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The Lostpedia Interview: Paul Terry and Tara Bennett

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Sam McPherson is responsible for this interview.

Paul Terry and Tara Bennett are the two authors of the Lost Encyclopedia, which is scheduled for release on October 18, 2010. Bennett is also a writer for Lost: The Official Magazine, of which Terry is the editor. This interview was held on May 24, 2010, and is a joint exclusive with TVOvermind. However, the version of the interview posted here includes extra questions about Lostpedia, while the TVOvermind version (which can be read here) features several questions that discuss television in general.


TerryBennett

Tara Bennett and Paul Terry

Sam McPherson: Thanks for joining me. The first thing I wanted to ask about was your thoughts on the finale. What were your favorite moments?

Paul Terry: Tara, do you want to go first?

Tara Bennett: Oh, okay, give it to me, funny boy. I think it was really emotionally satisfying, from my perspective. I think that if you appreciated the show on both levels of storytelling– in a very thematic way and also in a mythology-laden way– I think it answered both. I wouldn’t say that it’s a perfect finale, but I certainly would say that it really encapsulated what the show was about, as well as staying on point with what it’s always said: that there were things that were going to be broader themes that weren’t always going to be definitive, and then I think there were some absolute definitive answers about certain things that felt fine and proper in terms of what I wanted to see from the show. More than anything, I think it was very character-based, which was what the show started as, and I felt like all the payoffs for the individual characters celebrated them, gave them their respects and really heartfelt, emotional moments, and I really appreciated that.

Paul: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always loved the way that LOST sort of handled really complicated, thought-provoking, mysterious, big, pointed kind of themes, and I think the finale was incredibly brave in the sense that we’ve all seen, with the reveal and the resolution with the sideways plotline especially, that this isn’t a show which, you know, even at this stage, says, “Okay, let’s just do a big series of spoon-feeding.” It was much more content with remaining bold and mysterious, and telling the story it wanted to tell, which I really felt like, as Tara said, the themes and the characterization and the development of the journeys that all the characters have been on and all the kind of implications of the world being connected, and each other’s lives becoming important, like that great scene with Jack and Christian doing the speech. I thought it was wonderful. I cried like a baby, and I am absolutely proud to say that.

Sam: Definitely. The scene that made me cry the most was between Hurley and Jack right before Jack went into the hole. That was probably some of the best emotion that LOST has had to offer.

Paul: I agree, that was a big one. And as Tara knows, I’ve always been really invested in the Juliet and Sawyer storylines, and when they killed her off I was like, “You cannot do this!”

Tara: Yeah.

Paul: But I thought it was so beautifully done with their coming together in the sideways.

Tara: Yeah, that got me. I was a blubbering mess with that moment. And then my other moment was the moment between Locke and Ben, when Locke forgave Ben. I thought that was a good one.

Paul: Oh, yes, that was wonderful!

Sam: So how did the finale affect your writing of the encyclopedia? I know that you had probably gotten a lot of it done beforehand, so what changes? Did you know about key points in the finale so that you could write, or are you going to have to go back now and just change a lot?

Tara: We worked really closely with Gregg Nations and the LOST team, and they understood that we had to have some conversations so that we could block out what we needed to to make our deadline. So we really had very key and important conversations about a week and a half ago, just in terms of some major things that we needed to address and think about. Paul and I have always known that the end of this show was going to change a lot of what we were doing, and because of that we really finished a lot of material that we knew had already had its beginning, middle, and end, and that left open the other, bigger ones — what we consider to be our ‘A’ or ‘A+’ entries, which are just the largest entries, and which of course are the big characters: Jack, Kate, Sawyer, etc. — and so we didn’t finish those, knowing that they were going to be heavily impacted by what happened at the end. So that’s really what we’re addressing now. That’s it. The end is finished so that we could not have to do work over again.

