By Sven Mikulec
Trying to catch a break from all the Star Wars hype, in the spring of 1977 George Lucas was resting on a Hawaiian beach, building sand castles with his friend and colleague Steven Spielberg, who was also reposing after the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As the two of them were trying to catch their breath, having finished two hugely successful and important films, they started talking about Lucas’ old idea for an action-adventure movie that would echo the Republic serials from the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, Spielberg was keen on making a different kind of a James Bond film, and Lucas’ pitch about an archaeology professor travelling around the Globe in pursuit of a rare artifact seemed a wonderful and exciting opportunity. It’s slightly ironic that their time of leisure on a sandy beach gave birth to the symbol of all action-adventure movies and a film that, decades later, Empire would name the second best of all time, giving way only to Coppola’s The Godfather. It was in 1973, in fact, that Lucas started developing a story he called The Adventures of Indiana Smith, feeling nostalgic about the serials of his childhood and disappointed that modern Hollywood had no interest in telling stories such as these.
He worked on the concept with Philip Kaufman, a writer and director who would later make Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Remembering what his dentist told him when he was a child, Kaufman suggested bringing in the Ark of the Covenant into Indiana’s tale as the central plot device. Since Kaufman was soon hired to direct Wales, Lucas simply shelved the project and continued developing his space opera project. But after his Hawaiian discussion with Spielberg, the game was finally on. Because his screenplay for Continental Divide impressed Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan was hired to write Indiana Jones’ first adventure. Kasdan, Spielberg and Lucas spent five days working for nine hours on the basic storyline. On Spielberg’s suggestion, Indiana’s original surname Smith was scrapped, and they agreed Jones sounded far more natural to Indiana’s character. Half a year later Kasdan delivered the first draft and both Lucas and Spielberg were absolutely thrilled, eager to complete their passion project as soon as possible.
Even though Harrison Ford was riding high due to his success on Star Wars, Lucas initially objected to hiring him as iconic Indy, fearing Ford would become “his Bobby De Niro,” a clear reference to Scorsese and his frequent collaborations with the actor. After Tom Selleck had to reject the offer because of his obligations to Magnum P.I., and under enormous pressure stemming from the fact that the start of filming was only three weeks away, Lucas finally gave in and Ford became the witty, fedora-wearing, action hero that marked his career. It was still a problem to find someone to back up the project financially: due to the estimated twenty-million-dollar budget, the film seemed too much of a risk, even in the light of Lucas’ unprecedented Star Wars box office explosion. Finally Paramount agreed, and Lucas tried to cut down the costs as much as possible. This is the reason why Raiders of the Lost Ark is Spielberg’s most heavily storyboarded film ever, and in an effort to further reduce expenses, the crew even rented Das Boot’s submarine.
John Williams composed the score, with the genius theme that would be later used in all of the sequels, while British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, whom Spielberg liked on the set of Close Encounters where he served as an auxiliary cinematographer, took over the camera. Spielberg’s favorite collaborator Michael Kahn (Close Encounters, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park…) edited the film, while Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies and Ronald Lacey completed the cast. On June 12, 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark was presented to the public and the rest is history: the film became the year’s highest-grossing movie, earning twenty times more than it cost, collecting nine Academy Award nominations and grabbing five triumphs (Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing, Sound and Visual Effects) along the way, and inspiring no less than three sequels, with the fourth one currently under way.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most thrilling, feel-good action films made to this day, capable of satisfying both the young and the old, and available for interpretation on several levels. Even though it’s mostly seen as Lucas and Spielberg’s ode to movies they grew up on, it’s also a story dealing with a subject of a far more serious and grave nature, as Roger Ebert brilliantly saw it. If you consider the fact the plot consists of Nazis trying to use an ancient Jewish artifact to control the world—an artifact too holy and pure for them to touch—and that the filmmaker telling the story is a Jew proud of his heritage, Raiders of the Lost Ark acquires a completely different dimension and starts to look like every post-Holocaust boy’s wet dream. For us, the film is one of the highlights of the eighties’ cinema and a classic action adventure still waiting to be surpassed in creativity and execution.
A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
Created by Gilles Verschuere and Jawad Mir in 2000, TheRaider.net has since then become one of the premier websites for Indiana Jones fans. From trivia info on Indy’s film adventures to Indiana Jones toys, video games, attractions, TheRaider.net covers everything that might interest the average person who enjoys an Indiana Jones film to the big Indyfans and collectors looking for the latest news on future Indy projects and more.
Chapter 1: Cliffhanger Classics
The real story of Indiana Jones started in 1973 when director George Lucas was looking for ideas to be transferred into celluloid. He had already done American Graffiti, which had turned out as a worldwide hit earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. An old movie poster of a hero jumping from a horse to a truck reminded him of the Republic serials—made in the 1930s and 1940s—which he watched when he was a kid. Serials like Spy Smasher, Zorro’s Fighting Legion and Don Winslow of the Navy, a cliffhanger about a two-fisted serviceman who fought the Nazis. “Why don’t they make this kind of movies anymore?” he wondered and imagined a movie about an archaeologist in a leather jacket, felt fedora and a three-day beard who carries a bullwhip and run around the globe seeking ancient relics and lost civilizations. At the same time Lucas was interested in making a movie adaptation of the popular comic hero Flash Gordon. When he failed to obtain the rights he decided to create a new space hero and an entire new universe. In order to create his universe he had to put his archaeologist character aside.
Two years later, while Lucas was still trying to complete the script of his space adventure now called Star Wars, he met with director Philip Kaufman and the idea of the adventurous archaeologist emerged during a conversation. The two men continued their meetings for three weeks exchanging story ideas. Kaufman, remembering a story he had heard by his dentist when he was a child, introduced the Ark of the Covenant as the story’s plot device. Lucas hoped that Kaufman would write and direct the film, but when the second was offered to direct The Right Stuff he left from the project. Since Lucas wasn’t through with Star Wars yet, he put the project on the self once more.
