Celebrating “LOST” with HIFF [Updated]
On Saturday, the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF) featured a full day of programs devoted to ABC’s hit television series “LOST.” There were three 90-minute “master classes” held at the Regal Theatres at Dole Cannery in the afternoon, capped off with a gala evening event — “An Evening with Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse” (pictured above) — at the Royal Hawaiian Theater in Waikiki. As hardcore “LOST” fans, my wife and I obviously signed up for everything.
If you’re in a hurry, you can just check out my photos from the “LOST” events at HIFF. If you want to hear rather than see, listen to the audio from the evening program, which I posted online for listeners of our “LOST” podcast, “The Transmission.” (Audio from the “master classes” will be posted over the next few weeks.) But now that I’ve had a day or so to happily digest a full feast of “LOST” goodness, I figured I’d review the day in greater detail.
When we arrived at Dole Cannery, which was already buzzing with film festival activity, “LOST” was front and center, with a shiny blue DHARMA minibus parked in front of the box office and a wall-length mural featuring the main cast. As with previous “LOST” events, I joined HIFF for the minor advantage of getting early tickets, so we got in the “members” line for the first master class (ranking us between “priority” and “general” ticketholders).
The class, “Producing and Directing a Hit Show,” started late due to technical difficulties. Also, Co-Executive Producer Jean Higgins constituted the entire panel, because, as she explained, her counterpart Jack Bender was busily editing the premiere episode of Season 6. Still, the moderator was no slouch: Honolulu Film Office commissioner Walea Constantinau. So the pair were able to have a fairly substantive conversation about what goes into transforming outlines and scripts into top-notch television.
Higgins shared some of her own personal history (breaking through barriers to become one of the first women to work as a Hollywood producer) and several great anecdotes (including how the filming of Charlie’s death in the Season 3 finale went awry). She articulated well how different “LOST” is compared to everything else on television, and why we’re not likely to see anything else like it for a long, long time.
When asked about spoilers and set security, Higgins even gestured at me when noting how some people obsessively track their work on location across the island. To her credit, though, she used no expletives and didn’t have me thrown out of the theater!
For many, the key piece of information to come out of the class was the news that Constantinau and the city are working with “LOST” to try and arrange one last “Sunset on the Beach” advance screening of the season premiere next year.
The second class was “Bringing the Design of Each Episode Together,” and it included a full, diverse panel of people who largely work on the front-lines of “LOST”: Production Designer Zack Grobler, Location Manager Jim Triplett, Construction Coordinator Michael Crowe, and Director of Photography John Bartley. The moderator was Katherine Nichols, who regularly covers “LOST” for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Of the three, this was my favorite session, as the panel both walked us through all the steps between concept to shooting, and meanwhile told great stories about both triumphs and disasters. They showed clips from the show (Jack walking through Phuket, Thailand in Season 3, and the Swan construction pit in Season 5, for example), and described the timelines, challenges, and ultimately rewards of making things happen.
The panel sounded like a group of grizzled war veterans when they discussed how a flash flood destroyed the Swan construction pit the day before they were supposed to film there, and the Herculean effort it took to clean up and rebuild everything.
Triplett, whom I recognized (and who recognized me) from my various encounters with the crew, pointed out that it’s largely his team that serves as the interface between “LOST” and the public. If he does his job well, everyone else can work in a protective bubble, dealing only with each other and their specific tasks. Meanwhile, though, the locations crew has to coordinate a massive ballet that’s the equivalent of moving a full circus of trailers and tents from one neighborhood or business to another. Yet, in most cases, they’re able to leave a place in the same or even better condition than when they arrived.
And while the panel was careful to avoid wandering into political waters, they also made clear how valuable the Hawaii Film Office has been in making things happen for “LOST.” Building large sets, particularly those on government land, requires navigating a maze of rules and regulations and acquiring a stack of permits things that simply could not have been acquired without the help of local specialists. Specialists that are about to be laid off.
