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Lost Endweek: Cuse and Lindelof Interview, Part Two

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This is part two of my interview with Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on April 19. See here for part one.

* To shift up a little bit: You stab at a lot of big ideas in the show, free will versus destiny, predetermination, and so on.  And you have over the course of the show worked in a lot of allusions to writers and novelists and philosophers.  How much are these meant as a guide to the show and how much is just sort of Easter eggs?

CC: You know I think it really, it kind of varies on the circumstance.  I mean, some are Easter eggs, but we try to – you know, if we name check a philosopher or if we throw a book into the show, it’s often; it’s usually meant to basically say, hey if you want to go deeper, here’s something that you can explore.  So, if you know, if you’re interested in John Locke and you see that [Jacob] is reading Flannery O’Connor [when Locke is thrown out the window], you might want to read some of her sort of Christian theological southern literature that has really unexpected violent moments.

DL: Context is everything.

CC: So, context is everything.  So you go, okay.  If you liked that moment, then this is a writer for you.  And the idea of you know, the sort of kind of the predestined course kind of course of Locke’s life is sort of reflected and maybe somewhat derived from the readings we have done of authors like O’Connor or, you know, the Bible, or philosophers like Locke or Hume.  I mean, it’s just that.  We’re not trying to be pretentious, but we sort of say, okay, here’s some avenues you can explore if you so desire.

Damon: And you know, a lot of it is, there is also a certain degree of that when we name a character after a philosopher, or we put a book in the show, there’s also a sense of, this is something that influenced us as writers and is in forming Lost and we want you to know that we’re acknowledging it.  As opposed to saying, you know, hey we came up with this idea for the first time, freewill versus you know, determinism, or you know, predestination or – yes, we wanted you to know that we took Philosophy 101 and we studied Locke and Russo and Calvin and you know, that we’re not trying to present these ideas as our own.  There is a little bit of a, you know, a tip of the cap.  And if we’re going to rip off The Stand, we’re going to make sure that Juliet Burke says in her book club that Stephen King is one of her favorite writers.  Maybe not about The Stand, she’ll say it about Carrie, because Carrie was more germane to her story.

CC: Or we’ll have five other Stephen King references, whether it’s rabbits with numbers on them or you know, whatever.  I mean, you know we certainly acknowledge publicly our debt to him.

DL: I never really put it this way before, but in a lot of ways, those are like, if we were a band, like the Rolling Stones, the Rolling Stones will play a Dylan song, or they’ll play like a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, this is the way that we do that.  It’s like our Easter eggs are sometimes covers of other band’s songs.

CC: But again, we’re not trying to act like you know – our goal is to entertain, not to be pretentious or to impart philosophical lessons.  But I think Damon said it right, I mean, it is – these are the things that we read that have influenced us.  And you know, when we sit down and have breakfast every morning over making the show, well I guess now, it’s “sat,” almost.  We still haven’t started [postproduction] yet.

DL: I hope we continue eating breakfast.

* Are there particular things you’re going to miss about writing the show?

CC: It was so fun to write because it wasn’t the 10th carbon copy of a “Lost” show, or medical show, or police procedural.  I mean, it was really like, you know, I often fantasize about how awesome it would be to be dropped into the American west in like 1870, you know, when you were seeing things that basically probably no one – either no one had seen, or that nearly no one had ever seen and making “Lost”, or writing “Lost” was like that.  It was like basically getting to explore a brand new continent. It was sort of terrifying at the beginning, but then as time went on it became really exhilarating.

DL: And the cool thing for a writer is this idea of kind of waking up every morning and saying, what’s gonna happen next?  You know, the idea that we never, ever got comfortable with the show.  We never, ever high-fived and said, “We broke Lost’s back! We got it!”  Every single season has been the fine line between an Emmy nomination and complete and utter cancellation. We really believed that in the fourth season, moving into a flash forwarding modality might eliminate any sense of suspense or stakes from the show.  We knew the Oceanic Six was going to get off the island.  And in the fifth season we said, we’re going all the way, time travel now.  So this is the equivalent of saying, you know, I want to go to a burlesque club and you walk in and it’s all nude.  We’re literally saying this show is going the Full Monty.

And then this season with the sideways again, it’s like, are people going to bounce on a world that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the island at all, and more importantly where we don’t tell them what it is.  Like we’re introducing a new fundamental mystery into the show even this late in the game.

So the fact that we’ve never got comfortable with “Lost”, although terrifying, is the best part of writing it because we get to figure out a new series every single year.

* Related to that, I know you guys were fans of the finale of “The Sopranos,” which some people loved and some people hated.  I wonder if you feel to an extent that in order to be any good, the finale is going to have to tick off somebody?

CC: Absolutely.  I mean, if the finale was not ambitious, it would not be in keeping with the show.  And by being ambitious, I think we’re going to have – there are going to be some people who will be dissatisfied and you know, it’s kind of become pretty evident during the sixth season of the show that the sort of – the fans have broken into camps.  There are the, you know, the show is about the journey and not about the destination and that’s how you should watch it.  And then there are people who are getting really, really anxious and pissed off that they’re particular questions that they’ve sort of nurtured for many seasons, they’re starting to realize, oh my god that question that I have, that I care about, is not going to get answered.

DL: Or questions that they have are answered in unsatisfactory ways.  Like, that’s what the whispers are?  Really?

