Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LOST: Were They Making It Up All Along?

Well, hello there! After a too-long hiatus from this blog (two and a half months! Sheesh...) I just read something so fantastic I had to share it here and urge all of you Lost fans to read it, too. Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who was one of the writers on Lost during the first two seasons of the show, this essay was devised in response to the same question he's been answering for a decade: were you making it up all along, or did you actually know where the show was going?

Anyone associated with the show, even peripherally, has had to answer this question. It's the #1 question I'm asked all the time: Do you think they actually knew where the show was going, or were they making it up as they went? I've answered it in a hundred different ways:

  • Does it matter? Lost was a show about the journey through life, not what happens at the end of it. 
  • They must have known where they were going to a certain extent, since certain things in the beginning of the series were brought full circle in the finale. 
  • Have you ever actually spoken to a novelist? Most of them don't know where they're going when they put pen to paper at the beginning of a book.
  • I believe they had the seeds of the show, but then just let the characters and story lines carry it, while keeping true to a few essential elements. 


I couldn't imagine how annoying it would be to actually work on the show and have those questions asked; after all, where I can just speculate based on my experience watching the series, these people actually know the answers and therefore will have them pulled out of them like a pair of pliers extracts a tooth in a dentist's office. 

And so, Grillo-Marxuach wrote this amazing piece. In it he not only reveals the details of a pitch meeting back in February 2004 — eight months before the show premiered — where they knew there was a secret organization on the island, and polar bears (complete with explanations for them), and a hatch, and that the island was about the war between good and evil, etc., but he talks about the experience of being in that room. Of the difficulties Damon Lindelof underwent as a young show runner suddenly thrown into the position of having to run the biggest show on the network. Of the tensions when one of the writers would get fired and he'd watch his friends leave, one by one. Of what it felt like being the last writer standing from season 1. Of what it was like when they had a story almost put together and then Damon would rush into the room with something that had come to him in the middle of the night and change the episode from good to brilliant. 

Of the fact that the wheelchair was an 11th hour addition to "Walkabout," and that writer David Fury actually argued against Damon's idea and said it wouldn't work. 

He talks about how Damon momentarily left the show partway through the first season, and still wasn't sure until he returned to discover what the writers had come up with for one of his favourite characters:

However, when Damon Lindelof heard the beats to a story in which Hurley was revealed to be an amateur hypnotist who would use his abilities to pry to the location of the kidnapped Claire from the now-amnesiac Charlie, his pride of ownership came roaring back with bull force.
If ever there was a moment when I knew that there was no way Damon Lindelof would ever leave Lost again it was when he told us what he thought of that idea.

This is essential reading for Lost fans. I'll warn you: it'll take a while to get through it. But it's absolutely worth it. And if anyone is still asking whether they knew where they were going by the end of this article, then it's pretty clear that person had already answered the question for himself in the first place. Go here to read the entire article. 


Colleen/redeem147 said...

Of course they made it up. They're writers. If they didn't make it up, I guess they'd be historians.

Page48 said...

As Michael Vaughn once said, that was "Tolstoy long".

Next question for Javier: do they have any idea where "Helix" is going or are they just making it up?

Erin {pughs' news} said...

Can't wait to read the entire thing!

Sagacious Penguin said...

Loved that. Thanks for sharing, Nikki!

Suzanne said...

I absolutely loved reading that article, Nikki. Thanks for bringing it my attention. As much as I loved the SciFi/mystery elements of the show, my favorite aspects were always the characters and the thematic elements. This article confirmed that those elements seemed to be most important to the writers, too. I loved that he compared their process to novel writing since I have always thought that reason I love great television like Lost is because it is so close to being like a novel, my favorite type of reading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Nikki.

btw - did you see they're making a movie out of "Ready Player One"? Could be interesting.

-Tim Alan

Dusk said...

Thanks for sharing. Sounds logical, they had a general idea of the big arcs and where they wanted to go but filled in the details later. And I'm sure they had to adjust to things like Eko wanting to leave the show and such.

Although when he asked what other showrunners have had a hard time like that-take a look at what Bryke (Bryan and Mike) went through on The Legend of Korra.

One thing was well into production on the last season their budget got cut my an episode so they could either lay off some animators and continue the episodes as planned with a smaller team or make an episode mostly a clip show.Understandably they chose to keep their people and the clip show is pretty decent given how little they had to work with and the 3rd half is really funny and meta humor-y.

After that the pacing is a bit rushed in the final batch of episodes and I have a pretty good theory of what they were forced to cut, but it still deepens my respect for them they were able to pull off what they did. And that's just one factor into what could have hurt the show behind the scenes but the showrunners were able to adapt.