Writing Indiana Jones: An Analysis of the
Raiders Story Conferences
been known for some time that there were story meetings prior to the
writing of the first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the film
and title character were developed. 2003's Indiana Jones: Making the Trilogy
spoke of the conferences, and
2008's The Complete Making of Indiana
Jones gave some description of what went on, including brief excerpts.
This is because the entire week of story conferences was tape-recorded
and transcribed, and still survives in the Lucasfilm archives.
Earlier this year, the 138-page transcription was leaked in its
entirety. This article will examine what was said, what we can learn
about the development process of the film, and what we can learn
about the creative process of the three participants: executive
producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and writer
Lawrence Kasdan. It is an incredible glimpse into the closed doors
of a top secret project with two of Hollywoods hottest young stars,
making cinema history as they go, and it also affords us a rare
glimpse of how they first approached their
A brief bit of background may be in order here.
Lucas had first started developing the film in 1975 with filmmaker
Philip Kaufman (which is referenced in the transcript from time to
time, specifically Kaufman's knowledge of the Ark and its history).
Lucas envisioned a homage to 1930s serials, a film about
an adventuring archaeologist who tracked down supernatural
artifacts--Kaufman brought up The Spear of
Destiny, a 1973 book by Trevor Ravenscroft about Hitler's search for
the mythical Lance of Longinus, which led to the development of
Nazi's vying for the Ark of the Covenant. Kaufman had other films
lined up, and Lucas went on to make Star
Wars, and so the project sat. The week Star Wars was released, Lucas brought up
the idea with Steven Spielberg, who agreed to direct the film.
Spielberg said he knew of a good writer, a guy named Lawrence
Kasdan. As soon as they could, they would begin work on the
Lucas would first start Star Wars II. Here we find a similar
situation to the Raiders of the Lost
Ark collaboration in question here--in late November 1977,
Lucas met with writer Leigh Brackett, where they held story
conferences for a week to develop the film, as Lucas had only
general ideas. Lucas wrote a treatment mid way into the conferences,
and Brackett used this as the basis for her Star Wars II
As soon as people came back from Christmas vacation,
Lucas began working on the Raiders
film, while Brackett was working on her Star Wars script. In January
of 1978, Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan sat down and began to
discuss what the Raiders of the
Lost Ark movie actually would be about.
"George, Steven and I got together in a little house
in Sherman Oaks that belonged to Jane Bay, George's assistant,"
Kasdan says. "We went up to her house for a week, just the
three of us, and recorded our conversations." (Rinzler, 22) Spielberg
adds: "We had a tape recorder going and George essentially guided
the story process. The three of us pitched the entire movie in
about five days. Most of the time we were trying to outshoot each other
with ideas." (Rinzler, 22) For Kasdan, this was at first an
intimidating thought, since he was essentially a nobody and had no
personal history with the two of them, but any shyness soon melted
away. "I was daunted maybe for the first hour--you know, oh my God,
I can't believe I'm in this room with these two guys," he remembers.
"But the problem of constructing a story and making things work and
all the difficulties of actually writing is a great equalizer. It's
a real democracy as soon as there's the problem of creating
something. All the intimidation goes away quickly, because the three
of you have exactly the same goal: How do you make this work?" (Rinzler,
22) As Rinzler notes, (22) the solution was to
revisit scenes, characters and story points throughout the week of
meetings. Things begin as one form, but end up another: Lucas starts
by describing the female lead as a German double agent, but she ends
up being a tough former fling of Indy's who is now living in Nepal.
Clues that lead to the Ark begin as maps, become stone tablets, and
end as medallions.
On January 23rd, 1978, Kasdan, Spielberg and
Lucas first sat down in Jane Bay's house in Sherman Oaks. They
pushed record on the tape recorder that sat in the middle of the
table. Here is what was first said.
G — We'll just talk general ideas, what the
concept of it was. Then I'll get down to going specifically through
the story. Then we will actually get to where we can start talking
down scenes, in the end I want to end up with a list of scenes. And
the way I work generally is I figure a code, a general
measuring stick perameter. I can either come up with thirty scenes
or sixty scenes depending on which scale you want to work on. A
thirty scene thing means that each scene is going to be around four
pages long. A sixty one means that every scene is going to run
twenty pages long. (?) It depends on, part of it is the... (short
gap in the tape) knock some of these out, and this doesn't work out
the way we thought it would. You can move things around, but it
generally gives you an idea, assuming that what we really want at
the end of all this is a hundred and twenty page script, or less.
But that's where we really want to go. Then we figure out vaguely
what the pace of, how fast it's going to move and how we're going to
do it. I have a tendency to work rather mathematically about all
this stuff. I found it easier and it does lay things out. Especially
a thing like this.
The basic premise is that it's sort of a
serialesque kind of movie. Meaning that there are certain things
that have to continue to happen. It's also basically an action
piece, for the most part. We want to keep things interspaced and at
the same time build it. As I build this up, you'll see it's done
vaguely by the numbers. Generally, the concept is a serial idea.
Done like the Republic serials. As a thirties serial. Which is where
a lot of stuff comes from anyway. One of the main ideas was to have,
depending on whether it would be every ten minutes or every twenty
minutes, a sort of a cliffhanger situation that we get our hero
into. If it's every ten minutes we do it twelve times. I think that
may be a little much. Six times is plenty.
S — And each cliffhanger is better than the one
G — That is the progression we have to do. It's
hard to come up with. The trouble with cliff hangers is, you get
somebody into something, you sort have to get them out in a
plausible way. A believable way, anyway. That's another important
concept of the movie — that it be totally believable. It's a
spaghetti western, only it takes place in the thirties. Or it's
James Bond and it takes place in the thirties. Except James Bond
tends to get a little outrageous at times. We're going to take the
unrealistic side of it off, and make it more like the Clint Eastwood
thing with this is, we want to make a very believable character. We
want him to be extremely good at what he does, as is the Clint
Eastwood character or the James Bond character. James Bond and the
man with no name were very good at what they did. They were very
fast with a gun, they were very slick, they were very professional.
They were Supermen.
S — Like Mifune.
G — Yes, like Mifune. He's a real professional.
He's really good. And that is the key to the whole thing. That's
something you don't see that much anymore.
S — And one of the things that really helped
Mifune in all the Kurosawa movies is that he was always surrounded
by really inept characters, real silly buffoons, which made him so
much more majestic. If there are occasions where he comes up
against, not the arch-villian, but the people around him shouldn't
be the smartest...
G — Well, they shouldn't be buffoons. The one
thing we're going to do is make a very good period piece, that is
realistic and believable. A thirties movie in the, even in the Sam
Spade genre. Even in the Maltese Falcon there were some pretty goofy
characters, but they were all pretty real in their own bizarre
S — Elijah Cook.
G — Elijah Cook might not have been the
brightest person in the world. In a way he was the buffoon of the
piece, but at the same time he was very dangerous and he was very...
They were strong characters. If we keep it that mode of
S — It's just like you don't put Lee Van Cleef
as an accomplice to... (garbled)
G — No, you put Eli Wallich. Did you see "The
Good, The Bad And the Ugly"? The Eli Wallich character is a goofy
character, but at the same time he's very dangerous and he's very
funny and he's ... We can have that kind of thing. The main thing is
for him to be a super hero in the best sense of the word, which is
John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery tradition of a man who we
can all look up to and say, "Now there's somebody who really knows
his job. He's really good at what he does and he's a very dangerous
person. But at the same time we're putting him in the kind of Bogart
mold, like "Treasure of Sierra Madre" or ...
S — Or even the Clark Gable thing we talked
G — Yeah, the Clark Gable mold. The fact that he
is slightly scruffy. You don't know it until it happens. Now,
several aspects that we've discussed before: The image of him which
is the strongest image is the "Treasure Of Sierra Madre" outfit,
which is the khaki pants, he's got the leather jacket, that sort of
felt hat, and the pistol and holster with a World War One sort of
flap over it. He's going into the jungle carrying his gun. The other
thing we've added to him, which may be fun, is a bull whip. That's
really his trade mark. That's really what he's good at. He has a
pistol, and he's probably very good at that, but at the same time he
happens to be very good with a bull whip. It's really more of a
hobby than anything else. Maybe he came from Montana, someplace, and
he... There are freaks who love bull whips. They just do it all the
time. It's a device that hasn't been used in a long time.
S — You can knock somebody's belt off and the
guys pants fall down.
G — You can swing over things, you can...there
are so many things you can do with it. I thought he carried it
rolled up. It's like a Samurai sword. He carries it back there and
you don't even notice it. That way it's not in the way or anything.
It's just there whenever he wants it.
S — At some point in the movie he must use it to
get a girl back who's walking out of the room. Wrap her up and she
twirls as he pulls her back. She spins into his arms. You have to
use it for more things than just saving himself.