On May 25, 1977, Star Wars was released at cinemas across the country but Lucas wasn’t around. He was on vacation at the Mauna Kea hotel in Hawaii in order to recover from his Star Wars obligations and because he didn’t want to be near Hollywood on the premiere of his film. He was afraid the film would be a tremendous disaster. Together with him was another director, Steven Spielberg, who was also relaxing from the making of his last movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
One evening over dinner Lucas received a phone call. It was from Ashley Boone, Twentieth Century Fox’s marketing chief. Star Wars was a success beyond anyone’s expectations and it had almost begun to evolve to a phenomenon. The next morning Lucas relieved and in very good mood started talking with Spielberg about future projects while building sandcastles. Spielberg told him that after Sugarland Express, his second film, United Artists asked him to do a film for them. “I’d like to do a James Bond film,” was Spielberg’s enthusiastic reply. But the studio refused to do that since the adventures of 007 are a British privilege behind the cameras as much as it is in front of it.
I’ve got a better film than that”, said Lucas. Have you ever heard of the lost Ark? “Noah’s Ark?” asked Spielberg. “No, no, no, not Noah’s Ark,” said Lucas and he begun to explain, and at the same time describe the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark as he called. The Ark of the Covenant was the chest the Hebrews used to carry around the Ten Commandments that Moses brought from mountain Sinai. The Ark was believed to obtain mystical powers and according to legend an army that carries the Army before it is invincible. The Bible actually mentions that during the siege of Jericho the Hebrews heard the voice of God advising them to march three times around the city with the Ark at the head. With the completion of the third round they blew their horns all together and the walls of the city collapsed giving them the chance to assault. Lucas’ story begins in 1936 when the American Government recruits famous archaeologist Indiana Smith to find the long lost Ark before the Nazis do. Unseen since its disappearance from the Temple of Solomon nearly three thousand year ago, the Ark—as prophesied in the Old Testament—was to be recovered at the time of the coming of the new Messiah. The Fuhrer Adolf Hitler wants to recover the Ark, thus legitimizing himself as the Messiah and his lust for world domination. This would be part of a series of Raiders sagas following the exploits of Indiana Smith, not unlike the Tarzan series not unlike the serials of the 30s and 40s. The difference would be that the leading character would be involved in mortal adventures and also in “otherworldly” events. And all this in a period when adventures could happen, a romantic time without advanced technology, when the cleverness of the individual against the enemy was what mattered.
Spielberg’s enthusiasm was more than present. Like Lucas he had grown up with the same old serials, and the chance of resurrecting them for a new generation of cinemagoers was tempting beyond expectation. “That’s a great story George, I’d love to do that”, he said. Lucas then informed him that the film was probably going to be directed by Philip Kaufman who had helped him with the plot. But he promised him that if Kaufman weren’t interested he would be his next choice. Six months later Spielberg received a phone call from Lucas: “Are you still interested in that movie I told you about in Hawaii because Phil isn’t going to do it now?”
The two directors started pre-production work while they were involved in other pictures. Lucas was working with Francis Ford Coppola as executive producer in Akira Kurosawa’s The Shadow Warrior while at the same time he was developing The Empire Strikes Back, the much-awaited sequel to Star Wars. On the other hand, Spielberg was directing 1941 a comedy with John Belushi.
Chapter 2: Writing Pains
“Look this is a B-movie. They used to make four of them a week, at each studio, for fifteen years from ’30s into ’40s,” said Lucas. To draw inspiration they watched all fifteen episodes of Don Winslow of the Navy and came to the conclusion that little things had managed to stand the test of time. 1980s audience had become more sophisticated than it was forty years before and would never eat this stuff. What they would have to do was use these serials as a starting point and create something original.
Lucas suggested that Spielberg should find a writer of his choice, so he set out to find the person who would put their adventurous ideas on paper. Spielberg proposed Lawrence Kasdan whose script on Continental Divide had impressed him and Lucas agreed.
In January 1978 Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan met at Jane Bay’s house, Lucas’ secretary, in Los Angeles to discuss in detail the film’s story. The film’s main character would be named Indiana Smith after Lucas’ beloved female Alaskan Malamute dog, Indiana, who used to sit with him during writing sessions. Spielberg didn’t like the name Smith, he was afraid it would remind to audience Nevada Smith, a character played by Steve McQueen in a 1966 film. Lucas then suggested the Jones name. Another situation that had to be dealt with was Indiana’s personality. Lucas imagined him as a playboy who uses his expeditions to fund his lifestyle. Actually he had Kasdan write a scene in which Marcus Brody visits Indy at his home and finds a tuxedo wearing Indy while a beautiful Jean Harlow-type blonde is glimpsed sipping champagne in the living room. Spielberg and Kasdan thought that the two sides of Indy, professor and adventurer, were complicated enough. Adding a playboy side would make things even more complicated, something that wasn’t necessary. On the other hand Spielberg had the idea of making Indy an alcoholic, kind like Fred C. Dobbs, Humphrey Bogart’s character from Treasure of Sierra Madre. Lucas disliked the idea because he wanted him to be a role model for children. “He has to be a person we can look up to. We’re doing a role model for little kids, so we have to be careful. We need someone who’s honest and true and trusting.” So, they compromised and Indy became neither playboy, nor alcoholic.
