Jack Bender is an American television and film director, actor, television producer and writer. He was an executive producer and lead director on the ABC television series Lost, directed a number of episodes for the show, including the series finale. Bender has also directed on other popular shows such as The Sopranos, Carnivàle, Alias and Boston Public. He is currently an executive producer and a leading director on two TV Series: *Under the Dome TV Series and *The Last Ship TV Series. As an actor, Bender has guest starred on All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He has co-starred in The Million Dollar Duck, Savage and McNaughton's Daughter.
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It's great to talk to everybody. I've got a book coming out, called THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, that I'm really excited to share with everybody, so feel free to ask whatever it is you're going to ask, and I'll do my best to answer.
I've directed tons of things, from SOPRANOS to LOST, THE LAST SHIP, UNDER THE DOME, tons of things.
Victoria's is assisting over the phone.
Donald Trump won't be joining me. Even though he's very entertaining. Ask away!
I would love to do this again in a few months. And you can pre-order THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM now, check it out, I hope you dig it as much as I enjoyed making it, and the one thing I would say is I really appreciate all of your interest, and kind words about the work I've done and the work I'm continuing to do, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.
So thank you!
It's a great thing to be an artist, and have people appreciate what you do.
Were you able to read an advance copy of Book 6 of Game of Thrones to prepare for directing next season's episodes?
Hi Mr. Jack! Would you consider making a sequel to LOST and naming it FOUND?
My first art show - well, not my first art show, but I had an art show when I was doing LOST, and the gallery called it "Lost and Found." Which was very appropriate for the art. But I dunno. ABC / Disney might love that idea, but I'm not sure we all would?
Would you rather fight one Smoke Monster sized duck, or 100 duck sized Smoke Monsters?
Very philosophical question.
I'd guess I'd probably go for the one big one. Even though I confess that our smoke monster wasn't our finest hour. Sometimes he looked like a sock puppet. Or she. God only knows what the sex was.
But that would be a good sequel! Kind of like an Adam & Eve Smoke Monster couple on the island? Very biblical.
Fix the Sand Snakes! And what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
My favorite flavor of ice cream - I could say, to play back on the 3 daughters, I could say Neapolitan?
But here's something that might be upsetting to people - I love vanilla. But a good mint chip is probably the way to go.
You’ve directed most of the episodes of LOST that are universally loved as well as critically acclaimed (“The Constant”, “Live Together, Die Alone”, “Through the Looking Glass”, etc.). Were there any shots or scenes during the series that you personally were proud of most or happiest about?
Well, there were numerous scenes and shots that I'm proud of and happy about, but there's one that comes to mind, during "Exodus Part 1", the raft launching on the beach, when Sawyer and Walt and Michael go off on the raft, and sail away trying to get help, the first time anyone's been able to leave the island - being a dog lover, I had an image of Vincent the dog swimming after Walt on the raft, so I said to the dog trainer, because the dog who played Vincent was not the world's most trained movie dog, I said "Don't tell me he's the only lab in the world that doesn't like to swim. Will he swim after the raft?"
And she said "If I'm on the raft."
So we shot towards the beach, and the dog did the most magnificent job swimming towards the raft, which was a heartbreaking moment for anyone who loves dogs.
Were you happy with the ending of LOST? A lot of people had differing opinions on it, some loved it and some hated it so I'm wondering what your personal thoughts on it were. Thanks!
I loved it.
And the reason I loved it was I believe it was true to the heart and soul of the show, which was always about the characters. How we live, and how we die, and the struggle to live a good life, and I know that some people were longing for some kind of convoluted phone ringing in the middle of the jungle, and it being the CIA, and there being an uber-espionage moment so everybody would gasp and say HOLY SHIT!. But I was much proud of the road that Damon and Carlton went down in the writing, which was this was bout the people. And by the way, for those that think they were dead, even though Jack Shepherd was in the same spot, looking up at the palm tree with the dog, the truth is the characters were NOT dead all the time, they really lived those lives that we witnessed. And i felt the ending was profound and human.