G — We'll have to work that part out. In a way
it's important that it be a dangerous weapon. It looks sort of like
a snake that's coiled up behind him, and any time it strikes it's a
L — Except there has to be that moment when he's
alone with a can of beer and he just whips it to him.
G — That's the sort of gung-ho side of the
character, which is, if we make him sort of Super Samurai Warrior,
meaning that he is just incredibly good with a bull whip and
incredibly good with a gun. He's a dead-eye shot. He's got the wrong
kind of holster for a quick draw, but we can always have him be a
semi... we're not going to use the quick draw aspects of it, but he
should be very fast and very quick. Maybe even, this has to do with
the other part of this character, but I was thinking of Kung-Fu,
Karate. But I don't want to load him up too much. The reason I was
doing this is that his character is international. He's the guy who's been all
around the world. He's a soldier of fortune. He is also... Well,
this gets into that other side of his character, which is totally
alien to that side we just talked about. Essentially, I think he is
a, and this was the original character and it's an interesting
juxtaposition. He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D.
He's a doctor, he's a college professor. What happened is, he's also
a sort of rough and tumble guy. But he got involved in going in and
getting antiquities. Sort of searching out antiquities. And it
became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be an
archeologist, he became sort of an outlaw archeologist. He really
started being a grave robber, for hire, is what it really came down
to. And the museums would hire him to steal things out of tombs and
stuff. Or, locate them. In the archeology circles he knows
everybody, so he's sort of like a private detective grave robber. A
museum will give him an assignment... A bounty hunter.
Right from the start, Lucas has a clear
conception of the character, and dominates the start of
the conversations by simply explaining what sort of person his
Indiana Jones is. He begins with the character, and then frames the
rest of the movie around the personality he is creating. What is
also noteworthy is the balance Lucas is attempting to strike between
down-to-earth realism and larger-than-life escapism. Jones is a
"superman", as Lucas describes, who is a Ph.D., an archaeologist, a
tough guy for hire, a Bogert-esque hero, possibly even versed in
martial arts, who can seemingly do anything--but at the same time he
must be presented in a totally believable way. He must not seem over-the-top, the film must be gritty
and realistic so that the audience buys it as a realistic movie, not
a flamboyant escapism piece.
Spielberg, in fact, seems to be going for more
of an over-the-top humorous angle, as he was about to make 1941, suggesting that Indy could whip a
mans belt off and have his pants fall down, which Lucas resists--as
he says when discussing over-the-top action pieces, abundant in 1941, "The trouble with cliff hangers is,
you get somebody into something, you sort of have to get them out in
a plausible way. A believable way, anyway. That's another important
concept of the movie — that it be totally believable. It's a
spaghetti western, only it takes place in the thirties...We're going
to take the unrealistic side of it off, and make it more like the
Clint Eastwood westerns." The Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood westerns
were flamboyant stylistically, but also gritty and violent, and
totally plausible because of this. Later, when Spielberg suggests
that the villains be presented in a comical fashion, Lucas insists
that they be realistic characters who are still three-dimensional:
"Well, they shouldn't be buffoons. The one thing we're going to do
is make a very good period piece, that is realistic and believable.
A thirties movie in the, even in the Sam Spade genre. Even in the
Maltese Falcon there were some pretty goofy characters, but they
were all pretty real in their own bizarre way."
It is sometimes asserted that the unbelievable
elements of the series are simply part of the inherent nature of the
films--Indy parachuting in a raft in Temple
of Doom, the fridge scene in Crystal Skull
--but this is not quite so. This is especially true when you examine
Raiders--though it is unbelievable as
all action films inevitably are, it is presented in a rather gritty,
down-to-earth way that offsets the romanticism of it, very much in
the mould of Treasure of the Sierra
Madre, as Lucas references. The three sequels took a slightly
more flamboyant approach, but Raiders
was conceived as a realistic period piece--the content is already
exaggerated enough, so it must be filmed and presented in a
realistic way in order to get the audience to buy it. Lucas'
instinct here is impressive.
It's not long before budgetary issues come up.
Still within the first hour, Kasdan doesn't say much, but Lucas and
Spielberg both are experienced enough to know how to handle things
in a practical manner so that the movie can actually get
G — I have the second scene taking place in
Washington. It's just interior museum. But at the same time
we also want to
keep it, budget-wise, and everything else. We don't want to have eight
thousand screaming Chinese coming over the hill being straffed by Japanese zeroes,
unless we can
find some stock footage somewhere. We want to keep it on a fairly ... I think
generally, over all, I've tried to keep it on a very modest scale. A la
the first James
Bond. A la the first "Hang 'em High" thing. Where it is essentially a conflict
between people and things. Obviously there is a lot of stuff going on, but
there are certain big set pieces that are fun to play
with. And if we
can divide these set pieces so we can shot them sort of second unit, then we
can have all that fun stuff in the period, and essentially it's a set piece.
We'll just send
a stock footage crew out to get certain things that we might be able to
come up with without too much money just by sending a camera and crew and
getting a shot here and there of various things that we want.
The concept is
that somehow we have to figure out a way of making this cheap, meaning
six or seven million dollars.
S — One thing, there aren't any opticals, so
right away that
saves a lot of money.
G — And we want to spend our money on stunts. We
want to have
"Wind and the Lion" action. Spend it all on stunt guys falling off horses,
rather than one crowd scene scene with sixteen thousand extras for one shot.
production value and entertainment value, it's much better to have a terrific
stunt than to have a scene with eight thousand extras. I don't think we need
lots of crowds.
S — (garbled) You can always get that in some
other countries. It's no problem.
G — It's all period. That's the
S — In places like Bombay it doesn't make any
G — Again, that's one of those stock footage
things. You want to send an "A" camera man and a production
there, tell them to make a deal with some New Delhi film company to supply
fifteen old cars and eight thousand extras and we'll pay them seven thousand
dollars. You photograph the stuff and bring it back here. Or
like Hong Kong,
go to Run Run Shaw, say we want three shots like this. You gaff the whole
thing and we'll pay you X number of dollars. Send your cameraman, or a
unit camera man whom you trust, and a production manager to handle it
financially, and they do it, and you come back with dailies of an establishing
shot with ten
Lucas goes on to explain the plot in modest
detail, which he seems to have thought out beforehand and already
briefed the other two on the broad strokes of it. Particularly vivid
is the opening sequence in the jungle--Lucas has an extremely clear
vision of the scene, and describes basically what ends up in the
film. "It's all misty and primeval," he says, "King Kongish." From
pages 11 to 17 of the transcript Lucas spells out, moment by moment,
how the film will open. Kasdan chimes in with his first significant
ideas here, and Spielberg adds touches of his own, upping the ante
with his usual showmanship. "What we're really designing here,"
Spielberg says of the scene, "is a ride at
G — The other process of the thing is that the
guy who is with
him is beginning to freak out. He can't take it, so he gets to a point where
he can't do it any more. He runs out and that's the last we ever see of him.
We can use him
as a foil to establish the pressure. It's getting crazy with the tarantulas and
it's all very spooky.
We get to a point in the tomb and we do this
thing where there's like this light shaft coming down from
temple. It's sort of a very narrow shaft. The stone tunnel that he's in is about
this wide and right in the middle is a very thin shaft of light coming
down through a
hole, a little beam. You see him look at it[ ...]he tosses a thing in it, a stick, and
these giant spikes come out, and go...
S — When the spikes come out and go like
that, there should be remains, skeletal remains skewered on some of
victims that have been there before. It's kind of like one of those rides at
G — So he tests it first, and we
L — Why are we letting the second sleazo get
away? Why can't
we sacrifice him to the temple.
G — We can. I just did it as building the
pressure, but we can keep him in. We'll follow it through, and
then we'll see
where you want to dispose of him.
L — If the hero tells him to stick with him, and
the guy in his
panic makes that fatal one step sideways, you
can build the terror.
G — The idea of having him in there in the first
place was to
use him as a foil for things like where he starts to walk into that light and the
guy tells him to wait, don't go through there. Then he throws
the stick and
it all goes clang. Anyway, they have to go through this beam of light, they have to
go up against the wall and sort of get around it. If anything
against that light... It's great because you can use it like this, across your...
It's all dark and you can see the light just Just creeping right along the
edge of the
thing there. You don't how much it would take to actually set it off.
L — And you've got to do the cliche where
they're walking along this ledge just this wide and it just goes
And he takes a rock and he drops it, and you don't hear anything. So they
keep going, and about twenty seconds later you hear it hit.
G — The idea was there would be around three
things, real neat-o things, like these giant stones that jump
together, spikes that fly out, the precipice thing.
Another one would be a sort of giant stone trap door, I
don't know quite how to describe it.
S — There could be like wall mashers,
stones could mash...