After five consecutive 9-hour days the three men had completed the story line. Lucas had divided the story in 60 scenes, each two pages long, and had outlined six cliffhangers. A peril turned up every twenty pages or so. Like in the old serials the hero would get in a deadly situation every ten minutes, only that “this time the audience wouldn’t have to wait a week to find out where the escape hatch is hidden,” as Richard Schickel wrote in Time magazine. The trick was that the danger would be as real as possible and would require the hero’s cleverness to surpass it.
By August 1978 Kasdan had finished his first draft and hand-delivered it to Lucas. When they met Lucas took the script, laid it aside, told Kasdan that he would read it later that night and offered him to go for lunch. During the lunch in the restaurant Lucas offered to Kasdan to write the script for The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, Leigh Brackett, the film’s writer had passed away right after delivering her first draft and Lucas wanted someone to make revisions. “Don’t you think you should read Raiders first?” was Kasdan’s reply. “Well, I just get a feeling about people. Of course if I hate Raiders, I’ll take back this offer,” said Lucas. The next morning Lucas called Kasdan and told him he was ecstatic about the Raiders script and he was very anxious for him to work on Empire.
Lawrence Kasdan’s script satisfied both Spielberg and Lucas. It was a great story taking place in various parts of the world, including Peru, the United States, Shanghai, Nepal, Egypt and Greece. In his effort to find, and obtain the Ark Indy would have to face Nazis, booby traps, raging natives, Arabian swordsmen, poison darts, super-weapons, experimental aircrafts, mystical powers and… snakes, lots of snakes.
Chapter 3: The Killer Deal
In one of their early meetings Spielberg had expressed interest in working with Frank Marshall, a young producer who had worked on many small-budgeted films and who he hoped to help him bring the film in on time and on budget. So Lucas phoned him to set a meeting at his place. Later that day Spielberg, Lucas, Kasdan and Marshall met and Lucas introduced him as the film’s producer. An hour later they all shook hands and Lucas said: “We’re making movie history”. A production team had begun to form. Lucas, along with an old fellow student, Howard Kazanjian, would be executive producers. “We really needed someone who would not be a nice guy. It’s hard to be a tough guy in that situation. Howard can do it”, was Lucas explanation. Spielberg then hired Douglas Slocombe as director of photography and Michael Kahn as editor. Spielberg had worked with Slocombe for two weeks during the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and was interested in working with him on a complete feature. Michael Kahn had edited the two previous films of Spielberg and ever since he had become one of his standard collaborators. Lucas suggested Robert Watts, who had worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as associate producer. Production designer’s duties were assigned to Norman Reynolds, who together with Watts were brought aboard in November 1979 to discuss logistics. A month later they went off for location scouting. Shooting was to begin in the spring of 1980.
Dale Pollock, George Lucas’ biographer, in his book Skywalking wrote that Lucas initially wanted to finance the film by himself but he couldn’t because he was facing cash-flow problems. Tom Pollock, Lucas’ Hollywood attorney, and Charles Weber, Lucasfilm’s financial chief, offered the script to every major studio, while Lucas and Spielberg drew-up a one-page contract between themselves. Weber sent out a form letter with the script to every studio. What they wanted actually was the studio to put up all the money, take all the risks, and give them the best terms anyone ever got. Studio chiefs were outraged with what became known as Lucas’ “killer deal,” but everybody called up within an hour and said they wanted to talk with them.
Paramount Pictures’ President Michael Eisner said it was an unmakable deal. But Eisner had never read a better script than that, and the idea of turning down a film by Hollywood’s dynamic duo made him uncomfortable. In order to balance their demands Eisner wanted the sequel rights to Raiders and strong penalties against Lucas if the film went over budget and schedule. Eisner got his penalties on the terms that Paramount would distribute Raiders forever but they won’t have the right to produce any sequel without Lucas’ involvement.
As Pollock continues his description of the deal he mentions that because of Lucas’ lack of trust towards Hollywood studios he refused to honor anything other than a signed contract, leaving Paramount wonder if he would be part of the project or not. “All he said was ‘Trust me.'” So we had Spielberg who had spent a lot of money to make 1941, George saying trust me and us having to guarantee completion money for a film that might cost $50 million. It was not a standard deal, to say the least,” said Eisner. Paramount was in panic and George Lucas was enjoying this. Why? Because, during the making of Star Wars Lucas was near a nervous break down from the pressure he felt from the studio. At the last days of filming they were threatening of taking the film from his hands, cut the negative and send it right to the theaters. Now it was time for Hollywood and its studio executives to taste some of their own medicine. The contract they finally signed dictated a $1 million directing fee to Spielberg, $1 million producer’s fee to Lucas, and another $1 million to Lucasfilm as the production company. Spielberg also was guaranteed a percentage of the gross profits; the money Paramount would receive from theater owners while Lucas would have to wait for net profits.
Eisner had accepted everything except Lucas’ refusal. In an effort to find a solution he called Bill Huyck and Gloria Katz, who made a film for Paramount and were long friends with Lucas. “You blew it, George wants to be trusted,” they told Eisner. The very next day Eisner called Weber and accepted the terms. “I just decided to go the whole way. And once I said ‘I trust you’, it was the most professionally produced film I’ve ever seen. Not a dime over budget, handled totally smoothly, and never a fight. When he said it, I believed it,” said Eisner in the times to come.
The film’s budget was defined to $20 million and it was to be shot within a 85-days schedule. Spielberg, after all the negative publicity he had received for overcoming the budget and the schedule for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and especially 1941, was determined to bring his next film in on time. For this reason he, together with Lucas and Marshall made a secret schedule of 73 days while at the same time they cut off some scenes. For instance, the scene in the Nazi base where Indy finds super-weapons disappeared and an experimental Flying Wing was abated from five engines to two, while the whole Shanghai sequence was deleted. Ron Cobb, one of the film’s production artists, had enjoyed elaborating Toht, giving him a Strangelove-like mechanical arm with a machine gun firing through his forefinger, but this too was ditched.