FIRST OFF, huge fan of yours. LOST is my favorite show of all time. Around the time of
the third season, you easily became my favorite director for the show, and every single time
I saw your name in the credits, I knew it would be a great episode. I have a few questions
for you, IF THAT'S OKAY.
1.) Yes. There's an episode I did, and I think Damon and Carlton - Damon created the show with JJ Lindeloff, and Carlton Cuse who ran it with Damon - I probably, they would agree with me, but I would change the episode where Adewale's priest brother - the episode where Adewale gets killed and dies. The concept was a little bit superficial, and we didn't really get into the brother relationship as much as we should have. The brother was a priest, but they'd smuggled drugs on a plane, and Mr. Eko - the episode where Mr. Eko died.
2.) Well, I've been asked to have conversations about that, and I don't see it necessarily as part of my near future. I think that my attitude about directing is if I'm compelled by the story and the characters, then that's the first thing. And for me, the superhero movies, although they're very talented and well-done, don't seem like something I'm going to do right away. I'm more interested in the superhero in ordinary people.
3.) God bless you. There are numerous, NUMEROUS brilliant careers in stuff that is behind-the-scenes and is not necessarily on the screen, or helps get what's on the screen up there, and making movies and television is definitely a community experience, so the more brilliant people around me, the better the product is I'm gonna make.
4.) Yes. OH! There's a helicopter! I just said everything, you just couldn't hear it!
But what I will tell you - it's gonna be great.
Smooth or crunchy peanut butter?
I confess I prefer crunchy.
Who's the nicest GOT actor?
I have never directed Game of Thrones. As I said, I was asked to do it early on, and was unavailable, so this will be my first experience this season directing Game of Thrones. Although I've heard they are all terrific, all wonderful people. And I've heard that from people who do the show, as well as friends of mien who have directed the show.
What is the elephant in the room?
The Elephant in the Room is a painting I created that I found a pool hose in our yard, next to the yard, that was broken. And I looked at it, and thought it looked like an elephant's trunk. So I brought it into my studio, I hammered it to a canvas, and painted around it, the way I do. And I painted around it the saying "I AM THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM." And we decided that was going to be the title of the book. And for me, the Elephant in the Room is that slightly uncomfortable thing you don't want to talk about. But after you DO talk about it, you end up feeling better. And we ALL have those elephants in the room.
Not to mention it's funny.
How did you get into tv show directing?
I was an actor. In my twenties. And then I became a theater director, and then I wrote and directed a short film, called "A Real Naked Lady," that won a bunch of awards. And I was very fortunate to meet and direct a play for the late, great John Hausman, who played Professor Kingsfield on THE PAPER CHASE (which most of you guys probably don't remember) but he was a huge icon of American movies and theater and ultimately television, and he took me under his wing and gave me my first directing job. In other words, I worked my ass off, and I was fortunate enough to work for and meet extraordinary people.
What are your favorite shows to watch on television right now?
Oh god. I like, well, obviously Game of Thrones. I really like THE LAST SHIP, which I'm partial to, having made it. I'm very fond of RAY DONOVAN. And UNDER THE DOME I have a soft-spot for because I did it for the past 2 years - I exec-produced and directed a bunch. And you know what's a really good show, speaking of the internet? HALT AND CATCH FIRE. Have you seen it? Wow, the actors are wonderful. Both of those actors are great. I would love to work with them. It's a really interesting show. All the cast is good.
Do you think there might ever be a Lost movie or sequel?
You know, my gut tells me no? Because I think that all of us, as much as we love our life making it, and the show, we're ready to move on to the next thing.
You know, you can never say never in life.
But it's certainly not on the immediate horizon.
A small dive bar in Philthadelphia. LOTS of single cougars wandering around there.
