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"Lost on Oahu"

From the March/April 2006 issue of Hawaii magazine comes an article on the locations of Lost.

"Lost on Oahu" by Jennifer Crites

What do the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 mean to you? If you're a fan of Lost, ABC's award-winning Wednesday night drama, you know the answer -- well, sort of. While the show's creators have not been forthcoming about the significance behind these numbers (or the island's monster, or how the survivors' pasts are connected, or the "others," or the purpose of the hatch, or Dharma Industries...), one thing is clear: The uncharted, mysterious island in the middle of the Pacific that the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 now call home is really the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

How popular is Lost? Each episode draws more than 22 million viewers in 187 countries and territories around the world. The show won a Best Drama Emmy for its first season, and Lost: The Complete First Season still ranks near the Top 10 in DVD sales, even though it was released back in September 2005. Entertainment Weekly even named the cast as the 2005 Entertainers of the Year.

Enough with all the unknowns surrounding Lost, I decided. So I hit the road on the trail of Lost's secret shooting locations.

NORTH SHORE

My first stop: Oahu's North Shore and Mokuleia Beach -- Oceanic 815's crash site. Past Waialua, I stop at Mokuleia Beach Park to get my bearings. A windsurfer collapsing his sail gives me an amused, must-be-a-malahini (newcomer to the islands) look when I ask where the Lost crash scenes were filmed. "Down the road about a mile," he says. "If you get to Camp Erdman, you've gone too far."

Sure enough, at a beach across from Dillingham Airfield, I recognize some century plants from the DVD. When filming started here almost two years ago, several passersby called 9-1-1, thinking a plane actually had crashed!

The beach is just a few feet from the road -- a fact that made it accessible to trucks carrying mammoth aircraft parts but also created some problems, especially when the film crew spread sand across the road to extend the beach.

"We had to stop traffic because people were literally driving through the set," says Lost set decorator Rick Romer, an island resident who has worked on most of Hawaii's film productions since Hawaii Five-O. As for gawkers, "it wasn't bad during the filming of the pilot," he adds, "because no one knew who we were then."

Since that time, production has relocated. "Water (from large winter swells) was coming up into the plane," Romer says, "so we wrote that into the script, stored the plane and moved to Police Beach (near Haleiwa Beach Park)." The move pleased cast members, many of whom cited the new, secluded beach as their favorite shooting location.

"We had the sun beating down on us (at Mokuleia Beach)," notes Naveen Andrews, who plays Sayid, "and it was incredibly hot. Police Beach is more sheltered."

My next stop is Waimea Valley Audubon Center across from Waimea Bay. The ancient valley has appeared in several episodes, but its most recognizable shooting location is Waimea Falls. In one episode, Sawyer (played by Josh Holloway) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) jump off a cliff into a lagoon at the base of a waterfall, only to find two dead plane-crash victims still strapped to their seats underwater.

Visitors can trek three-quarters of a mile through the center's lush botanical gardens to swim in the lagoon, just as Kate and Sawyer did, but climbing or jumping off the rocks is not allowed. There's a lifeguard and the park even provides flotation vests to those who need them. But don't expect to see dummies strapped to airplane seats.

"The water wasn't clear enough, so we filmed the underwater scenes in a dive tank in Los Angeles and at Ko Olina (on Oahu's leeward side)," says Archie Ahuna, Lost's Emmy-winning special effects supervisor. To simulate the underwater look of a waterfall, Ahuna directed jets from several fire hoses into Ko Olina's serene lagoon.

Oahu's North Shore is home to many other Lost shooting locations, including the sandstone-encrusted coastline where Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), chased by Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), runs out of the jungle onto a beach and falls at the feet of Sawyer and Michael (Harold Perrineau Jr.), who washed up after their raft was destroyed. Here, also, you'll find the shrimp truck where Sawyer shot a man he thought was responsible for his parents' deaths.

WINDWARD SIDE

North of Kaneohe on Oahu's windward side, I stop at Heeia Kea pier to inquire about Lost, and I'm directed 200 yards up the road to the site of an unused Hawaiian Electric power station. Behind a chain-link fence sits Flight 815's cockpit, partially covered by a blue tarp. I'm pretending to be a tourist, so the guard allows me to take a picture as long as I stay outside the gate. Such strict security apparently is necessary.

"Some guys posing as production movers brought in a truck and stole a container full of cameras and equipment up at Mokuleia Beach," the guard confides, "but a security guy got 'em before they got far."

"We use the Heeia Ke site all the time," says stunt coordinator Mike Vendrell. "The hatch and the pit are there." Vendrell's daughter, Heather Arthur, first tumbled into the pit as a stunt double for Michelle Rodriguez, who plays Ana-Lucia Cortez, the leader of the tail-section survivors.

As for the hatch, Romer admits that one of his tasks was coming up with 1970s technology for its interior, but he enjoys set-decorating on Lost. "On most shows, you do the same sets over and over again," he says, "but this show is uncharted territory with incredibly interesting characters and their past lives."