It was decided that the production would be based, like Star Wars, in England. Elstree studios, outside London, had served Lucas well during the making of his film. Elstree studios with its seven stages and its extent of 27 acres made it ideal for Raiders. As John Baxter rightfully noticed: “These were historic premises.” Many famous men of the cinema had passed through. Men like Alfred Hitchock, David Lean, Michael Powell and Ronald Reagan. Additionally, they knew that there they would find a well-oiled machine of technicians and artists who had been working together since 1976. By working on films like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Superman they had become accustomed to difficult locations, spectacular sets and eccentric special effects.
In order to plan his film as well as he could, Spielberg hired four illustrators and gave to each of them parts of the script. Based on this and some rough sketches Spielberg had made himself the four artists managed to storyboard about 80% of the film, nearly 6000 images. Spielberg kept to about 60% of that. And that wasn’t all. He had the art department, in Elstree, built scale models for each set. The miniature of the now famous dig site filled an entire room. This proved very valuable to Spielberg because it helped him keep the cost to its ground and find the right angles to photograph his scenes.
Chapter 4: Casting, if the hat fits
At the first meetings Lucas had described his hero to renown comic artist Jim Steranko and he had come up with four sketches of him, that were real good-looking and, at the same time, captured the spirit of the film. For the role of Indiana Jones Lucas wanted a relatively or totally unknown actor who could be set for three films, since he had created two additional storylines in case the first one was successful.
During the auditions none was given a script. At first Spielberg would meet the actors and talk to them. Most of the auditions were taking place in Lucasfilm’s kitchen. To put them at ease, he would have the actors help him make cookies or cake or whatever. All the actors who came in from nine to one helped cook and all the actors who came in from two to seven helped eat. The word spread and so all the actors were calling their agents saying: “I only want to come after two.” Everybody wanted to eat; nobody wanted to work. Standing around would be Howard Kazanjian, Frank Marshall or Spielberg’s assistant Kathleen Kennedy, and somebody would pick up a camera and take a few shots of the actor. In a second meeting Spielberg would occasionally write up a small scene and have two people play against each other. As the production team got down to their final choices they would film the actors.
After numerous auditions Mike Fenton, the casting director, felt that Jeff Bridges was the most suitable for the role but George Lucas’ wife, Marcia, favored for an unknown TV actor named Tom Selleck. Spielberg and Lucas agreed and contacted Selleck’s agent William Morris to offer him the role. Unfortunately, Selleck had recently returned from Hawaii making the pilot episode to a CBS’ series, Magnum P.I., that had got great ratings and CBS refused to release him from his contract, or even hold off the production until the following season, so that he would be able to make Raiders. The irony for Selleck is that by the time shooting started on Magnum a Hollywood actors’ strike halted filming, while Raiders, based in London, was free to continue. He would have handled both assignments.
With Selleck unavailable to take the part, the production had to find another actor for the role while shooting was scheduled to start in a few weeks. An afternoon, as Spielberg was watching a screening of The Empire Strikes Back he realized that Harrison Ford was the man they were looking for and immediately called Lucas. “He’s been right under our noses,” he told Lucas. After thinking for a while Lucas answered, “I know who you’re going to say.” “Who?” asked Spielberg. “Harrison Ford,” was Lucas reply. He agreed and the very next day he approached the actor.
Ford had heard that they were going to make an adventure movie and he thought that they had already found a leading actor. He was very surprised when he was offered the part and he wasn’t offended by being second choice. Ford recognized “a really good part in what could be a really good movie” but before signing anything he wanted to meet Spielberg to talk with him. So, after reading the script he took Melissa Mathison, his then girlfriend, and his son Willard over to Spielberg’s house. There they played pinball and video games and talked about the film. Ford saw Spielberg’s enthusiasm and thought that it would be fun to work with and decided to sign for the part putting a closure to a six-month search.
The only worry Ford seemed to have was the fact that Indy and Han Solo, from Star Wars, was written by the same man, Lawrence Kasdan who in the meantime had scripted The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg, on the other hand, believed that Han Solo was a boyish hero, while Indy was a grown-up and therefore he shouldn’t be bothered. Even though, he gave Ford the chance to get more involved in the making of the film. During their flight from Los Angeles to London they went through the script line by line, and by the time they stepped out of the airplane, about 10 hours later, they had worked out the entire story. “Harrison is a very original leading man. There’s not been anyone like him for 30 or 40 years, and he does carry the movie wonderfully. Harrison was more than just an actor playing a role, he was a collaborator and really was involved in a lot of decision making about the movie. And this wasn’t by contract, it was because I sensed a very good story mind and a real smart person and called on him time and again,” was Spielberg’s quote.
From the start Lucas had imagined Indy with a 10-feet bullwhip in hand, a weapon that since Zorro very few action heroes used. Ford, who in his early days in Hollywood worked as a carpenter, had busted his right wrist when he fell off a ladder at Valerie Harper’s house. His wrist had never quite recovered when he started bullwhipping so he begun working his wrist out. The film’s stunt coordinator Glenn Randall who had used a whip before was offered to train Ford. Randall visited Ford in his home for some times to give him instructions and from that point the actor practiced on his own. And he did it so well that by the time filming commenced he had become so proficient with the whip that it was incorporated into several scenes. “I lashed myself about the head and shoulders for at least a couple of weeks before I really figured the thing out”. Such dedication won the admiration not only of Randall, but many of the other stuntmen too, because the 10-foot bullwhip he was using could prove quite lethal in the hands of the uninitiated.