The third and final class was the loosest of the three, devoted largely to questions and answers from the audience. Moderated by HIFF Executive Director Anderson Le, the panelists were the entertaining duo of Costume Designer Roland Sanchez and Propmaster Robert Kyker.
The pair shared a fun mix of “LOST” stories and general observations about television and film. Sanchez explained where he found inspiration for some characters, such as “The Island of Dr. Moreau” for Benjamin Linus or Keith Richards for Daniel Faraday (really!). Kyker shared how offhand-comments from random members of the crew (such as, “that boar doesn’t look right”) can turn into a nightmare of extra work. And the infamous polar bear was the target of frequent ridicule during the session.
Tantalizingly, when asked what his favorite “LOST” props were, Kyker said he’d recently built two fantastic pieces… but we haven’t seen them yet, and he couldn’t tell us about them. To make things worse for news-starved fans, after thinking for a bit, Sanchez exclaimed, “Oh! I know what you mean!”
After the master classes ended, my wife and I rolled into Waikiki. I nabbed free parking along the Ala Wai (a miracle on a Saturday night), and we walked over to the Royal Hawaiian Center. We picked Doraku for dinner largely because it was one floor below the theater, but it turned out to be a neat choice for an impromptu “date night” without the kids. We had softshell crab, ahi poke, miso butterfish, and finished with the “New Style Doraku Roll,” which was potentially gimmicky, but ultimately delicious.
Saturday night was the first time I’d been to the Royal Hawaiian Theater, but it looked like a classy, versatile space, particularly for the middle of Waikiki. Most people dressed up for the evening, but there were still more than a few folks in T-shirts and shorts… much to my relief. In the lobby, they had set up a couple of cases showing off the “LOST” props that are going to be auctioned off next May. Of course, it was only a small subset of the much larger collection we saw at Comic-Con in July.
In addition to showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the evening program added both Jean Higgins and Jack Bender, as well as four members of the cast: Michael Emerson, Terry O’Quinn, Yunjun Kim, and Jorge Garcia. Since the conversation had to steer clear of spoiling Season 6, most of it was familiar to long-time fans: how characters were created specifically for Emerson, Kim, and Garcia, for example, and how important an end date was for the creative side of “LOST.”
Still, it’s always a pleasure to hear Emerson speak, particularly of his admiration for and work with O’Quinn. Because the cast members were the last to come on stage, I was bummed that Garcia was barely able to say a sentence or two.
In fact, I have to say, the night event was fairly lightweight and awkwardly managed. There were glitches ranging from where people were placed on stage to problems with the A/V system. They also played several very long clips, including a loud recap music video that seemed to go on forever, all of which was frankly unnecessary for a room full of fans who were obviously devoted enough to pay to be there. And, of course, there were the indulgent “awards” given out (and the requisite fluffy speeches).
And even though the program started late, it was apparent they weren’t going to budge on the scheduled end time. After only three rushed questions from the audience, the night was over. Jack Bender had to yell out over the wrap-up to quickly acknowledge people in the audience. And I was particularly dismayed when the emcee, Brian Lowry, TV critic for Variety, said, “Let’s show the promo so we can get out of here.”
It was obvious very few people in the crowded theater were in as big a hurry as he was for things to end. [See update below.]
Still, altogether, it was a special day for “LOST” fans. Official events are few and far between, which is why my wife and I made the pilgrimage to Comic-Con earlier this year. To have them do a full day of programming right here at home was quite a treat.
And the best part? Meeting so many fellow fans both local, and international. My wife and I were particularly heartened to connect with people we’ve only known online, including several podcast listeners. People from Spain, Germany, Montreal, Boston, Seattle, Maui… it was like having a miniature Comic-Con. “LOST” is a fantastic television show, but the fan community is what gives it its heart.
Update 1:40 p.m. HST: As Lowry comments below, he was told that the Royal Hawaiian Theater had to be cleared to prepare for another event, and says that he also wishes there had been more time for questions.