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Lost Director Jack Bender on the Series Finale

Just as Lost ends on Sunday, so end our weekly Lost Q&As. For our final installment, we spoke to the director of not just the finale that’s airing Sunday night, but also the director who most likely directed whatever your favorite episode of Lost happens to be, Jack Bender. Thanks to Jeff Fordis at ABC for dealing with our weekly panicked e-mails. Also, thanks to the Vulture commenters for supplying terrific questions week after week so we could ask questions ranging from porn to Desmond Hume pickup lines without, you know, actually having to ask ourselves. Bender gives us some behind-the-scenes stories of shooting the finale, discusses his relationship with certain actors (including the dearly departed Mr. Eko), what episode he wishes he had a do-over on, why he’s not always a fan of Smokey, and told us how, exactly, to tell on Sunday night what was the last scene ever filmed for Lost.

When directing the character, is there really much of a difference directing Jack Shephard and this new all-powerful god Jack Shephard?
One of the things about all of our actors … whether it was Terry O’Quinn who started to inhabit the smoke monster toward the end of last season, a season before he knew where it was going because I didn’t tell him. He subliminally started to channel that darkness and just went down that path. Damon, Carlton, and I always talk about — from the writing end and me from the executive-producing and directing end — we don’t know if we write Lost or if Lost writes us. And Matthew Fox, along those lines, it was a progression — him getting to this point; his character letting go and realizing that there was a greater purpose to his reason for being on the island and at one point that would be revealed to him. It’s true of all the actors, but Matthew and I work beautifully together. He comes extremely prepared. We have had many creative — capital “C” — disagreements and arguments because we’re both very strong willed. And we have come to this wonderful place together where we are completely and utterly in sync with the work. That’s been a real, wonderful, element of the show.

You directed every Lost season finale. Did you approach directing the series finale any differently?
Well, yeah, of course I did. Basically, making our show was so difficult in terms of the elements; the amount of scope; what we’re attempting to put on the screen based on the scripts; the balance of the action adventure quotient of our show; the intimacy of character; and making sure the actors were framed to do the best work they could do. Even the fact that I had directed and was the creative head in Hawaii — I directed so many episodes — I never once approached an episode thinking, Oh, I’ve got this down. Our show never became easy. Every time I stepped up to the plate, I went, “Oh, fuck, I better not strike out on this one.” I guess I always feel that way, whether I was doing The Sopranos or anything, but this show always demanded the best of us. The finale was enormously challenging and big on every level. It was like a big ol’ movie — two-and-a-half-hours’ worth. On a character level, it was enormously challenging and emotional. And the thing that’s different this time, even though we were all just one foot in front of the other, it was emotionally very clear to all of us that it was the end. And at times that would hit you like a ton of bricks. You’d go, “Oh my God, this is the last time we’re going to be shooting on this beach.” I kind of made a running joke at times like, “Aw, this is the last time Sawyer and Kate are going to get pissed off at each other.” That’s a long-winded way of saying, “Yes, it was very different.”

You mentioned The Sopranos. It’s been a few years and people still talk about “Made in America.” Do you feel the added pressure of knowing that people will be talking about this episode, whether it’s well received or not, for a very long time?
There was one particular scene — I won’t tell you which one; you can call me after the finale when you’ve seen it — it’s a fairly climactic scene. And we had carved out a good portion of our day to do it and I was really feeling the weight of that scene — not to sound pretentious — and what I knew what the actors had to deliver and what I had to orchestrate. Even though my approach on the show has always been that I just want to frame the characters in a way that’s appropriate for the scene in the story and nothing visually gimmicky or pretentious about it; I wanted our show to always be about actors in the real world, whether it was the island world or the sideways or flashback of flash forward world. That particular scene, I found myself somewhat turbulent and really concerned that we get it right, and thank God we did.