For the role of Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s girlfriend, Spielberg wanted Amy Irving, with whom he had an affair at the time. Irving wasn’t available so Spielberg turned to Debra Winger, but she wasn’t interested. Finally, he gave the part to New York stage actress Karen Allen who had impressed him during the auditions with her professionalism. According to the script Marion Ravenwood was raised by her father, an archaeology professor who spend most of his time on expeditions around the world taking his daughter with him. After her father’s death Marion was living in Nepal running a bar on her own. Having not spent much with women and always trying to survive, she had adopt a more masculine attitude. So, when Spielberg went to New York with Frank Marshall to meet Allen one of the first things he asked was: “How well can you spit?” At first, when Allen read the script there seemed to be some inconsistencies in the character that she needed to get clear. So Spielberg and she sat down and went through it piece by piece just as he did with Ford.
As far as Rene Belloq is concerned, Indy’s rival French archaeologist, Spielberg wanted a “champagne” villain to oppose to his beer-drinking hero. He thought that as much as Indy used his strength, brawn and wit to defeat the bad guy, this character was more cunning, controlled and a lot cooler. Among the candidates for the role was the Italian Giancarlo Giannini, who almost signed for the part. Before anything was on paper, Spielberg decided to give the part to British actor Paul Freeman after he saw him in a BBC film called Death of a Princess. Freeman passing through Hollywood on his way back from Belize, where he’d been playing in a film called The Dogs of War, dropped in to Lucasfilm to meet Spielberg and Lucas, and was cast on the spot.
The rest of the cast was composed mostly by British actors. Ronald Lacey was given the role of Toht, an always black-dressed Nazi agent who giggles every times he is about to torture someone. Indy’s friend Marcus Brody was to be played by Denholm Elliott, while the part of Sallah, the best digger in Egypt, was given to John Rhys-Davies. Spielberg had offered the role to Danny DeVito, but his agent wanted more than the production was willing to pay so the 6 feet 20 inches Davies ended up with a role written for a man 5 feet and 22 inches tall. The Welsh actor went up to his director and said: “What do you expect me to do—have surgery at the knees?” But Spielberg reassured him telling him that he wanted to play this character as a combination between Falstaff, a William Shakespeare character from Henry the Fourth, and Rodriguez the character Davies had played in a TV series called Shogun.
Ever since the script had been completed it had become one of Hollywood’s best-guarded secrets. This was an established policy followed by Lucasfilm in every project ever since the filming of The Empire Strikes Back. Nobody at Elstree knew much about Lost Ark Productions, Lucasfilm’s cover up name, or it’s film. Even when casting was completed most of the actors didn’t know the film’s plot. Freeman, since he would appear in the first scenes shot, knew the plot, though most didn’t, not even Karen Allen. Bill Hootkins hadn’t been shown more than his own lines either, but since he played Major Eaton of US Military Intelligence, who briefs Indy and Brody, contained the entire story. On the night of his casting he rang a friend to announce, “I’m in the new Spielberg film”. “What’s it about?” asked his friend. “It’s the Bible”, Hootkins replied, “with Nazis!”
Chapter 5: A Cliffhanger on a grand scale
Shooting began on June 23, 1980, in the historic French resort of La Rochelle, located 100 miles north of Bordeaux. Robert Watts had found there a World War II German submarine built for a German film, Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot. The contract that the producers had made with the Germans who owned the submarine said that they couldn’t take the sub out to sea if the waters were more than a meter high. They sent an engineer from Munich who had built the submarine because Watts insisted that they have somebody who had the authority to say that they could or couldn’t go. The submarine was lying in a former Nazi sub pen that had been built during World War II. The submarine pens, which proved invaluable to the production, were huge caverns built to house six submarines each. Despite the many direct hits scored by Allied bombers, evidenced by pockmarked craters on their exteriors, these pens continue to stand as poignant reminders of World War II. Consisting of 12-foot-thick walls and two six-foot-thick roofs, the pen used by the production had a stark, gray interior. The visual impact of the pen was further enhanced by a rocklike sea entrance constructed by the art department. The interior of the submarine pen was also perfect for the Nazi base sequence. It was a bona-fide German construction that had even German writing on it from the war. Before filming began in La Rochelle, the production faced the challenge of finding a 1930s-era tramp steamer to serve as the Bantu Wind, Indiana Jones and Marion’s pirate ship that would take them to London with the Ark. An original coal-fired version was not to be found. A replica that had been constructed at the Bavaria Studios in Munich wasn’t deemed seaworthy. Fortunately, an adaptable Egyptian vessel was spotted in an Irish port, commissioned for a month, refitted by the art department and sailed to the French coast.
The first day the production team arrived it was raining and the Atlantic seemed uninvited. It was impossible to film anything. Same happened and the second day. The third day the sea had calmed down and they managed to shoot through all day. Each morning, for as long filming lasted, everyone was ferried out to the tramp steamer that had anchored in open water three miles from the coast and transferred across a heaving four-foot gap between vessels.
With all the scenes from the ships and the dock bay shot, the production moved at Elstree. There, on June 30, the first day of interior filming, was spent at Imam’s house, the astronomer-priest-scholar who helps Indy find the Ark by translating the inscription on the medallion. He lives in a house on a rise at the edge of Cairo. The house is exotic and romantic, enchantingly furnished in traditional Casablanca mood, with an enormous revolving fan on the ceiling and a hole on wall that provided a wonderful site of evening Cairo.
Next was the filming of the South American temple in stage four. The set was a wonderful creation by Norman Reynolds that captured the feeling of the ’40s serials with a Tarzan-like atmosphere. Indy encounters an ingenious system of booby traps devised by some ancient architect to protect the golden idol he seeks. Poison darts fly from the mouth of grotesque stone faces, spears shoot out from nowhere to impale their pray and tarantulas await in the cobweb-strewn darkness. 50 live specimens were recruited by Spielberg and dropped at the cloths of Ford and Alfred Molina, who made his movie debut with Raiders.
