The Lost Files
In the interest of covering everyone’s butt, we’d like to inform our readers and all Losties–Lost fanatics who relentlessly dissect every frame for clues–that we will not disclose secrets of the new season. It was never our intention. We solemnly swear.
Are we paranoid?
No more than anyone on the Lost payroll. Indeed, trying to nab an interview with a cast or crew member can feel like being in the plot of a Gene Hackman espionage movie, and even if you’re lucky enough to score a few minutes, if you don’t play by the rules you might suffer the wrath of an irate Erin Felentzer, Lost’s Los Angeles-based publicist.
‘I am really pissed off,’ she snapped over the phone from L.A., after hearing that I had interviewed two people from the Lost crew without her permission. (Two weeks earlier, I had tried to go through the ‘proper channels’–in other words: her–only to receive an e-mail that read: ‘Thank you but we are going to pass.’) ‘This is why I hate the local press. You guys don’t listen,’ she continued. ‘And the wrong information gets printed. Everything you read in the Star-Bulletin is wrong!’
Now that we’re living in a world where anything can happen at any moment, whether it’s a natural disaster or some kind of terrorist act, people are looking for a way to survive with humanity and dignity and I think these people are accomplishing that in every episodeÃƒâ€“
I think that’s something that on a basic level speaks to the audience.
– Jack Bender
Executive Producer of Lost
I explained to her that the article was about daily work life on the set, through the anecdotes of the crew’s local staff, which includes people such as visual effects artist Kai Bovaird and special effects supervisor Archie Ahuna (who won an Emmy two weeks ago). I didn’t want to find out what’s in the hatch, I just wanted to talk to a gaffer, best boy, maybe a dolly gripÃƒâ€“
‘Those people are not media trained!’ Felentzer retorted.
Ignoring the irony, I made my case and reached a peaceful agreement. After all, we’re really only interested in finding out what it’s like to put in the 12- to 16-hour days that make the show the success that it is. Is there a formula? Does the morale of the crew on a proven hit differ in comparison to a show that’s struggling?
Felentzer gave me permission to chat with two crew members–on-site producer Jean Higgins and executive producer Jack Bender. Not exactly local staff doing nitty gritty jobs.
Despite Higgins’ alleged training in media relations, her defensive wall comes across as fairly hostile. A heavy silence follows the question: Do you want the show to stay in Hawai’i? ‘Well we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want it to stay here,’ she finally blurts. When questioned further on the subject there is another long pause. ‘It sounds to me like you’re digging for a lot of dirt.’
Bender, on the other hand, knows how to work ‘the local press.’ ‘We certainly don’t plan on going anywhere,’ he says, ‘and as long as our show is alive and well we plan on being hereÃƒâ€“One of the joys of shooting in Hawai’i is when the tortoises walk up on the beach or the whales are breaching, we turn around and watch, even if the clock is ticking and we have to get done by such and such a time, we always let the life of the island somehow affect us because it’s such a luxury and a gift to be here. That’s part of what the show’s about.’
So why the Woodward-and-Bernstein treatment? It all comes to keeping the season plot secret–although I don’t ask a single ‘what’s gonna happen?’ question. ‘We have some major new sets that we want to keep secret until they’re revealed,’ says Higgins. ‘We have some major story points that we want to keep secret until they’re revealed. It’s not that nobody wants to talk, it’s just that it’s not good timing.’
Higgins does give credit where credit is due. ‘I would say that in terms of leaks of what is about to come up,’ she says, ‘that our show is one of the best going. And for that I can only say thank you to my cast and crew.’
Three Lost employees, two of them residents, talked to me about what I really want to know–what it’s like to work on the set of the biggest thing to hit Hawai’i since Jack Lord’s wave.
Doug Olivares is a familiar face in Hawai’i’s film industry, having worked on sets since 1981, when he was with Magnum P.I. He helped shoot the pilot episode of Lost, then worked the rest of last year on the canceled Fox show North Shore after he was offered a full-time job as the B camera operator. ‘We went one season,’ he says, ‘got canceled and then Lost has become a big hit. So as a result I did the whole year on North Shore but I day play now on Lost, on an as-needed basis.’
