Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lost Season 1 and 2 - Matt Ragghianti Interview!

Okay, as previously advertised, the delightful Matt Ragghianti was kind enough to do an interview for my blog. He was a writer for Lost Seasons 1 and 2. Here's what Matt had to say:

1) How did you first land a gig as an assistant to writer on Lost?

The official job title is "Writers Assistant", although the idiosyncratic nature of the IMDB system sometimes calls this "assistant to writer" or "assistant writer", etc. I met Damon Lindelof socially about 15 years ago when he was the roommate of my best friend from college. A fairly large group of us, all in our first showbiz jobs, used to pal around constantly sharing the good and bad times of trying to make your way up the Hollywood food chain. Along the way, we became very close friends and supporters of each other's work. Damon and I worked together on the show Wasteland back in 1999 and remained very close after that. I actually married Damon to his wife, Heidi. I became ordained (on-line, of course) as a Reverend and performed the wedding ceremony in Hawaii. Anyway, when Damon got the opportunity to do LOST, he called me and invited me to join the show. I remember very clearly him telling me that the show was "definitely going to be cancelled after 13 episodes" and that every single executive at ABC who greenlit and worked on the pilot had been fired, so we weren't exactly the darlings of the network. We all signed on convinced I'd be looking for another job in three or four months. Fortunately, we were wrong.

2) What is the difference between a writer and an assistant to writer? What were your duties as an assistant to writer on Lost?

The job description can vary wildly from show to show. Some writers assistants do very little other than record the creative sessions on their laptops during the episode breaks. What I mean by that is the actual time spent in the writers room (hours and hours and hours) where the entire staff meets to "break" each episode of the show. The Writers Assistant must record the conversation and then provide a printed copy of each day's discussion to the writers for their review as the break goes forward. It's vitally important to be a fast typist as you never know when the big idea is going to come, or even where. And if you miss it and can't read back what someone said in order to develop what could, potentially be a huge moment for the show. Well, that's a problem. In my case, fortunately, that was just a small piece of the job. As the show went on and my relationship with the writers grew I and my fellow writers assistant, Dawn Kelly -- a very talented writer, herself -- were invited to pitch ideas ourselves. Once those ideas were heard and determined to be of value, I was able to pitch as much as anybody else in the writers room, and begin to get my own ideas on-air. The more senior writers were very encouraging and helpful, and really taught me a great deal. I also got to do all the research for the show. Need to know what on a plane can be used as an explosive? I can tell you? How about using the radar device from Mr. Eko's crashed drug plane for the escape raft during the season 1 finale? I got to come up with all those answers and I loved it. Furthermore, I was handed the responsibility of creating and writing several ancillary projects to extend the reach of LOST online. I was able to create a character from one of the other survivors of flight 815 -- not one of the stars, but the seemingly faceless other survivors we, on the show, referred to as "socks" and begin to write a diary in her voice that we posted on the LOST website. It began to develop quite a following and was a lot of fun to write. I was asked to do a great many projects like that that really helped me to develop my own writing and continue to exercise the muscles I needed to eventually write for the show itself, which I was asked to do in Season 2.

3) What projects are you working on currently? Hit us with the highlights and any links that might be relevant.

I've got a few irons in the fire presently. I wrote a webseries for the Starz network and Sam Raimi's company, Ghost House Pictures called THE RESISTANCE. It stars Katrina Law, who you may or may not have seen on the breakout Starz show, Spartacus: Blood & Sand, as well as a very talented actor named Sunny Jain. It's a very cool story that is sort of a hybrid of The Matrix vs. Star Wars, if I may be so bold to reference those masterpieces. Starz has made a deal with the Syfy channel, which is going to air it as a 1 hour drama pilot sometime soon -- I still haven't been told exactly when, but it's something I'm very proud of and that I hope you all like as much as I do. In the meantime, you can watch several trailers and get more information at www.theresistanceseries.com
I also just finished a Drama pilot called TRINITY in which a high school student is forced to save his family by assuming control of a criminal organization when he discovers his father, is not the man he thought he was. I'm very proud of it and will begin taking it to networks shortly.
I continue to explore opportunities within the Video Game world and look forward to writing my next game. I was lucky to write the script for TOMB RAIDER: ANNIVERSARY (Eidos/Crystal Dynamics - 2007) and enjoyed the experience immensely. There are some great stories being told in video games these days. And for my money, there's nothing as attractive to me as the opportunity to tell a great story.
Oh, and I'm also exploring the opportunity to do a comic book in the near future. I met some great people down at San Diego Comic-Con this year... one in particular... and am actively pursuing a chance to tell the type of amazing stories one finds within that world. I'm excited about it.