Well, my advice would be: be smart. And don't go for the wrong cougar. But a pick-up line... Hahaha! Wow.
There's a section in my book, called "Animal Logic," and there are messages from various animals to us, the reader, and there's the opinion of a camel, and he says: Why do you keep staring at my toes?
Who's idea was it to create "the hatch" in LOST? Did you know what was inside of it when it was first introduced to the show?
Before JJ went off to do MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, he and Damon were conceiving of what the season, the first season, would be.
And shortly thereafter, Carlton Cuse came aboard to run it with Damon, while JJ went off. BUT during one of their sessions, when we were sitting around going through things, JJ shuts his eyes when he comes up with stuff, and he's going Well, maybe they're walking in the jungle, and somebody drops something - now, by the way, it could've been Damon, but I think was JJ, because of the answer - and the conception was What if somebody drops a flashlight or something, and instead of it making a THUD when it hits the jungle floor, it clinks.
So they bend down, and they wipe away the clay, and the dirt and there's a metal & glass window.
There's a hatch underground.
And a light goes on.
And we go OH MY GOD! That's scary as hell!
And then somebody asked, it might've been me, What's in the hatch?
And JJ thought for a moment, and said "Another hatch."
Which is very much JJ's style. For now, it doesn't matter what's in the hatch, we'll figure out what's in the hatch, all that matters now is that there's this amazing fucking hatch in the jungle, which opens up the story in myriad avenues.
Ahhh. The last ship is my favorite show. I'm in the Navy and I have seen every episode. I'm glad the new season has finally come out. Although I don't have cable, I'm waiting for it to come on hulu!
Anyways, what's your favorite thing about being a part of the last ship?!
I happen to love the cast. And directing the action and the emotional stories is a pleasure. But I would say the biggest surprise for me is dealing with the Navy. And that I have met some extraordinarily awesome people who defend our country. And I was a kid in the 1970's, and with all the protesting and stuff, the military wasn't a big part of my life, nor my family's. And I was fearful that when we would be shooting on the ships, or working with them, it would be dealing with a bunch of people who would be telling us "walk this way, walk that way" - I'm a guy who drives the wrong way in parking lots sometimes, my wife always bugs me for it, and I draw outside the lines sometimes.
But I have learned ENORMOUS respect for the Navy.
They get the joke. They get the honor of what they do.
And that's been an extraordinary experience for me.
I'm disappointed Trump won't be joining you. :(
Jack, if you had advice for anyone who would love to just star in a movie/tv show, who had no money to get out to Hollywood to start what could be a train wreck of a career (worse than Paris Hilton's) what would it be?
Either act in a play, start acting, act in a play. OR make your own movies.
What was the most challenging thing on set when directing The Sopranos?
That's an interesting question.
The most challenging thing was to deliver the scenes and film the scenes as good as they were written.
There was one great moment where I was shooting a scene in Greenwich Village at 3 in the morning, after one of the characters had beaten the shit out of another character, and then pulled down his pants and pissed on him. And I remember thinking Wow, it doesn't get much better than this.
What pickup line should I use in a bar tonight? I'm really lonely
What was it like directing Child's Play 3 and can you give us some interesting info from your experience on Child's Play 3?
Wow, that was a while ago!
Well, I remember being on my hands and knees a lot, standing next to the animatronic doll, inspiring Chucky to get more pissed off. And directing a doll is like no other experience.
Although over the years, I've directed a few actors like that too, but most actors know what they're doing.
How has directing for TV changed over the years since you first started?
It's changed a lot.
You know, once my friend David Chase did THE SOPRANOS, and helped invent HBO, and the quality of television shows went up in terms of how they're acted, how they're written, how they're directed and how they look - LOST is another example of a great show that's cinematic, and I fought all the way through it to keep the big-scope cinema on the screen along with the intimacy of character.