S — This is the first scene in the movie. This
get at least four major screams. The audience won't trust anyone after
that. They won't trust the film.
— There's also the thing you can do which is your famous "Jaws", or what I
call the hand on the shoulder trick, which is not only skeletons, but we can
that aren't that old, they just have drawn skin all over them, that are lurking in
During this section of throwing ideas for traps
and gags, Spielberg also comes up with the famous rolling
G — Right when you think he's got it and he's
starting his way back, he's tripped something. Some kind of a
And you hear some giant mechanism at work inside the thing that's going to
have this awesome thing that will chrush the entire temple or something. In
the process of
this, one way or another, we will have to kill the other guy off or send
him fleeing, screaming into the night. We can do anything to him. It will be
easy to get rid
of him if you want. In the end he gets it and comes out of the temple into sunlight
and looks and he's got the thing, and we cut to Washington,
S — You know what it could be. I have a great
idea. He hears
the sand... When he goes into the cave, it's not straight. The whole thing is
on an incline on the way in. He hears this, grabs the thing, comes to a
is a sixty-five foot boulder that's form-fitted to only roll down the
corridor coming right at him. And it's a race. He gets to outrun the boulder. It
then comes to
rest and blocks the entrance of the cave. Nobody will ever come in again.
This boulder is the size of a house.
G — It mashes the partner.
S — Right. The guy can't run fast
Following this, Lucas moves on to describe the
rest of the plot, from pages 19 to 26, a tremendous amount of
detailed plot information; Lucas had a very specific idea of how the
story of the film would unfold. He is vaguer on characters and who
they are--he has an idea for a professional nemesis of Indy's
(Belloq in the film), but doesn't know who he is or what country he
is from. He has the idea for an Arab ally of Indy's (Sallah in the
film) but is short on specifics, and also tells of how he provides
Indy with a boat to get the Ark back to the US (in Lucas' early
version, it is a ship of Chinese pirates). He also doesn't know what
to do with the female lead, who he conceives as a German
double-agent and does not make it to the Nazi submarine base where
the Ark is opened; he also considers her rather unimportant to the
film at this point, almost an afterthought.
G — The problem with the girl is that we had the
ending and everything, and I didn't know how to get the
girl on the submarine, and she just sort of drops out. You
can't take a
girl through that kind of story. We rationalized that she
was German, and
maybe could go with the professor or something so she could be there in the
end. The story would come back together again. She wouldn't be on the
ship, but she
would be in the... The other idea was that she meets the guy when he gets back in
the garage. They get on the Chinese ship together and have a relationship
there, then when the Germans come, suddenly our hero is gone
and they take
the girl with them. She doesn't know what's happened to him or anything. Then he
shows up again in the thing. We had worked it out where we could carry her
along. It did
make sense. If she's a German, and sort of a double agent,
you could take
her on one side, then take her on the other side. The biggest problem was how
you get her to go along on everything, apart from the
relationship. Obviously you can develop the relationship between two
you have to do is get them in the same room together somehow. These are
Noting before how Lucas
wanted the film to be down-to-earth and realistic, the totally
fantastical ending where the wrath of God descends on the Nazis is
not presented so over-the-top in Lucas' approach. Instead,
the Nazis open the Ark, a lightning bolt strikes it which kills the
villains and causes a fire in the camp, and in the pandemonium Indy
grabs the Ark and escapes. Lucas is hesitant to even have this
lightning, which is implicit of a supernatural element, even though
it is in a slightly vague way. "The feeling is that the Ark is the real
explains, but he seems a bit reluctant to show this in a tangible
way and betray the reality of the film. He describes the
G — The bad Nazi and the professor, our
nemesis...There's this vicious Nazi General who is the
sort of sidekick killer, Mr. Skull and Cross Bones. They are both
in there, and
he's anxious to have the Ark opened; The professor is a little leery about the
whole thing. "We have to be careful. We should deliver it to Hitler before
we play around
with it." "No. No- I have to know." They uncrate it.
This is the part that's left to interpretation.
My feeling was
that maybe it was a little unbelievable. Our hero gets into the room. They catch
him. There's a fight. He's being led away. He gets away with a little
trouble, and hides. The guys now open the crate up. They open
it and just as
they open it, this lightening bolt or electrical charge... The whole thing
becomes like kinetic energy, with lightening arcs. It's very quick. Like a
lightening rod, it attracts static electricity. The two guys get
fried. At this
point our guy is sort of helpless. The tent bursts on fire. All the
guards turn around and look. In this confusion is when he takes the
opportunity and splits.
L — Who gets fried? '
G — The professor and the Captain. All the Nazis
are yelling about putting the fire out. They put it
out. Our guy is
hidden during all this, but he can see it. Now we cut to smoldering ruins. Our guy
sneaks in there and gets the Ark and hustles out with it. This
is more or less
the end of the movie.
S — There's no confrontation now with the
G — The confrontation takes place just before
that. They're starting to unpack the whole thing when he shows
up. Then they
have their confrontation. They get into their fight. Our hero is beaten up,
subdued. "I have the last laugh on you. Send him to the sharks." They're leading
him away and
you think that in the end the bad guys have won. Our hero is being led out to
be killed, and they're going to open up the Ark. When they open it up this
happens and fries them. Our guy gets away. Now we cut to the smoldering ruins.
The Ark has been pulled off to one side. We see our guy grab the ark and
sneak off. Cut
to Washington. Our guy is getting congratulated. The end, sort of, is that he
takes the Ark... It's crated up, no one even looks at it. They crate it up put it
in an Army
warehouse somewhere. That's how it ends, very bureaucratic. The feeling is
that the Ark is the real thing, that it really is a very powerful
S — Supernatural.
G — It's sitting down in the government
warehouse. The bureaucracy is the big winner in the film. In
the specific scenes, it works out that he gets beat and shit
happens to him
in the process. Obviously there has to be some kind of scene with him in
— In the way you have it now, in the final confrontation
arch-rival, the arch-rival is victorious, then he gets fried by the
G — Right. The Ark is ultimately victorious. The
other thing is,
our guy would be really skeptical about the powers of the Ark, but the arch-rival
is convinced that it's all true, that it has power, and with it they could rule
the world. They
sort of trade myths and legends back and forth. In the end the bad guy was
right, and our guy is there to see it. He doesn't see the arcs and stuff, but he
sees the tent
go into a ball of fire. When he gets' back to Washington,
the guys, "That Ark, it's true. It's the lost Ark." The Army guy tells him
they'll take care of it. It's all top secret stuff. He gets shut out of
it, and they
don't believe him. They just put it
One of the most fascinating developments is the
character of Marion, who is entirely created during the meetings. As
mentioned, Lucas' idea was for a German double-agent for the female
lead, but she was an afterthought, a plot contrivance more than
anything. Spielberg at one point voices concern over this and wants
an active, three-dimensional character who can interact with Indy
and provide the film with conversation, but Lucas is resistant (with
a legitimate concern that her presence in each scene have to be
S — And I know you don't like the idea of somebody just
tagging along for conversation, but make her someone who wouldn't have been in
this picture, all if she weren't in this picture, a lot of this
stuff wouldn't have taken place. As the place is crashing,
she's the pilot.They're going to crash land together. She's
really angry at
him. She gets involved in the plot, and is useful. She's
somebody to be around for comic relief or romantic relief. Rather than being a
kind of quasi... In the Dietrich mold like a double agent,
G — It's more of a plot thing. I had her a
German double agent who was stuck over there. Then we can use
her in the plot. She sort of has access to information. She
is useful and
tied in. It has to be something where they're sort of tied in together on this
thing, where it's conceivable. Again, she doesn't have to be German, she could
be American, she could be French or whatever. But I don think
that we should
come up with some reason to keep her from being just a tagalong. The only
thing I can come up with is that she's sort of a mercenary, and she' somehow
involved. Like she has a piece of the puzzle, rather than being
forced into the
situation. Because if she's forced into it, you're constantly fighting to try
and keep her there. [...] we have to come up with something so we're not
constantly justifying her existence. She has to be there for a reason.
I'd say greed.
Here, Lucas has unknowingly provided himself
with the key to the changing character--a mercenary-like person who
has part of the puzzle. The discussion soon leads to Lucas stating
"maybe he gets a piece of the puzzle that sends him to the
Himalayas." This soon links up with "the girl", who has a drawing of
a tablet that Indy must aquire to lead him to the Ark. "Before I had the girl providing that," he says when Kasdan
suggests something else. "We can decide which way. I had the
girl get a copy
of the drawing."