When Indy takes the idol from its shrine the whole place is starting to tremble and fall apart. In his way out Indy finds himself pursued by a giant boulder. His only way to survive is by outrunning the boulder and get to the exit of the temple. Ford believed that it would be more effective if the audience could actually see that it was he who was running from the boulder and wanted to outrun the boulder by himself without the help of a stunt double. Glen Randall felt that Ford could actually made it and suggested Spielberg to let him try. The 12-foot boulder was made of plaster, wood and fiberglass weighted 300 pounds and could have done bodily harm to anyone falling underneath it. The scene was shot from five different angles, each one done separately, each one done twice, so Ford had to race the boulder ten times and made through all of them. When the sequence was completed Spielberg admitted, “He won ten times and beat the odds. He was lucky and I was an idiot for letting him try.”
On July 14th started the filming of the Well of Souls sequence in Elstree’s stage three that lasted two weeks. According to the script, the Well of Souls is a hidden chamber under the sands where the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to be rested. When Indy finds the Well he discovers that the whole place is inhabited by snakes. Spielberg wasn’t pleased with the number of snakes they had on the set (about 2000) and ordered 4500 more from Denmark in order to achieve the horror the script so well described. The set was designed as the interior of a pyramid dominated by three jackal statues over 35 feet tall. Indy would be lowered in the pit from the top of the statues and suddenly would fall down only to come face to face with a cobra. In safety for the actors, they could do nothing without an anti-venom serum. The serum-man, as Frank Marshall called him, couldn’t come through with the serum and he was the only one in the country. They went to a hospital but the serum there was out of date. Finally, the serum arrived from France with a little help from the American Embassy, the Air Force Hospital and the Naval Hospital. During the filming of the scene the doors of the stage were open permanently, and an ambulance was backed inside with its doors open. Standing in either side were two enormous men in white coats, with a syringe in each hand. Every unit member wore protective clothing high rubber boots and strengthen canvas trousers and jackets. Day by day the cast and crew got used to the snakes, the tension had gone and came back with the cobra. The cobra killed a python that’s been trying to bite people.
John Baxter in his book Steven Spielberg An Unauthorized Biography mentions another problem the production team faced when Vivian Kubrick, daughter of famous director Stanley Kubrick, complained because of the way snakes had been treated. She claimed that many snakes had been crashed from the feet of the cast and crew. She even climbed up on the stage and said: “Steven, this is so cruel”. Spielberg from his side felt terribly embarrassed and reassured her that they would be looked after fine, but she wasn’t pleased with that, so she rang the RSPCA to complain. The whole film ground to a halt and it was closed down for a whole day. In order to continue shooting Spielberg ordered measures to be taken. So a row of plastic dustbins as far as the eye could see around the stage, and in the bottom of each one there was a little bit of straw and a leaf of lettuce, and each one had about three garter snakes.
Ford and Allen had to stand in the center of the set with more than 6000 tangles sizzling around. Even though snakes are Indy’s worst nightmare, they didn’t bother Ford, since as a teenager he loved snakes and even collected them to put on display. Poor Allen had to wear only a white evening dress with her arms and legs naked. When things began to turn rough, Wendy Leach, Allen’s stunt double continued her scenes and when things became really nasty, animal handler, Steve Edge, put on Marion’s dress, shaved his legs and finished her shots. The Well of Souls scene was proven one of Allen’s worst experiences because she knew that pythons aren’t poisonous, but they bite and hold on. That scared the hell out of her, and every time a snake got near her bare feet she turned around and walked straight off the set. And there is more. Spielberg, because he thought that she wasn’t screaming for real, put her through numerous “tortures” like tossing tarantulas on her leg or throwing snakes at her head. “Whenever she didn’t see me, she would look up,” said Spielberg later.
Right next to the Well of Souls set was the Catacombs set from which Indy and Marion would escape. The set was narrow, delicately designed with scarcely enough room for the essential personnel. Inside the catacombs Marion and Indy meet the terrifying results of the art of Tom Smith, chief make-up artist on Raiders. In creating the catacombs scene, following after all the activity and movement of the Well of Souls with its snakes and fire and falling statues, and enemy figures condemning Marion and Indy to suffocate and rot George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan had introduced enormous visual horror. Within the narrow set were skulls and many rotting bodies – the mummies that would terrify Marion Ravenwood and cause her to say, “This is the worst place I’ve ever been.”
Tom Smith created those moldering mummies. In order to insure that the models should be as accurate as possible, he began by sending to the London College of Surgeons for real skulls as examples, to get the dimensions right. By stages, using a variety of modeling materials, from primitive to advanced chemical, he set about making full corpses in various stages of decomposition: hideously real decaying cadavers, so real that you could believe not only that they were dead, but also that they had once been alive. Karen Allen spent eight or nine days by herself having corpses and skeletons falling on her, “huge amounts of dust falling into my eyes and mouth. Before we had spent two weeks in the snake pit.
At times it was challenging to figure out what I was doing, with snakes all over the place. It was difficult and unsatisfying in a way. I’ve done films like that since, such as The Perfect Storm, where sometimes you spent a whole day just drinking a lot of water, fighting for your life and screaming. But at the time (during the shooting of Raiders), I couldn’t figure out what it had to do with acting.” The truth is Allen wasn’t particularly happy with the way Spielberg was working because she wanted to rehearse. She found it frustrating that she wasn’t able to explore her character and make it more immediate. During the movie she was always talking about how she was going to use the money to go back and set up a theater company. Her anger had increased during the Well of the Souls sequence. Though stunt artists replaced her when Marion hangs over the pit and the statue collapse on her, there were more than enough anxiety as she faced the snakes.
