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More infos about the Screenwriting Expo

By lyly ford,

  Filed under: Lost Interviews, Lost News, Lost Spoilers
  Comments: 1


I am from Vancouver, Canada, but I flew down to Los Angeles for the 2008 Screenwriting Expo. More specifically, I was there to see the writers of Lost and I sat front row, centre. Eric Goldman from IGN, who I shared a few words with in the audience, has done a pretty good job hitting most of the major points from the first ninety-minute panel with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse at, but for some reason, he did not stay for the second panel with Edward “Eddy” Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, so I can give you a rundown of what happened there, in addition to some things that the show runners said that is not at IGN.

Some notes:
* There were not a ton of people at these specific panels (300 maybe? definitely not 4000 like at Comic-Con) and the audience was less fanboy-ish than Comic-Con. The moderator even specifically said not to ask spoiler questions because they are a waste of a question. The only question that seemed to be from Comic-Con was the one from the teenage girl (she was the only other teenager than me in the room, I think) who was disappointed that Rousseau was killed not because of a promised flashback but because it killed her longtime fantasy of Locke-Rousseau love. Well, I guess there was one person more Comic-Con: the guy who won the life jacket signed by all the writers showed up to say that he could not read any of the signatures while holding the jacket up. Ha ha. Also, Damon and Carlton and Adam and Eddy were very funny. Later, I saw Tim Kring (Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb were originally scheduled to appear as well, but I think we know why they did not show up.)

Things that Goldman missed:

* One of the first questions that the moderator (Jeff Goldsmith, editor-in-chief of Creative Screenwriting magazine, which runs the Expo) asked was what were Damon and Carlton’s worst jobs that they have had in the television industry. Carlton told a humorous story in which he used to be a writers’ assistant. His boss was horrible and at one point, broke his mint green toilet seat so he decided that it was Carlton’s job to go across the city and find a new one, which Carlton did. (The moderator wondered how Carlton’s boss could have accidentally smashed a toilet seat in the first place. Damon’s worst job was when he was the official employee to pick up the business magazines (Variety, Hollywood Reporter) and take them to the executives. But sometimes it would rain and the magazines would be damp, leading Damon to put them up on a clothesline before delivering them to his employer. Damon also said that he had an antagonistic relationship with the delivery guy.
* It was while writing the pilot that J.J. told Damon that he was not going to be a show runner because he wanted to do movies. One day, Damon walked into the editing room to find Tom Cruise screening the pilot.
* Damon was shocked by the ratings and said “Now we have to tell them what the monster is!” That got a lot of laughs from the crowd.
* Goldman mentioned this, but I must repeat it. Damon said a couple times that the pilot cost “11 and a half million dollars”. Various websites have speculated between 10 and 14 and now we know that it was ~11.5.
* Damon and Carlton used to be different forms of studio executives and this helped them because they read so many scripts. They said that they were surprised by how many unemployed writers were unprepared for interviews (Damon would ask what the story was about and the guy trying to get hired would not really know).
* Damon learned that you need to think that whatever show you are working on is the BEST show ever, even though he said that there are probably better shows on television out there. The moderator corrected him.
* In the pilot when they introduced the polar bear, they knew that a group of people had brought it to the island for experiments, but they did not decide who these people specifically were until shortly after Carlton joined Lost for “Solitary” when he and Damon had a discussion about all the big mysteries that did not have answers yet. For example, Damon already knew what the monster and the island were, but they talked about question such as, what if the group of people is called the Dharma Initiative? What if the characters get off the island before the end because the audience would totally not expect that? What if the series becomes about the characters getting back together on the island at the end of the show? What is the final episode of the show? What is in the Hatch that is soon to be introduced?
