Lost’s Past and Future
Producers Lindelof and Cuse give a new Q&A on the creation of the series.
Lost‘s executive producer/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spoke today at Creative Screenwriting’s 2008 Screenwriting Expo, for an informative and fun Q&A about their creative process on the fascinating series.
The duo talked about their history together, dating back to when Cuse hired Lindelof as a writer on Nash Bridges. Cuse recounted how he’d specifically asked to see something original Lindelof had written (as opposed to a spec script based on an existing series), and was very impressed by the 17 page sample he was given of a one-act play Lindelof wrote… only to later discover Lindelof had hastily written those pages specifically for Cuse to see.
Nash Bridges star Cheech Marin plays Hurley’s dad on Lost, and Cuse revealed another Nash alum, Patrick Fischler, will be guest starring on an episode in Season 5. Mad Men fans will recognize Fischler for his recent role as Jimmy Barrett.
After working on Kevin Williamson’s Wasteland, Nash Bridges and Tim Kring’s Crossing Jordan, Lindelof recalled a meeting where he was told he’d have, “‘a great chance for you to meet J.J. [Abrams],’ who I’d been stalking for years, since Felicity and Alias.” When Abrams made it clear he had no interest in running Lost on the heels of four years each of Felicity and Alias, and also thanks to his interest in features, Lindelof knew he, “needed someone with experience” to help him, and turned to his old boss Cuse.
Lindelof admitted he was initially intimidated by the “insane creative challenges” of Lost, recalling that while they were waiting to hear if the project would be picked up as a series, he had people at the network telling him, “Yeah, the pilot is great, but there’s no series there. How are you going to do this every week?” Lindelof joked that his reply was, “I have no f**ing idea. Please don’t pick it up!”
Lost had a very expensive pilot, costing 11.5 million dollars. Cuse and Lindelof recalled that the ABC executive who greenlit it, “knew ABC was going to fire him, so this was sort of his final f**k you to them.”
Discussing the flashbacks on the series, Cuse said it was really exciting in the first year, answering the question, “Who are these guys?”, as the flashbacks could reveal big surprises about the character and their history. However, Cuse said eventually the problem became, “There’s only so many revelatory flashbacks,” and that by the time you get to flashbacks answering, “‘Why does Jack have tattoos’ and ‘Why does Desmond call everyone brother’, it’s a fairly good illustration that these flashbacks were running out of steam”
Cuse and Lindelof expressed their thankfulness they they’ve firmly established an end date for the series, saying the challenge of the flashbacks were one illustration that, “there’s a finite amount of material” in the story of Lost.
However, Cuse noted how helpful the flashbacks were early on, bringing up the example of the episode where Sawyer is trying to kill the boar – by showing flashbacks that helped explain why Sawyer could become so obsessed with something seemingly so random, it could flesh out the character without having him stop to deliver a long monologue, which Cuse said would have consisted of, “Here’s why I need to kill that boar, because it represents X!”
Asked if they know the answers to all the questions they raise on the show right away or sometimes figure it out as they go along, the duo said it was a combination of the two. Lindelof recalled how the entire pilot was put together – including writing, casting and production – in 12 weeks, which didn’t allow much time to come up with any long-term mythology. However, once the series was given a full season order, beyond the initial 12 episode order it received, Cuse said he and Lindelof sat down and discussed, “What the overall mythological underpinnings of the show would be. We quickly landed on the ending, and then constructed this broader road map of other mythological points we’d hit on this story.”
While each season of Lost is mapped out, the duo said you have to, “let the show organically tell us what it’s going to be,” bringing up the character of Ben Linus as an example. Ben was originally only intended for a three episode arc, and Lindelof and Cuse were playing a bit of wait and see as to whether or not he would turn out to be the leader of the Others, based on how things went with the actor playing the part. But once Michael Emerson was cast, “he was so good, we ended up writing eight episodes for that guy,” in Season 2, and then made him a regular. The decision to extend the original Ben storyline, in which he was held captive within the hatch, then had an influence on other storylines – Lindelof said they’d already decided that Michael, forced to help the Others to get Walt back, would kill Ana Lucia and Libby. But by extending Emerson’s time on the show, Michael’s specific task now became to free Ben.
Lindelof said they also knew from the start that Kate had killed someone and that it was probably her father – but, “the question became ‘when do we pull the trigger on [telling that story]?” and that the key was to, “bring it to an emotional point where it’s relevant to what’s happening on the island. ”
However, Lindelof and Cuse said that things had changed considerably now that they know the end of the show, with Lindelof explaining, “Certainly since we got an end date, that sort of fly by the seat of your pants story is gone now. Showing scenes [set] three years from now, you can’t change it.”
