The Book





Writing Indiana Jones: An Analysis of the Raiders Story Conferences

It has 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 art.

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 film.

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 screenplay. 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 before.

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 westerns. The 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 way.

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 believability...

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 about.

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 real threat.

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 made:

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. [...] For 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 problem.

S In places like Bombay it doesn't make any difference.

G Again, that's one of those stock footage things. You want to send an "A" camera man and a production manager over 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 good second 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 thousand extras.

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 Disneyland."

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 inside the 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 them, of victims that have been there before. It's kind of like one of those rides at DisneyLand.

G So he tests it first, and we know...

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 brushes up 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. (demonstrates)

L And you've got to do the cliche where they're walking along this ledge just this wide and it just goes into balckness. 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 scene should get at least four major screams. The audience won't trust anyone after that. They won't trust the film.

G 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 have skeletons that aren't that old, they just have drawn skin all over them, that are lurking in the shadows.

During this section of throwing ideas for traps and gags, Spielberg also comes up with the famous rolling boulder:

G  Right when you think he's got it and he's starting his way back, he's tripped something. Some kind of a delayed thing. 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, D.C.

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 corridor. There 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 enough.

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 characters. All you have to do is get them in the same room together somehow. These are tangential things.

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 thing," Lucas explains, but he seems a bit reluctant to show this in a tangible way and betray the reality of the film. He describes the climax:

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 arch-rival.

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 electric stuff 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 thing.

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 Washington.

L In the way you have it now, in the final confrontation with the arch-rival, the arch-rival is victorious, then he gets fried by the ark.

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, he's telling 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 away.

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 explained).

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 not just 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 bar.

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.

Clearly, 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 exchange.

Indy: I never meant to hurt you.
Marion: I was a child! I was in love.
Indy: You knew what you were doing.
Marion: It was wrong. You knew it.
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 good.
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 conferences:

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 portions of this map have been found before, antiquities in various museums and other places

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 possible?

G Sounds possible.

L so they have a previous relationship through her father.

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 the American Rick. She's sort of goofy...

S Earning money to get back to the states.

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 little tavern, 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 there with 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 there.

L Who are her customers at this Rick's Place in Nepal?

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 stuff.

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 along.

L I wonder if someone hasn't approached her already. The 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 it."

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 away?

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 torture her 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 him.

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 night.

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 her.

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 twenty-two.

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 him.

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 perspective on 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 with.

S In a way, she could say, "You've made me this hard."

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 could talk 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 thirty-five.

S She is the daughter of the professor who our hero was under the tutelege of. She has this little fragment of the map.

You 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 Spielberg.

As 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 covered:

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. They're talking 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. The arch-rival 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 researched it, 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 other part.

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 Hai to...

S No. That's the kind of stuff I like. I wouldn't question it.

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 well.

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 guys.

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 soup. 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 up.

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 "Heil Hitler.")

G That's up to you and the trainer, and the monkey.

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 person?

G I do for our leader.

S I hate this, but go ahead.

G Indiana Smith. It has to be unique. It's a character. Very 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 him Jones.

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 dog).

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 film.

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 sitting there.

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 frantic.

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 note.

S She says, "You're too late."

G He says he's been traveling around.

L I wonder if her first reaction isn't to hit him. Something unusual, not just a slap. First sight, register who it is, wham.

S "Still with that right cross I taught you."

G "Hey, Junie, long time no see." Wham.

S And she says, "Get out."

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 with water.

L Wouldn't it make more sense for it to be sand? That would be a more logical kind of mechanism.

G That might be nice. It's not nearly as dramatic.

S The problem is, you can't shoot the guy under the sand. The camera is always restricted to just one level.

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 rushing behind him, tumbling him from one passageway to another, really getting hurt.

The scene is revisited much later:

G One of the first suggestions that you made, replacing the 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 the thing 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 permitted him 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 are constructed.

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 tiger.

G There aren't any tigers out there.

S I'm not in love with the idea.

G You could have bats and stuff, make it slightly spooky.


S What about snakes? All these snakes come out.

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 snakes.

G When he first jumps down in the hole, it's a giant snake pit. It's going to detract from the... This is interesting. It 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 fears.

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 for comedy.

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 person.

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 white.

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 it...

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 moustaches.

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 people.

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 character.

L ( can't understand what he is saying here, something about 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 being too...

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 of something.

G If we don't make him vulnerable, he's got no problems.

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 possibly can."

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 Shang Hai.

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 collection it's 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 swordsman.

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 of Samurai.

G It would be Chinese swordsmen, which is different.

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 different ways.

L This could be a Japanese swordsman who was so bad they kicked him out of Japan. Now he's in China.

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 then.

S It's perfect. You have explosions and Zeros

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 character.

S This War Lord should be a completely outrageous character, with all the armor and costumes. He should be a barbarian. He only becomes a gentleman around great works of art.

G He collects it for some bizarre reason. He collects it 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 turn.

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 out.

G That's great. Then what happens? One sentence further and it's a great idea.

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 it.

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 with a parachute.

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 them together. 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 items.

G Did they have those things in '36?

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 angle.

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 moment. That's 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 interesting. [...]

G I like the part where he jumps out. That's a clever idea.

L What if he makes himself into a ball with the life preservers and just goes skipping into the water.

G If he like he ties himself into a ball with these preservers and he jumps out at the last minute.

L If there were a life raft he could enclose himself in it.

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 were inflatable.


G The only reason we're talking about the Orient is that it's exotic. He's going to leave Washington and go to three exotic 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.

L 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 snow.

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 happening, with 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 discussed.

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.

S  We want that speed boat chase.

G Right. That's where that came from.

L We lost the speed boat chase.

G Well, we are talking generally. If it went anywhere, it would go here. [...]

L 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 it.

G 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 presents itself.

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, they're racing 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 off rocks.

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 started 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 coaster ride.

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 credits.

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 the ocean.

G I don't know if you can make that believable.

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 loading zone.

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 dip.

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 conferences).

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, here.

References: Rinzler, Jonathan. The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. 2008.


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