Interview with LOST Co-Creator Damon Lindelof

     February 1, 2010


Since Lost first debuted in 2004, the mysteries of the Island have been some of the most hotly debated in television history. With all eyes on Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, as fans of the show are looking for answers to all of the still unanswered questions, the executive producers are surely feeling the pressure to deliver.

While taking some time to talk to press, following the show’s Final Season panel at the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Damon Lindelof admitted that he’s come across some theories where fans have figured out at least a significant portion of the pieces to the puzzle, but that they just have not been given all the information they would need to figure out the final answers. He also discussed not being able to please everyone with the show’s conclusion, the legacy Lost will leave behind and how he plans to return to Star Trek 2 in April.

Check out what he had to say after the jump.

Question: How are you feeling about the show coming to an end?

Damon: Personally, I’m just feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude. The idea that we’re getting to end something while anybody still cares and while we still love each other, as opposed to everybody saying, “It’s about time,” is a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-career experience for a show that’s still performing. For the network to allow us to end it is a tremendous gift. I’m experiencing a sense of, “I can’t believe they’re going to actually let us get away with this.”

When did you actually decide how the show would end?

Damon: If you have any ideas, we are open-minded.

lost-image.jpgIs it hard to think of a resolution that is not what anyone else is thinking?

Damon: My hope is that certainly, by the time we do the finale, plenty of people will be thinking about it and they will feel enormously gratified that they guessed it right.

Have you seen anybody who’s guessed it right so far?

Damon: I think that there are people who have certainly figured out significant pieces of what we want to do in the final season, but they did not have enough information yet. We withheld key evidence, so if you’re trying to figure out who killed Professor Plum, we haven’t shown you that the candlestick is even a potential murder weapon yet. You can’t get it. Starting with the season premiere this year, the remaining clues necessary to figure out where we’re going to end the show are going to begin falling into place. We’ve posited the questions, but we just haven’t given you enough information to figure out what the answers might be.

How does it feel to beat President Obama for the premiere date of February 2nd at 8:00?

Damon: What’s amazing is that you realize how fickle your political affiliation is. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but when I first heard that they were considering February 2nd, I was like, “That motherfucker.” I’m just being honest.

In what way will the coming season refer back to the first season?

Damon: For us, there’s an inherent process when you’re ending something to be thinking about the beginning, as writers. In fact, the story of the sixth season very specifically has to go back to the beginning to examine a lot of things and to see where our characters started when we first met them and where they’ve come to. And if you think about a character like Sawyer, this guy was basically the sheriff of the Dharma Initiative in 1977. If you had said that that was going to be his eventual path five years ago, it would have sounded like the most ridiculous thing, but you take him there, one step at a time. One of the things that I think we are all trying to do in the sixth season is to show the audience the before, so they have some sense of, “Oh, this is what they used to be and who they are now.” You’ll really get a sense of how far that person has come. And, obviously, the process of doing that, on a story level, really makes you feel like we felt in Season 1.

dharma_symbol.jpgHave viewers already seen the end, based on the flash forwards and flashbacks?

Damon: No, you haven’t seen the ending yet.

Was Ben moving the island part of the plan back in Season 1, or did you come up with that later on?

Damon: Between the first and second season, we started to cook the deeper mythology of the island and started talking about the physics of the island, how the island worked, why no one could find the island, who had been on the island before, what The Others’ story was and how long they had been there. In those conversations, we started talking about the wheel and the idea that the island was moving, not just through space, but also through time. And then, the question just became, “When are we going to use that device?” I do feel like we always knew we were going to do time travel on the show and we were setting that up as early as the second season.

Has that been the most hotly debated jump the shark issue?

Damon: Sure. I think that the show has probably jumped the shark at least a dozen times now. Fortunately for us, as storytellers, but unfortunately for a mainstream audience, yes, absolutely. There was a time when there were 23 million people watching Lost. That time has passed. Every time that this show takes a risk and declares itself more overtly, there are going to be people who say, “I wasn’t watching a show about time travel. I don’t like that show. I don’t want to watch this anymore.” We have to tell the story that we’re committed to, and hopefully the audience will stick with us, but we can’t really compromise that.

lost_tv_poster_final_season_01.jpgDo networks measure passion now as much as ratings?

Damon: I do feel like we are in a network climate where shows like Chuck or Friday Night Lights can survive and thrive with minimal audience, but a tremendous amount of passion, not just from the fans but also from critics. I do feel like what the critical response is really makes a difference, in advancing the network.

Does the ancillary stuff, like DVDs, help?

Damon: Sure. Obviously for Lost, the economic model of syndication doesn’t really exist. You can watch an episode of Friends or an episode of Law & Order and just drop in, but you’re not going to in the middle of Season 4, Episode 5 of Lost. It’s like picking up a Harry Potter book and flipping to a chapter. You have to read it from beginning to end. So, I think the DVDs have probably been a very profitable business for them, and the brand itself has probably helped us as well.

Why did you keep Terry O’Quinn in the dark about Locke actually being dead and him really playing someone else?

Damon: It was one of those things where the actor read the script and decided what they needed, in order to play the scene. We were completely available to answer any questions. But, I do feel like the fun of the show, for us as writers and producers, is to send these scripts down to Hawaii and then see what we get back, as opposed to trying to micro-manage it. If we had called Terry during the shooting of “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” which is around the sixth episode of the season, and said, “Hey, Terry, we do not want to confuse you, but the Locke that you are now playing on the island is not actually John Locke anymore because thousands and thousands of years ago . . .,” he’d say, “Stop.” But instead, you put in the script, “There’s something about Locke that’s different,” so that Terry can play something about Locke that’s different. You keep it simple and you trust your actors. It’s worked out pretty marvelously for us.