* Did road map and Harry Potter analogies.
* They acknowledged that they stalled in the third season because they did not have an ending, pointed specifically to “Claire strapping a message to a frigging bird’s foot!” That also got laughs.
* They have written the first ten episodes of season 5.
* They never planned on Tom being the leader of the Others, when asked.
* They talked about how they kind of disguised/introduced the science fiction show as a character show and said that there is no subjectivity in the Heroes pilot, for example, it could not be debated that Nathan was flaying and that Claire went into a train.
* Four scenes from the first four seasons were not shot in Hawaii. (Based on past interviews, we know that the Widmore scenes in “The Shape of Things to Come” and “There’s No Place Like Home” and the hospital scenes in “Through the Looking Glass”, but what is the fourth?)
* Carlton used to travel between Oahu and California more often than now in the first and second season
* He (and sometimes, but less often, Damon) now talks on the phone to Oahu ten times a day for a combined ninety minutes
* Carlton and Damon’s day begins with them talking about what needs to be accomplished that day and how it should be accomplished (do both of them need to be there for editing or can one of them oversee what happens in the writers’ room?) over a ninety or forty-five minute (sorry, I did not write that part down) breakfast (in Damon’s office, I believe)
* Jack Bender, Jean Higgins and Stephen Williams are the three people who run the show in Hawaii
* There are three stories per episode: main island story, flashback and “C-story” (“ping-pong”, says Damon to more laughter)
* Newest script by Brian K. Vaughan and Paul Zbyszewski starts filming on Friday (based on what they said earlier, this would be 510, but that doesn’t seem right with postings on the DarkUFO website, so maybe 510 is not fully edited)
* Sawyer is a surrogate for the audience–if the audience asks a question then it is bad, but if Sawyer points out how ridiculous someting is, the audience accepts it
* Scenes in episodes get moved around, i.e. flashback is placed at different spots, but “The Constant” is pretty much the only episode that is exactly the same from script to final cut
* Normal episodes take two weeks to break/outline, but “The Constant” took five and would have taken longer but Adam Horowitz stepped in and said “stop”
* Sawyer is the Han Solo of Lost, so they named him (James Ford) after the actor who played Han Solo (Harrison Ford)
* “A Tale of Two Cities” originally began with a Talking Heads song but it did not fit the mood at all so they changed it in post-production
* Sometimes, Gregg Nations will come up to Damon and Carlton and say that there is a continuity error with flashbacks where a newspaper date will be inconsistent with the story and instead of trying to fix it through effects for the DVD, Damon just says “Fuck you”.
* And finally, the story of the scrapped Sawyer flashback and the Tampa job. Originally, a flashback story was written and shot for Sawyer in “Adrift”, in which Sawyer goes to Florida and falls in love with Jolene Blalock’s character, who he is conning, but it was apparently was absolutely horrible so they got rid of it.
* In “The Cost of Living”, the writers thought that it would be cool if the Others had a weird funeral service and the scene was much longer, but it was just so bad so they edited it down to its bare essentials
* When asked if they get writers’ block, they said not really, because most of the season is mapped out in a three week minicamp between the seasons. There is also a smaller minicamp halfway through the season to re-examine how the plot is progressing. Now that they have set an end date, they really do not get writers’ block because they know what needs to happen.
* We are never going to meet the DeGroots, but we are most likely going to see them.
* After making sure to sign everything that people wanted to get signed (I got a couple scripts and a poster signed), Damon and Carlton escaped out the back door with security guards to be escorted back to building 23

