By Christina Radish
Lost Executive Producer Carlton Cuse
After Oceanic Air flight 815 tore apart in mid-air and crashed on a Pacific island, its survivors were forced to find inner strength they never knew they had, in order to survive. But, they discovered that the island holds many secrets, including a mysterious smoke monster, polar bears, housing and hatches with electricity and hot & cold running water, a group of island residents known as “The Others,” and a mysterious man named Jacob. The survivors have also found signs of those who came to the island before them, including a 19th century sailing ship, called The Black Rock, a downed Beechcraft plane from a failed drug run, the remains of an ancient statue, as well as bunkers belonging to the Dharma Initiative -- a group of scientific researchers who inhabited the island in the recent past. They also encountered a freighter, stationed off the island, that some thought would lead to their rescue, but ultimately almost caused their extinction.
With only about 30 original hours left, until the final episode of the ABC television sensation Lost airs in 2010, Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Sayid (Naveen Andrews), Sun (Yunjin Kim) and Claire’s son, Aaron -- otherwise known as the Oceanic 6 -- have been rescued and continue to try to pick up the pieces of the lives they knew before the crash, and perpetuate the lie concocted to hide the truth of what really happened. Now, Jack and Ben (Michael Emerson) must convince all of them to return to the island, in order to save those left behind. Adding to their worries is the fact that they also have to take the body of Jeremy Bentham, aka Locke (Terry O’Quinn), with them in order to make things right with the island. Butm locating the island may prove even more difficult since Ben moved it. It’s not just a question of where the island went, but when. Back in the world and on the island, the band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must continue to work together against all odds if they want to stay alive. But, as they have discovered during their journey, nothing is what it seems, and danger and mystery loom behind every corner, with even those they thought could be trusted turning against them.
Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spoke to MediaBlvd Magazine about the advantages of making a show, for which you already know when the ending will come.
MediaBlvd Magazine> Should viewers assume that the finale of Season 3 was the first flash-forward, or is it possible that some things before that were in the future?
Carlton Cuse> It’s all relativistic. What you will really learn from the season is that, if you look at Lost in its totality, where various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle go in, they all go in relative to each other. So, that was the first one we saw on the show, but in a timeline sense, you may see other flash-forwards that would start earlier than that.
Damon Lindelof> That’s the first event that happened after the Oceanic Six were rescued. Nothing else you’ve seen happened after that.
MediaBlvd> Will viewers be seeing a lot more of Nestor Carbonell?
Carlton> They will.
MediaBlvd> How much does the availability of the actors who play secondary characters on the show impact your storytelling? If Cane had been a hit and Nestor wasn’t available, what would that have done?
Lost Executive Producer Damon Lindelof
Damon> The good news is that, since we’ve gotten the end-date of the show, that allowed us a tremendous amount of pre-planning time. So, in the case of Nestor, he was on the show Cane last year, and we found ourselves in a position where, if that show had been successful and had been picked up beyond the 13 episodes, and he was a series regular on the show, Lost probably never would have seen Richard Alpert again. So, we had to have a Plan B, which would have been catastrophic for us, as we had weaved Richard Alpert into the show in such a significant way. So, once Cane did not get picked up, we did a deal with Nestor, which basically secured his services should we choose to pull the trigger on them until the end of Season 6, so we would have him until the end. When we have secondary characters who are essential to the plot, like Charles Widmore or Richard Alpert, the benefit of knowing the story ahead of time is that we can try to lock those actors down, and not find ourselves in a situation where we’re waiting around for them to be available. The other good news is because the show didn’t premiere until January, we had latitude. Someone might not be available for the episode that we want them for, but because we start filming in July, and go all the way through March, maybe they’re available a little later, and we can slot them into an episode at a later date.
MediaBlvd> Getting really heavy into the time travel or time hopping can be pretty fraught with perils. How are you staying away from some of those pitfalls?
Carlton> It is a variable mine field to do time travel, yet it also is incredibly exciting. What we didn’t want to do is have Season 5, the penultimate year of the show, just be a stall. We really decided that, if we were going to take risks and take some chances, as we always have in Lost, and if we make some missteps, that’s okay. As far as we’re concerned, we would rather take the risk to continue to try to do what we consider to be exciting storytelling, and the consequences are that there’s a greater degree of difficulty in that. It’s been really hard for us. We’ve worked really, really hard to try to resolve a lot of those conundrums, and we feel we’ve done a pretty good job so far. We are real excited about the episodes of this season. They are all the better for utilizing this island-skipping, time-travel element.