And I think television used to be MUCH more about the intimacy of character, and close ups and those things, and although you still use extreme close ups to tell a story in television - the writing, the directing, the acting, has gotten to be better than most movies, you know, except for the massive big tentpole movies, like my friend JJ just made, called STAR WARS. You're not going to make that on television.
BUT - what you can do on television by telling a story in ten episodes, maybe season after season, there could be many chapters. I always looked at LOST as every season was a book of LOST - first we did 24 episodes, then we did 16 towards the end for a few years, but every single episode was a chapter, and I think being able to stretch a story beyond 110 minutes is something that has really brought extraordinary talent to the small screen.
If you can even call it that anymore.
What's the best piece of advice you've gotten that you'd like to share?
Thanks for doing this AMA!
Best piece of advice? Trust your instincts, and be strong.
Oh, here, I'm going to amend that - trust your instincts, be strong, but be open to the inspiration around you.
Hey there Jack, great to have you here
In regards to being a director, do you feel pressured by the fact that sometimes, people may not agree with your vision? If so, how do you deal with this?
Well, yeah, I definitely am susceptible to that.
At the same time, if I am passionate about what I want to do, I can be pretty convincing. And if I find the other people are right, then I go that way. Or sometimes a third idea comes out of it, which is better than either one.
What are some of the differences in between being a director and a producer?
For example do you enjoy one more the other, and is one more stressful than the other?
No, I don't think one is more stressful.
I think that when I direct, I also produce, and when I produce, I also direct. So even though on a show like THE LAST SHIP, I directed the majority of episodes, and we had other directors come in and direct episodes, my job is to sit back and create a space for them to do the best possible episode of our show. I enjoy doing that. But is it more fun for me to be holding a baton and working with the actors and the cameraman and all of the above? Sure. I love the process of being on a set, creating something with the group of talented folks.
Out of the shows you have produced or directed, who is your favorite character?
Oohhhh. That's like asking who's my favorite daughter. Or what's my favorite Beatles song.
That's tough. I don't think I can answer that one.
I love them all for different reasons.
If you could eat one of the Presidential candidates, which one would be most delicious?
That's kind of a disgusting question.
But I might go back to the Donald, because his hair is probably a combination of pasta and I don't know, caramel? Marshmallows?
And I don't even like that stuff.
Who is the most inspiring actor to work with? Or most difficult, if you want to go there.
Do you have any creative processes (like before you paint, for example) that you absolutely must do in order to work at your best?
Well, speaking about LOST, Matthew Fox and I (who love each other to this day, and respect each other enormously - the last thing he said to me when we did our last shot on LOST was "You're an artist, I love you." And coming from Matt Fox, that's about the best compliment I could've gotten) over the years had some serious fucking arguments.
About how far to push things, and Matt has ALWAYS argued for "less is more." And I would say through our dynamic, it was always great.
And you know, sometimes he'd go my way (although he didn't admit it often). And sometimes I'd go his way. And sometimes we'd find a happy medium. But Matthew is somebody who is also an artist, and works really hard for truth. And I will only mention Matthew, even though I've worked with people whom I would qualify as difficult - as pains in the ass - where the arguing is more about ego and power and not about the work. With Matt, it was ALWAYS about the work. Which is why I respected it. But I won't mention those other people.
And as I said to you earlier, I have rituals that I do in the morning.
But when I go in to actually paint - I just start. And my morning rituals - I meditate, I get up, I play with our dogs, I spend time with my wife, watch CNN, read the paper, all that jazz, do what I have to do, email wise or whatever, and then hit the studio and just pick up the brush. Although I will say that there are times I dream about what I'm working on - a painting, a sculpture, or something. Which may inform the work. I have a lot of flying dreams.
In fact, one of the stories in my book is about these two abused street kids who learn to rise above their pain, and become quite popular for their ability to float. It's called "The Urban Acrobats."
What was the most difficult emotional performance for an actor in LOST?
Actors have a really hard job, which they make look easy, which is recreating life, and making you believe it's real, and that's not easy.