Paul: Yeah, it’s basically going to be a really busy week [laughs], because as Tara said, although there may have been an awareness of certain things that this show obviously, you know, they really got to the deadline of their editing schedules to make sure they got the great show, the one they want on air. So the broadcast that airs, that’s canon, that’s the one that is the ultimate reference, and so I’ll certainly be watching it another couple of times and sort of making some key notes. A lot of those will be on the visual things, because of the visual language of the program, so things that may have been conveyed in conversations, you can never really compare that to seeing the final, definite article of the episode.

Sam: So how much of the finale did you know going into it? Were you aware of any key scenes, or were you told any at all?

Paul: I don’t know whether we should get into, like, the semantics of it so much, but I would say it was, to repeat what Tara was saying, more about an important awareness of certain beats that we would be required to be prepared for, for this stage of writing the book. Getting into the specifics of the scenes might do some dishonoring toward the chance that we had.

Tara: Yeah, the LOST creative team has never wanted to be adversarial. We’ve all been partners in this project, and so there was no way that they wanted to, at this stage of the game, go “Oh, gotcha! Everything’s changed up!” So they’d been softly preparing us for certain things that we needed to know to just help ourselves stay open, so that we wouldn’t cause any kind of mass hysteria on our end with the writing of it [laughs]. So, it’s not so much a scene or a “What did they tell us?” kind of a thing, it’s more of a collaborative, thematic sort of structure for our writing.

Paul: Yeah, it’s much like the broad strokes between the key things that season six was about, and things of course like the sideways is an element of that.

Sam: You mentioned that you spoke with Gregg Nations. Lostpedia interviewed Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse about a year ago, and they said that when Gregg Nations isn’t around, they use Lostpedia. What about you guys? Did you use Lostpedia at all during the writing of this book, or did you work solely with Gregg Nations and his LOST bible?

Paul: It’s been more, to be honest, the great contact, because we’ve said before in podcasts that Tara and I have done talking about the book, Gregg is, as all the fans know, he’s the man! He’s the walking bible and it’s scary how he retains all that information [laughs], even just literally in there in his head, and he just kind of comes up with stuff to remind or to clarify things. So to make this the absolute A to Zed encyclopedia of the show, it really had to be collaborations with the source.

Tara: Yeah, I mean, Lostpedia is a wonderful resource that you guys have made for a really long time.

Paul: Oh, it’s fantastic. Amazing.

Tara: Before we did the book project, I knew about it, Paul knew about it. You guys are legendary in terms of the fan community, but you know there’s a lot of speculation that came from a myriad of things that they introduced in the show. I know something that I particularly did was as soon as I was awarded co-writing authorship of this book, was that I basically locked myself away from recaps and fan speculation, only because as you guys know, as you update your site, you’re vastly influenced in trying to get your brain around everything that happens, to try and make sense of some of the things that you see in the show. And to have impact that isn’t canon from anybody else, whether they’re a really well-regarded blogger or Lostpedia, or any of the other resources on the internet, only clouded my brain, and so I made a very, kind of sad in a way, because I loved reading a lot of people’s recaps in the year before, I just said “I can’t do it anymore, I have to completely cypher myself off from anybody’s theory and speculation,” because I didn’t want myself to accidentally put it into some writing, and to have Gregg say, “That’s not what we meant.” I basically put a wall around myself and just said, “I’m only having conversations with Gregg from now on, so if I’m writing something, my process was that I would watch the videos, I’d rewatch an episode, take a bunch of notes, put together an entry, and then send it to Gregg, and put questions for Gregg, saying, “Am I getting this correct? Can you clarify this piece of information?” And it was always a dialogue between Gregg and our editor and us. That’s where the clarifications came from, just so there weren’t any other interpretations through any other information that we got.

Paul: Yeah. The site you guys are involved with is incredible. It’s been clearly a huge influence and foundation on the fandom, and all the kind of sites that have sprung up around it. Your guys are insanely detailed and it’s an incredibly dedicated wiki, but when it comes to a project like this, which is fully licensed from the network and the show, you kind of have to navigate a way into the show and have to write all that stuff down.