Cuse said that while they know the fans love to dissect the mythology, “We probably spend 80% on character, and 20% on mythology,” stressing that he thinks the focus on the characters, is “Why the show crossed over to not being a small genre show.” That being said, he acknowledged, “This year will probably be a little bit more science fictiony.”
Lindelof laughed that, “We sort of suckered people into this show but not presenting it as a science fiction show right out of the gate,” noting that there were elements early on that were, “like a Rorschach test”, saying that when Flight 815’s pilot is killed, someone who didn’t like sci-fi would think, “there has to be a rational explanation.” Even the reveal that Locke could walk on the island was tempered by the fact that they still hadn’t revealed why he was in the chair in the first place, leaving the opportunity that, “it could be psychosomatic.” Lindelof said Raiders of the Lost Ark was a great example of a story that has blatantly science fiction elements, noting, “Nazis melt and ghost fly out of this ark,” but that it waits a long time before presenting these elements, allowing the audience to fall in love with Indiana Jones first. Lindelof said he felt shows like Invasion probably had a harder time finding a wide audience because, “They said ‘Alien!’, right out of the gate.'”
Lindelof said that when it came to slowly building into more science fiction, “Lost has really been about the long con, because by the time we get to season 6, it’s going to be f**king crazy!”
The duo stressed that while they have introduced time travel and flash-forwards into Lost, they’ve firmly decided to never do a paradox story, with Cuse saying, “It’s not like Heroes,” where the future is always something that can be prevented or changed, but in fact on Lost, “There’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening, and the more you try to stop it, the more potential there is for you to be the cause [of that future event].”
Cuse said he felt that if the future is always alterable, the stakes are lower, and they wanted to “set the bar higher. What they saw [in the future] is what actually happens. That is going to inevitably occur.”
As for the end of the series, and whether every question will be answered, Lindelof noted, “Sometimes we’re presenting things that are not really questions for us, but they become questions for the audience, and we don’t have an intention of answering them.” He said that something like what is causing that roar in the jungle they certainly intend to answer, but, “that’s not to say there won’t be some questions left,” depending on the individual viewer and what they become fixated on.
He went on to say, “There’s a fine line between The Sopranos ending and the way we plan on ending our show. There are going to be a lot of mythological wrap ups, but our suspicion is most people really care how the characters end up – who’s going to end up with who? Who lives? Who dies? Those are the questions we’re really interested in answering.” Cuse gave an example he’s given before, The Phantom Menace’s infamous midichlorians, of how you want to be careful of going too far explaining things that probably don’t need to be explained. The duo noted that there are certain questions specific people can get hung up on that aren’t integral to a story – two examples given were “Why are certain people born with the ability to use magic?” in Harry Potter and “Why is the wardrobe a portal to Narnia?” in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Acknowledging the failure of Nikki and Paulo with the audience, Cuse answered a question about the oft-confused Steve and Scott and said that not only would there not be an episode focused on them, but that there is “a very tragic event that happens this season.” Lindelof said the original plan for Nikki and Paulo was to have them be like Rose and Bernard, “and occasionally have these characters melt out of the chorus so they had a voice. We weren’t going to make them part of the grand story arc.” Cuse said that when they decided to write Nikki and Paulo out, they took plans they had for their overall back-story, and “put it into one episode. We would have played that out over a much more elaborate set of flashbacks. Instead we compressed it into one episode.”
Discussing how Mr. Eko became a much shorter-lived character than originally intended, Lindelof noted how it stemmed from actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who did not like living in Hawaii. Lindelof said, ” Our Mr. Eko plans very quickly derailed. Adawele’s unhappiness was almost instantaneous. On his second episode, he was expressing extreme dissatisfaction.” This led to them quickly changing Mr. Eko’s storyline to one that would only last one season. Asked what might have happened with Eko had he been the long term character he was going to be, Lindelof answered, “Originally he was going to be someone who challenged Locke for the spiritual leadership of the castaways.”
Talking about Desmond and Penny and the fact that they reunited at the end of Season 4, Cuse and Lindelof said they liked putting a big dramatic beat like that in well before the end, instead of saving it all for the final episode. Lindelof also said that having played out their separation for so long, “If we’d waited any longer to get them back together, it would have risked people going, ‘Enough already.'” That being said, going forward, “It’s a challenge, because they’re together now.” Evoking other famous TV couples like Ross and Rachel, and on the negative side, David and Maddie, Lindelof said the question becomes, “Do we still have compelling stories to tell with these characters?”
As the panel ended, moderator Jeff Goldsmith jokingly asked the duo their “Favorite scene from the Season 6 finale.” Cuse’s answer was obviously a joke, as he said his favorite scene was, “the set up for the zombie season.” Fans can speculate however on whether Lindelof was joking or giving any sort of real hint, when he said, “It involves a volcano.” Come May 2010, we’ll find out.
source : ign.com