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Lost in Hawaii: Executive Producer Reveals Secrets, Stunts, Travel Tips

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The final episode of Lost has been filmed, and in just a few weeks we’ll know all the secrets of the island (we're joking, of course—this show is bound to leave us guessing). But what we can know, in certain terms, is what it was like to shoot on Oahu and the location of the survivors’ beach camp. We can also discover how the crew created a Tunisian desert and a snowy Buffalo, New York, on a lush tropical island. Or why John Locke is so good at throwing knives and Kate seems so comfortable climbing into the jungle canopy. We caught up with executive producer Jean Higgins to find out some of the secrets of the show. Then check out our Lost travel guide, so you can see the island like an Oceanic Flight 815 castaway (without the smoke monster).—Mary Anne Potts

Were other locations considered before Oahu was selected for filming? What were they? Why Hawaii?
The original location scout for the pilot occurred before I joined the show. The producers had decided that Australia was probably the best place for Lost, based on the research they had done. They were headed for Australia with a stopover in Hawaii, but at the last minute they decided to take a look at Hawaii before continuing on. They spent a couple of days on Oahu and found everything they needed. No one ever went to Australia. When it is right, you select the place and get to work. I joined the show the day they returned because I heard it was going to be in Hawaii, a place I fell in love with when I was 13 and learned to surf there.

Hawaii had the perfect blend of beaches, jungles, and arid areas. And once our writers developed the idea of the flashback story for our characters, Honolulu and the rest of the island was utilized for everything from war-torn Iraq to Korea, Britain, Berlin, and Moscow with snow.

The show has really spanned the globe in all seasons. How did you accommodate such diverse settings from a tropical island?
I think the words "adapt" and "innovate" would best sum up the production of Lost. It was always a challenge to get a script with descriptions like, "We are in the Tunisian desert … " It is a credit to our Location and Art departments that they could come up with things like the coral quarry on the west side of the island that became the Tunisian desert. With the help of horses, costumes, and a little green screen to extend the horizon, we were there.

The first time we were asked to do snow it was supposed to be winter in Buffalo, New York. I thought on that one for a while … Suddenly came to me that because we were on an island, all the food had to be shipped in or out on refrigerated ships. We just had to find the company that blew ice into the holds of the ships and we would have snow. It took ten dump trucks full of shaved ice, and we had to shoot quickly because the temperature was about 80 degrees. But we made half a block of Chinatown in Honolulu look like Buffalo.

The beauty of making Lost was that we all agreed when we started that we would push the envelope artistically. I never wanted to tell the writers, “We can't do this;” we had to find a way. The scripts were so well written and the characters so well drawn that the production needed to be on that level as well.

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But we were on a piece of real estate that is farther away from any other landmass on the planet. So due to our location, we were a "low tech" show. We could not call the rental house in Hollywood and order up what we needed for the day, we had to figure out different ways around our challenges to get the shots we wanted. For example, lacking certain types of motion picture cranes on the island, we developed what became a standing joke with the crew, a "ladderpod" [pictured above]. Our grips took three aluminum extension ladders and married them together with a plate designed to accept a camera head. It became a way to get high shots where you could not take a crane or another device.

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Locke is always throwing knives. Richard just did a major scene on horseback. Kate seems to always be up and down trees. Desmond goes sailing. Sawyer took a canoe over to the other island. Do the actors get special training in specific adventure skills before shooting?
Our cast members are excellent physical actors, as well as being wonderful actors who can play the range of emotion called for. Terry O'Quinn (John Locke) is a consummate actor. Knowing that he would be called upon to throw the knives, he practiced for hours.

Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert) had a part this year where his character was in the 1800s and he had to ride a horse. When we asked Nestor if he could ride, he told us he could but had not for some time. We gave him some "brush up" lessons to make sure that he was comfortable with the horse he would ride and the period saddle that was required.

Evangeline Lilly (Kate Austen) is a natural tree hugger. She did most of her own climbing—there is a harness and safety line that you cannot see and a stunt coordinator standing by for safety.

Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond Hume) sails the boat in the story. But the sailboats we used are large. They have to be to fit the actors and the crew filming them—so they cannot be sailed by one person, so there was usually someone below deck helping out.

Josh Holloway (James "Sawyer" Ford) has had a boat of his own for a long time. He was a natural paddler, and if you look we usually put him in the steersman position at the back, which is the most difficult. And of course, everyone gets gun training from the propmen, who have the weapons license.

When Sawyer jumped out of the helicopter in Season 5, did he do his own stunt?
Sawyer jumping out of the helicopter was a great shot. I am lucky because in addition to producing Lost in Hawaii, I get to be 2nd Unit Director for all of the aerial and underwater sequences. Having an actor jump out of a helicopter is far too dangerous. ABC and the Insurance department would never let us have Josh jump out of a helicopter, and rightly so. From a studio-production standpoint, if injured, he would be unable to continue filming, which is why we have stunt doubles. Michael Trissler—our Stunt Coordinator—and Josh's stunt double did the jump from 90 feet. If it is a question of running or jumping logs while racing through the jungle, then the actors usually do it themselves. Our Greens department would go through the path and removed anything that will trip or cause harm prior to us shooting.

Each scene looks to be in complete wilderness. Is that the case, or is civilization just out of view?
Many of our scenes are far into the wild. All of our vans used to transport cast and crew and stakebed trucks are four-wheel drive. Each department also has a fleet of "mules," or ATV vehicles capable of carrying equipment. There are some beautiful places, like Kualoa Ranch, which we use often. Kualoa is the exquisitely beautiful valley with the high walls. Legend has it that the valley is so beautiful that the Hawaiians, when paddling by in their canoes, were not allowed to look at it unless they were royalty.

And while all the scenes appear to be completely in the wilderness, many times we are at the edge of the road. This is the film business, and while we want the look wild, we still have to be fiscally responsible. Trekking far into the wild takes time, which is time which could be spent filming. And time of course is money. We have a budget for visual effects to remove telephone poles and paint out buoys and boats in the ocean, which occur from time to time.

Where is the beach where the survivors have their camp? Is it somewhere travelers can go?
The survivor beach camp was located at Police Beach. This is a private beach owned by the Kamehameha Trust, located east of Halie'wa on the North Shore. They have been wonderful to us—it is the best backlot I have ever had. It is roughly 500 acres of beaches, coves, jungle, coconut grove, and savannah. We were able to shoot many, many diverse scenes there. We could be arriving on a beach in the morning and shooting a scene in the deep jungle the same night. Travelers can see one of the small beaches we have used, called Markers Cove, which is right next to the property.

How about the jungle? Is that in a park?
There are many jungle areas that we use. We have always differentiated between the jungles—you will see the lush, green jungles; the jungle with the vines hanging down; and then what we referred to as the "dark territory" jungles. The stunning dark jungles are located along the Old Pali Road, just a couple of miles from downtown Honolulu. These are beautiful, original growth jungles with incredible banyan trees. We have done a lot of work along the Judd Trail, which is open to the public and a wonderful hike. This same look can be found in the Manoa area north of the university. We have used jungles in He'eia (an unincorporated park not open to the public), at Kualoa Ranch, and, of course, at our own Police Beach location. We have also a different kind of jungle at the Turtle Bay Hotel and Resort. There is a stand of banyan trees there that take your breath away. We have used the jungle at Waimea Falls Park, which is an arboretum, bird sanctuary, and has a waterfall. Waimea is open to the public and I would definitely recommend it. And, of course, just opposite on the ocean side is the incredible Waimea Bay, where we have also shot.

