“Lost” in Translation
Remember the hit TV show “Lost”? I co-created it.
Okay, not really. But sort of really. Or maybe I did in a parallel dimension. I’m not sure.
This may seem an odd claim to make since I never actually watched “Lost.” Back in the mid 2000s, I was more of a Gallactica kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, “Lost” seemed well produced and engaging. But I just never tuned in. Besides, I was busy.
Some of my friends from college weren’t buying the too-busy argument. The claimed that my refusal to watch had deeper issues. Plumbing the psyche kind of stuff. My good friend, Fred, laid into me over beers one night at St. Nicks, a dive bar for the perennially struggling in Hollywood.
“Dude, you gotta watch “Lost!” It’s amazing! That hard sci-fi stuff you love!” he practically shouted at me.
“Meh, I’m busy and it looks silly.” I responded quietly.
I looked down. A place of cold onion rings sitting on the table. It smelled like feet. I ate one.
“Besides,” I added, “It’s just Survivor with scary music and less boobies.”
“It’s not, dude, I promise. It’s seriously good storytelling. You’d love it.”
He poked at the ‘rings. He was having none of it. The rings, or my bullshit.
“Just not my thing.” I took a swig of Blue Moon. Could still taste residual ring slime.
“C’mon. We both know what you’re not watching it. It’s because of Damon.”
“It’s not because of Damon!”
“It’s all right, just admit it! You’re jealous of him.”
“I don’t care about Damon! I got my own life. And it’s good. I have things like… these onion rings. Onion rings are good.”
Onion rings are good. Even cold. I ate another one.
Fred looked at me and sighed.
“Dude, I love you like a brother. but you have issues.”
I do have issues. Fred was right.
Damon was one of my first friends and collaborators during my freshman year at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts film school. We became writing partners in two classes. We spent many days planning projects and riffing on our futures in Hollywood.
Watching Damon soar to success in Hollywood in the mid 2000s was a disquieting sensation that could best be described as involuntary anal pucker. I was a struggling screenwriter and post-producer building a mediocre career in commercial advertising. You know the talking blob of mucus in the Mucinex commercials? That was probably the highlight. When Damon’s career went nuclear hot, around 2006, I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Los Feliz, eating frozen dinners, and struggling to finish a screenplay I wanted to bonfire with shark laserbeams and a bag of flaming poo. I’d also just started a blog called “Hot Chicks with Douchebags” out a mix of sexual constipation and cultural rage. But that’s a story for another time.
Damon and I first met during freshman orientation at NYU in August of 1991. Both arrogant dickheads. Both obsessive film fanatics. Both thrilled to have been accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Damon was from Jersey. I was from Boston. Nerdy Jewish movie-obsessed suburbanites filled with ambition in film school were not exactly rare in those days. We were similar. And so we bonded.
We met during some “Welcome to NYU!” freshman meet and greet when the dean gave us the lecture about how special we were to be there. My dorm roommate, a drama major named Chris Finnigan, was the only person I had actually become friendly with in the forty-eight hours I had lived in New York. Chris went on to become a highly successful comedian in film and television. But at the time, we were two dorky eighteen year olds, unsure of how the hell we’d ended up in New York or what to do next. But as much as I dug Chris, I knew was hanging with the drama majors was going to get me nowhere. I had to meet another film student.
Since it was 1991, I was wearing the requisite backwards baseball cap. Do not judge me. No seriously. For I will hunt down your school pics from 1991 and mock your ass as well. The backwards baseball cap was standard-issue to identify one’s self as a film major. Drama students wore scarves. Screenwriters wore tweed. But film students wore backwards baseball caps.
I noticed another freshman who had one on as well standing near me. He looked me up and down. Noticed my Red Sox cap, turned at requisite 180 degree angle, and shot me a question.
“Yo, you a film major?”
“The cap, right?”
“The cap. But what’s up with the Red Sox?”
“You’re in New York now.”
“Where you from?”
“Your cap says Yankees.”
“Jersey ain’t New York.”
“Touche, mon frere. I’m Ferris.”
“Ferris? As in Bueller.”
“It’s my nickname. Got it in high school. Everyone said I was just like Ferris Bueller.”
“Okay then, Ferris it is.”
From there it was film school simpatico. We bonded over a love of Star Wars and The Coen Brothers. And swore we would own Hollywood someday.
On my second or third night in New York, Damon invited me to join him at a screening of “Barton Fink” at small art cinema on 8th Street. A number of film freshman were there. Sizing each other up. Who was the competition? Who were the serious filmmakers? Who were the wannabes?
Even in those first days, we were hyper-aware that some of us would go on to unbridled glory, fame and success. Others would drop out of the Movie Lottery and reenter the real world. This was long before the mid-1990s indie film fantasy sold fraudulent KevinSmithitudes to every schmoe in range of a video camera. We were still exclusive. The youngest of the Star Wars generation to make it to college. To be a film major was to take a flying leap into the unknown. Massive rewards. Huge risks. Glamour. Hot actresses. A time when film was still film. And video was for pussies.
There wasn’t even a Tarantino yet. Just Scorsese. And Spike Lee. We were at the same school they went to, so we were next in line. Star Wars had marked the beginning of our lives, since we were four years old when it came out. Goodfellas marked the bookend. Goodfellas was the dream.
