M&C took part in a virtual round table interview with Lost show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to discuss the arrival of Lost – The Complete Fourth Season on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday and the show’s fifth season on ABC.
The fourth season of Lost arrives on DVD and Blu-ray looking great and filled with the kinds of twist and turns that fans of the series have loved since Oceanic Flight 815 crashed onto the mysterious island.
Some of the Island’s darkest secrets are revealed during the 14 one-hour episodes that are spread out over a five disc set packed with the bonus features fans expect from the Lost experience.
More than three months after their fateful crash, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 learn the only thing more dangerous than the Island might be the people who have come to save them from it. Every twist and turn, and all the secrets and clues of the boldest show on network television come together in one place, taking fans deeper than ever into the mysteries at its heart. Shocking revelations and subtle clues about The Oceanic 6, The Others, the Black Rock, the Dharma Initiative and much more make Season Four a must own DVD and Blu-ray for any fan.
Lost – The Complete Fourth Season stars Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson, Jorge Garcia, Dominic Monaghan, Daniel Dae Kim, Henry Ian Cusick, Emilie de Ravin, Elizabeth Mitchell, Naveen Andrews, Yunjin Kim and Harold Perrineau as a group of castaways thrown together by fate.
Lost – The Complete Fourth Season bonus features include a look at past seasons, behind the scenes features, interviews, commentary, bloopers, and deleted scenes.
During the interview, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse handled a wide range of questions – including discussion on some general aspects of the show, the science of Lost, the season four DVD and Blu-ray, and what fans can expect from season five and beyond.
(WARNING – The interview does contain spoilers about present and past seasons of the series)
Are we ever going to get back-stories for Rousseau, Libby, and/or Walt or does that now fall by the wayside with only thirty-four episodes left?
Cartlon Cuse: Let’s just say you will get more information about Rousseau and Walt at least. We can’t comment about who will or won’t get full-on flashbacks. Obviously as the story moves forward we’ll be answering questions at a faster rate. But some stories — like Libby’s — we feel are pretty much finished.
What television series imprinted you as kids the most growing up-that perhaps influenced your decision to make a career in smallscreen?
Damon Lindelof: Thanks for asking that question, April… because I was a TV JUNKIE growing up. Other than watching endless hours of cartoons (THUNDERCATS, VOLTRON and yes, SMURFS), I loved watching “grownup shows” with my folks… like DALLAS.
Perhaps that’s where I got my love for melodrama! The show that REALLY affected me, however, was TWIN PEAKS, which I’d watch every week with my dad. He’d tape the show on his VCR (remember those?) and we’d watch the episode AGAIN right after it aired in our quest to pull every last clue out of the show.
The idea of a TV Show being a mystery and a game that spawned hundreds of theories obviously was a major precedent (that’s a fancy way of saying we ripped it off) for LOST.
You’ve mentioned Nikki and Paolo not hitting with the audience. How do you draw a line between making the audience happy and telling the story you set out to tell?
Cartlon Cuse: It is kind of a moot point. Moving forward it will be virtually impossible for us to adjust in-season to audience feedback. By the time the show premieres on Jan 21 we will have written 14 of the 17 hours and probably will be deep into the specific scene plotting for the finale.
This season we’re going to be completely relying on our on instincts and judgments — combined with the feedback of our collaborators here on the show and at the studio and network.
The story has really arrived at a point where the science fiction and fantasy aspects can’t really stay in the subtext anymore, is this liberating for you guys as writers or do you wish you could go back to some of the science vs faith ambiguity of the earlier episodes?
Damon Lindelof: It actually IS liberating… but at the same time, the show constantly forces us to evolve. We CAN’T go back to the ambiguity of Season One because our characters have experienced so much since then.
Carlton and I often talk about the STAND… how the story starts with something scientific, an epidemic that kills of 99% of the world’s population… but slowly and steadiy transforms into a mystical tale where people are having prophetic dreams… and finally, LITERALLY ends with the hand of God coming out of the sky and setting off a nuclear device. Our story has always been about a journey… but just because we’re embracing some of the more fantastical aspects of the island, doesn’t mean we’re completely abandoning the science vs. faith of it all.
Do the shorter season schedules give you the time and energy needed to accomplish want you want, or do you still find yourself under the gun from week to week? Are you still on a 8-day turnaround schedule?
Cartlon Cuse: No, we are still on the same schedule, starting a new episode every eight days. Its just that the overall production season is shorter. When we’re in the middle of it, its just as insane.
The biggest benefit to only doing 17 hours this year is pacing — we don’t find ourselves writing stall episodes. It really allows us to keep the pedal to the metal.
Do you feel that following the various viral campaigns that have been tied to the show is essential for understanding the mythology? Is there a risk of losing more casual viewers who can’t keep track of the complex mythology.
Cartlon Cuse: We consider the viral campaigns to just be additive and non-essential. Our rule of thumb is you should not need to watch anything but the mothership — the network show — to have a complete understanding (or at least as much as that is possible) of the show.
When you’re breaking stories, do you play to the strengths of a particular director — character development = Stephen Williams, action = Jack Bender — or do you tell the best story and let your incredible production crew figure out how to bring it to life?