The Raven Bar scene started filming on stage two while stuntman Martin Grace performed the stunt of the falling statue in the Well of Souls. Located in the Himalayas the Raven was another wonderful creation of Norman Reynolds. The furniture, the drinks on the shelves, the wonderfully sandblasted and old-looking fireplace all in period. And the overall aura of the place is “mountains” and it feels right. This is one of the most dramatic scenes in the film. It introduced the character of Marion Ravenwood but also established the relationship between her and Indy. Unfortunately, in the final cut of the film most of the dialogue in that scene was cut out causing Lawrence Kasdan’s frustration. “Some of the best writing I’ve ever done was in that scene, but all that’s left is its beginning and end.”
On August 14, Spielberg and company visited the Rickmansworth Masonic School in England, an old institution found in 1788 by Chevalier Bartholomiew Ruspin, for on location filming. The school set in 400 acres of parkland was perfect as both, Indy’s teaching college and the Washington D.C. Government office. Suddenly, Robert Watts was taken to the hospital, on August 18, for an appendix removal, with his duties falling in the hands of Frank Marshall. Fortunately, Watts recovered very soon and he was back on the set a month later.
With interior shots completed, the production moved to North Africa to film the German excavation site for the lost city of Tanis. Located in the Tunisian desert of Sedala, near the town of Tozeur, the 70 acres set perfectly designed by Norman Reynolds captured the vision of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Filming under the Tunisian sun with temperature hitting 130 degrees was a nightmare, especially for the 600 Arab extras, which started to complain when water supply problems emerged. Under these conditions Spielberg was working in a frantic pace to bring the film on schedule, averaging 35 setups a day. A number unthinkable for a Hollywood movie, but Raiders were inspired by 1930s B-movies and that’s how Spielberg envisioned this film. “On Raiders I learned to like instead of love. If I liked a scene after I shot it, I printed it. I didn’t shoot it again seventeen times until I got one that I loved,” said Spielberg.
George Lucas visited the set in Tunisia for two weeks and even directed some scenes. On the very first day he got badly sunburned and was forced to cover his face and ears with tissues. That made the crew give him the nickname Howard Huge. But his skin was permanently damaged and ever since when he would expose to the sun his face would turn bright red.
Despite his argue to finish on time Spielberg managed to improvise many scenes during filming. Like the tent scene, Indy’s student that had written on her eyelids “I love you” and the Bantu Wind cabin. Little scenes that added a laugh and gave the audience the chance to ease adrenaline after all the running and fighting.
Ford, continued to do most of his stunts risking the production’s existence and even his own safety more than once. There were times where he was injured in a daily basis. “It’s true, you can do a lot of stuff yourself. And I’m glad to if the stunt is coordinated so that there is an advantage for the film in my doing it myself. I don’t want to do it for glory. But sometimes I begin to feel more like a football player, a battered football player than a movie actor.” Having escaped from the Well of Souls, Indy and Marion watch the Germans’ moves. Indy trying to snick in the airplane, which would travel the Ark to Germany, gets detected by a mechanic who challenges him to a fight. The fight takes place around the whirring propellers of a Flying Wing with Indy trying to avoid the German. Artist Ron Cobb designed a prototype Flying Wing that, with its end wing flaps tilted downward, was closer to the look of a US prototype developed in the 40s. The final, life-size airplane was built by the Vickers Aircraft Company, in England, and painted at Elstree studios. Once completed the aircraft was disassembled and shipped to Tunisia, where it was rebuilt on location.
In one of his efforts Indy is knocked down into the path of the airplane’s wheel and does a backward sauversault to avoid being crushed. The scene was successfully rehearsed a number of times but when the camera started to roll Ford’s right foot shipped in the sand shot sideways. He caught his toe under the tire of the advancing Flying Wing, which proceeded to crawl up his tibia. Luckily, the brakes worked inches before his knee was crushed, but he was pinned to the sand. Thanks to the blistering sun the tires had gone soft, so when the wheel caught Ford’s foot “he suffered nothing worse than a worn set of lungs from the scream he unleashed”, said Spielberg to The New York Times.
The film included a great chase sequence involving a truck, a jeep, a motorcycle and a horse, equivalent to the stagecoach chases of the old serials. As with the Flying Wing the production team created all the required vehicles. Indy, on horseback, rides alongside a truck that carries the Ark, yanks a passenger from the truck and throws him into the road. Then he fights the driver and he drives the truck himself. A German sergeant climbs back over the roof down onto the cab. He comes in through the window and hits Indy sending him out through the windshield. Indy shot over the front of the truck, hangs on but eventually loses his balance and falls underneath. Indy hangs underneath, gets his bullwhip out, ties it under the truck and is dragged along. Eventually, he pulls himself back into the truck, climbs through a big hole in the side, gets back in, gets rig of the driver and drives the truck to Cairo.
Spielberg who had never used a second unit director before agreed to do so only for the truck chase because it was a very extended pursuit and covered a lot of different locations. The second unit began shooting the truck chase a week before the production moved to Tunisia, so they were well into it when Spielberg arrived at Nefta. He directed all the shots involving Ford. For his own protection when Ford was filmed hanging in front of the truck he was actually sitting on a bicycle seat attached to the vehicle’s chassis. Mickey Moore did everything involving wider shots using doubles. Even though Moore followed all of Spielberg’s storyboards to the letter, he also gave him one or two extra shots for each storyboard, “and sometimes the bonus shots were better than the storyboards” admitted Spielberg.
Production’s next stop was the city of Kairouan, at the North East side of Tunisia, which served as 1936s Cairo. There a whole day was lost because 350 TV antennas had to be removed from the houses around the building that served as Sallah’s home.
