tech tv

Lost / Story-wrangling systems

I've always been fas­ci­nat­ed by Lost, the intri­cate­ly-plot­ted TV series about the sur­vivors of a plane crash. On the sur­face, it's a new-fan­gled Gilligan's Island meets The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The goal is sim­ply to get off the island, and the sto­ry of doing so is advanced in par­al­lel with flash­backs that tell the sto­ries of the char­ac­ters. But the writ­ers go way big­ger than that, and after four sea­sons the sto­ry has woven threads of Lord of the Flies (in the way that social sys­tems devel­op among the sur­vivors), The Pris­on­er (in the dis­cov­ery of a mys­te­ri­ous group of peo­ple liv­ing on the island, known as "the Oth­ers") The X‑Files (in the occa­sion­al super­nat­ur­al events), and Rashomon (in its use of over­lap­ping flash­backs and con­test­ed tes­ti­monies) — among, I'm sure, others.With all that is going on in the sto­ry, I've always won­dered how the pro­duc­ers keep track of the var­i­ous threads. Well, as it turns out, there's a per­son called "script coor­di­na­tor" who is in charge of this. Gregg Nations, Lost's script coor­di­na­tor, described his role in a post to The Fuse­lage, described as "The Offi­cial Site of the Cre­ative Team Behind ABC's Award Win­ning TV Show Lost:"

A script coor­di­na­tor cre­ates the show bible, which is gen­er­al­ly a sum­ma­ry of each episode and tracks the intro­duc­tion of any new char­ac­ters or impor­tant sto­ry points. How­ev­er, on "Lost†it's a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult than usu­al. In place of a show bible I cre­at­ed a char­ac­ter bible, an island time­line and a flash­back timeline.In the char­ac­ter bible I track impor­tant facts about the char­ac­ters or oth­er ele­ments in the show estab­lished in the episodes, either through what the char­ac­ters tell each oth­er or the flash­backs. I track how many sur­vivors we have, who has died and their names, when we've seen the polar bears or the smoke mon­ster, every­thing about the hatch, when we've had con­tact with the Oth­ers, etc. Again, it's very detailed work but I think the writ­ers appre­ci­ate hav­ing all that infor­ma­tion at hand in a doc­u­ment so they don't have to wor­ry about it.The island time­line is a record of how many days they've been on the island and what hap­pened on what days. The flash­back time­line tracks the events that hap­pen in everyone's flashblacks.

So, the next ques­tion is: How the heck does he man­age all of those bibles and time­lines? Need­ing to visu­al­ize inter­con­nect­ed time­lines, you'd think that he'd use some­thing like a Gantt chart — maybe Microsoft Project? Or maybe he has some pro­pri­etary TV pro­duc­tion soft­ware that links the time­lines with char­ac­ter infor­ma­tion? As it turns out, his sys­tem is a lit­tle more low-fi. In a recent pro­file in the NYT, Nations briefly alludes to his meth­ods for man­ag­ing the details:

Had he a back­ground in com­put­er sci­ence, Mr. Nations now says, he might have approached the "Lost†project dif­fer­ent­ly. "The best thing would have been to cre­ate a data­base where everything's linked, and if we're talk­ing about Jack and what was estab­lished in his first flash­back episode, you could click on some­thing that takes you there,†he said. But as an accoun­tant, he was more inclined just to make notes in a ledger. "I've just cre­at­ed these Word doc­u­ments, and I just write every­thing down.â€

Nooooooooo. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Even the fan-gen­er­at­ed Lost wiki, Lost­pe­dia, is linked up in a rudi­men­ta­ry way, mak­ing it rough­ly 1000x more wran­gle-able than dis­con­nect­ed Word doc­u­ments. Still, like any Lost fan, I'm curi­ous to know what's in the "bible," even if it would be tor­tur­ous to find anything.

One reply on “Lost / Story-wrangling systems”

That's hilar­i­ous. A thou­sand years from now, peo­ple will still be cre­at­ing Word docs, but they'll think they're called "word docs" just because they con­tain words.

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