And we were doing the scene where Elizabeth Mitchell, her character, towards the end of the show, where Sawyer is holding onto her, and the tower collapsed. And she got sucked down into an underground kind of hatch, and died. It was the death of her character. And I had shot everything towards Elizabeth, and she was brilliant. And then I shot everything up to Josh. And we shot in two different areas - one was a real location where you could actually dig a pit in the ground, and there was a mechanism around it, and then I had to shoot everything UP towards Josh on a set that we built. So number one, we had to do the same thing, two different days. But the worst part was when we shot everything up on Josh, and I'd usually shoot 3 different sides as a close-up. And we were one of the last filmed shows. So you can blow up shots now on video that you couldn't blow up and get closer on film, because you would see the grain. So I'd tend to do 3 sizes on everything. And Josh acted the HELL out of it. It broke your heart. His performance was gorgeous.
And the next day, when we looked at dailies, they were dark.
So we had to redo it all over again. And the cinematographer, John Bartley, who shot our show from Season 2, who is brilliant, called me devastated, and said "I blew it. Our exposure was too dark."
And we all looked at the film, and realized we had to shoot it over again.
It was just a mistake, on the crew. And basically what happened was I had to call Josh, and tell him that we had to re-shoot it. And at first, he thought I was kidding, he didn't believe me. And then during the phone call, I had to convince him that I wish I was, but it's a reality, and he flipped out. He said "I'm not fucking doing it, that performance killed me, blah blah blah" - and 2 days later, Josh calmed down, and came in and did the beautiful performance that was in the show. And you'd never know it.
What is your favorite show to have worked on, and why is it LOST?
Hahaha! You know, I've done - wow, so many different shows. ALIAS was an adventure. FELICITY, before that, was wonderful. THE SOPRANOS. CARNIVAL I did for HBO, and that was some of the more twisted stuff - my god, some of those scenes I've shot, I've never been able to do stuff that's quite that twisted except in my dreams! Obviously LOST, THE LAST SHIP... like I said, it's hard to pick a favorite. But the one thing I will say about LOST was about doing it from episode 2 to the last episode for six years of my life was an experience I have never had, working essentially with the same people for that long. Not only because of what that show was, and how proud we all were of it, although we struggled to make it as good as it could be- just having an experience that lasted six years was extraordinary and a real gift.
What was your reaction when you found Lost premiered very well in the ratings?
Everybody was shocked. I mean, ABC at the time had no idea what they had. And they put it on, not knowing if anybody was gonna watch it. And then it continued to grow and become the zeitgeist show. And that happened with the SOPRANOS too. HBO put it on, they didn't have much else, and David Chase said to me "Who the fuck is gonna watch this show? This is the strangest show that's ever been on television" - and David had written a LOT of great television. But it just shows you - none of us ever really know.
Studios don't, networks don't. It's all about somebody having a vision, and being strong enough to stick by that vision.
Who were some of your favorite actors to work with, and which actors would you like to work with in the future that you haven't had the opportunity to do so yet?
Well, just having mentioned the two actresses who are the leads of HALT AND CATCH FIRE. There are a lot of sensational actors out there, and of course Game of Thrones, i'm looking forward to working with those actors.
I had the pleasure of working years ago with Jason Robards, who was one of the great theater & film actors. And that was a real gift. And doing LOST, and working with essentially the same group of actors for six years, was a real blessing, because I learned so much. And I would hope they say the same about working with me.
It's like family after a while - you fight with each other, challenge each other, work with each other. I learned a lot about myself from working with those actors.
And Rebel Wilson would be a kick to work with. I'd love to work with her. In fact, I'm writing something for her right now - one of my twisted little movies. Like the book!
I've seen your name and am a big fan of your work! That being said, are you perchance a relative of Bender of Futurama fame???
I don't think so!
But some of my relatives are cartoons. But no, I'm no relation to that guy.