Damon> We’ve also become fairly masochistic in our writing, in terms of you it being fraught with peril. That’s not a bad thing. We sit around and go, “Is it fraught with peril? Yes! Let’s do it!” That’s part of the thing that keeps the show existing. The show walks this line between flirting with complete and utter catastrophe and disaster. We feel part of the reason that the audience watches the show is to see when they are totally going to reach that point of no return, where they’ve just messed things up so badly. And, you can’t get to that point unless you’re taking risks. So, the show’s been a time-travel show for the last four years. We’re just making it more apparent in the storytelling now. Hopefully, as Season 5 unfolds, you will realize that time travel has been in the DNA of the show for quite some time, but we think the audience is now prepared to go on that journey with us.
MediaBlvd> If you guys didn’t have your end-date, and that was still open, do you think you would be telling this same story?
Carlton> No. Our gratitude to Steve McPherson and Mark Pedowitz, for negotiating the end-date, knows no bounds. That completely liberated us. We didn’t know whether the mythology we had had to last two seasons or nine seasons, and that was utterly paralyzing. Now that we know exactly how many episodes we have left, it has really allowed us to plan and do this stuff with the confidence that we know exactly how much of a journey is left, and that’s been enormously liberating and really the key to the whole show for us, as storytellers.
MediaBlvd> Did you already know that you wanted to do time travel, and then set an end-point, or did setting the end-point make you go, “Okay, let’s time travel”?
Damon> We got to a point in Season 3, after we had seen the first seven episodes, and we all knew it was treading into an area of complete and utter suckiness. And, at that point, we all had a decision to make which was, are we going to have an end-date or is the show going to be cancelled in a year, or a year and a half? It simply couldn’t go on the way that it was. The story that Carlton and I would be telling, if we didn’t have an end-date, is that we wouldn’t be telling the story at all. Someone else would be up here talking about Lost because we didn’t know how to continue to do the show anymore, which is why we lobbied for the show. Basically, all these ideas, the flash-forwards being the first one that we were able to pull the trigger on, and then entering into the end-game of the story, which involved a significant amount of nonlinear time-travel storytelling, was all part of what our plan was, but we couldn’t start to do any of that stuff until we realized we were working towards an end-point.
Carlton> Because this time travel reflects a plunge towards the ending, which is irreversible, once we committed to doing that, there was only a certain amount of distance between that and where the story, in our opinion, had to end.
MediaBlvd> Do you feel like this is the season of Sawyer?
Carlton> Sawyer has a lot to do this year, and we made sure that, for people who might not be huge fans of time travel, Sawyer had his shirt off for the first episode. That was a very calculated balance act there.
Damon> It was also important that Sawyer was not a huge fan of the time travel. You will find him, over the course of the year, constantly bemoaning the fact that this is the situation that he’s in. We feel that last year, because of the Oceanic 6 storytelling, that a lot of the focus was on Kate, Jack, Hurley, Sun, Aaron and Sayid. And Sawyer, as a result of not getting off the island, did not have as much focus on him. So this year, we’ve tried to make up for lost time, as it were, and Josh Holloway has just been doing amazing work. We’re close to the end of the season now, and we’ve seen a lot of Josh’s work, and we really feel that he’s done an amazing job this year. There’s a lot to play with.
MediaBlvd> Certainly the mission of any TV show is to draw in as many new eyes as possible. Was there a point with this show where you realized that it’s so complicated and there’s so much history to it that you just have to lean more towards the loyal fans?
Damon> We’re writing the only version of the show we know how to write, which is the same version that we’ve written all along. The network and studio have been enormously gracious. Normally, you would expect a tremendous amount of pressure to do a lot of re-capping in every episode, so characters are standing around, talking about what happened last week. But, they all accept that Lost is a serialized adventure, and the audience that we have is the audience that we have. That being said, we love to hear stories of, “Oh, my God, I told my friend about Lost, and they thought that it was too weird and too impenetrable to get into, but I gave them the Season 1 DVD and they started watching, and now they’re caught up to where we are and can start watching the show.” I remember hearing about the Harry Potter series, right around the time the third book was coming out. So, as a result of kind of getting caught up in the buzz around The Prisoner of Azkaban, I went back and bought the first Harry Potter books. By the time J.K. Rowling released the seventh book, it picked up a lot of people along the way.