Kasdan then suggests that she obtained the fragment from her
father--who was Indy's mentor. This then sets Lucas on a totally
different track, and he tries out another idea where the girl could
be a tough young woman who runs a
What follows is an incredible moment where we
see how characters get created. Her place in the story is developed
first, establishing how she has the map piece, which necessitates
further development of her character and backstory. Lucas is
inspired by his friends, Bill [Willard] and Gloria Huyck, who
travelled to the Himalayas and found a bar run by an expatriated
American, and thinks maybe the girl can be like this character.
Lucas, in some ways, falls back on the Han Solo archetype, a greedy
mercenary out for money, tough and cynical but providing a very warm
human element. Spielberg and Kasdan both agree that she should be
kept a tough, tomboyish character, who drinks, and not soften her.
Lucas then comes up with a brilliant--and highly provocative--piece
of backstory that may seem very out of his character considering
Lucas' clean-cut image. He proposes that Indy may have had an affair
with her while she was still a teenager. He facetiously sets her age
as young as eleven years old, but then settles on her age as
fifteen, with Indy being twenty-five at the time.
Lucas was trying to establish a very hard-edge sort of character,
and a film that had very adult elements to it, with complex
characters, not caricatures. He recognizes how three-dimensional and
interesting it is to have a relationship as complicated as a grown
man having an affair with a teenager whose father was his mentor,
which then led to a rift between them, but now the two of them are
brought together by circumstance. "Fifteen is right on the edge," he
says. "I know it's an outrageous idea, but it is interesting.
Once she's sixteen or seventeen it's not interesting anymore. But if
she was fifteen and he was twenty-five and they actually had an
affair the last time they met.
And she was madly in love with him." As he also states, it would add
a very compelling dynamic to their onscreen chemistry. "It puts a whole
new perspective on this whole thing," he says. "It gives you
lots of stuff to play off of between them. Maybe she still likes
him. It's something he'd rather forget about and not have come up
again. This gives her a lot of ammunition to fight with."
Lucas also knew how to use a subtle hand--this
backstory is referenced, but only indirectly. Instead of spelling it
out, it becomes the subtext, giving the characters and the film
depth without making it melodrama. "It's not as blatant as we're talking about," he
instructs. "It would be subtle." In the final film it is hinted at
through this dialog
never meant to hurt you.
Marion: I was a
child! I was in love.
Indy: You knew what you
Marion: It was wrong. You knew
Indy: Look, I did what I did. I don't
expect you to be happy about it. But maybe we can do each other some
Marion: Why start now?
Indy: Shut up and listen for a second. I want
that piece your father had. I've got money.
Here is the discussion in the story
G — The Germans have found the lost city. And they have
two-thirds of the map, which maybe they found when they were digging. Other
this map have been found before, antiquities in various museums and other
L — Let's say her father is there. Her father
may have been
his mentor. He has been working on some unrelated project.
But it was her
father who discovered the first fragment of the map. She has it. Her
father dies. That's why he's going to Nepal, to get it from her. That's why
they know each
other. That's why she's reluctant to part with it. Does any of this sound
G — Sounds possible.
L — so they have a previous relationship through
G — The other thing we can do, twisting what
you've just done with what we've already got... My immediate
reaction is to
shy away from the professor's daughter goes along. But what if we do it, and
since her father dies, he left her broke. He was an archeologist and he left
her so broke she didn't have any money to get back. So she's
stuck there. She runs the bar. She's the local Rick. Sort of
Rick. She's sort of goofy...
S — Earning money to get back to the
G — Yeah. She wants to get back. She's sort of
made it her
hone. She started out maybe singing or being a call girl or whatever. Eventually
she bought out the guy who ran the place, or he died. Now she's got this
and she's doing sort of well. She could only sell the place for as much
money as it would take to get her back to the states, and then she would be stuck
nothing, no job. What she'd like to do is really strike it rich. But she
doesn't see any way of doing that. She's sort of a goofy tough, willing to take
care of herself, mercenary type lady who's really out for
herself. She has this piece and he wants it. so what she does
is cut herself
in on it. "Look, you're going to have to take me along with you." "What do
you mean?" "Partners. I have one piece. You have the other." That old story.
It's kind of
the thing where she wants to go back to the states in style or something. She
doesn't want to get on a tramp steamer and make her way back, which she could
have done a
while ago. She really wants to go back as a lady. This is her chance. She says
she'll sell it to him.
L — This is in Cairo.
G — No. This is in Nepal. She's stuck
L — Who are her customers at this Rick's Place
G — There is actually a Rick's Place in Nepal.
Bill and Gloria
know about it. They stayed there. It's some expatriot American who lives there at
the foot of the Himalayas. It's got this hotel/bar.
S — I like the idea that she's a heavy drinker
and our hero
doesn't drink at all. She gets drunk a lot. She's beautiful and she gets
really sexy when she's drunk, and silly. And he doesn't touch the
L — I don't want to soften her. I like the fact
that it's greed. I like all the hard stuff, but you're
going to love here.
G — This is good, but she obviously gets into
something that's way over her head as the whole thing goes
L — I wonder if someone hasn't approached her
map has heated up considerably in three weeks. They've found the town. Does she
have some tip off that this is worth while? When he comes to her, "That's
funny. I've had
this ten years since my father died. Now in this week two people want
G — If the Germans got there, first, they
probably would have offered her a lot of money. And she probably
would have sold it to them. Maybe no one knew where she is and
he finds her
through Washington or something. Some way where he would know, but no one
else. Or government would know and he gets it from them. Maybe the enemy
doesn't know yet where this professor died. And that would
make it interesting, because supposedly she's secure,
and he gets sabotaged on the way there. You know that they
know more or
less where he's going. The immediate danger is that they're racing to get there.
She tells him that if he wants this thing so bad it'll cost him $20,000.
"I don't have
that kind of money. I don't get anything until I get the whole thing, when we
get the Ark. Then I get the money." She says, "Okay, We're partners." It
forces her to
stay with him. If the Germans came and offered her the money right away, she'd
take it. And they would give it to her. I think it's better, at this point,
to keep the
Germans one step behind them.
S — She gives him this map right
G — It
has to be fairly quick.
S — He has to win her confidence.
G — Right.
L — Let's say the Germans are a half hour behind
them, and they're haggling. She is in immediate jeopardy
and he represents some security to her.
G — Since he got there first, it's too late for
them to try and
buy it. All they can do is kill them both and take it.
S — How would they know where it is unless they
first to find out?
G — They won't know.
S — They wouldn't want to kill them until they
have their hands on the map.
G — Maybe they'd just want to kill
S — She has a rooming house above the cafe. He
hears this sound. In the middle of the night he gets up and
looks over the
banister. There are Germans everywhere. They have her and they're
interrogating her in the middle of this empty cafe in the middle of the
G — He comes in and saves her. You sort of
introduce her as a damsel in distress. In the other way she's
sort of a tough
girl. Or you could do both. You could have him come and haggle with her,
and have her say no way. "No money. No deal.". He gets sort of pissed off and
goes out. He
comes back later and the place is empty and they're in there torturing
L — The thing hasn't been worth anything up
until now, so she wears it around her neck, or it's on the
mantle. It's like a joke.
G — Obviously it could be something
semi-precious to her because her father gave it to her. We'll assume
that she did
love the old coot.
L — He goes off to his room for the night. He
gets up; he's
going to steal it. in the interim the Germans have arrived. When he goes down
to steal it, he winds up rescuing her. He stumbles into this heroic role.
She could doubt
his motivation from then on. "You didn't come down there to save me."
G — We have to get them cemented into a very
strong relationship. A bond.
L — I like it if they already had a relationship
at one point.
Because then you don't have to build it.
G — I was thinking that this old guy could have
been his mentor. He could have known this little girl
when she was
just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.
L — And he was forty-two.
G — He hasn't seen her in twelve years. Now
she's twenty-two. It's a real strange relationship.
S — She had better be older than
G — He's thirty-five, and he knew her ten years
ago when he was
twenty-five and she was only twelve. It would be amusing to make her slightly
young at the time.
S — And promiscuous. She came onto
G — Fifteen is right on the edge. I know it's an
outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once she's sixteen
or seventeen it's not interesting anymore. But if she was
fifteen and he
was twenty-five and they actually had an affair the last
time they met.
And she was madly in love with him and he...
S — She has pictures of him.
G — There would be a picture on the mantle of
her, her father, and him. She was madly in love with him
at the time and
he left her because obviously it wouldn't work out. Now she's twenty-five
and'she's been living in Nepal since she was eighteen. It's not only that they
like each other, it's a very bizarre thing, it puts a whole new
this whole thing. It gives you lots of stuff to play off of between them. Maybe
she still likes him. It's something he'd rather forget about and not have
come up again. This gives her a lot of ammunition to fight
S — In a way, she could say, "You've made me
G — This is a resource that you can either mine
or not. It's
not as blatant as we're talking about. You don't think about it that much. You
don't immediately realize how old she was at the time. It would be subtle. She
about it. "I was jail bait the last time we were together." She can flaunt it
at him, but at the same time she never says, "I was fifteen years-old."'