Similar challenges presented themselves on a dry river bed in nearby Waikane Valley when the island's monster grabbed Locke (Terry O'Quinn) and tried to pull him into a hole in the ground. "We built a skid plate that fit underneath the actor and kept him from being hit by branches and stones, and then we pulled it along the ground with a pulley cable attached to a mule (ATV)," Vendrell says. The dangerous, 30-foot drag was completed in several cuts and featured the actor and his stunt double.

Locke's hole is actually on Kualoa Ranch property, says David Morgan, ranch vice president, who shows me the ranch's shooting locations. Actor Matthew Fox, who plays Dr. Jack Shephard, makes no secret of his admiration for the ranch, calling it "spiritual." He galloped on horseback across its picturesque valley for a segment on Oprah.

Lost isn't the only production to make use of the ranch's spectacular scenery. We pass Godzilla's gigantic footprints, the log under which Dr. Alan Grant (actor Sam Neill) hid while dinosaurs jumped over and sprinted around him in 1993's Jurassic Park, and a bunker that is a movie museum. Visitors can tour the ranch's movie and television shooting locations, and enjoy horseback riding, kayaking, ATV rides and many other popular ranch outings.

According to Morgan, Lost's producers like to shoot at remote and almost inaccessible areas of the ranch. "You don't see plants trampled and foot trails in Lost," Vendrell says. "We try to make sure the actors are running through virgin land all the time, which means we only can shoot for a little bit; then, we have to move to another place."

To get to some of these locations, Morgan's Jeep bumps and rattles for an eternity along deeply rutted dirt roads, and he has to jump out several times to open and close cattle gates, one of which is gruesomely decorated -- movie-set like -- with the skulls of dead cattle.

After stopping at a couple of tangled jungle spots that appear very Lost-ish, we round a bend on the narrow road and arrive at a dirt embankment rising 15 feet above the road. Two posts jut out from the top of the embankment, and I flash back to an episode when those posts anchored a rickety bridge suspended above a deep ravine. Hurley (Jorge Garcia) makes it across, but when Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) follows, the bridge collapses.

A forklift held up the other end of the bridge, says Ahuna, who also cut his TV-production teeth on Hawaii Five-O. "We had the bridge wired," he explains, "and when Dom (Charlie) crossed it, we tripped one wire at a time and let the bridge come down." So what about that deep ravine? Visual effects put that in afterward (via computer wizardry), Ahuna says, chuckling.

Not all Lost scenes at Kualoa Ranch are deeply embedded in the valley's interior. Hurley's golf course lies just beyond the visitor center, and on the ocean side of Kemehameha Highway, jutting out into an aquaculture pond, is the pier where Jin visited his fisherman father.

"They put fish-drying nets all along the pier," Morgan says, "and when they finished shooting, they threw the fish into the pond. The crabs (in the pond) had a field day."

Also on the windward side is another location featuring Jin's Korean back story. The party where Jin realizes that he is in love with Sun (Yun Jin Kim) took place at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park's Byodo-In. A replica of a 950-year-old Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan, Byodo-In is a favorite stop for visitors who come to see the traditional Japanese gardens and two-acre koi pond, and to ring the three-ton brass peace bell.

"They also shot in our bamboo grove (for the segment where Sawyer tells Jack about his meeting with Jack's father in an Australian bar)," says Cindy Hawley, a park employee. "The day before the shoot they cleared out all the old fallen bamboo and took it with them."

"Josh Holloway was so nice -- not at all like his character, Sawyer, on the show," adds Bonnie Morales, a gift-shop cashier. "He came back another day with his family, and when park visitors recognized him, he was happy to sign autographs and pose for pictures."

SANDY BEACH TO EAST HONOLULU

My drive up the Ka Iwi coast beyond Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reveals the inhospitable, jagged shoreline where Ana-Lucia and Mr. Eko lead Jin, Sawyer, Michael and the survivors from the tail section of the plane before turning into the jungle and encountering Shannon (Maggie Grace). Turnouts on the road above the rocks offer wide-angle views of this spectacular vista, but it's wise to heed the signs and stay within marked areas. Slippery rocks and unexpected ocean swells can be dangerous.

In a somber Iraqi prison, Royal Guardsman Sayid tortured a prisoner and was ordered to kill his childhood friend. These scenes were filmed at a U.S. Army bunker inside Diamond Head crater.

The Army doesn't offer Lost tours of the Diamond Head bunker, and the nearby Hawaii Film Studio where Lost shoots some of its scenes is similarly closed to the public. Ditto for the former Xerox building on Nimitz Highway that houses Lost's caves.

I came across more hospitable surroundings at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, Hawaii, in the upscale neighborhood of Kahala. As the site of Jack's wedding, "it is the only location actually portrayed as Hawaii on the show," says John Ewing, the hotel's communications assistant. While wandering around the elegant hotel, which features turtles, stingrays and a dolphin lagoon, I found Jack's presence everywhere: by the pool where he and his father talked the night before the wedding; at a lounge where he played the piano; in his reception banquet room, which looks out onto a charming waterfall; and at Par Excellence, a ladies fashion boutique that was stripped and restocked as Jack's tuxedo shop. Jack's real-life counterpart, Matthew Fox, returns to the hotel frequently to dine at its signature restaurant, Hoku's, which he names as one of his favorite restaurants on Oahu.