What can you say about Elizabeth Mitchell’s return?

lost_abc_image__8_.jpgDamon: We can say that she is going to be on the show this season, a couple of times, but obviously because of the success of V and because she shoots it in Canada, we’ve been a little bit limited in how much we can use her. But, the good news is that she’s been amazing in letting us execute our version of the show with her. That’s something that we presented to her when we told her, “Hey, you’re falling into a hole and sustaining some rather significant injuries, and we’ve got some plans for you in the next season that will allow you to go and do another show, but we hope you continue to stay with us for a little bit.” She was awesome.

Do you have a favorite moment or episode from over the seasons?

Damon: There’s a bridge that connects where the writers work on the Disney lot to where the ABC executive offices are. We start writing the show in the summertime, so usually in around June or July, Carlton and I have to walk across this bridge and meet with a group of ABC executives to basically present to them what we’re going to be doing the following season on Lost. There’s a progression of bridge walks starting with, “Okay, we’re finally going to tell them what’s in the hatch.” And last year, Carlton and I remember turning to each other and going, “Is there any other way to say ‘time travel’ without saying ‘time travel’? Can we say ‘moving through time’ or ‘the juxtaposition of story’?” But, every time we’d get over there and have that meeting, the reception that we got and the faith that we received was pretty incredible. You can look at the 104 hours of Lost that you’ve already seen and look at the things that we’ve been able to do on the show.

How do you feel about the fact that Lost hasn’t gotten a lot of love from the Emmys?

Damon: It’s a miracle that the show won an Emmy in its first year. As politic as it is to say it, how many shows get to say that they won a drama Emmy, period? So, the fact that we’ve gotten a couple nominations since then is enormously gratifying. To tell the story in a different way that would make it more accessible to people who don’t watch the show would be such a quantum mistake and alienate the people who do watch the show. Then we wouldn’t be nominated for anything because it would be horrible.

You’ve talked about the worry in building up to the end and how, no matter what you do, there are going to be people that are never going to be satisfied. How do you feel about that now, compared to how you felt about it when you determined the end date for the show?

damon_lindelof.jpgDamon: With the monumental shift in information that I had then, I felt like it would be great to cover my bases and guarantee everybody a shitty ending of Lost. Now that you’re actually going to see the ending to Lost, all we can do is put our best foot forward. We do feel like the worst ending that we could possibly provide everyone who has invested this amount of time and energy into watching the show is the safe ending that’s basically like, “What’s going to be the most appealing to the biggest number of people?”  At some point, you can’t take a risk just to take a risk because that’s a betrayal, in and of itself. Fortunately for us, we’ve been talking about how the show’s going to end since we were given the end date three years ago. We really have no excuse to say anything other than the fact that this is the ending that we wanted to do, on the terms that we wanted to do it.  We didn’t have to go two seasons too long. We’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Now, there is certainly a hope, on all our parts, that everybody universally loves the ending that we put forward. I don’t think it would be Lost if there wasn’t an ongoing and active debate amongst the people who watch the show, as to whether or not it was a good ending. If I could put on my predicting hat, there would be people over here who say it’s the worst ending in the history of television, and hopefully to balance them out, my mom will say it’s the best ending, although she doesn’t understand the show.

How many hours is the final season?

Damon: It’s 18 hours. There’s a two-hour premiere and a two-hour finale, shown over 16 consecutive weeks.

Since Lost is more than just a TV show, what kind of legacy do you think it will leave behind for television?

Damon: We talk about what we think the legacy of the show will be. In the week after the finale airs, people will be talking about just the finale. It’s almost impossible to have any perspective on the 125 hours that preceded the finale. In the same way, we were talking about The Sopranos finale the other day, and we remember every shot of the diner scene, and then the cut to black. But then, as time goes on, you think about The Sopranos as a series, as opposed to just the finale. So, there will be two separate legacies, and all that we can hope for is that the legacy that really matters, the one about the series, is that people really feel like the experience of watching Lost was incredibly rewarding and that they’re really happy that they dedicated all that time and energy to the show.

lost_dharma_initiative_fake_ads_uniforms.jpgWhat series finales do you love?

Damon: I think that The Shield was a phenomenal series finale. Certainly, Newhart is one of my favorites. But, my all-time favorite series finale is MASH. I remember watching that with my folks. I remember everybody on our street was watching it. I remember Hawkeye basically saying, “It was a baby! It wasn’t a chicken, it was a baby!” And, I remember how emotional it was when the chopper finally lifted off and Klinger stayed behind. That’s stuff that has stayed with me for my life. To end a show that people still care about and to give the characters incredibly fulfilling resolutions, MASH is really the pinnacle of something that we’re trying to achieve. That being said, it wasn’t a mystery show, so we’ve got to answer all our mysteries and give the audience those satisfying character conclusions. I’d like to say, for the record, that our degree of difficulty is very high.

After Lost, do you start writing Star Trek 2?

Damon: Yeah, we’re going to start probably in April, once the writing on Lost is done. Star Trek 2 will come out in 2012, so we’ve still got a little bit of time, but we’ve been talking about it. We just haven’t been writing.

Why is Robert Downey out of Cowboys and Aliens?

Damon: I’ve not been officially briefed on any of the casting. I am but a writer and all I can say is that, if Favreau did it once with Downey, I’m looking forward to see who he’s going to make a star, this time.