LOST - Production Designer

Here is Production Designer James Newport's personal blog about the making of LOST...


Sworn to secrecy and unable to tell anyone about the content of the shows we're shooting, I still figured I ought to share this incredible experience with you - so here goes.

July 9

Arrived in Hawaii and went to work. Two days were spent touring the island (Oahu) with the location manager – and visiting all the sites used in the series (fans of the show would pay a hefty fee for this privilege.) The show is shot all over the island – bits of jungle, beaches and valleys are seamlessly combined to make up the (hardly) deserted island the plane crashed on. If you are familiar with Oahu, you know that it is a lot more than just Waikiki or Honolulu. The Pali cliffs are spectacular and I get chills every time I drive the LikeLike Highway. The coast has miles of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it is not a problem to have one entirely to yourself.

"Lost" is a family affair. The show's producers have been with it from the beginning, as have the majority of the crew. The main exception is the art department. They have been through five production designers in the three seasons they've been filming.

They just "burn out." Spontaneously combust from the stress of having to constantly be in pre-production on one episode, while shooting another. There are 2 DP's (director of photography,) 2 camera crews, 2 assistant directors, etc. etc. – but only one production designer. I did insist on having 2 art directors and I assign them to different episodes.

There are different directors for each episode. The majority of the shows are directed by either Jack Bender or Stephen Williams – as different as night and day. Jack is an intense artist (he paints) who wants to be involved in every single decision except where we shoot the jungle scenes ("..a tree is a tree..") Stephen is a young Jamaican with dread locks who spends endless days traipsing through the forests and up & down cliffs searching for beautiful scenery, leaving the rest of the show's visuals up to me.

We spent the first 4 or 5 weeks working without any scripts. There were merely rumors of what the writers had in mind this season. We jumped on the rumors and scouted, drew up plans and prepared budgets. When the first outline of episode 401 (4th season-first episode) came out we really went to work. Jack Bender showed up and we started to "nail" down the show. We were swinging. We were a team.

Then everything changed. It seems there has been a regime change at ABC and "Lost" is now considered a money-making machine with a guaranteed audience and that the new owners prefer to spend their money launching new shows.

Suddenly our budget was cut in half.

Everything we had spent weeks preparing was tossed out the window and we started from scratch. With just 5 days to go before we started filming.

Ahhh. So this is how it works. Everyone started giving me knowing smiles and patting me on the back. "Welcome to Lost."

We now work 12 – 14 hour days. 6 or 7 days a week. The shooting company never stops. (This is a Saturday and because they are so far behind – they are shooting tonight – all night. Then that unit will report to work on Monday morning at 6:00 AM while a second full shooting company will also go to work at 6:00 AM.)

The art department is designing the interior of a freighter. We are shooting an archeological dig in the Sahara desert (Tunisia) on Monday. We just finished shooting scenes in a Los Angeles police station, an Antigua travel agency, a car chase that ends with a crash into an electronics store, a helicopter crash in the jungle, as well as the established beach camp of the survivors and countless jungle scenes in pouring rain. In the next week I am preparing to shoot Berlin in the winter and to recreate the plane crash.

All of this is done entirely on the island of Oahu. We do have the help of visual effects to extend the illusion of the desert horizon or the Brandenburg gate, but it is a gigantic task.

However, it has its perks. Two nights ago we filmed a scene with the entire cast. They all meet in the jungle in the season opener (if you're a fan you know that they were left scattered all over the island in the last season's finale.) This was done in a beautiful forest of imposing gigantic banyan trees. We had brought in the cockpit of the plane and placed it under one of the trees, recreating a scene from the first season (this is a 'real' 737 cockpit – the show cut up a plane that they bought from a salvage yard and had the pieces freighted to Hawaii.) It was a night sequence which meant that John Bartley – a charming man and great DP – had huge lights hanging from the very tops of the trees. I arrived for the rehearsal. Understand that I've been in this business for over 35 years and to say the least, I'm pretty jaded and not easily impressed. I was like a kid in a candy store. The cast were all greeting each other warmly and playfully after a couple of months away from the island. They are now all "big stars." When the rehearsal ended I reunited with the great Terry O'Quinn who I had done "The Stepfather" with. He greeted me with: "Congratulations." which I thought was very kind. The cast hugged the crew and all were obviously genuinely glad to be exactly where they were – in a big teaming jungle, buzzing with mosquitoes.

A good friend of mine – a very talented designer in his own right (in the real world of corporate identity) – when told of what my new job was said: "F**k. That's got to be the best job in the world."

I was about to retire when I got this job. Maybe I'll make it through this whole season. Or maybe I'll be referred to as production designer number six.

One thing is for sure – it ain't boring.

Sept. 15

Here's a dirty little secret about "Lost." The scripts are absolutely filthy. Seriously. The writers use the "f" word in every sentence. It is a noun, an adverb and their favorite adjective.

This leads to some bizarre correspondence from Marshall/Plumb – a law firm that is routinely used to check scripts for any legal issues (copyright violations, standards and practice etc.) They send out a lengthy document after each script is released. It goes into painstaking detail. Here's a sample from the script for episode four:

Scn 5 - PULLS OUT a f**king PISTOL – Possible commercial identification.

Possible commercial identification? Do they think f**king is a brand name?

Sept. 23

End of a typical 6 day week on "Lost." Last week began in 120 degree heat in a rock quarry on the west end of the island. We did a scene in the Sahara desert (when you see it – if you're a Spielberg buff – you'll recognize it as a rip-off of the Francois Truffaut scene in "Close Encounters") complete with wind-machines blowing sand. Yesterday we shot a scene outside in Berlin in the snow. I dressed 2 blocks of a street in downtown Honolulu with lampposts, German signage etc. and then we filled the street with 12 tons of crushed ice. Sayid walks through the street in a beautiful Armani overcoat – talking on his cellphone ( a clue to fans – this is a flash forward.) Earlier in the day I transformed a beautiful Honolulu winebar into a high end German café called Die Mauer (the Wall.)

A video crew is constantly filming us for a 'behind the scenes' segment of the DVD release.

Last night we all partied together and sat in the front row of the Wakiki Shell ( a mini-Hollywood Bowl) and saw the Honolulu symphony play the music of "Lost" composer Michael Giacchino. Michael's music is a very important part of the show (the scripts actually refer to him with lines such as: "A tender Giacchino ballad plays as we fade to black.") Terry O'Quinn (who started his week winning an Emmy) 'read notes from the bottle' as introduction to each musical segment and beautiful black & white photos from all 3 seasons were projected over the orchestra. It was a perfect evening under the stars and helped to wash away what had been a very tense week. On Friday, in separate but similar incidents, both the director of photography and I came very close to leaving the show. The producers and directors – under tremendous pressure, are sometimes very rude and John and I each felt insulted. But we left the set – took a walk, calmed down and returned.

Sept. 26

Received the outline for episode #5 today and everyone freaked. It is the biggest yet (combo "Peter Pan," "Mary Poppins," "Back To The Future" "English Patient" & "Titanic.") If it were a feature film the art department would have 6 to 9 months, at least, to prepare. We start shooting in 8 working days.

Oct. 4

Hawaii seems so green, beautiful & serene. But in reality, it is the world's largest military base. They have dumped and buried so many chemicals that have leeched their way through the ground, that the tap water is in danger of being unusable soon. There is currently a huge event taking place over the 'superferry.'

(I left the show two weeks after this entry. Not a marriage made in heaven, but the 6 episodes I designed have been called the best-looking LOST shows ever. I'm proud of my contribution.)

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