Sam: So how much of the mythology of the show that was not covered in the actual context of the series will be explained further in the encyclopedia, such as where the statue came from? Will we have more mysteries answered by this encyclopedia?

Paul: A lot of people have been asking that question, and it’s a perfectly valid question to ask, as a fan. If I removed myself from this project, I’d be completely intrigued as well to know what this book was going to be conveying. The way we sort of phrased it is that this is essentially the story that Damon and Carlton were wanting to tell. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly detailed. We’ve been killing ourselves for the longest time doing this book, but as far as revelations that weren’t seen on the show or mentioned on the show, all we can say is that the book will contextualize things that people may have misunderstood; it will clarify some things if people were going somewhere else with their theorizing. So within that, there may be things that could make the fans go, “Oh, I misunderstood that, I see what they meant now, completely.” There may also be things that will remain open to interpretation, part of the mystery.

Tara: Yeah, I think that something that fans will have to understand when they read the book is that we’ve had lots of years to be able to speculate about things, and fandom has sometimes made some things canon in their minds that was actually never intended to be canon, so you may read through the encyclopedia and you may go, “Well why isn’t that there?” It’s not because we forgot it, it’s because Damon and Carlton don’t consider it the canon of the show. Everything is filtered through that veil. The thing that we want to be clear about is that, maybe Lostpedia may have other information, may have stuff about some of the ARGs. Sometimes those ARGs were merely for entertainment for fans, and weren’t meant to be canon, and so when they’re not meant to be canon, they’re not in this book. If there were elements that were part of canon, then they are in the book. We really pared out the material that sometimes was marketing-oriented or sometimes for pure fun, maybe it was an offshoot. So if it’s not seen, then that means that it really was something that was apart from what Damon and Carlton intended for the show, and while it will exist in a greater fan community or Lostpedia or somewhere else, or maybe somebody has a blog talking about something specific, if it’s not there it’s because Damon and Carlton didn’t write it and they didn’t mean it to be part of what they were writing. So that’s something that fans hopefully will understand when they’re reading the book, and that is that it’s very much a clarification, a connecting of the dots. The one thing that we can say, that we can hint at, is something that they’ve already talked about in some interviews: there will be supplemental information that they shot specifically for the DVD releases, and that will be canon, and will be included in our book as well.

Lostencylopedia

The Lost Encyclopedia

Sam: Lostpedia has a lot of really specific things that I can guess probably won’t be included in the encyclopedia for page room or practical purposes. How many articles are you guys looking at currently? Do you have a specific number of articles that the encyclopedia is split into?

Paul: As a number, I wouldn’t be able to tell you off the top of my head. There are literally that many, as far as smaller entries and the larger, thousands and thousands of words entries, but we know that the book is between four hundred, five hundred plus pages, so crikey, if I could open up my folder and do a quick count, it would take a while.

Tara: We split the book up according to hundreds of entries, each, and they’re weighted. The most important for us would be an ‘A’ or an ‘A+,’ all the way down to watch we would consider an ‘E’ entry, which would be maybe like a hundred or a hundred and fifty words. Those are for smaller characters, smaller props. So it’s in the hundreds, and there are some subsets and subcategories, but probably the page count is probably the indicator of how large the book will be.

Paul: And it’s a large book. It’s a physically large book as far as like the height and the width, so this is like a big thing.

Sam: I’ve read a lot of DK books, and I can’t help but notice that they’re very image heavy. They have a lot of pictures and diagrams. Will the encyclopedia have that sort of theme to it?

Paul: There will be some really fantastic shots and stuff you’ve never seen before of props, locations, characters, that kind of stuff, but where it’s appropriate. We won’t be just splashing a massive shot across a double-page spread and having like, three lines of text. There’s a lot of text that’s been written, so it’s all about context, and where it needs to be.