4) If you were on a plane that crashed on a tropical island and you had to figure out how to survive, who would you want with you and why? You have to choose three people from this list:

Davy Crocket. Gandi, Bella Lugosi, Frank Capra, Isadora Duncan, Coco Chanel, Captain Ahab, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Mark Spitz, Lana Turner, O. Henry, The Hulk, Mata Hari, James Bond, Nadia Comaneci, Ralph Nader, Harry Potter, Gunga Din, Ringo Starr, or Debbie Harry.

That's a question I could answer from several different perspectives. But I'll try to do this from a purely practical POV, but I leave it to you and your readers to decipher my real motivations here. I suppose I would choose Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman first. You're gonna get sick eventually; or step on a stone fish; or eat some bad fruit or whatever. And having Jane Seymour around to kiss it and make it better would be just fine with me. Frank Capra would keep us entertained, and probably teach us a lot about ourselves with his wonderful stories, so he's on the list, too. And Davy Crocket could keep us well fed and build a bitchin' log cabin for each of us. I just hope he doesn't get hatchet happy when he realizes that Dr. Quinn is shacking up with me!

5) Same questions, but you have to choose three characters from the first two seasons of Lost. You can’t choose Sawyer, Kate, Jack or Sayid.

It's difficult for me to separate the character from the actor here. But I'll try. I'll take Shannon, for obvious reasons. I'll take Hurley as well because if you can't laugh with somebody you're probably going to find a palm tree to jump off pretty darn quickly. And Shannon isn't attracted to Hurley, so no competition there. And I suppose I'd take Sun, also. If you're going to be stuck on an island for the rest of your life, you may as well learn another language while you're there, right?

6) What’s your favorite TV show currently?

I can't limit it to just one. I'm in the midst of a love affair with Mad Men at the moment. I'm fascinated by how effectively the writers can make me care about a protagonist who lacks even a single, legitimate redeeming quality. It's incredible. My wife and I look forward to Modern Family every, single week. Just hysterical writing on that show. And we are addicted to Deadliest Catch on Discovery. I don't know if you have been watching, but this past season has been one of the best seasons of television I've ever seen, scripted or otherwise. I also love Entourage and Hell's Kitchen.

7) What your dream project?

I'd love to write a James Bond film. I have wanted to be James Bond for as long as I remember. Not the actor who plays James Bond. James. Bond.

Now, for some serious Lost questions. Special thanks to my friend, code name Michael Baker, who got the ball rolling with his fabulous input for questions:

1) Was there ever a plan for Walt to stay on the Island? And if yes, what direction do you think his story would have taken?

Yes there was. Malcolm was a fine actor and very pleasant to work with. But the realities of filming a season of television which is only supposed to span the first 40 days of being on the island demand that everyone look the same (age) in Episode 25 as they do in the Pilot. When you are a young boy about to enter adolescence you are growing so fast and changing so quickly, it would be impossible to maintain the illusion that only 40 days have passed. From the time the pilot was filmed, to the time the Season 1 Finale was filmed, well over a year had passed. And Malcolm did a lot of growing in that year. So there you have it. Walt was a great character, and was really our first candidate for channeling or even influencing what happened on the island. Because he was a child, his emotions were more distilled and pure than the adults around him, so the island experience for him was and, arguably could have been more vivid for him than any other character. Would have been nice to see where that could have gone.

2) Were there plans for Libby to have more of a backstory, especially concerning Hurley and the asylum?

Libby was always a fun character for all of us. Getting to play a love story between Hurley and Libby, and not have it be farcical or silly was important. The most fun thing about LOST, from a writer's point of view was getting to explore the web of contacts and relationships and meetings all the characters (and all of us in "real life") share within our lifetimes. The sheer chance of meeting someone, if you want to call it that is so extraordinary and fantastic you almost can't believe it. So, yes, in exploring both Hurley and Libby's backstory, it was obvious there would be much more than initially met the eye. Remember, everything happens for a reason. And there really is no such thing as chance or luck, right? I'm just saying...

3) At what point in the creative process was the "endpoint" of the show known? Did that endpoint become noticeably more distorted as the show became a hit?