Carlton> We’re hoping that, as the show wraps up, people are going to want to join the journey for the last couple of seasons of the show. We’re really much more in answer mode now. As we go deeper into the season, you’re going to learn a lot about the island’s history, so we really hope that people will watch. ABC.com provides the episodes, and DVD is a great way to watch them. We really hope that, as we go into the last season of the show, a lot of viewers, who may have fallen by the wayside, will come along for the end of the ride.
Damon> It’s a perspective that’s very difficult to speak to because we don’t have it. The Academy voting now is that you have to submit a single episode of the show to get an Emmy nomination, so Carlton and I are basically like, “We’re never ever going to get nominated for an Emmy again, for exactly that reason.” But, we submitted what we thought was our strongest episode last year, which was “The Constant.” It had all the things that an Emmy episode shouldn’t have, like non-linear storytelling, time travel, and none of the characters, like Jack, Kate and Sawyer, instead focusing on Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Penny (Sonya Walger), but it had this huge emotional core at the end. Even though the basic conceit of the episode is a man is calling a woman, 20 years in the future, his conscious has traveled 15 years into the past, so how is that going to make sense to anyone? And, lo and behold, people who had never seen Lost before somehow understood the episode. Our guess is that maybe many of them will never watch another episode of Lost again because it’s not their cup of tea, but perhaps some of them thought it was such a cool episode, even though they didn’t get it all, that it made them curious enough about the series that they went back and explored the earlier seasons. That’s all we can hope for, at this point. If the first episode that you ever see is the premiere of Season 5, you will probably not understand a good majority of it. But, hopefully, it’s engaging enough and cool enough for you to say, “All right, let me go back and start at the beginning because I want to get on the ride.”
MediaBlvd> You meticulously orchestrate the reveals and the twists in these storylines. What is your take on the situation, when spoilers are released before the show is aired?
Carlton> We don’t like it, obviously. For instance, people who went to spoiler sites and learned that the end of Season 3 was a flash-forward were gravely disappointed in the journey of that episode. It wrecked it for them. What we really are trying to do is to respect the journey that the fans have in watching the show, and the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen when you watch a Lost episode is a big part of what we try to do. We try to fill them with a lot of unexpected incidents. Certain sites are out there just try to use the spoilers of Lost to make money for themselves. It’s hard to have any respect for that. We know some people want to get that information, but we really honestly believe most people don’t.
MediaBlvd> How much do you think spoilers actually affect the ratings, or is it more of a concern of protecting the diehard Lost fans from knowing what’s going to happen?
Carlton> I don’t think we really think about it, in terms of ratings. We think about it in
terms of protecting our show for fans, so that the experience of the show is not solely knowing what happens. That’s our concern about spoilers.
MediaBlvd> Would you agree that the best way to watch the show is to not try to figure out what’s going to happen, since that can drive you crazy?
Carlton> The show is, ultimately, a mystery show, so we hope the viewers are engaged by the mysteries of the show. But, I do think you can drive yourself crazy. At the beginning, people tried to theorize about the show. There are two things that become more apparent, the more you watch. One is that you can’t reduce the show down to one simple thesis statement. The other is that you don’t really know enough to be able to effectively theorize about where it’s going to conclude. If you were to just go back to Season 2 and say, “What is Lost about?,” without any knowledge of the fact that we’re going to be doing flash-forwards, or time-travel this season, you just don’t have enough information. The people who like Lost the most are the people who appreciate the journey, as opposed to the destination, and that’s how we hope that viewers will approach the show.
MediaBlvd> In the first few episodes, you’ve got flaming-arrow attack, and you’ve got Sayid having this very elaborate fight scene involving a dishwasher. The production values are still on the screen, even in these tough economic times. Have you had to make any adjustments to the way you do the show now?
Damon> We obviously have had a series of meetings about the show’s budget, which is par for the course, and the studio has been enormously understanding of the show, from the word go. We all sat there, five years ago, and said, “Okay, we made an 11 million-dollar pilot. How are we going to do that, week to week?” And, the answer was that ABC Studios, Mark Pedowitz, Barry Jossen and Stephen McPherson, all acknowledged that this show was going to be more expensive than the average bear. There weren’t sets. We were shooting it in Hawaii. There were 14 series regulars. We had to do our job as responsible producers, and not get too crazy. Obviously, towards the end of every season, we like to do big, crazy finales, where we introduce new sets. Maybe we are thinking a little more viscerally, and on a character level, so that we can save the big, crazy stuff for Season 6. But, it’s a testament to the partnership that we have with the studio.