Tara: Yeah, that’s why it’s a little bit difficult to say what the actual number of entries there are in there, because sometimes we represent things in a visual sense, so we may have a master heading for one thing and then do a lot of subheadings with individual characters that apply to it, or important moments that apply to it, so it’s still an individual entry, but it belongs under a larger heading, so you can say that we did an individual piece for that, but it belongs under a larger blanket for visual context, so that’s why we won’t be able to know a definite number of entries until the end, since some of it is taking shape in a visual form right now. I’m making an edit on an entry now that has a lot of text in it, but we all feel that visually, if we trim some of the text and use more images to illustrate it, the fans would like it more. It’d also look great, because it wouldn’t feel like you were reading a dry encyclopedia. It’s a visual and textual experience, and we’re really kind of shaping that right now, so some of the things that we intended when we started are really evolving and just looking more beautiful as we move along.

Paul: And of course, with the work I’ve done with the magazine– and Tara’s been the main writer of the magazine for all this time– we’re very much conscious of picking and suggesting images that will really support the encyclopedia properly, and that the fans will get a real kick out of.

Sam: In continuing the comparison with Lostpedia, we’ve recently introduced a sorting mechanism that helps to divide in-universe articles, ARG articles, and behind-the-scenes articles. Will you be going behind the scenes with the encyclopedia and showing the filming process, or will it be strictly in-universe?

Tara: No, it’s a strictly in-world book. Damon and Carlton were very explicit that they wanted to create a book that really only pertained to the mythology that they had created, so it’s character-based, location-based, prop-based. ABC and the LOST creative team have done an exceptional job with the magazine, with the DVD box sets, in creating that kind of behind-the-scenes experience that helps fans to know anything that happens behind the scenes from production design to costuming to makeup, we’ve covered that in the magazine, they’ve covered it visually in a lot of really wonderful DVD featurettes, so it would be overkill, in a way. They all really felt like that’s been well-serviced in the other things that they’ve chosen to do, so why repeat it in this book? There really hasn’t been a repository that’s been a definitive, canon receptacle for everything that was written by the creative team. And that’s what I think makes this project special: as a LOST fan, you’ve probably eaten up tons of behind-the-scenes material, through individual interviews, all over the web, especially now, towards the end, everyone’s been coming out of the woodwork talking to everyone that’s ever been on the show. And that’s awesome, it gives fans what they crave regarding how they made the show and stories about writing changes and funny things that happened to the actors. But that all lives in that space, and this space is written like these characters are alive in this world, and the perspective is all inside this world, and the only time we break from that is if, like an encyclopedia, we’re giving actual, real-world reference material about something. As an example, Paul did an entry for Tunisia, so, knowing that Tunisia is where someone who uses the donkey wheel comes out, we talk about that from an in-world perspective, we talk about where Tunisia is located, what the geographical implications are, why someone would show up there, and that is what we do in terms of augmenting the canon of the show with the real world of how we all exist and how that all blends in together. So, as a reader, you’re getting the in-world experience, and you’re also getting the real-world information that will help you to get more of a deeper understanding of that entry.

Sam: How and when were you two chosen to work on the encyclopedia?

Paul: It was a very lovely moment. Since I worked with the magazine, I was suggested for the publishers to contact, and we had some discussions and chats, and then I said that there was only one person in the world who can write this encyclopedia with me, and that was Tara, because as I’m sure you know, Tara has such a legacy of amazing books and sci-fi things, and before LOST magazine, she worked with me on the Alias magazine, so we’ve had like nine years of working together on shows and doing official material on these Bad Robot shows. So there were a few more chats and discussions that happened last year, and then that was it! It was greenlit and the planning stages and the Excel documents and the planning, and the more Excel documents, and the more planning, went on for a crazy amount of time. There were lots of late-night Skypes, and then we were just in the thick of it. We hit the ground running, and were writing these entries like mad things for seven days a week for months, for the longest time, including the end of last year.

Sam: So now that the show has ended and the encyclopedia has a release date in August, how much longer will you be working on it before it goes off as a final draft to print?

Tara: We have about three weeks left.