Cartlon Cuse: No, we break the episodes irrespective of who is up on the director’s calendar. In fact, the director’s schedule is fairly fluid and they move slots so we would drive ourselves crazy trying to target a certain episode for a certain director.
The show continues to return to eastern religion and mysticism. How much of that is your personal interests and how much of that is just window dressing?
Damon Lindelof: Well… we try to infuse the show with all sorts of religious allegory, depending on what kind of story we’re telling.
The Eastern religion and mysticism is something that started coming up a lot as we talked about the Dharma Initiative… but the thinking was more, “What if these hippies from Ann Arbor, Michigan were kind of like the Beatles and thought a trip to India could spiritually rebirth them?”
Hopefully, when all is said and done, the themes of the show are hopefully universally spiritual… at least that’s what we’re going for.
It’s common knowledge that Ben was a character that came in, clicked with the audience and the story. What other characters/actors HAVE clicked that surprised you and HAVEN’T that surprised you?
Cartlon Cuse: Good question. And you’re right about Michael Emerson. He’s the biggest example of a character who we just fell in love with beyond our expectations. I would say Desmond would also be in that category.
The audience really fell in love with him right from the get-go and he quickly moved right into the mainstream of our cast. Nikki and Paulo were less successful. We tried to introduce them out of the show’s chorus as it were and the audience cried foul. We listened and killed them off.
We hear a lot of shows accused of jumping the shark. To your thinking, is it even possible for a show as time-bending and surprise-laden as Lost to jump the shark? In other words, how often do you guys say, “Hmm, that’s going too far?”
Cartlon Cuse: We actually TRY and jump the shark all the time. The last thing we want to do is feel like the show is falling into a tired paradigm. In fact this season we start out with a new narrative approach.
Not the now traditional flashbacks or flashforwards. We always are trying to keep the storytelling surprising.
You’ve previously confirmed that Michael is dead. It would appear that Claire has also taken a dirt nap. But we’re still left hanging on Jin’s fate. Will both characters fates be resolved in Season 5?
Damon Lindelof: Good question. I would beg to differ on Claire’s alleged “dirt nap” (unless you mean taking a nap on dirt) — didn’t we see her last sitting in a cabin with the mysterious Christian Shephard?
As for Jin, we’ll definitely be seeing more of him in season five… but as we’re moving through past, present and future… who knows WHEN we’ll see him.
How do you keep track of all the complicated plot angles? You’ve got characters in flashbacks and flashforwards and everyone’s interconnected in some way…how do you even begin to keep track of that?
Cartlon Cuse: I don’t think that Damon or me would win a Lost trivia contest, but we obviously know the general details of everything and we keep that in our brains. But Greg Nations keeps the sort of elaborate series of bibles and timelines and charts the number of days of stories and, you know, he’s sort of the keeper of the wisdom of Lost.
So whenever there’s a question about continuity or where an event takes place in relation to another event, Greg can plot it in the overall kind of schema of the show. So he is an invaluable resource and he is the guy who makes sure that everything makes sense or at least makes as much sense as we can make it make sense.
Damon Lindelof: You know, the chronology of the show has become very intricate, especially since we just started doing flash forwards. Before it was which happened first: Sawyer met Jack’s dad in a bar in Australia, or, Walt and Michael get on Oceanic 815?
Now that we’re in the future, and we’re telling future stories out of order, so last year’s finale you got bearded, pill-popping Jack screaming at Kate “We’ve gotta go back!” And this year you’re seeing Jack in other people’s flash forwards obviously before that series of events took place, so…he’s testifying at Kate’s trial, or he’s visiting Hurley at the mental institution and we need to sort of plot out when in time are those events happening in relation to each other. It’s not an easy job.
Does it amaze you the lengths that people go to to research the show?
Cartlon Cuse: It does, in fact. And it’s kind of flattering and it kind of boggles our minds, actually. We actually really just set out to make a show that we thought was kind of cool and entertaining, and we never imagined that people would get wrapped up in the intricacies of it to the degree that they have.
I think Lost was really a pioneer in the use of the kind of connection between a television show and the internet, and the internet really gave fans an opportunity to create a community around the show. That was something that wasn’t really planned, it just sort of grew up in the wake of the show.
The Science of Lost:
There’s a lot of fan talk that any non-rational or fictional or magical explanation of the island’s happenings is a completely unacceptable cop-out. So far, there are plausible scientific explanations for everything that’s happening, so people have accepted what’s going on. Does being called out by viewers (or the press) worry you?
Damon Lindelof: Well, first off, I would challenge that assertion, and say, how does Yemi walking out of the jungle, the deceased brother of Eko, have a scientific explanation?
I guess you would argue that he doesn’t walk out of the jungle, that this is all sort of happening in Eko’s head, that it’s a hallucination. Would that be the case, is that…
Lost – The Complete Fourth Season on DVD and Blu-ray:
Watching season four in one or two sittings, on DVD, do you think there’s a break in style between the pre-strike and post-strike episodes?
