Interview: Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse from LOST

We had the honor of chatting with LOST writers/producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse about the series and the Season 4 DVD release which is available on 12/9/08. Here’s what they had to say:

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.

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.

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.

Hi Damon and Carlton, 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.

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 saw a lot more of Christian Shephard in Season 4. Does this re-appearance tie into the empty coffin Jack discovered in Season 1?

Damon Lindelof: Indeed it does… and I think its safe to say you’ll be seeing Christian again in Season Five. And what’s up with those white tennis shoes he was wearing back in Season One?

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.

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’ve 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.

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: Thank you Stephen Williams, masquerading as Michael Stailey, for your question. No, we break the episodes irrespective of who’s 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.

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.

You mentioned Desmond earlier… his reunion with Penny at the end of S4 was one of the greatest moments in the show’s history thus far (not to mention one of the year’s best TV moments). Nothing’s going to happen in S5 to jeopardize their happiness, right? Right?

Damon Lindelof: I’m sorry. Wrong. Wrong.

Hey Guys, when will season one and two be getting the Blu-Ray treatment? Any plans?

Cartlon Cuse: We have heard of no plans to go back and re-release seasons one and two on Blu-ray. But if I were a betting man I’d lay down a lot of money that you’ll be ale to buy a complete series Blu-ray box set when all is said and done.

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.

If you had to pick THE pivotal moment from season four, for each of you, what was it? Why that scene?

Damon Lindelof: Hard to pick, but the one that immediately leaps to mind is the scene in the finale between Jack and Locke in the greenhouse. Obviously, the ramifications of Locke telling Jack (once again) that he’s not supposed to leave the island… but if he does, he must LIE about everything that happens… is essentially what kicks off the entire story of the Oceanic Six. We think it’s really cool that it was actually Locke’s idea, even though Jack doesn’t present it that way. And now that Jack is standing over Locke’s coffin, the relationship between these two men becomes really central to the endgame of our story.

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 an 8-day turnaround schedule?

Cartlon Cuse: No, we are still on the same schedule, starting a new episode every eight days. It’s 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 peddle to the metal.

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.

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 steadily 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.

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: Its now 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.

What television series imprinted you as kids the most growing up-that perhaps influenced your decision to make a career in small screen?

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.

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.

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 hours 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.

With the end of the series looming in 2010, is a feature film being considered at all?

Damon Lindelof: The answer is no. At least not by us. We’ve always felt that the show should definitively end the same place it started… on television. To bring our characters to some sort of cliffhanger where the audience gets none of the answers that they really care about and then say, “Now give us ten bucks. Buy some popcorn and we’ll give you the rest!” would pretty much be the worst thing ever.

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 wont 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’s up with the four-toes statue and some of the crazy stuff that’s happened over the years on the show … are we ever going to get the answers to these questions?

Cartlon Cuse: Yes, more on the 4 toed statue to come! In fact (spoiler) the 4-toed statue might come to life in the Zombie season. As we roll into the end of season 5 and certainly in season 6 the show will definitely be much more in answer mode.

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.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

– LOST Official Site