Even If we
don't mention it, when we go to cast the part we're going
to end up with
a woman who's about twenty-three and a hero who's about
S — She is the daughter of the professor who our
hero was under
the tutelege of. She has this little fragment of the map.
can also see the dynamic at work between the three participants:
Kasdan prods Lucas with questions and brief suggestions, which makes
Lucas create and guide the storyline, which is then embellished and
added to by
the day goes on they begin solving plot contrivances, specifically
how to connect the set pieces and get the hero from point A to point
B; Lucas refers to it more than once as like putting together puzzle
pieces. Kasdan begins to grow more confident and comfortable, and
once Lucas stops narrating the plot has a chance to jump in the mix.
This excerpt shows the co-operative process of solving the story, of
keeping each other in check and making sure every angle is
G — Another way to do it would be to give our
guy a jump a little bit. In Washington they tell him he has
to get on it
right away because the Germans have found the lost city or whatever two days ago. A
lot of activity going on out in the desert. They've contacted his old friend.
about the Ark. Somehow they say that he hasn't left Paris yet. They think he's
scheduled to leave tomorrow for Cairo. We know that his rival hasn't left
Paris yet. That's when our guy says it must be true. "I
need a ticket
to Shang Hai." Assume that the French guy wouldn't figure it out until he
actually got there.
L — That's a question. How hip is the
arch-rival? At this point our guy apparently knows that he
needs the staff. He doesn't know if they've found the map.
must know about the staff.
G — You assume he knows this stuff if his mentor
found the top
of the staff.
L — Now why would the arch-rival, upon hearing
the news that
they found the lost city, immediately say "I've got to get that staff put
together."? Why do we have to have such a big lead?
G — What happens if we don't?
L — It makes more sense if the arch-rival hasn't
gotten all this
stuff before. So it becomes a race all the way. What is the advantage of the
lead he's got?
G — That's what it comes down to. It becomes
slightly coincidence, and we have to avoid that, that his
mentor knew all
about this and that's how come he knows all about it. Of course it's not
really a coincidence because he's going for the thing. If he knows the professor,
and if he knows
about this particular Ark, he is the one who is really the expert on it, but
he's very skeptical about it. He's sort of researched it and his mentor has
and he thinks it's sort of horse-shit. If they call him in and say, "It seems
the Germans have found the lost city. The lost city is the part that was
the myth. "They
probably just stumbled into a big hole and think they discovered something."
"Well, we're sending for this guy." So then our guy thinks maybe it is the lost
city. If it is
the lost city, they're going to need the staff. They're not going to figure that one
out for a while. "If they have found the lost city and they're looking for
the Ark, they're going to need the staff-with the sun. I
know where to
get it, and I've got to get it right away, before they get it, and before my
arch-rival gets it."
S — Then we'd better cut to the arch-rival away
from our hero, make him a seperate character and let him give
the same orders.
G — I think it's better not to. I don't
want to set it up as a race. I think it's important that we set
up the fact
that our guy is getting to the thing before they do, or
is trying to.
And he does get to it before they do, and then he goes to the girl and gets the
L — It seems like he could be just a step ahead
all along. It
could be a half hour or it could be ten minutes, (garbled, something about
guns and Samurai). Do you have any problem with the fact that they bail out
over the Himalayas when they had all the way from Shang
S — No. That's the kind of stuff I like. I
This is a rather typical example of any given
moment in the story conferences, where a dozen different ideas,
approaches and thoughts are dished out. As "Mystery Man on
Film" wrote in his piece on the conference transcript,
Spielberg and Lucas are simply idea machines, with a seemingly unending amount
of ideas. Kasdan himself is impressive in this regard as
A typical example, noted by "Mystery Man on
Film," is the development of the Nazi-saluting monkey seen briefly
in the film. They begin by talking about a suspense device for a
scene where Indy talks to Sallah about the height of the staff: a
shadow on the wall, or a waiter pulling a knife, something to
indicate the heroes are in danger but they don't yet realise it.
Spielberg then come up with the idea of an assassin poisoning their
food, and they realise it is poisoned when an animal eats it. His
first idea is that it is a cat. He then suggests a mongoose, so the
audience won't mind when the animal dies from the poison. Lucas
suggests a monkey, then a rat. Kasdan then revises it to a
villainous monkey that belongs to the bad
S — What if the guy who's bringing the tray of
food in is pouring
powder in the drinks all through the food and the
He's laced everything with poison, for both of them. He brings it in and sets it
down, and they're wrapped up in conversation, but the food is always there with
this implied threat. At one point our hero would take the
chicken and just start gesturing with it. He's too caught up
to eat it. He's
not paying attention and this cat jumps up on the table and nibbles on the food. The
cat freaks, just goes crazy and jumps up, climbs up the walls. He says. "I'm not
going to eat
this." What if it's an animal we hate, an animal the audience can't stand. It's
always after our hero and doesn't like him very much, like a mongoose.
G — A monkey is a perfect thing.
S — What animal don't people like?
G — A rat.
S — A pet rat.
G — It doesn't have to be a pet.
L — He's looking the other way, the rat comes
S — That's a pretty brave rat.
G — It wouldn't come on the table.
L — The minute they hit Cairo we can assume
they're being followed. Maybe this Arab operative is the one
who has the monkey. It's a villain monkey. The Arab can make
him do things,
and he sends him in there to steal the piece.
A little later they have a page-long discussion
about how the monkey gets killed and how the monkey is dressed. Then
the following appears in the transcript:
G — And then you follow that guy and he sort of
signals to somebody and then they attack. In the middle of
the fight the
monkey sort of appears again. When she hides the monkey runs over to the thing and
points her out. He gets on the camel. You cut back to the home and he's back
there lamenting, and the monkey comes back in.
S — (garbled, something about the monkey going
G — That's up to you and the trainer, and the
Just to create the one element of a monkey who
accompanies an assassin and famously does a heil Hitler gesture
takes pages worth of discussion, and dozens of ideas about what it
should do and what scenes it should be in, and how the assassin
figures into the plot. Yet these few moments go by in the film
almost as afterthoughts.
Often, the development of one scene is
interrupted by tangents that result in some key developments. One of
the most amusing is where Kasdan asks if Lucas has developed a name
for the lead character--you may have noticed that up until now he is
often referred to only as "our guy".
L — Do you have a name for this
G — I do for our leader.
S — I hate this, but go ahead.
G — Indiana Smith. It has to be unique. It's a
Americana square. He was born in Indiana.
L — What does she call him, Indy?
G — That's what I was thinking. Or Jones. Then
people can call
It's worth noting the ret con that was developed
in Last Crusade about him being named
after the dog (this was, by the way, true in a sense--although
here Lucas rationalises that Indy takes his name from the state
he is from, in real life Lucas got the name from the pet dog which
belonged to his wife, so Indy was indeed named after a
The second half of the conferences follow a very
predictable pattern now that the main plot and cast of characters
has been decided on--revisit, revise and expand. Scenes, characters
and gags are constantly revisited and discussed, figuring out how
they can be made more dramatic or more logical and fit together
better, and characters are constantly given tweaks and revisions.
The meetings meander like this, from topic to topic, as one idea
brings up a related issue, and then a related character, and then a
related scene, which reminds someone of a part somewhere else in the
An interesting exchange comes when the three of
them revisit the character of Marion. Early on, they had developed
her character as one who was in love with Indy as a teenager, and
whose father was Indy's mentor, but now has fallen on hard times and
runs a bar in Nepal; Indy contacts her to get a medallion that he
needs. Days later, they figure out how the scene will play out when
they first meet:
G — She's a rough and tumble girl. She says, "It
belonged to my
father. It's mine." We have to have a good scene there. How we get into that
scene is the most important part of it. He jumps out of the plane, he lands,
he's all snowy,
he looks around, wipe and he's walking into the thing or he's sitting there
with the girl. Cut to her saying, "Long time no see." "Yeah, I guess it
has been a long
time." Or do you cut to him walking into the bar, and he sort of walks up and
sits down and she comes up and says —
L — I don't want to throw away their first sight
of each other.
S — I would like very much if she didn't see him
at first, but
he witnessed her dealing with a bunch of rowdies. He's on the other side and he
watches her in action. He really gets a lot of respect for her. She's really
grown up. Then
he deals with her.
L — What if we lose him, see her dealing with
the rowdies. She clears the place out and then sees him
S — She says, "I'm sick of all this." And she
almost has a
nervous break down in front of everybody. She breaks up a fight and tells them to
get out. Everybody leaves except for our guy. She doesn't know who he is because
his back is
turned. She tries to get rid of him.
G — You have to be careful, no matter what you
do, when he turns around it's gonna be "Indy."