Second ninety-minute panel with Kitsis and Horowitz: “Anatomy of an Episode”

* The moderator asked some trivia questions, e.g. what is the name of Ben’s childhood sweetheart? what did Widmore bid on? and gave out prizes, such as a Dharma hat (which is what I was hoping to win, but was not chosen to answer), the season 3 DVD or the 2009 calendar (I picked up the 2008 yearbook magazine).
* The episode for them to analyze was voted on the the Expo website. “Greatest Hits”, which I voted for, won. Th other choices were “Dave”, “Tricia Tanaka is Dead”, “Exposé” and “Ji Yeon”. They ended up briefly going through these as well.
* Between the panel, they showed “Greatest Hits” on a gigantic screen
* The moderator also asked them what their worst jobs were and it seems that both Adam and Eddy worked their way up the television ladder like Damon and Carlton. Adam once had to bail a network executive’s son out of jail–the sixteen-year old had been driving without a license. Adam was not sure how it was his responsibility or why it should be his money, but he followed orders. One of Eddy’s employers made him obtain an obscure movie from Bulgaria just to see if he could (this was revealed once Eddy finally tracked it down and got it). On a more positive note, Eddy said that he used to work for Joel Silver (go look him up on Wikipedia or IMDb. A bit of trivia that I happen to know: He also invented the sport of ultimate Frisbee)
* They really like the casting of Nestor Carbonell (and Michael Emerson, of course)
* Eddy and Adam joined the show while “Numbers” was being written and they were immediately tasked with coming up with the episode’s C-story and they pitched Claire’s birthday to Damon and Carlton and that Locke would make her a crib and wrote that (I am not sure if they mean the outline or if they really did contribute dialogue to David Fury’s script while uncredited)
* Adam went home to his wife and said that he had come up with a Locke and Claire story and instead of being proud of or congratulating him, his wife got mad at him for ruining that Claire is okay because “Raised by Another” had just aired
* They were really surprised by how fans “universally hated” “Fire + Water” (which they pronounced “Fire and Water”). They thought that it was a good story and Dominc Monaghan gave a great performance. Then Adam corrected himself: His mom and his wife liked the episode so it was not “universally hated”
* They had a great time writing “Dave” (which was written because they knew that they were going to do a Hurley in the institution story eventually) and wrote the role of Dave specifically with Evan Handler in mind
* It was decided in the minicamp between seasons 2 and 3 that Charlie would die in “Greatest Hits”, but they decided in the midseason minicamp that Charlie should have one more victory and would die in the finale instead (great decision, I think)
* “Tricia Tanaka is Dead” is Eddy’s favourite episode that they have done. The idea was to do a hopeful episode because there had been a lot of bleak and heavy episodes at that time. They said that it was fun to stick a heavily mythological element, which was merely funny at the time, into what was pretty much the most character-driven episode of the season (“Roger Workman”)
* One time, Adam was discussing “Exposé” with Damon and went to give a thumbs up, when a tendon or something in his thumb suddenly snapped, and Eddy shrieked/yelled and fell over in pain as he was beginning to give his thumbs up. This is now something of a running gag in the writers’ room where Damon will give thumbs up and mock Adam
* Beginning in the first season when the writers would get writers’ block, they would come up with long and elaborate episodes of Exposé (the show about three strippers who solved crime with the Cobra secretly behind the murders), e.g. “I don’t know how we are going to reveal what is in the Hatch, but I do know that what happened that time that two of the strippers from Exposé solved the murder of the…” followed by details
* The chairs in the writers’ room now have Exposé seatbacks
* Damon and Carlton decided to prank Adam and Eddy in the final days before “Exposé” began shooting and Adam was extremely sad by the fake news that Billy Dee Williams had passed that it was not funny when Damon and Carlton realized that they should not have joked about this and told them that they were kidding
* The average Lost script is 57 pages and then they give it to Damon and Carlton for them to leave notes. They said that they and the other writers really try to avoid going past 59 pages because Damon and Carlton like the number 5 (even though it is not one of “the numbers”) and too many scenes will have to be cut. Before writing the script, a 30-page outline is written. Based on what other professional writers said in other panels and seminars at the Expo, I now know that this is ridiculously long. The script for “Exposé” was 65 pages long and they had to cut a lot of material. They wanted the episode to rewarding for the fans who had really been paying attention and tried to redo as many old scenes as they could.
* It was one of the most difficult episodes to do because they had to reconstruct the plane crash site and the editors had to search through archives for unused angles of footage from previous episodes
* They also tried to answer every minor mystery in the episode–their favourite one that got cut featured Paulo finding Shannon’s inhaler and saying “what’s this?” before tossing it aside into the jungle
* Adam thought about what he would need on the island and he is addicted to Nicorette since he quit smoking six years ago so they worked that into the story
* Damon and Carlton came up with the “Ji Yeon” plot device
* “Ji Yeon” happened to be written and outlined really smoothly
* They like how Michael never went back to the island, but had a huge influence on his fellow islanders. Also, Michael’s story was told just how they wanted it and was not affected by the strike
* They said something about the freighter people arriving at the end of season 3 (they have just been referring to Naomi, or they may have been referring to how Michael was originally supposed to return in “Through the Looking Glass”
* The “Born to Run” scene where Charlie and Kate talk and Charlie is really excited and confident that they will be rescued was a side that they wanted to explore
* Usually, Jack, Sawyer and Locke get the heroic moments and with “Greatest Hits”, they wanted to show that Charlie was also a hero and had always been something of one throughout his life
* Group speeches where Jack or somebody is talking to like fifteen people, such as the “we’re gonna blow ’em all to hell” speech, are the hardest scenes to write
* But they are not as hard to write as the one with Sayid talking about the Looking Glass. That scene was originally several pages longer than it ended up being in the final product because they were so concerned with how the Looking Glass could still be working if it was flooded, which at that point in the episode, is what the audience is led to believe. Jack asked how it could be and then Sayid and the other characters came up with a variety of elaborate explanations for how. They finally fixed it by saying “who cares?” In the actual episode, Jack asks how it can still work and Sayid responds with “How it still works is irrelevant. What we do…” That was another funny story.
* In season 2, either Eddy or Adam (did not write down which) would burn CDs for the writing staff, saying that something like “here is what the Dharma Initiative is listening to this week!” and Shambala (“Tricia Tanaka is Dead” was one of them)
* The executives at ABC are great because they really are fans of the show and basically give suggestions only where something might be confusing to the audience, but the writing staff has an unusually large amount of leeway for network television with science fiction storylines and elements
* This year, Paul Zbyszewski (from Day Break) and Melinda Hsu Taylor (from Women’s Murder Club, Vanished and Medium) are new staff writers; Kyle Pennington (“Cabin Fever”) has worked his way up from post-production and is now a staff writer; it is never explicitly said, but strongly implied that Drew Goddard and Christina M. Kim are also no longer staff writers
* Eddy and Adam spent more time post-panel with fans before leaving before they also were escorted out the back door by security guards (I got them to also sign my poster, but I forgot to print off a script for them–I believe that “Fire + Water” is online.)

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