CC: Yeah, exactly.  And so, we fully expect that there will be some percentage of the audience that will be unhappy, but we also think that there will be a different reaction right after the finale, and then over time.  I mean, there’s going to be an emotional reaction that’s gong to come with the show’ ending, and people’s sort of immediate realization that they’re particular concern might not have been addressed.  But we hope overtime, that the sort of deeper, kind of lasting impression will be that we – you know that we told the story that we wanted to tell, and right or wrong, that was our prerogative and the only way we could approach the show was to kind of keep doing all the way to the end what we’ve done all along, which was Damon and I sort of sitting together and going, you know, if we both thing something’s cool it goes into the show and trying to attack it on a very visceral, gut level.  And we did that through 121 hours of the show, and we did it right through the finale.  And we’re proud of the finale and you know, but we do recognize that there probably will be some, you know, there will be some blow back and we’re prepared for that.  And we accept that that goes with the territory.

* That [risk-taking] is one thing that’s been distinctive about the show–and I say this as somebody who really liked the Nikki and Paolo arc.

CC:    God bless you.

DL: So did we. I mean we liked it in the sense that it’s emblematic of so many of the things that we love on the show and we have no regrets about it at all.  You know, like if you could go back in time would you have never created those characters?  And we’re like, oh my god.  They’re you know, no way – the show wouldn’t be Lost without them.

* It’s an example of the playfulness of the show, that it’s always been willing to risk jumping the shark.

Damon: The show has always taken itself very seriously.  And it continues to.  It maintains its reality and we try to be very respectful and reverential because people invest in the show, we take the show very seriously and the idea of like – if Richard Dreyfuss ever looked into the camera and said, “That shark looks very fake to me,” you know, then the reality of “Jaws” is completely shot even if the shark looks very fake to you.  But the thing the show has to be able to do is find new ways to communicate directly with its audience.

So, Nikki and Paolo, in fact, they were envisioned as a response to fan reaction that they never heard from any of the people other than the 12 feature players, but also – we basically said, wouldn’t it be cool to have a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on the show where basically there are people who kvetch about the fact that they’re not included in the decision-making and they want to know what happens when Jack and Kate and Locke go off in the jungle and all that.  And you know, they could potentially be interesting characters too, but then they became a meta-commentary on the show in terms of, when they didn’t work you suddenly have the main characters commenting on, where the hell did Nikki and Paolo come from, and then we buried them alive.  Almost as a sacrifice to the audience in admission of our own, you know, mistake for having tried to introduce them in the first place.

CC:    But we don’t regret the mistake. Because I think like life, if you regret your mistakes in life, you will – you could become paralyzed by that.  I mean, those mistakes are the exact things that one needs to learn and we learned a valuable lesson which was, despite certain people saying, “Hey we want to hear from the chorus.” That they didn’t really want to hear form the chorus, and we ourselves as storytellers started down that road and then realized that it started feeling wrong.  So, literally months ahead of the audience’s reaction, we were like, oh, this isn’t good. We’re going to have to bury these dudes alive.  And but then the audience basically was like, thank god you listened to us.  But we were writing so far ahead we had already come to that conclusion.  The audience provided affirmation, they didn’t basically – they were not the gladiatorial vote.

* Have there been any ideas you were dying to use in Lost but weren’t able to?

CC: I don’t think so.  I mean, not anything major.  I mean, we obviously we joke about zombies and stuff like that.  But in reality, anything that we really thought was cool, it fit in the show. That was the great thing about “Lost.”

DL: And not just that, but you know, we had 120, over 120 hours to sustain what many, including ourselves, considered an unsustainable premise.  So, trust us.  Any idea we have, we used.  It wasn’t like, oh we’re too busy over here figuring out whether or not Charlie’s going to baptize the baby.  We don’t have time for that.  Any story that we wanted to do, we did.

CC: And you know, during the course of the show, there was this whole evolution of you know, what people are now calling transmedia, the sort of brand extensions into platforms like the Internet or mobisodes and things like that.  So stories that we couldn’t do in the mother ship, you know for the fans that really gave a shit about it, we put out details about the Hanso foundation and the Valenzetti equation, and we did these in the ARG’s and so –

DL: And the discovery of 815.

CC: So we were able to actually do some of the really more geeky things that we loved, but were afraid to put in the show in these sort of ancillary brand extension products that, you know, were like these other storytelling devices that basically existed because of the blossoming of media technology.

* That seems to me one the really important things about Lost in the bigger terms of TV history, that you can subscribe to “Lost” at the level that you want to.  It can be, I don’t mean this dismissively, but like a game–

CC: No, we use the baseball metaphor all the time.  So, it’s not dismissive.  We actually say, baseball’s the perfect example.  You can go and like eat a hot dog and watch somebody get a hit and like that’s one level, or you can be saying, you know, “Oh my god, this is you know, the Texas Rangers are playing the Yankees and C.J. Wilson, who is a former reliever is now a starter and he’s pitching against C.C. Sabathia and these match-ups are going to occur, you know, and last time he threw against A-Rod, he hit a home run.” It’s like all those kinds of details.  Like, so yeah, baseball’s the perfect metaphor because you can appreciate it on many levels depending on how much time you put into it.

Tomorrow: The third and last installment, on listening to the fans (and not), what happened to the idea that everything in Lost could be explained by science, what the finale means to them, and their last words to fans before going radio-silent.