'Star Trek's' Damon Lindelof on Brad Pitt, Having Power as a Writer and His Agony Over 'Lost'
The scribe for two $200 million productions this summer, "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "World War Z," Lindelof reveals what he and J.J. Abrams talk about -- and why he'll never do "Star Wars": "It would be a lose-lose for me in every way, shape or form."
"We were attempting to create a show based on an idea [then-ABC Entertainment chair] Lloyd Braun had pitched about a group of people who survived a plane crash," remembers Abrams, who was producing Alias at the time and couldn't do it alone. "And I had heard about Damon Lindelof from an executive at Disney named Heather Caden. I thought, 'Let's bring him in.' Damon walked in wearing this old, small Star Wars T-shirt, and I immediately knew I liked him. It was like talking to someone I had grown up with."
Given the green light by Braun -- who then would leave ABC, with Steve McPherson being installed as the head of ABC Networks -- Abrams and Lindelof wrote, cast, shot and edited the two-hour pilot in 12 weeks, from January 2004 to April 2004. "Serialized" was a bad word then, and Lost was an expensive gamble, one Lindelof was sure ABC wouldn't take. Maybe they'd do a miniseries. Maybe.
While he was in a staffing meeting for a new job, he got a call from Caden. "She said, 'Look, you didn't hear this from me, but we just got the testing in from Lost, and it tested higher than all the other shows, save Desperate Housewives.' That was on a Thursday. Then on Friday, McPherson called and said: 'Pack your bags for New York. You're on air, we're ordering 13.' "
Abrams had made it clear during the pilot process that he wasn't going to be around to help run Lost -- he was committed to directing Mission: Impossible 3 -- which meant that Lindelof would have to run his first TV show alone.
"I wasn't sleeping," he says. "I was commuting back and forth to Hawaii; everything that could go wrong was going wrong; I was having a hard time breaking stories and writing scripts. And I'd never done it before. But everyone thought I was doing a good job."
About halfway through the production of the first season, Lindelof asked Cuse to help him ease the pain -- and "so that I would have someone to quit to, because no one else was accepting my resignation." But Cuse persuaded him to stay, offering to take much of the production duties off Lindelof's desk, freeing him to run the writers room and, more importantly, to write.
"The one hope that I had was that no one was going to watch the show," says Lindelof. "My fantasy scenario was that we were going to make 13 episodes of Lost, and that it might be like The Prisoner. It would be this epic, expensive disaster that was actually good."
And then it premiered and immediately became the only thing that anyone could talk about, nabbing 18.6 million viewers that first night. "Baskets of muffins are showing up," recalls Lindelof. "Everyone wanted to hoist me on their shoulders. Literally, I had to go into my office, close the door and cry. I was like: 'We're going to have to make more of these. And not just the original 13, but maybe even a second season.' It just felt horrible."
Compounding it all was that Lindelof still was reeling from the loss of his father -- an atheist -- who died a year before Lost began. "When he died, it was a profound spiritual experience for me," says Lindelof, who was raised Jewish but let his faith atrophy as he got older. "When you don't have the religious institution to fall back on, you don't get to sit shiva, you don't get the funeral at the church. Every time someone would say to me, 'He's in a better place, now,' I would have to say, 'Well, he didn't think so.'
"I wanted to believe that he was in a better place, so I channeled a lot of those feelings into Jack Shephard, who was basically flying back from Australia with the casket of his dead father and was struggling with the same idea of wanting to embrace a system by which he could find comfort. But if you had asked me, in 2004, was I grieving my father? I would've said, 'He died a year and a half ago, I'm bummed and I miss him, but no.' But I was."
Lost firmly is behind Lindelof, though, like with most rearview mirrors, objects are closer than they appear. Some days, it feels as if Twitter was invented so that people could vent their feelings -- even three years after the fact -- about the controversial, divisive Lost finale.
"I love the Lost ending," says Lindelof. "I stand by it, but there are a lot of people out there who hate it. The conventional thinking is that it's universally hated, and that's not necessarily true. The loudest people are the haters. I cannot live in a world where I pretend not to hear those voices. When someone says something that really hurts me, I have to retweet it to let it go. If I were a healthier person, I possibly wouldn't be on Twitter at all, but I can hear them whispering at me."
Instead, Lindelof is looking forward. Star Trek Into Darkness is on the immediate horizon, opening May 16 and, despite its foreboding title, Lindelof thinks the reason Trek continues to resonate with audiences is because of its optimistic vision of the future. Some of the early reviews, though, have been less than sunny, but Lindelof shrugs them off: "I have seen them. How could I resist? I find some overly kind, others unfairly mean and most of them right on."