URBAN JUNGLE

The Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu Chinatown, Manoa Valley section of Oahu is packed with Lost shooting locations, such as the Waikiki Yacht Club dock, which doubled as Sydney Harbor in a Sawyer flashback; the Hawaii Convention Center lobby, which became Sydney Airport; and Canoes restaurant at the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki Hotel -- the airport bar where Jack first meets Ana-Lucia before they board Flight 815.

Downtown Honolulu's versatile cityscape has appeared as New York; Seoul, South Korea; and London (when Charlie and his friend, Tommy, step out of a building into a Honolulu alley, London's Tower Bridge and a speeding subway train are visible in the background, courtesy of the visual-effects department).

The Mediterranean-style YWCA on Richards Street did double duty on Lost, first as a Muslim mosque where Sayid locates a friend (who ends up being a terrorist bomber), and then as Hurley's psychiatric hospital. In addition to building a hospital reception desk in the Y's lobby, "they used our childcare center and (incorporated) some of the children's artwork and toys," says Executive Assistant Deborah Gervin. "So just for fun, we spelled out 'LOST' on the floor with big puzzle pieces, and they left it there during filming."

Honolulu's Chinatown has subbed for Sydney on more than one occasion: An empty building on the corner of North King and Smith streets became the Sydney police department as well as a bank vault where Kate shot one of the robbers (the building now houses Do's Formal); and another empty building on the corner of North King Street and Nuuanu Avenue showed up as the travel agency where viewers first saw Locke in his wheelchair (it's now McClain Auctions). In another scene, Kate and her buddies robbed First Hawaiian Bank across from McClain. For the bank shoot, Vendrell stepped out of his stunt-coordinator persona to play the trucker who tackled one of the robbers and urged Kate to "grab the gun."

If you drive up University Avenue, past the University of Hawaii and into the lush rainforest at the entrance to Manoa Falls Trail, you'll find Charlie's hanging tree and the hill that Jack tumbled down before fighting with evildoer Ethan (William Mapother), who abducted Claire (Emilie de Ravin).

"Matthew Fox (Jack) throws and takes a good punch," Vendrell says. "He's been trained in (on-screen) fighting and likes to give input on how the fight goes. All our actors do many of their own stunts and are great athletes, except for Evangeline (Kate), who is better than all of them. She's a born athlete. She runs, fights, swims, falls and loves climbing. If you can't find her, look up a tree."

LEEWARD OAHU

There were no trees involved when Kate, fleeing from the hospital where her mother was dying, smashed her car through a parking gate, hit a police car, rammed another car and escaped by running along a culvert. That culvert runs between the Uptown and Downtown sections of the Pearlridge Center. "Evie (Evangeline) did all the slides and precision driving inside the (shopping center's) parking lot," Vendrell says. "We had (Evangeline's stunt double) hit the cars."

Nearby Aloha Stadium saw some Lost action the night Jack ran up the stadium steps, hurt his ankle and met Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) for the first time. "The also turned one of our rooms into a doctor's office," says Patrick Leonard, the stadium's information specialist.

Hurley fans might want to check out Jelly's books-and-music store behind the Cutter Ford dealership in Aiea. "They had to turn off the air conditioning, which was too noisy, so most everyone went outside between takes because it was so hot in here," Jelly's Sales Associate Tim Cantere says of the shoot in which Hurley visits a friend working at a music store.

Oldies-music fan Garcia, who often sports headphones and a CD player on the show, once worked at a Borders books-and-music store. "I was in charge of the international music section," he says, "and I listened to a lot of Hawaiian music, especially Alfred Apaka. One of my guilty pleasures is Hawaiian music from the 1930s and '40s."

Like a ship flying brilliant white sails on the western edge of leeward Oahu's plain, the chalk-white towers of Ko Olina's J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa seems poised to slip into the ocean and glide to distant shores. So it's fitting that the raft, which carried four survivors -- Michael, his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), Sawyer and Jin -- and dreams of rescue for the rest, should have set sail along this coast. It's also where Ahuna's crew exploded the raft to simulate the Molotov-cocktail thrown by the "others" when they abducted Walt and left the three adults for dead.

"We had two rafts," Ahuna says. "One for the actors to do the scenes on, and another (stripped-down version) that we rigged with explosives and blew up 200 yards from the shore."


Vendrell moved from Hollywood to the Big Island of Hawaii several years ago to retire, but he now commutes to Oahu each week. He's like to see Lost shoot some episodes at the Big Island's active volcano, Kilauea. "I love Hawaii; it's the most fascinating place," he says, echoing the sentiment of all the cast and crew. "There isn't a single type of environment that a film company can't find here."

"It's ironic," Romer adds, "that our show is not about Hawaii, yet we present so much of Hawaii to the world. There are some wonderful untouched vistas here that have never been seen before on film or television. You can shoot in a mansion, a jungle, a gorgeous beach and on a crowded city street all in the same day. There aren't too many places in the world where you can do that."
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