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 "Lostâ€ 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 "Lostâ€ 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,â€ 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.