The endpoint was always known. However, when the show premiered and we realized that somehow, we were not, in fact, all going to be finished with this story after 13 episodes, the endpoint must be pushed back to accommodate the additional episodes. As early as Season 1 Damon went to the network to ask how long we needed to write this show. Not because he was unhappy writing it, but because the answer has everything to do with how you tell the story. Any story. Try to tell a story, or a joke, or a riddle, or to sing a song if you don't know when it's going to end. It's not possible. But the network simply wants the show to be on as long as possible, and I completely understand that. 9 out of 10 shows fail. And those failures cost a lot of money. The 1 show that makes it must be on the air long enough to pay for the 9 that weren't. So, from a stockholder in the Disney corporation's perspective, I want the show to be on as long as it can be in order to make the most money it possibly can. But, from a storyteller's perspective, you tell me how to write a story if you don't know how long you have to tell that story for. The network wouldn't commit to a number. Even 15 seasons (or whatever). And without being able to know exactly how many episodes the story would last, we had to constantly keep adjusting the flow of the story. This is why most successful, dramatic television goes through a seemingly never-ending Act 2, until it is announced the show is ending, at which time the writers can now determine exactly how many episodes are left and can then wrap up the story appropriately. That's what happened. And that's what always happened. And I can identify with the feelings that form the basis of the argument from both sides.

4) Why was the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle pushed so aggressively?

Because it worked. From the very beginning viewers seemed to have a stake in who Kate was with. Even the writing staff did. We all had our preference and truly enjoyed messing with the dynamic from both sides. Boy meets Girl; Girl and Boy fall for each other; Other Boy shows up: First Boy doesn't like it; Girl enjoys the attention... and the drama ensues. It's the oldest story in the book, but it still works. And it always will.

5) Who came up with the polar bear and why?

When we discussed the origin of the island, or, more specifically, the island's inhabitants we spoke a great deal about something that actually happened. Bear with me (pun intended) for a moment here... Shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis a panel was convened in order to study whether or not there was any hope for the human race, at least in terms of whether or not we were destined to blow ourselves to kingdom come. The panel was comprised of sociologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, physicists, animal behaviorists, philosophers and the like. And they went off somewhere remote to see what they could discover. The results were not encouraging. Basically, it's fait accompli. There is a scientific certainty that we will destroy ourselves. The only question is exactly when. Now, let's leave reality and come back into the world of the show. If the people charged with this experiment know that the answer is what it is, their only recourse might be to simply drop out of the human race, and wait in solitude until it all happens. Then, after an appropriate amount of time spent surviving in the solitude of a bunker somewhere in the south pacific, they could emerge and start over, hopeful in the fact that they, these OTHER people could get it right this time. Now, if you accept the island as the location of these experiments, you might begin to understand what all the hatches and bunkers were doing there. And here's something else you might find interesting. Polar Bears are one of the most territorial mammals on the planet Earth. That is to say, they will defend to the death a territory far in excess of that which they require to survive, simply because it is theirs. The only other mammal with a more extreme territorial stance is currently typing this email. So, if these scientists could find a way to alter the polar bears behavior, perhaps they could apply the same methods to us. Didn't work out. But now you know what they polar bears were doing there.

6) How much influence did blogs and fan posts have on the direction of the different plots?

LOST was by far the most robustly involved internet fan base of any show I have ever heard of. I never got to work on any of Joss Whedon's shows, which I realize have a huge internet following and fan base. But LOST really woke me and a lot of the rest of us up to the validity and the value of that level of involvement. Obviously, we're thrilled when we can satisfy those fans. Because we love them. But I would be lying if I said we adjusted any or our storylines, or the overall direction of the plot as a result of anything we read online. By the time the internet fan base is reacting to something on the web... after seeing it air on television, the writing staff is several episodes ahead. It usually takes anywhere from a 5 to 15 days to break an episode of LOST. Then another week writing the Writer's Draft... getting the notes from Damon and Carlton and re-writing to get the Network Draft... and getting the notes from the Network to get to the Production Draft. Then it took 8 days to shoot the episode, and another 3 weeks in Post Production to finish it. By that time, 7 weeks has gone by, and the writers are already a couple of episodes downstream. And by the time the episode in question actually airs, you are likely to be 6 or 7 episodes further along. So it would be impossible, as well as totally impractical to try and write a story that way.

