The man behind ABC’s Lost, HBO’s The Leftovers, and now, a wild and audacious “remix” of the iconic graphic novel Watchmen, Damon Lindelof, 46, reveals seven of the greatest influences on his work, beginning with…
1. Twin Peaks
Growing up in New Jersey in the early 1990s, Lindelof developed a love of serialized mysteries thanks to David Lynch’s groundbreaking ABC series. “That television show felt like it was written just for me, and I taped every episode on a VCR,” Lindelof says. “I watched it repeatedly looking for clues, and debated the theories — the idea of forming theories to explain what happened was all born out of Twin Peaks. I remember [former ABC chairman] Lloyd Braun bringing [producer J.J. Abrams] and I into his office after he read the Lost script. He was worried about the monster and the heavily serialized mystery aspects and said, ‘We can’t have another Twin Peaks on our hands.’ And J.J. said, ‘You’re referencing a show that was basically canceled 20 years ago. We should aspire to Twin Peaks.’ It was like the third day that I knew J.J., and I was like, ‘I love this guy!’ Weird is beautiful, David Lynch is a genius, and talk about a genre that can’t be described, [Twin Peaks is] a genre unto itself.”
2. Stephen King
Especially the horror master’s early novels, like 1978’s The Stand. “King mixes humor and horror in a way that I don’t think anybody else can,” Lindelof explains. “I won’t say I wasn’t terrified by his books, but I also found them really amusing. Learning Stephen King was a fan of Lost and getting to meet him in person, which EW arranged, was one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life.”
Naturally, Alan Moore’s super-antihero classic makes the list. “Everything I do — particularly Lost — is a love letter to Watchmen,” says Lindelof, who cites the comic’s use of traumatic character-origin stories, flashbacks, quantum mechanics, and switching character perspectives as inspiring the narrative style of his ABC hit.
4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
“A huge, profound influence on me and my storytelling,” Lindelof says of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi classic, which follows people haunted by extraterrestrial encounters. “Richard Dreyfuss making the Devil’s Tower out of clay, saying, ‘This means something…’ I love this idea of characters being compelled by something that means something but they don’t know what it is. The search for meaning has worked its way into the stuff I do — the meaning of life is the search for meaning.”
5. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterwork might be Lindelof’s “favorite movie of all time,” partly because of its non-linear storytelling: “[John Travolta’s Vincent Vega] gets shot in the middle of the movie while sitting on the toilet, but then he’s the star of the third act. Knowing he’s going to get shot [as I watched the rest of the film] completely changed the way my brain processed how stories could be told, particularly the order in which they could. The dialogue — nobody does it like Tarantino does it — and to me that movie is completely and totally perfect.”
6. His mom
Okay, so this one isn’t a pop culture influence, but Lindelof notes: “I talk about my dad a lot because we had a complicated relationship and he’s dead and it makes for a good story, so my mom gets the short shrift. She read to me every night and she told me over and over when I was young that I’d be a famous writer one day, and her belief in me was an antidote to a lack of belief in myself, and I wouldn’t be here without her.”
7. Encyclopedia Brown
“I was obsessed with these books as a kid,” Lindelof says. “Encyclopedia Brown was an 11-year-old private eye who worked out of his garage, and the kids from his neighborhood could come and hire him for a quarter. He and his associate Sally would solve mysteries. Each book had like nine or 10 different mysteries. And at the end of each one, Encyclopedia would essentially say, ‘I know how Buggs Meanie stole your bike!’ And then it says: To find out how Encyclopedia Brown knows, turn to page 86. You would try to guess how Encyclopedia Brown knew and then go to check the answer to see if you were right.”
Continues Lindelof: “I would get to the end of the story and I’d immediately flip to the end. My dad saw me do this and said, ‘Why are you flipping to the end when you haven’t guessed yet?’ And I was like, ‘I just want to know what the answer is.’ So he took my Encyclopedia Brown book and he ripped out the endings. He said: ‘It will be more interesting for you not to know if you were right.’ That moment was my origin story. I realized that was how I wanted to tell stories. I want all the evidence for the right answer to be there, but I don’t want people to be able to flip to the end.”
Watchmen premieres on HBO on October 20.