S — He turns around smiling. He planned it for
the dramatic effect.
G — It has to be careful. I like the idea of
cutting to her
and seeing her in action, tough. She should be Rick, in control of the situation.
This is the normal thing for her. She shouldn't be hectic or
L — And I like him to witness this. And she
doesn't know he's observing.
G — When they meet there should be some kind of
a good scene between them. He should say, "Where's your
father?" "He died five years ago. I sent you a note. We had
to bury him up
here." It's like she's really rubbing it in. Maybe she didn't send him a note. Her
feeling when he walks in is here is a guy she loved. He left her. She's stuck up
here in the
middle of nowhere.
S — I like the idea that she greets him with
disdain when he
first walks in.
G — The fact that she sent him a note when her
father died five years ago, and she was hoping that he would
come and comfort her... He didn't even acknowledge the
S — She says, "You're too late."
G — He says he's been traveling
L — I wonder if her first reaction isn't to hit
unusual, not just a slap. First sight, register who it is, wham.
S — "Still with that right cross I taught
G — "Hey, Junie, long time no see."
S — And she says, "Get
In another part, they discuss the climax of the
"Well of Souls" scene, which results in ideas for it filling with
water, then sand. After talking about it for a bit, Kasdan suggests
they discuss the Washington scene again, which has now been
revisited twice. Much later, they are brought back to the topic of
the Well of Souls, and the idea of water turns into snakes, with an
idea Spielberg had about water loosening a brick and allowing Indy
to escape turning into snakes coming through cracks in the wall and
leading Indy to an antechamber. This leads to the development of
Indy's fear of snakes.
L — When he's trapped in that tomb, he should
get out himself.
G — There are several things of interest that
might work there in terms of the serial aspect of the
movie. It's difficult in the desert, but it is conceivable.
(garbled) ...having the room fill with water. Not only do
they get trapped in there, the thing starts filling up
L — Wouldn't it make more sense for it to be
sand? That would be a more logical kind of
G — That might be nice. It's not nearly as
S — The problem is, you can't shoot the guy
under the sand. The camera is always restricted to just one
G — The thing about water that's more
dramatic is that when it comes crashing in, it goes splashing all
over the place.
One way of doing it, I thought maybe the city was built on a river.
S — Now to get him out of it, which isn't easy.
We should have
a hidden granite rock or something. Something, when forced by the pressure of
the water, loosens a rock that begins to come out. It would be terrific if he
were forced into another chamber, the water like a big wave
him, tumbling him from one passageway to another, really getting
The scene is revisited much
G — One of the first suggestions that you made,
water with sand, might be of interest. It's like "Land of the Pharoahs" where they
had those giant sand chutes. [...] the sand could fill up to the point where
collapsed. Assume that the floor of the temple is really the second story.
There is another floor below it. When the sand comes in, the floor falls through
down into the
next level. As he's climbing, you hear creaking. You get a shot of him falling
through the sand. He lands in the sand at the bottom of another temple. But there
are doors. You
can have him walk through the buried city. Then he finds another digging and
gets himself out.
S — It's so convenient. The circumstances have
get out of this one. You could do the same thing with water. Or he sees some
water being channeled, a little stream going out a crack. He realizes it's a
loose rock, and he can get out that way. It just seems
convenient for the sand to be too heavy, with the way those temples
G — Suppose he's just in the temple and they
lock the door[...] so what he does is there's like a giant column or
something. He starts chipping away at the column, cutting it down like a tree. He
finally gets the column so it falls over and crashes through
the door, and opens it up. Then he climbs
through. I like the
idea of him climbing through the underground city. Then he
finds an exit. The idea of the Nazis putting tigers in there...
You know what
it's like to fly in a tiger from South Africa.
S — It would have to be a neighborhood
G — There aren't any tigers out
S — I'm not in love with the idea.
G — You could have bats and stuff, make it
S — What about snakes? All these snakes come
G — People hate snakes. Possibly when he gets
down there in the first place.
L — Asps? They're too small.
S — It's like hundreds of thousands of
G — When he first jumps down in the hole, it's a
giant snake pit. It's going to detract from the... This is
is going to detract from the discovery of the Ark, but that's all right. We can't
make a big deal out of the Ark. He opens the thing, and he starts to jump down,
and it's full of snakes, thousands of them [...] Then when he says they're afraid
of light, they throw down torches. You have a whole bunch of torches that keep the
snakes back. Then he gets the thing, and they take it out.
And the guy says, "Now you will die my friend." Clunk. At
the clunk three of the remaining four torches go out. So he only
has one more
torch, and the snakes start coming in. He sits there with one torch, knowing that
when the torch goes out... It's the idea of being in a room, in a black room
with a lot of snakes. That will really be scary.[...] We
shouldn't have any snakes in the opening sequence, just tarantulas. Save the
snakes for now.
S — It would be funny if, somewhere early in the
movie he somehow implied that he was not afraid of
snakes. Later you realize that that is one of his big
G — Maybe it's better if you see early, maybe in
the beginning that he's afraid, "Oh God, I hate those snakes."
It should be
slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens
this up, "I can't go down in there. Why did
there have to be snakes. Anything but snakes." You can play it
As you can probably tell from the excerpts
posted so far, Lucas is by far the dominant person in the
conferences--it is really his storyline, which Kasdan and Spielberg
are enhancing and building upon. He also takes the film the most
seriously, while Spielberg seems to take a more flippant, humorous
approach to it all, and has a lot of goofy suggestions such as a
turban-wearing monkey that does a heil Hitler, Indy parachuting out
of a plane in a raft, and Indiana being chased through
clotheslines on a camel. At the same time, while Lucas comes across
as a bit controlling, resisting a lot of ideas, many of the
suggestions Spielberg comes up with end up in the film. These
include the Nazi with his nunchuck coat-hanger, the monkey with its
heil-Hitler, Sallah using the Nazi flag to get Indy out of the map
room, Indy leaving Marion tied up in the tent, Indy trying to hijack
the flying wing and the gaspump explosion, the car flying off the
cliff in the truck chase, the snakes in the Well of Souls, the
assassin poisoning the food, and many of the gags in the opening
jungle sequence (and other action sequences, such as the truck
chase). In almost all cases they aren't big story points but rather
embellishments and smaller scenes, but go a long way to making the
film better than the creativity of any single
One other point of note is that Lucas seems to
play into antiquated racial stereotypes, especially Arab and Asian
ones. This is because Lucas was referencing and remaking films from
the 1930s and 1940s, which were abundant with such
stereotypes--today, they may seem racist to some people, but at the
time, and perhaps for someone in the late 1970s who had grown up
watching them, they had been normalised, or seemed acceptable in a
film that was following in the footsteps of those serials. Lucas,
however, seems to have a slightly flippant view of this; in one
moment he seems to equate "sleazos" that accompany Indy to South
America as being equal as long as they aren't
G — This is where he goes into the cave. We had
it where there's a couple native bearers, whatever, and
sort of a couple of Mexican, well not Mexican... Let's put
S — They're like Mayan.
G — They're the third world local sleazos.
Whether they're Mexicans or Arabs or whatever.
S — They carry the boxes over their heads. They
fall off cliffs.
G — The sleazos with the thin
While in another instance Spielberg suggests "a
villainous Charlie Chan" character to be Indy's main
adversary--Charlie Chan being a caricature that no doubt would be
considered offensive today. This is, most likely, the same sort of
adaptation that got Lucas in trouble when he sourced the inept black
servants from the same films to make Jar Jar Binks. Lucas also makes
reference to "one of those weasel-faced, thin-moustached Arab
professors" in the Raiders
transcript, showing he was drawing from a stock of ethnic
characters used throughout classic films. Luckily, the final script
edited these into more realistic
A final element to take away from a perusal of
the conferences is the manner in which the character of Indy is
treated, and what the driving force of the film is. While all the
characters have very developed personalities and pasts, there is
little in the way of a character arc--much like one of the models
used for the film, James Bond, the character of Indiana Jones is a
classic hero who leaves the film essentially the same as when he
entered, about to embark on another adventure. "Mystery Man on Film"
in his article on the transcript argues that
Indy has no change at all, but this is not entirely true--Lucas
describes Indy as being skeptical of the Ark in the beginning,
thinking he is chasing down a piece of superstition, but by the end
of the film is convinced of the Ark's power and tries to tell the
authorities but to no avail. So, while there is much less of a
character change than a traditional film, and while following the
heroic tradition where the hero retains his essence for the sequels,
Lucas did break the James Bond convention in a way that gave some
level of character transformation. Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan also
broke convention by making him vulnerable--unlike Bond, Indy
frequently gets the crap beaten out of him, even if this point is
not as acute in the conferences as it is in the film. Making him
weak is discussed fairly early on in the meetings (before his fear
of snakes was developed):
G — We've established that he's a college
professor. It doesn't have to be done in a strong way. It
starts out in a
museum. They just call him doctor this and doctor that. We can very easily make that
transition, and very quickly establish that whole side of his
L — ( can't understand what he is saying here,
a sword and a basket.) It seems like it would be nice if, once stripped of
his bullwhip, left him weak, if we had to worry. Just a little worried about him
G — That was what I thought. That's why I was
sort of iffy
about throwing it in. If we don't make him vulnerable...