About this season, Olivares hints, ‘The only thing I can say is the set is pretty amazing. I really can’t tell you what it looks like. As soon as North Shore cleared out they started building it. It was kind of a shock for me to go from that grand lobby [in North Shore] to this grungy underground set. People are going to be quite surprised, I think, impressed by what they’ve found down there.’
On the Lost pilot episode, Olivares was behind the lens for some of the show’s best action shots. ‘The whole thing with the engines being blown up and people being sucked in and running around screaming, I helped shoot all that,’ he says. ‘The pilot they discovered in the tree that was dead? That was one of my shots.’
Tricky business though it may seem to the audience, Olivares admits the action-packed nature of the show is just another day’s work. ‘There’s a basic formula to filmmaking and we’re used to it. You come in, the crew stands around and watches while the director rehearses the scene with the actorsÃƒâ€“then we let them go and stand-ins come in, we light the set and set up the camera movements and positions with the stand-ins. Meanwhile the actors are back in wardrobe and makeup and hair. When we’re finished they come out, we do rehearsals again, the lighting’s in place, we work out any last-minute bugs and then we shootÃƒâ€“we do takes until the director’s happy, actors are happy, everybody’s happy. That’s pretty much the formula.’
Is it exciting to work on a hit show? ‘It’s mixed,’ he says. ‘To outsiders, Hollywood is so glamorous and they go ga-ga when they see actors. That kind of rubs off your back after a while because you get up, you’re going to the job, you’re a technician.
‘It’s not as romantic as people think. Sometimes you have to drive to the North Shore and then back home after wrap, people fall asleep at the wheel–there are those issues. But it’s nice to have a hit here again. It employs people. We get our paycheck, we go out and buy from vendors and the production company buys things from vendors–services and goods–and we’re paying taxes on it, so that all helps the economy.
‘I think Lost has legs. I think it’s going to go for a while.’
‘I think there’s a different vibe to the show,’ says second second assistant director Joyce McCarthy. ‘I really only had a taste of Lost last season for a couple of weeks and it’s very exciting that it’s doing so well. I think this year there’s a great sense of pride because it’s a hit.’
The assistant director department is the push-me-pull-you position of the production team. It’s ’sort of the department that’s in the middle,’ says McCarthy, ‘receiving all the information from the director and the different departments about needs and requirements and then kind of regurgitating it and sending it all back out to the different departments.’
McCarthy stage-managed Manoa Valley Theatre shows several years ago before leaving for England, where she continued in theater until she burned out. ‘A friend of mine said, ‘Joyce you should do film,’ and I said, ‘OK’ and went back to the states–to L.A.–and called a friend of mine and said, ‘this is what I’m trying to do,’ and she said, ‘oh I know somebody,’ and she called him and he called me and I went to work for one day and from that one job on a TV show, it led to everything else.
‘I’m always working. We’re always the first department in and then I, myself, am the last one to leave. I stay until the last man is out. Last night we wrapped at 11:30pm. The electricians had to put all their equipment away and I left the studio at about 2am.
‘It’s very weird because you don’t participate in everyday life and you try to get everything done on the weekends.’
Still, even with the stressful schedule, McCarthy manages to stay grounded and positive. ‘You’re dealing with so many people all day long and constantly either talking on the phone or the walkie-talkieÃƒâ€“For our department, you can’t just go sit in the corner and pout.’
The cast makes it easy. ‘Every single one of them [is nice],’ she says. ‘No diva experiences so far. Especially with the success of the show from last year it would be a real possibility but no, everybody’s lovely.’
Make-up department head Steve LaPorte concurs. ‘I don’t work with people who aren’t nice,’ he says. ‘I don’t let them be not nice. Give me a couple of days and they’re nice. I whip ‘em into shape.’