As we came out of Barton Fink, a film we quickly agreed was a masterpiece, the pop culture references riffed among us like freestyle rap. We were on a collective rush. We were eighteen-year-olds on our own for the first time, steeped in the VHS pre-internet movie subculture that only the most encyclopedic of film-nerds could keep up with. It was a climate of intense competition mixed with unbridled teenage ambition. All stirred by the cocktail of life in the still-dangerous city of Manhattan.
We went for burgers and fries at some greasy diner on 8th street. I asked Ferris to be my partner for Sound Image, a radio drama class we were both taking in the fall semester. Ferris agreed.
And so I’d found my first professional partner in the film industry.
Our biggest collaboration for Sound Image was a project we wrote together called “Go To Hell.” A six or seven minute “apocalypse” comedy, the plot was unusually ambitious for a medium without images.
The preamble begins with a nuclear holocaust accidentally being launched from a nuclear silo by two bumbling lieutenants (voiced by Damon and myself). We then cut to an underground submarine vehicle able to tunnel through pure rock. It’s heading for the center of the earth. On the ship, we meet three men, the last three survivors on earth. They’re being led by a blind Messiah, Judah, and his seeing eye dog. Judah had a vision that he must build his “Ark” and lead the last survivors on earth to tunnel to Hell. Once there, Judah senses that a major event will take place.
We then meet God and the Devil. God has the voice of a sexy woman, as it should be in a just universe. The Devil, of course, was German.
A falsetto-voiced creature, Goblin, appears as Satan’s personal assistant and groveling creature of the underworld. Or something. Goblin explains the premise of the entire universe. God and the Devil are engaged in a competition to win the most souls. Whomever has the most souls at the end of civilization wins the universe. Then they create a new universe, and the game starts all over again.
As our three souls reach Hell, we reveal that the Devil is up by one soul. The fate of the three men will decide the “game.” But their choice has to be voluntary. And so the courting begins.
That was the premise. We wrote it in a haze in Damon’s dorm room one afternoon. But the piece went over extremely well, and our professor even entered it in a radio competition of some sort. Although I never found out if we won.
Here’s a very poorly mixed version that I dug up recently. Listen for yourself. It runs about 7 minutes:
Damon and I are the voices at the beginning of the piece playing Lieutenants Frost and Allen (named after two of our professors at NYU). It was Damon’s idea to start with the biting of the apple (the fall from grace), and then he and I toss the apple back and forth before starting global thermonuclear war. Later, Damon also voices David, one of the followers of Judah, the blind prophet who leads the expedition on the rock-tunneling ship to Satan’s underground dwelling. We never explained how one of the lieutenants who started the war got there. Did I mention we were eighteen?
Time and memory have blurred the names of most of the classmates we cast in the other voices in the piece. Especially the hot blonde girl we cast because Damon and I were obsessed with her hotness (neither of us got anywhere). I have no memory of who played Judah. The voice of Satan was a German student named Oliver that helped us write the piece. A fellow student named Carlo Martinelli was the voice of Paul, the other follower of Judah, and Paul Hough played Goblin.
I voiced the dog.
Obviously, this silly, amateur radio drama made by a bunch of teenagers played no real role in Damon’s “Lost” odyssey. I call this the “Lost Demo” purely facetiously. I claim no connection or role in Damon’s success. He earned that on his own merits, and he deserves all the success he has found. But I’ve been told there are vague allusions to God and the Devil playing a temptation game on the island. So I got that going for me, along with total consciousness on my death bed.
When an oral history of “Lost” appeared as an article on Grantland in November, I read it with bemusement. I’ve long since processed the volatile mix of emotions that greeted me when I first watched Ferris/Damon win the Golden Globe for season one. Now I follow the guy on Twitter and he’s genuinely hilarious and self-deprecating. Any bitterness faded with my own career that popped up unexpectedly in the past few years.
What doesn’t come through in articles like the one on Grantland is the burning fuck-you ambition we all had back then. Once, when Ferris and I were eating lunch in Washington Square after class, he announced to me, out of the blue, “You know I love you, bro, but I’d fuck you over in a heartbeat if it’ll help my career. I just want you to know that now so you’re not mad later.” If you think that was a dick comment, it wasn’t. It was how we all felt. By Any Means necessary, as Spike Lee had written in his book, and my personal bible at the time, “Spike Lee’s Gotta Have it.” By any means necessary.
By Sophomore year, Damon befriended actor Jerry O’Connell and was on his way. We didn’t talk much over the next few years. After film school, I learned he was working in the mail room at a major talent agency. I always thought he’d have made a great agent.
Now I guess we can look back at “Go to Hell” as an audio curiosity of the early 1990s arcane.
An immature, silly piece of trifle made by kids.
But for me, it is a token reminder of that heady cocktail of potential and New York a-go-go. When the future was full of potential rocking chair sunsets on the kickass path to cinematic fame, glory, and hooking up with Winona Ryder. The internet wasn’t yet a pixelated glint in the digital pie. Cell phones were some jerkoff Jetsons fantasy. All we did was watch movies, hit on hot chicks, and play the film school lottery. Times were good.
Fare the well, Ferris. You’re a multimillionaire and an enormous success, and you deserve it. But at least I got to mock douchebags on MTV. And I discovered Snooki.
Crap. Maybe that radio drama was the highlight of my career.