Carlton> They’ve been nothing but supportive. Honestly, they want us to make the best show that we can make, and we are given the resources necessary to do that. No one has come to us and said, “Okay, we’re in a tough economic time. You can’t make the show that you guys want to make.” And, we are incredibly grateful for that.
MediaBlvd> The big shock for a lot of people is that Episode 3 introduces audiences to Widmore, as a young man. Are we going to see more of the history of Widmore, in that era? Going back that 50 years, how much are you going to keep returning to that period of the island’s history, and the characters when they were younger?
Carlton> You will see more of Widmore. Part of what we hope to give the audience this year is some greater sense of the island’s history. People have a lot of questions, starting and stopping with, “What the hell is that four-toed statue?” But, when we introduced the four-toed statue, our idea for doing it, at that point, was really to show that the history of the island was a long one. That statue was probably built a long time ago, and people have been on that island for a long time. Part of what this season will explore, as they’re skipping through time, is that we’ll learn a lot more about what exactly has happened on the island, in the past.
MediaBlvd> Do you plan on revealing who Ben works for, or maybe revisiting Ms. Hawking?
Damon> Who Ben works for is probably Ben. But , he is obviously involved with other people and had some sort of relationship with Ms. Hawking. We don’t know how long it goes back, or what exactly the nature of that relationship is. But again, characters’ alliances, certainly those who have been on the island for a while, like Ben or Richard Alpert, is stuff that we’re going to start to cover fairly intensively, towards the latter half of this season, and much more so in the final season of the show.
MediaBlvd> Will viewers see Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Claire (Emilie de Ravin) in some form again, whether they’re dead or alive?
Carlton> You’ll definitely see Jin this season. He’s a series regular. Claire is not a series regular this year, but her story is by no means over. So, you will see her, but probably not until Season 6. We’re not saying that Jin is currently alive, after the explosion of the freighter. But, since we are telling the stories in both the past, the present and the future, you will definitely be seeing Jin’s stories. We’re just not telling you when those are occurring.
MediaBlvd> Since you’re going to do 48 episodes over three years, what are the challenges or obstacles that prevent you from delivering 22 episodes?
Damon> The big thing for us was, when we announced an end-date of the show, it became inherent that we would no longer be giving the audience any stall episodes. It wasn’t that we can’t make 22 or 25 episodes a year because we did, for the first three seasons of the show. The fact of the matter was that it was because Lost is what it is, and works the way that it does, our storytelling could be much tighter, much more efficient, and we wouldn’t have to introduce extraneous characters, or take the focus off of the parts of the story that we really cared about, as writers. We felt that it would be more centered, if we did less. We were looking at a cable model, primarily. We were looking at what The Sopranos was doing, or what Mad Men and Damages are able to do. When you’re doing less episodes, you can just be much tighter and more specific in your storytelling. That’s how we came to that negotiation.
Carlton> We agreed to do 48 hours, but they gave us the choice about how to do that. We could have done that over two seasons, and we could be finishing those now. We chose to divide it over three seasons because we wanted to be thoughtful about writing the scripts and figuring out how to tell the stories. Figuring out these time-travel stories has been enormously complicated. It’s one thing to have a big picture, but there’s still a lot of conundrums, in solving things, episode-to-episode. We calculated exactly how many episodes we thought we could do, and still tell the story well to get to an ending, and that’s what it was. And then, we said, “Give us three scenes to do that because that will allow us to keep the quality bar high,” and they agreed to that. That was really how it came about.
MediaBlvd> What is it about Lost that you think makes it so popular, and such a big hit?
Carlton> It’s different than other shows. It’s not the 10th iteration of a law show or a medical show. The thing that’s most gratifying to us is that we can make the show complicated and challenging, and still have a lot of people who watch it. There’s this knee-jerk assumption that television needs to have a lowest-common-denominator appeal, and we reject that. We couldn’t be more appreciative of the fact that people like the fact that the storytelling is complicated and that you have to sit forward to watch Lost. There aren’t a lot of shows that are in that category, and that may be part of the reason.