It was Australian New Wave films of the 1970s that drove Damon Lindelof to relocate the third season of The Leftovers to Melbourne.
“Tom Spezialy, who came on as a producer between the (first) 2 seasons asked me if I had seen Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave? I said, ‘Of course I’ve seen them’ but he said ‘You should watch them again,'” he recalls.
“There’s something about the way these movies feel. They’re sort of supernatural movies but nothing overtly supernatural happens in them.
“There’s something strange, magical and off-kilter (here) without taking itself too seriously here. It’s a little wonderful, a little frightening and there’s something crackling in the energy of those movies.
“We saw Walkabout, Wake in Fright… we thought ‘Let’s stop ripping off these movies, and just go!’”
The relocation is the second for the HBO series, which previously moved from New York to Austin, Texas. Filming for the third season took place in Austin, Melbourne, Broken Hill and the You Yangs.
Lindelof is reluctant to say how the storyline weaves its way down under but says Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn, pictured top) left for Australia at some point in Season 2.
“He’s been wandering the continent and his journeys are basically culminating in the Melbourne area in and around the time that the rest of the show is basically colliding with him.
“The second season was about relocating but this season is not,” he explains.
“This season is a little bit more about a journey and the majority of that takes place in Australia. But it doesn’t feel like the characters are fixed in any one location. They are all moving towards a common destination.”
The Australian films by directors such as Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Ted Kotcheff and Nicholas Roeg all tapped into worldly questions that fitted with The Leftovers universe. Lindelof couldn’t resist the lure of the location.
“There’s an idea embedded in those movies: ‘Am I losing my mind? Is that a bad thing?’” he asks.
“It’s a natural part of human nature if things aren’t going well for you in a particular geographical area then you blame the geographical area.
“The line between reality and non-reality is irrelevant. The emotional experience of the characters is only thing that’s relevant.”
“The resolution is never going to be related to the solving of mysteries”
The HBO series is an adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel about 2% of the world’s population vanishing in the “Sudden Departure.” It’s a premise that lends itself to plenty of deep mysteries, but Lindelof chose not to pursue the traditional Hollywood path.
“The most compelling reason (to watch) would be ‘Where did they go? Why them?’ But we’re never going to do (that),” he insists.
“So can you make it interesting when you’re not going to deal with the most obvious and compelling angle of the show? Our viewership would be significantly higher if we’d decided to write that version of the show. But after 4 episodes people would say, ‘What a w*nk!’ That said, it doesn’t mean the characters on the show aren’t starting to get compelled with that idea.
“The characters don’t know the show is ending, but the audience does. So there is this expectation of moving the characters into a space of resolution. But on The Leftovers the resolution is never going to be related to the solving of mysteries. It will be related to the character journeys.”
But within that narrative lays plenty of rich territory, even though the storylines have now exceeded the original book.
“The most interesting part of Tom’s book….. is if this really happened and 2% of the world’s population disappeared, and everybody lost a loved one…. it would be so emotionally destabilising.
“It’s hard enough to be in relationships with our families and spouses as it is.
“It’s hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable, make compromise, and attach to someone. But this event gives everybody the perfect excuse to detach,” he explains.
“So the fundamental question of the show is: can people be together? Can you find comfort in one another knowing that at any second they can be torn from you?
“The show is basically taking characters who are really inclined to be lone wolves and seeing if they can survive in a pack. Season 1 ended with the idea that ‘Pack is good.’ Season 2 ended with ‘Pack is good.’ But Season 3 is saying ‘Can the Pack last?’”
Lindelof knew the final scene of the series he wanted to make before heading to Australia, but was showrunning episodes on the ground in Australia, from scripting to shooting. Many of the crew were Australian, including one of 2 Directors of Photography, and there are Australian actors -including Indigenous- who feature throughout.
“The first 4 episodes are designed to set up the story but then episode 5 – 8 you are starting to get curtain calls,” he continues.
“It doesn’t mean we are killing people off but (actors are) singing their big song and they leave the stage.
“The ambition of the storytelling has been hampered by trying to squeeze everything into 8 episodes and still having the show be emotional. Every episode we really tried to centre on a singular point of view, and in some cases just 2.
“That limits you because there are so any other characters you’re not getting to service.”
“The way that people are watching Television has changed so radically”
Over its 2 seasons The Leftovers has also developed a cult audience, with many of its devotees discovering it in binge sessions well after its launch.
“The way that people are watching Television has changed so radically, just in the last 5 years or so. If I’m going to watch a show it either has to be so engaging with its premise or, more normally, I just start to hear it in the zeitgeist. Press, friends in the media, people I follow (say) ‘You need to be watching this thing.’ But it’s so daunting!
“You have to say to someone when you recommend The Wire, ‘You have to power through the first 4 episodes.’ It’s not because they’re bad, but because it requires this thing we call Entertainment. By all metrics of the word, The Wire is not ‘entertaining.’
“But it’s amazing.”
But if Lindelof’s body of work, which includes the hit series Lost, tells us anything then those looking for concrete answers, such as what happened to that 2%, may need to look beyond the horizon.
“The thing that activates me most in storytelling –but it’s also the thing that bites me in the ass the most- is that I’m really engaged by mystery,” he admits.
“I want to live in that space of mystery which means you don’t really answer ever question definitively. That feels much more like life, really.”
The Leftovers returns 8:30pm Thursday April 20 on Showcase.