Damon Lindelof: Hopefully not. The fact of the matter is that we designed out — at least roughly — the entire sixteen episode season… planting flags as to what would happen where in the grand scheme of things.
In that original design, there were a couple of episodes focusing more on the Freighter Folks (Faraday, Miles and Charlotte) that got pushed into this season, but more importantly, things like Jack’s appendicitis and Keamy arriving at New Otherton and killing Alex happened SOONER than we had planned due to the collapsed schedule.
I think if there’s a sense of separation between the first eight episodes (ending with “Meet Kevin Johnson”) and the final six hours, it’s that the story is really moving at a much higher rate of speed than we’re traditionally accustomed to.
Did the new structure (and experimentation) of flashbacks and flashforwards in season four open help you feel emboldened to explore even more with structure in S5 and how?
Damon Lindelof: Yes — the fact that the audience embraced switching gears on the show from REVERSE to DRIVE emboldened us to get a little more loose with how we drive (as long as we’re never in neutral!) the story.
The cool thing about Season Five is that it takes a little while for your brain to fully absorb how the story is unfolding… but hopefully, once it does, you’ll realize we’re trying something new yet again.
At this point, how do you view the Lost DVD sets — are they part and parcel of the show? Are they extensions of it? And what are your thoughts on the people experiencing Lost week to week on TV versus in one or two or three commercial-free sittings on DVD?
Damon Lindelof: The DVDs are definitely part and parcel of the show. We’ve always thought of an episode of Lost playing on several different levels… they’re almost designed for repeat viewings.
In fact, our habitual use of planting hidden “Easter eggs” is tailor-made for the DVD experience. Personally, I love watching my favorite shows (particularly serialized ones like DEXTER) one after the other.
I sometimes think about how frustrating it would’ve been to read the Harry Potter books ONE CHAPTER AT A TIME once a week. I’d pretty much kill myself.
Season Five and Beyond:
By having shorter seasons now, do you feel the storytelling has become much easier — or do you feel regret and often go “man, it would be great to have three more episodes?”
Damon Lindelof: The storytelling has never been easy… but we’ve always felt that “less is more.” The complaint that we got most often in the first couple seasons of the show is that we were not moving the story forwards fast enough — “stalling” — which, unfortunately, is a necessary tactic when you’re doing 25 episodes a year.
The truth is that we actually liked those episodes low on incident (“Claire sends a message on a bird, anyone?”), but the show is much more fun to write when we can just power through and give you guys a hearty meal as opposed to a zillion little courses that never quite get you full.
Now that you are close to being finished with writing season five, how does it feel to know you are so close to the home stretch in this odyssey? Has it brought out reflections or feelings you didn’t expected either personally about the process or towards the storyline?
Cartlon Cuse: I think all of us who work on the show know what a special experience it is. Our ability to negotiate and end date to the show so far in advance was I believe unprecedented in network TV.
It has given us a real sense of what the journey is going to be. Normally when you work on a TV show you never know when it is going to end. You’re just trying to survive season to season until the proverbial horse drops out from underneath you. We’re not quite far enough along yet to start to wax nostalgic, but I think we all recognize that we’ve had a chance to do something really extraordinary.
I was watching all the bonus features and thinking about the special alchemy of LOST. You can do your best as a storyteller but on TV you also need a great cast, crew, directors, composer, etc.
You really see on those features what a collaborative art form it is. We are truly blessed that this assembly of talent came together for this project. The journey of making a show over six years and the hourse it takes really makes you a family — and we’re about as happy and as functional a TV family as I’ve ever seen or worked with.
Will there still be flashbacks and flash forwards next season?
Cartlon Cuse: Yes, there will still be flashbacks and flashforwards but we are not limiting ourselves to those ways of transitioning between stories. We still love doing them and will when appropriate. There are still some cool flashbacks left to tell for our characters.
There is a lot of concern amongst fans over how the show will work without the chemistry of the full ensemble. Is that separation something you will address in season 5, or is that more part of the remaining two seasons of story?
Damon Lindelof: We’re concerned, too! I think everyone, writers and fans alike, feels the show is at its best when our characters are together… but the fact of the matter is that the story is constantly twisting and turning to keep them apart.
Let’s face it — Absence makes the heart grow fonder… but there’s nothing sweeter than a reunion. All we’re willing to say at this point is that if we were to spend the ENTIRE duration of Season Five with the Oceanic Six trying to get back to the island, we are fully aware that the audience would strangle us.
It seems that the next season will have A stories set in two time frames. Does this mean that you have to outline the story of the season in advance in ways you never did before?
Cartlon Cuse: Our approach to the story telling changed drastically once we were able to negotiate an end date to the show. Before that we didn’t know if the mythology had to last two seasons or seven seasons. Once we knew there were only going to be 48 eps of the show left we were able to start charting out the remaining journey. We approach it on three levels.
First we have discussions about the uber-mythology and plant the big landmark events in rough locations. Then at the end of each season we have a writer’s mini camp where we discuss the arc of the upcoming season in great detail. Then we break each individual episode and see where we end up at the end of each break.
We give ourselves a fair about of latitude to listen to the show and react — writing more or less for various characters or situations depending on how they play.