An L.A. resident, LaPorte has done make-up on more than 50 feature films and television shows, including Beetle Juice (which earned him an Academy Award), Van Helsing, the second and third Terminator films, The X-Files, How the Grinch Stole Christmas–the types of make-up creations Halloween costumes are modeled after. Packing up his tricks to relocate to Hawai’i for a season was a big decision, but not one he regrets.
‘It was kind of an unusual choice to get talked out of film and lean towards television,’ LaPorte says. Although he hadn’t worked on the Lost pilot last year, he was aware of its potential success when it got picked up for its first season. ‘Other people were running the make-up department at the time. Knowing that the show was coming up, I was just kind of keeping my head to the jungle drums, the coconut wireless.
‘They offered the other make-up artists the choice of whether to pull up all the roots and come here and tough it out or just pass on it, and they opted out on it.’
The show is right up LaPorte’s professional alley. ‘It requires a lot of film-quality work, labor-intensive. Some people think it’s just a show about dirt and sunblock and it’s really a lot more than that.’
An island full of plane crash survivors in an Emmy-winning drama with a sci-fi undercurrent–just what does LaPorte get to play with? ‘If you have an actor with two weeks’ growth of a beard then suddenly they don’t have a beard in the flashback, it’s great if we can plan it so that we shoot before the weekend so they can get a good head start in growing their beard back but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. I have a magic trick of cutting up hair very short and adhering it to the faceÃƒâ€“It’s a bit of a trick and tough in maintenance if they’re out sweating in the jungle, but it kind of goes with the job.’
LaPorte also developed a system of using makeup tattoos for bruises. ‘I can manufacture them at home and transfer the image right on to the skin,’ he explains. ‘We created our own scrape and scab material out of silicone adhesive that is pretty bullet proof. If they have a scrape and they’re swimming in the ocean we can’t go out and touch it up–it’s gotta last. Matthew Fox had tattoos on his arms that we have to hide in some of his flashbacks and sometimes copy to his stunt double. So I made tattoo transfers to do that and it lasted all day out in the ocean.’
Now LaPorte is waiting to see how long Lost will be in Hawai’i. ‘We’re hoping for a while. You can’t go to Malibu and shoot this.’ And he finds the island location grounding. ‘I think because it’s here we’re also insulated a bit from the mainland and the paparazzi and the craziness that goes on with this business. It adds a little more normalcy to it.’
For 20 years LaPorte has been working to get a long-lasting project. ‘This is the one to do it.’
All in a day’s work
The first assistant director places the background actors–extras–on the set. It’s early evening, an interior location. About a dozen extras grin and chatter quietly before the star of the scene, Emmy-nominated Terry O’Quinn, who plays John Locke, comes in. He shakes hands with the people next to him.
‘I’m Terry,’ he says. His immediate neighbors introduce themselves. The cameras and lights are set, director Jack Bender gives some direction to the extras and the first scene is ready. It’s a long shot–an overview to establish the scene without any close ups.
The scene requires O’Quinn’s character to be rather emotional. Although the cameras are focused on other actors for the first several takes, O’Quinn doesn’t hold back. In take after take, he sets the standard for the scene’s reality. He is focused and serious, but between takes he sometimes jokes with those around him.
‘So have you figured out what your character is doing here?’ he teases an extra next to him. ‘I have no idea!’ the guy laughs.
It comes time to turn the scene around, to face the cameras at O’Quinn. Bender comes over to his star actor. ‘Make sure it really hurts,’ he says quietly and O’Quinn nods.
With two cameras focused on him, O’Quinn’s moment is riveting. Tears fill his eyes at exactly the right moment. He commands the scene with just so much emotion, just so much restraint. His next take is different, but just as compelling. The moments are captured, the scene is finished.
The extras need to pose for pictures for administrative purposes. As they gather in the corner, O’Quinn walks over, smiling. He shakes hands and thanks everyone around him before moving on to his next scene. Another two pages down and a few more to go before the day is wrapped. –B.M.