S — What's he afraid of? He's got to be afraid
G — If we don't make him vulnerable, he's got no
In terms of driving force,
Lucas, especially, conceives of the film as a chase. Tension is the
key word here, and much of the way in which the plot is discussed is
in how to maintain tension--providing Indy with mysteries to solve
and pieces to get, while also racing against an enemy or a clock,
and in action scenes there are often efforts made to think of
devices to ramp up the tension more than just the simple version of
the scene would allow. Thus, when Indy is sealed in the Well of
Souls, it is not enough that there are snakes in there as
well--Indy's torches which have kept the snakes at bay are slowly
going out, creating a countdown to when the danger will increase. In
the opening scene, it is not enough that Indy is going into a
dangerous temple, but his porters try to kill him, and the one loyal
porter brave enough to follow him begins slowly panicking with fear,
winding tension higher than just the booby-traps alone would allow.
Lucas and Spielberg also knew how to play the audience--they
maintain that each main set-piece has to be bigger than the one
before it. Spielberg suggests that at the end of the film not only
should the Nazi camp get destroyed but the whole island base should
explode. "If you
follow classic dramatic plotting, that's what is going to happen," Lucas
replies. "You put your biggest boom last, and you create as much tension as you
Finally, many ideas talked about--most of which
appear in the first draft screenplay--that get trimmed out of the
final script are used in the sequels. For example, the initial idea
of the female lead being a German double agent appears in Last Crusade, while there is reference made
to a boat chase that seems to have been decided as taken out of the
story before the conference begins, also appearing in Last Crusade. Lucas describes the boat
chase as "he
gets chased and they're firing at each other. He gets into a harbor
where all these big boats are, and he races down in between two
boats just as they're starting to close." The most
elaborate ideas, which are discussed in detail and appear in the
early drafts of the screenplay, appear in the immediate sequel, Temple of Doom.
The first is the action scene in Shanghai.
Initially, Indy was to track down part of a clue to the Ark that
resides in a museum in Shanghai, with an action and chase sequence
involving Indy battling Chinese gangsters who guard the artifact. In
the film, this was cut out to make the film cheaper (Lucas and
Spielberg bring up budget concerns about shooting overseas) and
simpler (the single medallion that belongs to Marion makes the plot
less convoluted). This idea began merely with Lucas talking out loud
about the most exotic places to send Indy. He mentions first that
Hong Kong would be a nice place to go to after the Washington scene
and says he envisions an action scene there where villains are
trying to assassinate him--the scene came first, then they figure
out how to incorporate it into the plot. This leads Spielberg to
develop the plane crash used in the beginning of Temple of Doom. This tangent is then
discussed for a few pages, figuring out exactly how the scene should
be played in order to maximise tension and still keep it believable,
taking many approaches to the scene. When they come back to the
topic of Hong Kong, Lucas mentions that Shanghai is more exotic and
might make for a better locale. They later develop that it would be
a museum there, and Kasdan suggests that his arch-nemesis (Belloq,
but at the time developed as being Asian) knows the piece is there
as well, setting up a race.
S — I thought he would meet his arch-rival in
G — Only because of the fact that the arch-rival
is oriental. We
don't have to make him Oriental. We can make him black. The only other thing that
gets complex is if the bad guy is Oriental and he goes on the Oriental pirate
ship, it doesn't have to be an Oriental pirate ship. Assuming
that we don't make the arch-rival Chinese, make him French.
When he goes to
Shang Hai to get the piece that it is a surprise that it's missing.
L — It could be in a private collection.
You wouldn't have to worry about stills of it. The private
in could be...
G — Some very rich Chinese war lord. In those
days they had
war lords. They didn't get rid of them until the Japanese came in. A
S — That's what happens in Shang Hai.
G — That would be great. The war lords were
actually like banditos.
S — I'd like to see him taking on a whole bunch
G — It would be Chinese swordsmen, which is
S — Maybe we should move it to Tokyo.
G — Shang Hai is good. We could still have
swords and stuff. It's just a different kind of sword and
it works in
L — This could be a Japanese swordsman who was
so bad they kicked him out of Japan. Now he's in
G — We have to do some research, but actually
the war with Japan was going on then in '36. When you send
him to Shang
Hai, we'll have to check this, but I think the war was going on there
S — It's perfect. You have explosions and
A ton of different ideas are thrown in for the
scene, constantly revising it. The Flying Wing seen in the Cairo
scene is brought to Shanghai at one point, but then scrapped, then
an idea about Washington sending Indy there to buy the piece for
them is bandied about, which leads to development of the War-Lord
S — This War Lord should be a completely
outrageous character, with all the armor and costumes. He should be a
only becomes a gentleman around great works of art.
G — He collects it for some bizarre reason. He
because he heard that's what gentlemen do, and that will
make him a
gentleman. But he hasn't the vaguest idea what it is.
S — That's a good angle on his character. Here's
a man who's
desperately trying to become civilized, and he fails at every
During the midst of this sequence being
developed, as mentioned, is a lengthy discussion about Indy bailing
out of a crashing plane. In the end, they develop the idea of him
using an inflatable raft. This was an idea often criticized when it
was shown in Temple of Doom, and Lucas
surprisingly shares some of that sentiment--Spielberg suggests
it, and Lucas says he thinks the idea is clever but cautions that it
could come across as too unbelievable, and stresses on making it
seem realistic and not cartoonish.
G — We can have him go anywhere. The concept
is that he's
chasing a puzzle. He's got one piece of it, and he thinks he knows who
has the other pieces. So you can send him to Hong Kong. I was thinking you
could do a tiny
piece in Hong Kong where people are constantly trying to knife him in the back and
shoot poison darts into his ears. You had mentioned that you didn't want to
spend all that
time in the desert, so you can condense some of that time
by taking the
stuff that could happen anywhere, which is the finding pieces of the
puzzle, and put it where ever you want.
S — One thing you should do... He's on this
airplane. There are about four or five passengers around him.
He's asleep and
these passengers are looking at him. We don't know why. They they all get up and put
on parachutes, and they jump out the door. He wakes up when he hears the door
open, and realizes he's all alone. The door to the cockpit
is locked. The
airplane begins to go into a spin. He's
trapped in this airplane and it's going down. The
whole thing was
a set up. That's a great cliffhanger, to see how he gets
That's great. Then what happens? One sentence further and it's a great
S — Well, he's never flown an airplane before,
but he kicks in
the pilot's door. That would be interesting, he's never flown before, but
he brings it down. The other thing would be if he knows how to fly, but he's
too late. It's
one of those jungle scenes, you've seen where the plane crashes into this
dinosaur infested jungle, only now without dinosaurs. He has to bring it down over
the tree tops.
Either that or he crashes into the Mediterranean, into the water.
G — Part of it is stylistic, but one of the
things that works in movies is when the guy gets out of that
situation in a
unique very bravado sort of way. He has to do something so audacious that
you have to say, "I'd never think of anything like that." And he gets away with
S — One of the things he could try, although it
takes away from
the suspense... If I were him, I'd jump at the last minute
G — The way to do it is to have him... You have
seat covers or
something. He starts ripping off the seat covers and tying
Then he jumps out holding all these seat covers. That's sort of unbelievable. If
you could make something like that believable. He's over the
water. It's James Bond. Not only do you have to get him out
of it, you have
to do it in a very colorful way. I'm not saying that you actually have to be
clever, just make it believable. Sometimes he does it in a totally outrageous
way, but it works and it's truly great.
S — He does this. Under his seat is a life vest
or a life raft.
He takes the life vest out from all the seats and he blows them all up and
he gets inside, and is completely insulated. Then her jumps out of the airplane.
He just surrounds himself with these huge cushioned
G — Did they have those things in
S — They had them in all airplanes.
G — That's a little research item. They might
just have had
life preservers. If they had life preservers, you could more or less do the same
thing. If he's over water, the plane could be going down at a steep
S — The other thing he can do that's more in
keeping with the heroic side is, rather than abandon the
plane, he could kick down the door and we see the ocean just
coming up at him. He'd pull the plane up at just the last
the old cliche shot; The plane is bellying on the water. The water bursts
through the cockpit. The plane begins to sink, and that would be
G — I like the part where he jumps out. That's a
L — What if he makes himself into a ball with
the life preservers and just goes skipping into the
G — If he like he ties himself into a ball with
these preservers and he jumps out at the last
L — If there were a life raft he could enclose
G — That's a good idea. I'm just worried they
didn't have life rafts then.