7) What was the motivation behind killing Boone? How about Shannon?

Early on we knew that if nobody ever died on the show, the audience would quickly realize that there were no real stakes in this world, and that the drama and suspense would quickly disappear. If nobody gets hurt, or killed, why should I care when they Others attack, or when they go exploring some creepy dark cave or weird hatch in the middle of the jungle, right? Boone went first because... well, it had to be somebody. And we knew Ian could pull off the emotion involved in that death scene. When Shannon died later on, she had already begun a relationship with Sayid, so when she was killed not only would it be a loss to her fans, but would influence Sayid's character and, by proxy, the tone of the entire show going forward. That's the thing about good stories, isn't it? Nobody gets out alive.

8) What was that funny story you were telling me about Hurley and his mom?

During Season 1, the entire cast came out to LA from Hawaii for a party. We were all there having a great time and my wife, Michelle and I were talking to Jorge Garcia. Well, after I was able to (almost literally) peel her off of Josh Holloway, that is. Anyway, Jorge was telling us a story about a phone conversation he had with his mom just a few days ago when he and the rest of the cast learned we were going to kill one of the characters. Jorge said he was talking to his mom on the phone from Hawaii, telling her he was nervous. "Why are you nervous," she asked. "Well," Jorge said, "We just found out the writers are going to kill one of the characters this season." And instantly, Jorge's mother GASPS and says "Oh no! Not Sawyer!" Jorge was left to go. "Umm... how about Not Jorge'? Your son?" Superb!

9) How often did the writers get to go to Hawaii?

For about the first 5 episodes of the show, if you wrote the episodes, you flew out to Hawaii to shepherd the episode through production. Then, Damon figured there was no need for that anymore. There was a team of talented producers and staff who were in Hawaii full time, so we simply relied upon them to do their good work, and we all stayed in Burbank and kept working. Damon and Carlton would go out a few times a year. But the rest of us never did. I never went to the set. Ever.

10) Which main Lost character did you have the most influence over as far as development?

Claire. And since we created her character specifically for our episode "Maternity Leave", I would say Danielle's daughter... Alex Rousseau

11) You created a minor character which was posted on the ABC website. Tell us more about that character and that process.

There were the main characters of our show, and then there were the remaining survivors of Oceanic flight #815. If you were a Star Trek fan you'd consider these guys the "red shirts", which is to say they were essentially cannon fodder or monster chow. One day Damon referred to them as "meat filled socks", which we all adopted and then gradually truncated to just "socks." So I was asked to create a character from one of the faceless socks and to begin writing a diary from their perspective. My fellow writers assistant, Dawn Kelly and I created a character we called "Sally" who we began to realize was slightly disturbed. Okay, maybe more than slightly, but, hey, it wouldn't have been LOST if the character was normal, right? Anyway, we began to write and to leak little hints about this dive bag that Sally was desperate to find before anyone else did. What was in the bag? What was she afraid of revealing? What did she have to hide? It really was a lot of fun, and, much to our surprise, people were paying attention. Thousands of them.

12) Who was your Lost crush? Can be a real person or a character from the show.

Vincent. Okay, just kidding. Sort of, I love that dog! No, for real, I love a lot of the people I worked with on that show. We spent so much time together it was impossible not to become family, so that was profound. But I fell in love more than few times with characters or actresses on that show. When Julie Bowen came in to read for the part of Jack's wife let's just say I was happy to see her. And when Cynthia Watros (Libby) walked in to read for Libby I almost fell out of my chair.

13) Did working on Lost give you aerophobia? If no, why not?

Not at all. I've had a pretty great life to this point. Better than pretty great, actually. And I really and truly believe that when your number is up, it's up. So there really isn't any use in sweating the details.

14) Any Lost tidbits for diehard fans? (Funny stories, on set mishaps, food poisoning episodes, whatever comes to mind.)

Wow. Too many to mention. But here are a couple. Whenever we used to get bogged down during an episode break we would begin to write a different show we invented about a group of strippers who solved crimes on the side. It was called EXPOSÉ and it was hilariously great. There was about a week or so when Damon and I had convinced several other members of the writing staff (you know who you are) that I could actually see through porcelain as a result of a chemical explosion I was injured in during the mid-90's. And you know that clicking sound you hear whenever the smoke monster shows up? The one after the roar? That is actually the sound of a NYC Taxi Cab receipt being printed. And now you know.

Thank you Matt!!!

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