To appreciate how important the annual pop-entertainment convention here has become to movie studios and television networks — and how much effort it takes to get noticed at it — consider the “Lost” presentation on Saturday in front of more than 6,500 people. That hourlong show, complete with scripted comedy routines and 13 glossy original videos, took a dozen people four months to produce. The budget for song rights, props and actor travel alone was $25,000.
Planning for the “Lost” presentation at Comic-Con, which concluded on Sunday, started in early April with meetings about what kind of Easter eggs, or hidden clues, to include about the program’s sixth and final season. Then came the writing and taping of videos, some of them starring cast members, that would deliver those hints. Producers worked to obtain song rights. Travel logistics needed to be arranged for five actors and their entourages. “We really want the fans to leave feeling satisfied,” Damon Lindelof, a “Lost” executive producer, said last Tuesday during a final planning session on the ABC Studios lot in Burbank, Calif. His fellow executive producer, Carlton Cuse, nodded in agreement.
“Is it too late for when Carlton and I come out onstage for there to be giant towers of flames?” Mr. Lindelof said (mostly) facetiously.
“Lost,” the ABC drama about people marooned on a mysterious island after their Oceanic Airlines flight crashes, has always taken a bells-and-whistles approach to Comic-Con. The fantasy and science fiction genres are major facets of the convention, so “Lost” — with its time traveling, ageless inhabitants and smoke monsters — fits in perfectly. Last year, for example, producers introduced a new online game, coordinating their presentation with a “Lost” booth set up on the trade-show floor where fans could participate in a recruitment test for the show’s utopian Dharma Initiative.
This year, there was no booth, and ABC’s presence as a whole was minimal, which is no mystery: the presentations in Hall H (the biggest room, where James Cameron, Peter Jackson and the gang for the “Twilight” sequel also appeared) have eclipsed the trade show in importance for many studios and networks. The money goes into the presentation, which is pumped via blogs around the globe. (People started lining up for the “Lost” presentation 16 hours before it started.)
Mr. Cuse and Mr. Lindelof are perhaps more responsible than anyone for raising the presentation bar. (Something not every studio is thrilled about, by the way.) The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, noted the pop a megapresentation can deliver and pulled out all the stops this year. Its movie studio hosted Comic-Con’s first 3-D presentation in Hall H, primarily for its scheduled “Christmas Carol” with Jim Carrey. In total Disney staged events for 10 television series and nine movies.
The “Lost” producers picked fan appreciation as their theme. “This is not about getting people who have never seen the show before to watch it,” Mr. Cuse said. “This is about thanking the die-hard fans.”
Fair enough. But the real purpose of the presentation was to prime the pump for the final season. The show does not return until January so Mr. Cuse and Mr. Lindelof wanted fans to have plenty to chew over for the next few months.
Producers wanted to stir one fan conversation in particular: Will last season’s cliffhanger — the detonation of a nuclear bomb that the castaways hoped would scramble time — erase the post-crash existence depicted on the first five seasons of the show? Most of the teases turned on the idea that the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 never happened. In one video the big-bellied Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is shown in a commercial for a Mr. Cluck’s fried chicken restaurant once landing safely. In another an Oceanic flight attendant boasts of the carrier’s “perfect safety record.”
The biggest tease was Dominic Monaghan, whom producers brought onstage as a finale. Mr. Monaghan, who played the recovering drug addict Charlie Pace, drowned in the show’s third season but not before writing a message on his palm. As he waved to the crowd, eagle-eyed fans could see there was a new message inked on his hand: “Am I Alive?” (It was a busy convention for Mr. Monaghan. ABC announced there on Friday that he would be joining the cast of its new fall science fiction drama “Flash Forward.”)
Yet even as the “Lost” producers toyed with the audience they injected some doubt, something they often do on the show itself. Mr. Garcia, in a scripted bit from the audience, complained that if the bomb gambit worked and the castaways never crashed on the island, that “would be a real big cheat.” Mr. Lindelof agreed, assuring him that the producers knew that approach would be a cop-out. “Just trust us,” he said.
In the days leading up to the presentation, seven “Lost” producers and a squad of assistants worked to iron out the kinks.
Music rights were a problem. Noreen O’Toole, an associate producer, plunked her laptop on the coffee table in Mr. Cuse’s office and ran through a list of songs that could be cleared. There was something wrong with each of them. Mr. Lindelof nixed a “Smashing Pumpkins” tune. “Too ‘look how cool we are,’ ” he said. A trio of Warner Records staffers arrived with a CD of more options, but nothing was a fit. (“Too dreamy.” “Too slow.”) What about “Knights of Cydonia” by the British band Muse? It turned out that the person needed to clear it was on vacation in Mongolia. “Let’s try anyway,” Mr. Cuse said.
Sound effects needed to be selected. One skit called for Josh Holloway (Sawyer) to zap Mr. Lindelof with a Taser, and somebody had loaded options on an iPod. “I’m O.K. with zap No. 4,” Mr. Lindelof said, gulping his soy latte. A bird was giving everyone fits. Producers wanted to give a stuffed seagull to the first fan who asked a question containing the word “Claire,” a reference to a scene in Season 3 when Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin) tied a note to the leg of a seagull.
Samantha Thomas, a co-producer, said that wildlife protection laws forbid the sale of taxidermied birds. “Let me get this straight,” Mr. Lindelof said. “I can buy a gun, but I cannot buy a stuffed bird?” After much consideration the team decided to buy a wooden seagull but to attach the actual note (retrieved from the props department) to its leg.
Everybody met at 10 a.m. Saturday morning for a last rehearsal, the first one that included the actors. The producers were exhausted; their tech rehearsal the night before had ended at 11:45 p.m. “What’s keeping me going? Iced coffee and adrenaline,” Ms. Thomas said.
The run-through went smoothly for the most part. An assistant providing the sound effects was struggling. “You’ve got to be a little faster on the uptake, O.K.?” Mr. Cuse said.
Michael Emerson (Ben Linus) was confused about one of his skits. “And I do my bit there from my seat?” he asked. No, he needed to be next to Mr. Garcia in the aisle or the monitors wouldn’t pick him up.
“The optimum question at this point is what’s going to go wrong and will we be able to handle it,” Mr. Lindelof said. “Carlton and I can only blow smoke up there for so long before the Romans will demand their gladiators.”
The presentation started at 11:06 a.m.
“Oh my God! Oh My God!” screamed a woman in the sixth row as Mr. Emerson and Mr. Garcia appeared. Another fan, David Martinez from Houston, stood nearby, mouth agape. “This is so unbelievably awesome,” he said. “I’m going to leave this hall, and I’m going to tell everyone I know about it.”