Producer vs. viewer bibles

18Jan09

In today’s NY Times, there’s an interesting profile of Gregg Nations, the script coordinator of Lost, whose job includes maintaining the continuity bible for the show. For me, the most interesting part is this paragraph:

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.”

Now any serious Lost fan knows that such a database exists in Lostpedia. And I’d imagine that anyone who spends time trying to follow a complex narrative like Lost would find that the interlinked wiki interface of Lostpedia would be far more robust and user-friendly than a set of linear Word docs.

This comparison raises some key questions for me. First, why wouldn’t the production team outsource the maintenance of the story bible to the fans? This seems like a clear instance of fan labor being able to do a task much more efficiently than the producers – fans regularly update Lostpedia within minutes of new information becoming available, and are passionate about making the links between pages and storylines. The example of dropped information that Nations mentions in the article is the location of Naomi’s body – Lostpedia had it correct all along.

I understand that this mode of outsourcing would be uncomfortable in many ways, as you need to put your trust in anonymous crowds. Plus it violates an underlying assumption of creators: that the writer knows more than the viewer. This points to two different modes of knowledge within a complex story like Lost. Writers certainly do know much more about upcoming and unexpressed information and events – they knew who was in the coffin far before we did, and they know the answers to many mysteries that persist on Lostpedia. If we could look at the producer bible, it would certainly reveal much that is currently unknown to the fans.

But viewers in the collective site of Lostpedia know much more about what has been seen on the show – I have no doubt that the summaries and organization of onscreen info is much more accurate and clear on Lostpedia than in Nations’s documents. There are a number of instances when I’ve read or heard producers being interviewed when they seem to forget or misrepresent a detail or event that happened in the show – such mistakes are quickly corrected (and discussed) on Lostpedia. This echoes back to the history of daytime soaps, where longterm viewers often have much more mastery of the storyworld than producers. I guess I’m disappointed that the Times article didn’t bother mentioning the existence of an alternative bible for the show’s continuity and the possibilities of fan knowledge production.

Once it’s all said and done in 2010, I hope to talk with the producers, and hopefully gain access to Nations’s documents. I’m not interested to see which is more accurate per se, but rather to get a sense of the very different systems of knowledge organization, depth, and breadth between the producer and viewer created bibles. Such a comparison would hopefully give us a better sense of the different ways that technology and narrative practices can organize a storyworld.



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