I just finished reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a book all about how artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and others work. I absolutely loved it and wished it had included even more people.
What is your routine? Do you have any daily rituals? What do you do when you first get up in the morning?
I do have daily rituals.
I meditate first thing in the morning, when I wake up.
I do that every day, even if I'm directing.
But if I'm not directing or producing, I will then have some coffee with my wife, who's a brilliant rabbi, and reminds me every day to be the best person I can be, and I then go into my studio, and I paint. Or I create something. Or if I'm writing something - I usually do that first, and then I write something.
But there's a great Bob Dylan quote, which is kind of the story of my life, which is "He who isn't busy being born is busy dying."
And my life is definitely about creativity. You know? And I'm very fortunate to have the family and friends I have. And after doing some creative work, I'll usually go to the gym and swim.
But I do think rituals are important. If you're creative and crazy, they help keep you on track.
Do you ever feel completely lost in the middle of directing a project, when your entire concept shifts?
That goes back to "Lost and Found." I think that maybe the entire house of cards doesn't fall down. But I've been working on scenes at times, when suddenly - because of what the actors are doing, or limitations of the set, or which way the sun was pointing - everything you thought about wanting to do doesn't work, and you've got to be very open to what's opening, the life that is happening in front of you.
And even though that's scary, frequently that's the best thing that can happen.
Ahh. That's so awesome. We all love the show at work. When it would come on tv we would stop working and watch it. We are stationed in San Diego and I heard that we could be on the show as an extra or something. That would be cool. We laugh at all the fraternization, but we agree that in that situation, we'd be the exact same. I'm so glad you took time to do the show and I'm glad like the Navy. We appreciate what you do!
Thank you very much.
Keep watching the show. And we respect what you do.
We all do.
Lost and Under the Dome are similar concepts for television shows (people being trapped in a mysterious place/situation). Was the experience of directing these shows similar for you because of that?
In some ways? You know, Stephen King was a HUGE fan of LOST. And I'm proud to say he's gotten to be a friend, and I'm developing a project based on his book "Mr. Mercedes." Which was out a year ago, and now this year, "Finders Keepers" was #1 on the bestseller list, which was the sequel to "Mr. Mercedes," and Stephen's now working on the third sequel to "Mr. Mercedes." So we are developing it as a 10 episode, 3 year miniseries, and David Kelley wrote a brilliant script for the first episode.
But BACK to Stephen King, who obviously created and wrote UNDER THE DOME - he sees the whole planet as "under the dome." And when LOST first came on, it was post-9/11. And I think it was the right show at the right time, in that it examined if there was a catastrophic event, that focused on a group of people - or like UNDER THE DOME, if a dome fell over a small town - and you had to suddenly survive with that group, how do you continue to live, and survive, and feed your families, and I guess survive again?
And I think both shows definitely examined that.
How do we live, and how do we survive, given that we're all living on a very small limited planet? And we're going much too quickly with our resources. As the polar bear says, in "Animal Logic," in my book THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, he says something along the lines of "I'm a polar bear, and if you think global warming is bullshit, look at the ice melting around me quicker than the ice cubes in your Diet Coke."
We really are all living on an island, or under a dome.
And we've all gotta be better at it.
Favorite episode of Lost?
You know what? It's once again, that same category of "it's hard to pick, because I love them all in different ways like my children."
But I guess I have a soft spot for "The Constant." Which was considered one of the great episodes of television in the last ten years, when it aired. And I thought it was pretty good.
I'm currently studying film and television at university and have aspirations to go on to be a director. How did you get your break into the industry? It's the one thing I worry about upon finishing my degree.
I wrote and directed a short film - but I will say that, unlike when I was starting out, directors and filmmakers have the opportunity to make a movie on their iPhone. And so what I would say to this person who asked this is make a movie. And if you can work on a movie, work on a movie. Surround yourself with people who are doing it. And have faith.
It takes a lot of faith and a lot of hard work.