldn't have been as awesome. But because jack's there on set to rehearse all the time - and it's a little different because he directed the episode, but there're so many moments in so many episodes. He is so receptive to just whatever, it doesn't matter where the idea comes from, if it's a good idea, it's a good idea, and Jack is smart and knows how to collaborate effectively, really on every level."

One specific part that Kenny really had a hand in in the finale was the musical number. "I will say the thing that Jack was really instrumental on and had a very clear vision from the beginning, was where I was kind of in the murky waters of writing the Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) flashback with the tap dancing. I was writing it the best I could, but I knew Jack had so clearly saw in his head exactly how it was going to be...in a way that made sense, the beats from A to B to C, and where he wanted to shoot, and that escalation of the tap dancing, and how he kind of worked it out. He mentally put in the beats and the bars that each scene would encompass, because he knew how many bars we had in the music, and then how to pace it in the script, which was amazing."

The end of the musical number was special, and was shot last. "The very last thing we shot was the tap dancing with when the pearls dissolve and it's the glitter. Jack had actually rearranged the shooting schedule to make that be the last scene and that was of course one where we only got one take. We weren't going to be able to at like 2:00 a.m. remop the floor and reload the glitter cannon. Jack left everything running and gave this wonderful speech that made everybody cry. Because he kept the cameras running, I really hope that makes it onto the DVD."

The musical number was only one of the many things crammed in to the finale. Nickel talked about how the specific story elements and defining moments were chosen in the writer's room. "What we did was, we wrote on the board a big list of every story we ever wanted to do and couldn't do, like every story that we had planned for the fifth season, every story that had ever been rejected that we pitched that we really liked, every story that we had written outlines for and for whatever reason or other got tossed out. We made a big, big list.

"And then we thought, 'Okay, what are we dying to do, that we really want to do?' And it was really organic, in that we knew we wanted to do a musical number, because we were breaking the musical. So it became, 'Whose story could that be and what could it be about?' But then in another way we were looking at it like, 'What do we want to say about Myka (Kelly)? Which from this list would fit Myka really well? Oh, ninja housewives.' So it was that sort of thing.

"We were going to do a Fantastic Voyage story this year, and everybody had been so excited about it, so it was like, 'Can we use it? Where can we use it; what could it be?' And that's when we thought about Steve (Aaron Ashmore)'s story and how cool that would be.

Warehouse 13"And for the original second Christmas episode we were originally under the impression they had wanted a New Year's story, so we had pitched this speak easy that was stuck in some sort of time bubble, so to speak. So when we were trying to think of an Artie (Saul Rubinek) story that would be fun to do...we thought it would be a really cool story. It's a story that might not have worked as a forty minute episode, because there're the physics of time travel and time bubbles and all that sort of stuff that you really have to take time to explain and can really stop a story dead. We didn't have to worry about it; we could just do the fun part and assume that there was a logical explanation for all of it.

"...There were like thirty stories on that board and we just picked the best ones and/or the six most awesome that could tell us something really great about either where that character was going or where they'd been, or in a perfect world, both."

One thing that surprised Nickel about making the finale was how fast the episode broke. "[For] the noir episode it took us like nine months to break that episode, because we kept stopping and coming back to it, and this one we just broke super-fast. We had committed to the clip aspect of it, but we weren't sure the best way to do it, the flashbacks, the stories you hadn't seen before, but once we committed to the table and 'this is a Warehouse ritual,' and we had kind of had these general ideas of what we wanted them to be, [it was fast]. "

It wasn't very long before ideas were pouring out of Jack. "I remember trying to write on the board as fast as I could to keep up with him, because it was so clear to Jack; everything he was saying made sense, structurally. And then it was it all just a matter of breaking out those little stories."

Nickel talked about the biggest challenge with the finale. "It was the first scene with everybody around the table in the first act. And we had broken the story under the premise that Mrs. Frederic (C.C.H. Pounder) was going to come in and say, "The Warehouse is moving," and Pete just couldn't handle it. And that was his reaction and why he got up and stood up and left at the end of the act.

"And then the word came down from on high, "Well let's not say the Warehouse is definitely moving; let's say the Warehouse is maybe moving."

"So then it became this tap dancing act in the script of juggling everybody's reactions so it made sense, and like why Pete wasn't there for all of this, and making it this slow build for Pete - he just can't take it and has to storm off. But also then with Mrs. Frederic then not saying it's definitely moving, and just saying, "Well it might be moving," and being her nebulous self, to make everybody's reaction make sense, and it was after I'd written the first draft that somebody pitched the line of, "We're all devastated, just some are more quiet about it than others." That really saved all of that for me, and then going back in rewrites to build it all around that idea and really just getting to that Claudia scene as fast as possible."

Like everyone on the series, Nickel was given some souvenirs from the set. "I got my number one choice, which was the jade elephant from the noir episode. And I got from my first episode as well, the fuller brush from the Christmas episode. And I made two quick cameos in two episodes. I was on the one agent's ID in the Christmas episode. It actually has my picture and my name, and I got that as well.

"...I didn't actually grab anything physical from the finale; I got a lot of memories. But actually Jack did give me from his costume [from the finale] - you can't really see it too well I don't think - but all the agents in the future are wearing a little pin that says "W13," which is the new Warehouse 13 logo. Jack gave me that Warehouse 13 pin.

Warehouse 13"...I was also given two things, and again, not necessarily because I deserved them, but because I happened to be there. I was given the back of the director's chair that says "Warehouse 13" and says "writer." So I got that. And I also was given by a couple of our camera people the slate...not the actual clipboard because that's like a thousand dollar piece of equipment, but there is a hard like quarter inch thick plastic sheet that goes over it that says "Warehouse 13" and then you fill in with marker like what the episode is, who the director is, and all that stuff. Jack got the A camera slate, I got the B camera slate, and I believe Allison got the C camera slate. And Rudy and Nicole were awesome crew members who were nice enough to give that to me."

Now that filming for Warehouse 13 has ended, Nickel has been working on another project: his one act science fiction play for the first annual Los Angeles Sci-Fest, which started running science fiction plays earlier in the month. Jack Kenny directs. Nickel explained the story of Forwarding Address. "It's actually a very short play. It's only twelve pages. It's really a ten minute play, so it's hard to talk about without giving too much away, but it's about two young poor couples that live together and are celebrating New Years. Thematically, it's about New Years, and the future is ahead of them, and their lives can only get better, and right at the stroke of midnight they get a telegram with very detailed and specific fact saying, "break up your lives are only going to get worse; your lives are going to get horrible." But the only unspecific thing about the letter is, who is it for? The letter is addressed to the couple who lives there, but there're two couples living there. So the play is about who is this letter for? Is it true? Do you have control of your destiny? And the letter is dated from eighteen years in the future from the daughter of whatever couple the letter belongs to."

You can see Nickel's work by buying tickets to the play or of course by checking out the fifth season of Warehouse 13, out on DVD now.

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