Paul: Yeah, publishing schedules are funny things, but a few weeks, I would say. There’ll be a few nudges here and there, and slight adjustments here and there, but we will be making it on sale date, do not worry! [laughs]

(At this point in the interview, Paul, in London at the time, needed to leave, though Tara agreed to stick around and answer a few more questions.)

Sam: How do you think that Lostpedia users will react to this book?

Tara: We’ve been using Lostpedia for a long time, and it’s a really wonderful fan resource, so we’ve heard from many people wanting to know, “Why do I need this book when I can go to Lostpedia for free?” And that’s an absolutely valid argument. And we in no way wanted to make one of those books which just sort of tries to rip off the fans and regurgitate information. Damon and Carlton wanted the book to be the last word on the show, and in no way is that discouraging of any website that’s out there, it’s just that we all consider that the last word is Damon and Carlton, and whatever comes out of their mouth we all have to consider the truth and that’s just the way we have to look at it now. And so the book is everything that they’ve created in terms of the mythology, and so Lostpedia and other websites may have other things included in them, including other dimensional offshoots of the show like ARGs, Mysteries of the Universe, but the book is only going to be reflecting what Damon and Carlton want people to know about. While other sites and Lostpedia may talk about theories about what some things can mean, we’ll either say definitively, or we’ll write it in an open way because that’s exactly how Damon and Carlton want fans to want to understand about that particular entry. If something’s a little more existential, we want that to be reflected that way in our copy, because Damon and Carlton like it when people talk about something, and there can be different interpretations. In some ways, fandom would like to have the last word on everything, but Damon and Carlton always structured their mythology to be open ended in some areas. So when we’re allowed to say something more definitive, we’ll do it. But when they prefer it to be more open ended, all the facts will be there so that you can take those facts and make your own conclusion. So I think that’s the distinguisher from a lot of the online material, and if fans are looking for the definitive canon for something, this is the only place you’ll get it all in one spot.

Sam: So there won’t be another book three or four years down the road-- this will be the most definitive version.

Tara: Yes. That’s why it’s including all six seasons, that’s why we talked to Gregg Nations and Damon and Carlton about everything we’ve written. There hasn’t been an entry that hasn’t passed through the writing team. All of the material has come from ABC, it’s come from behind-the-scenes people on the show, all of the pictures from the episodes and of the props are from internal, so there shouldn’t be a reason for something else. We’re writing it like everything is complete, so there isn’t going to be a volume two, or a “this is what we really meant” volume three years down the line. It’s fresh from their minds, everything that they wanted to say, wanted to reflect, all in one place, in this book.


Sam: Thanks for doing this interview with me, and I can’t wait to read my copy of the encyclopedia as soon as I get it.

Tara: Yeah, we’re really excited! I mean, first and foremost, Paul and I have always been fans of this show. I saw the pilot right after it got picked up in May of 2004, and was completely blown away by it, and started doing my first interviews the month after. I’ve been on this journey as a fan from the very, very beginning. Paul and I have always approached what we’re doing with this book as, if it doesn’t meet our criteria as fans– if we wouldn’t want to spend our money on it and read it– then it’s not passing in terms of an entry or in terms of our content, so we’ve always thought that the fans have to love this and be happy with this, otherwise we’re not doing our job. So, we respect and love the fandom, and to disappoint it would break our hearts. Hopefully, that lets the fandom know that we’re in it seriously, and the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into this book for the last six months have been making sure it’s worthy of what the fans expect. It’s such an honor that we were chosen to do this. We won’t put our name on anything that isn’t done right, especially with the LOST name on it. We love it too much and we respect it too much, so it has to be right. There’s also the fact that everything we’re writing is going to Gregg Nations, who sends it to Damon and Carlton if there’s any question. How embarrassing would it be if we wrote something horrible, and they sent it back going, “What in the world was that?” [laughs] So it has to be awesome, because it’s not, we’re going to completely embarrass the heck out of ourselves.

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