Did aspects of indigenous Hawaiian culture influence any of the sets or scenes?
The Hawaiian culture did not influence our on-screen persona—if you look at the temples and the architecture of the sets our cultural roots were more a combination of Egyptian, Roman, and Asian. But the culture definitely affected our living and working styles—all for the better. We truly became an ohana, family in the Hawaiian language, both at work and off hours. The crew was close-knit and kickball tournaments, surfing at lunch and on weekends happened all the time. I also think the cast was able to have a much more private life thanks to the Hawaiian culture. If we had been in Hollywood, they would have been hounded by the press. But here there is a much more "give them their space" laid-back approach. The cast could actually go to the beach and not be bothered. It was only if some mainland newspaper had sent over some paparazzi that they were hounded.

How have you dealt with or embraced the weather associated with the tropical climate? Did any tropical critters cause problems?
Hawaii truly is a paradise. There is nothing here that can really trouble you and nothing that will kill you. There are no snakes–only one, in the zoo, Monty the Python. There are snake fences at the airport and if one is detected coming in from one of the planes (they get in the wheel wells), there is an entire patrol that goes after it. There are no sand mites or leaches. What they do have are small scorpions (painful, but not deadly) and centipedes (also painful, but not deadly). We always had to be careful when we went back to the survivor camp after shooting other places for a while. We would have to make sure all the bedding, airline seats, and tents were shaken out to make sure the scorpions and centipedes had not taken up residence.

Here in Hawaii, we have only the wet season and the dry season. If it rains, it only rains for an hour or so and then passes through, so we'd just wait it out. It makes for difficult shooting days, but we never stop shooting even with delays of up to an hour and a half. Sometimes the rain is so light that even though we are getting wet you cannot see it through the lens, so we'd keep shooting. But in Season 2, it rained for 42 days straight. We were about to have the Construction crew start building an ark! We juggled our shooting schedule and so never stopped shooting, but there are a lot of wet sequences in that season. The biggest problem with the constantly changing sky as clouds blow through is for our Director of Photography, who has to make the lighting match from shot to shot no matter what the sun is doing at the moment.

Do the cast and crew have any favorite off-hours adventures? Kayaking? Hiking? Diving? Can you tell us who and where?
The cast does pretty much everything everyone else does here—lots of swimming, most of them surf, some windsurfing, some of them scuba dive, lots of them hike. Ian is a runner. I think the nicest thing is that they have a lot of time with their families for these kinds of activities. The cast is spread out on the island with many of them in Kailua, some in Hawaii Kai, some in Kahala, and one is out on the North Shore. (And if I told you who and where then I would be violating their privacy!)

Lost Adventure Guide: 

Adventure Trips
“There are some beautiful places, like Kualoa Ranch, which we use often. Kualoa is the exquisitely beautiful valley with the high walls.” The ranch offers half- and full-day adventure trips in horseback riding, ocean voyaging, jungle exploration, and even a Jurassic Park tour (no doubt they will add a Lost tour in good time).

Beach Camp
"The survivor beach camp was located at Police Beach. This is a private beach owned by the Kamehameha Trust, located east of Halie'wa on the North Shore. It is roughly 500 acres of beaches, coves, jungle, coconut grove, and savannah. Travelers can see one of the small beaches we have used, called Markers Cove, which is right next to the property.”

Jungle
“The stunning dark jungles are located along the Old Pali Road, just a couple of miles from downtown Honolulu. These are beautiful, original growth jungles with incredible banyan trees. We have done a lot of work along the Judd Trail, which is open to the public and a wonderful hike.” Judd Memorial Trail is a short loop that crosses the Nuuanu Stream and traverses the north-facing hillside through bamboo, eucalyptus and Norfolk Island pine groves. 

“We have also a different kind of jungle at the Turtle Bay Hotel and Resort. There is a stand of banyan trees there that take your breath away.” Just a 45-minute drive from Honolulu, this 443-room luxury resort offers villas, cottages, standard rooms, and suites.  “We have used the jungle at Waimea Falls Park, which is an arboretum, bird sanctuary, and has a waterfall.” This 1,800 acre historical nature park is located in the lush green Waimea Valley on O'ahu's famous North Shore.

See more Hawaii photos here

Photographs courtesy of ABC, Jean Higgins