S — They had life rafts all through the second
world war that
G — The only reason we're talking about the Orient is
that it's exotic. He's going to leave Washington and go to
places. He'll go to the Orient with the crowded streets and dragon ladies.
Then we send him to the Himalayas, with the snow. And then we send him to Cairo.
Going from the
Himalays to Cairo he would be going over water.
He could land in the snow. One thing about landing in the water that bothers me
is that we end up in the water on the sub.
G — Actually, he could land in the
S — When he hits, the raft comes open and he has
a toboggan ride.
G — It's even better, because when he thinks of
the raft over,
well that's why he thought of it. But if he thinks of it over snow, that's even
more clever. And snow is soft.
S — If the plane gets to crash in the mountains,
there would be
a huge explosion that we wouldn't have in the water. The plane is going into a
box canyon and the guy has to jump. On top of a mountain he jumps out. The plane
hits the mountain and there's a big fire ball. The pieces go
everywhere. He's on the raft holding onto the ropes, coming
down the mountain. And for comic relief he should go
right through some sort of village, with a fiesta or something
llamas. He knocks a llama over.
L — There could be a ceremony with monks...
(garbled) They're all looking up.
G — It can be amusing, but at the same time it
has to be very
realistic. It has to be what would really happen. You have to believe that
someone could live through it like that. We have to concentrate on keeping it
clean and not
go through unnecessary explanations.
Finally, the mine cart chase seen in Temple of Doom was originally thought up
for the climax of Raiders. At this
point, the wrath of God when the Ark is opened isn't as spectacular,
so the climax needed an extra push by having Indy grab the Ark and
then escape through an electric mine-cart tunnel, being chased by
the bad guys, as the fire in the camp ignites the fuse of an
ammunition hold that will kill them all if they don't get far away.
Originally this had a boat chase which followed, but this seems to
have been cut out by the time the mine cart escape is
G — Then he could jump on the cart and
race out with it. And then he gets into... we had him get on a boat.
The idea was that the mine train came out onto the island, and there
were fishing boats that he gets away on. Or have a couple of speed
boats by the dock.
— We want that speed boat chase.
— Right. That's where that came from.
— We lost the speed boat chase.
— Well, we are talking generally. If it went anywhere, it would go
— When the guy opens the ark, you visualize that it explodes and
then the top slams down again. What if they open it up, and it takes
care of everyone, and we see a lot of this electrical stuff zapping
people and starting fires everywhere. And he has to close
— That's possible. I saw the opening of the ark and the resulting
chaos as the climax of the movie. The quicker we get from that point to fade out the better. I
just wanted him
put the thing on a cart, race out and cut to Washington.
S — It makes him very godlike if one of the
bolts doesn't zap him.
G — If we make the effect real, it shouldn't
last long, or that hurts it. If it happens in a split second,
he opens it up
and suddenly these giant arcs go for five or six seconds,
then you cut
outside and see the entire tent go up, then it's not that hard to get away
with the whole thing.
S — We end it like "Moby Dick." After the
explosion there's no life at all. Our guy and our girl come up
gasping for air, they're okay. Suddenly the Ark comes up. They
grab onto the Ark and hang onto it and kick ashore. The Ark
L — I like that.
G — I like the idea on these conditions. If we
put him on a
little mine train, he pulls the thing onto it and jumps on,
through these tunnels, and the Germans are shooting at them, the clock has started
ticking and we cut to flames getting closer to destruction.
S — A mine train chase with bullets ricochetting
G — They get to where the submarine is, in the
main thing, and... The come to the entrance of the mine
shaft stop, see
lots of Nazis, and hear the rumble, because the thing has
already. Or, rather than have the whole thing blow up, there's a chase through
the mine shaft, you cut to the time thing, they're getting to the end, and the
thing blows up.
You see the place where the ark was blow up. It fries some of the pursuing
Germans, rocks are falling at the same. They run right through the submarine
thing and go right off the dock and into the bay with the cart. He runs
it right off the end of the dock. Finally, so many rocks fall
they obscure the screen. Then we cut to outside to the
island, and it's all quiet. You hear rumbling. Then you cut to
them and they pop up.
S — It would be a real roller
G — They race off the end of the
ramp, crash into the water, the mountain caves in, the submarine is
destroyed. Cut out to the island, you hear a lot of rumbling, a side
of the mountain slips down, a cave in. Then you sit there. And then
the cast credits go up on that shot. After they finish, where the
crew credits would normally be, they pop up. Then you have to do the
tag scene in Washington. You might be able to do the Washington
scene with the end credits, like you do opening credits. They pop
up, you cut to Washington, and then you continue with the credits.
That should be a short little dialogue scene. Not more than a page.
"Congratulations, Indy. You did a great job. We'll take it from
here." Then you cut to the guy carrying the crated up ark stamped
"Top Secret" or "Do Not Remove." He puts it in a giant warehouse. So
you have three little title sequences.
S — I think we should try it.
G — If it's done with style, then
you have really nice credits. It's just the reverse of opening
S — This mine cart thing, we
should shoot it at the DisneyLand Matterhorn. They go on it at the
end, so the final run is an up and a huge down, and the out is over
G — I don't know if you can make
S — Just the last part of the run.
It's tracks and a very small closure. It's like where they have the
cable to pull the thing up, except this time it's coming down. It's
weightless. It's not being run by a machine. The wheels are locked
on the track, but there's no machine grinding it forward. It has no
brakes. They've gotten onto the tail end. It drops down to the
G — You're talking about an
expensive sequence there. To make it look great you'd have to build
a whole track.
L — You're saying that it comes
out in the underground bay.
S — It lets out on a loading
platform about thirty feet over the water, with scaffolding, where
they load things from ships that anchor just below it.
G — We had talked about having
them get out in the submarine. I think that it's better if they're
under the mountain when it explodes.
S — You don't know if the whole
thing caved in on them. I don't know if you need that kind of thing.
If you had just a straight mine train, motorized. You can have
curves on it, and you can have it go very fast.
L — I don't think you have to
explain why there's a dip there.
G — I think you could do that
without having that dip in it. It comes around and just races off
the end of the dock. You could have the same effect of it getting
airborne, and then it lands down. Then you can fake it and do it on
a set. Close pans and close shots.
S — On "Great Escape" they did it
with a dolly track and a hundred foot cutaway. But But we need a
hundred yard cutaway.
G — You just have a straight piece
and a curved piece, and you do different angles. You just keep going
through the same piece. It would be interesting if the mine train
part was just like a foot above the metal part of the train. You had
to keep down. Instead of having it be the whole mine, it would be
beams, like concrete buttresses. There would be about a foot
clearance. And the buttresses would be about forty or fifty feet
apart, or less. As they come down, "Keep your head down." They're
popping up and down.
S — I'll take that instead of a
Spielberg also mentions, in one of the very
first moments of the meetings, of Indy using the whip to wrap around
a girl and bring her to him, which happens at the end of Temple of Doom.
As a final notice, Lucas' treatment for the film
was written on January 25th, which would be the third day of the
conferences. The transcript does not indicate breaks in the
recording, or if they are from a single day or any sort of
indication of time. I would have to estimate that his treatment must
have come after the main plot had been described and then characters
decided upon and a few revisions made, close to half way in the
transcript. Since the full treatment is not available, it is
difficult to say, since one cannot note which elements do and do not
appear in it (in the treatment the character bears the name Indiana
Jones, not Smith--on page 45, Lucas says he is going with Smith, but
then says that Jones might be better) . Kasdan used Lucas'
treatment, but he also took the transcript with him, incorporating
ideas they had developed subsequent to Lucas' summary, and added
many ideas appearing in neither (possibly discussed outside of the
Steven Spielberg remembers of the conferences:
"After sitting with him for many, many hours, for several days, I
realized that George is tough on himself and he's tough on the
people who collaborate with him. The story needs to make sense; he
loves logic. And sometimes you lose your vision, because it's often
swallowed up by his own. You've got to fight for your bit when you
collaborate with George. But once George respects your vision and if
he likes your ideas more than his, he will back down and let you go
ahead and shoot your movie." (Rinzler, p. 23)
The transcript also has a second conversation
attached to it--one between Debra Fine, the researcher at Lucasfilm,
Lawrence Kasdan and Philip Kaufman. Here they discuss historical
background relating to ancient history necessary for the film, with
Kaufman's expertise being background on the Ark. This transcript is
10 pages long.
If you would like to read the entire story
conference transcript, you can download it from Mystery Man on Film,
References: Rinzler, Jonathan. The Complete Making of Indiana Jones.
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