We’re assuming the Lost finale was not shot chronologically. Can you tell us what to look for on Sunday so we can know when we’re watching what the actual last scene shot was?
I can tell you there was some discussion about what would be the last shot, and I decided that I wanted the last shot to involve Terry O’Quinn and Matthew Fox. And it was not an entirely popular choice on the production end because it meant keeping the actors a little longer and not getting them off of the clock. Blah blah blah. I insisted the last shot of our series was not going to be something arbitrary. In fact, we did three takes of it. And it involved a crane. It was a shot in the picture and it involved a crane with the two of them. We rehearsed it and we did take one and I said, “Well, that was wonderful guys, but I’m not ready to let go yet.” So we did it again and I said, “That was also wonderful, but I can’t say it yet.” And then, on the third take, I said, “Well, I guess I have to say it now — that’s a wrap.” And that was our last shot, at 5:30 in the morning as the sun was coming up.

We have some questions from Vulture readers. EllenJudith wants to thank you for lending your expertise to the show and wants to know who your favorite actor was to direct?
Well, thank Ellen for me. Believe me, it was my pleasure. You know what, it’s like asking me to pick out my favorite daughter and I only have two. You love them for different reasons. There’s no question that some were more challenging at times than others. Terry O’Quinn and I always clicked and saw eye to eye. I did the good chunk of episodes, from “Walkabout” on, which was where we really found the show. I did a lot of the iconic Locke episodes as the schedule worked out and he and I rarely butted heads. And as I said about Matthew Fox, which was really interesting, he and I had a lot of really creative disagreements. And we would hammer away at each other and work out a way to take a little bit away from what the other guy was saying. It was only the last year or two when there was less fire between us and probably more water where we were — just flowing in the same direction. I guess there are one or two people over the years, who are no longer on the show, who maybe we didn’t appreciate each others’ gifts as much as we would have liked to.

Like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje?
[Laughs.] Oh … that’s possible. Adewale is an extraordinary person and really gifted and complex, and I don’t know if his experience on Lost is what he would point to as one of the most enjoyable experiences of his life. Even though he was probably ultimately proud of what he did, and certainly the audience found Mr. Eko very compelling.

Davidmcg’s favorite episode of yours was “The Constant.” What is your favorite?
It’s so hard to say what’s my favorite episode, it falls in the category of “What’s my favorite Beatles song?” [A voice in the background yells, “‘The Constant’!”] “The Constant,” my wife just walked by and said. “The Constant” certainly was incredibly challenging because it was the first time, directorially, that I really had to find the language for how we were going to slip in and out of time. Once again, the focus on characters is what came to me. We came up with transitions that weren’t going to rely on tricky gimmickry. We just tried to focus on where Desmond was one moment and what his confusions were. That was obviously challenging, but the results were really gratifying.

Maybe this is easier: EllenJudith also wants to know if there’s an episode you directed that you wish you could redo?
Actually, there is one. And, oddly enough, it’s the death of Mr. Eko. I don’t think that was my finest hour and I think the script sort of relied too heavily on a ghost story. I would have preferred a more emotional good-bye to that character.

It was pretty quick …
Well, it was quick, and it was also him seeing his dead brother and running around and ghosts in the jungle. And I think I could have shot some of that stuff a little more effectively. And, yet, the script was what the script was. It was kind of a ghost story. And I think, probably, looking back on that, from the writers to me, we could all look back and go, “You know what, that probably wasn’t our finest hour and we probably could have done a better episode saying good-bye to that character.” There were also certain smoke-monster sequences that I thought ended up looking really cheesy early on. In fact, the death of Eko, when he was getting thrown around those trees … Shooting that scene was not easy and when you saw Mr. Eko just getting pulled and thrown into these trees, this big man, it was very scary. But the more smoke-monster shots they added to it, the sillier it became. It’s kind of like the monster under the water: You don’t want to see it all the time. So seeing him just getting dragged around was really effective … and then adding ten more smoke-monster shots than we designed, at the end of the day, probably wasn’t the strongest way to do it.

Annie_in_NY wonders what you will miss most?
Everything. I’ll miss the writing; my relationship with Damon and Carlton and the other writers; I will miss Hawaii … Even though I’ve been asked to go back and do another show right now, which I’m not going to do. When I go back to Hawaii to do a show in the future … it was too soon to go back and not be doing Lost. I’ll miss the crew; I’ll miss the actors and the extraordinary relationship creatively we all had. Do you know what else I will miss? I’ll miss doing a show that took the world and spun it around a little faster.

Lost Director Jack Bender on the Series Finale