During a walk in the Cairo streets Marion gets kidnapped and Indy is running around trying to find her. As he is looking for her he confronts a black-dressed Arab with a big sword on hand. According to the script Indy uses his whip to beat the swordsman. The Arab does a show off with his sword. Indy does his own with the whip and the big battle begins. Ridiculously, most of the crew, during the Tunisian shooting, was afflicted by dysentery. Everyone, except Spielberg who had brought his own food, in cans. So, Ford wasn’t in the best of moods for such a big and difficult scene, although they had rehearsed it, since he had to keep going to the toilet very hour. He approached Spielberg and said: “Steven, I can’t do this, let’s just shoot the son-of-a-bitch!” Spielberg’s respond was “I was thinking about doing the same thing” and so they filmed it getting one of the picture’s best laughs.
On September 29, the production arrived in Kauai, Hawaii, for the opening scene of the film. The very next day filming started in a place that served as the exterior of the South American temple. It was a pit, like a mini-canyon and included a pool and a waterfall. The location was really great but it was difficult to get to. They had to build steps down an almost sheer cliff to get into it, and all the heavy equipment had to be put in with a crane from up above. Worst of all, the pool was the breeding ground for thousands of mosquitoes. They had a man with a mosquito fogger every morning and got their selves covered with anti-insect-bite oil but they still got bitten.
On Saturday in Kauai they did treks up what was supposed to be South American mountains. They had two donkeys that they used for all these treks on Kauai for both the first and second units—the donkeys went lame. All Sunday they were trying to find donkeys on the island of Kauai because they needed them continuity. They didn’t find any on Sunday; Monday morning they found two donkeys. They were the wrong color so they painted them brown with hair spray. They were going to shoot on the Nepali coast, which could be reached only by helicopter. Not only could they get in only by helicopter, they now had two donkeys which they’d had painted from gray to brown, and they had to get them in by helicopter as well. So they bought a crate, got this helicopter a hook, blindfolded the donkeys, and one at a time they were hooked under the helicopter and flown into location.
After an exhaustive search for Indiana Jones’ South American escape plane, this 1930s Waco biplane was finally located in Junction City, Oregon. Owned and cherished by Henry and Alice Strauch, the plane was the only one found that fitted all the requirements of the movie—single engine, open cockpit and the original floaters which allowed for landing and taking off on water. Production designer Norman Reynolds had the plane painted to match the aircraft of the period, and added a small touch of humor as well—note the use of the two Star Wars characters OB (as in Obi-Wan Kenobi) and 3PO as the plane’s identification numbers. This valuable antique plane finally returned home to Oregon and its regular routine—Henry Strauch flew it to work and back each day.
The last location to shoot was on the Nepali Coast, which could be reached only by helicopter. They had to take everything in by helicopter, including two donkeys. It was there that another accident took place. The scene called for Indy to run to the bank of the river, chased by natives, jump into the water swim towards the airplane, climb up, get in and fly away. All in one shot. As Ford was climbing up his legs dangled with the plane’s right flap and made steering difficult. So when the plane reached an altitude of twenty feet, it disappeared behind an outcrop of trees and crashed. Miraculously, Ford and the pilot escaped unscratched and returned to do the scene again.
Chapter 6: Concluding the adventure
Filming took 73 days, just as planned. Post-production lasted a couple of months and was spent mostly on special effects and pick up shots.
Filled with virtuoso stunts and exciting escapes, Raiders of the Lost Ark presented very special challenges to the special effects team of George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic in Marin County, California. Far away from today’s CGI effects this enormously exciting action epic was a hard act to follow since they had such a difficult subject as to portray the wrath of God.
During pre-production storyboard artists Ed Verreaux, Dave Negron, Michael Lloyd and Joe Johnston were asked to try to imagine what would happen when the Nazis open the Ark for the first time. The script described the scene by only saying: “They open the Ark and all hell breaks loose.” Though they knew that spirits were involved Lucas and Spielberg weren’t sure how they should appear on the screen. So each of the artists did a preliminary set of storyboard on their own. One had come up with no ghost at all and it was all firestorm. Another artist had all ghosts and no flame while the third one had all these weird light effects. Lucas and Spielberg then asked that all three ideas be combined and Johnston was given the task.
With storyboards completed Richard Edlund and his team were responsible for translating them into film. The main question the team faced was what does a real ghost would look like, what would look believable and scary. Of course, nobody had ever photographed a ghost, so the visual concept depended on legend and their imagination. ILM’s resources and personnel had to be carefully divided between Raiders and Dragonslayer, which was also in post-production at the time.
At first, it was thought that the ghosts could be created with cel animation, but early tests soon proved unsatisfactory. Edlund was searching for something with a different look. Eventually, the old cloud tank used in Close Encounters was refurbished and tests were shot with small puppet-ghosts in water. Several elements were shot using the tank to achieve the flow and feel of ghosts as insubstantial spectres floating and swimming through the atmosphere. Although there are four shots in the finished film that make use of cel animation to achieve ghosts and ghost effects, the bulk of the material was shot using other techniques including miniatures in the tank and full-scale puppets and actors. Special optical techniques were developed to combine the ghosts with live action footage giving a transparent “look” that would not look like a simple double exposure or “burn-in.”
Cloud tanks were developed by Doug Trumbull for Spielberg’s Close Encounters and later seen in the De Laurentis Flash Gordon. For Raiders, Edlund’s team also generated cloud effects in the tank, but found other uses as with the ghosts.
They created an inversion layer in the tank using different temperatures and densities of solutions, for example a layer of salt water on the bottom of the tank with a layer of fresh water above it. Various pigments and dyes could float in the plane where the two layers meet thereby generating different types of cloud effects. They used what they called an ‘atomic arm’ (a remote-controlled hand, such as the ones used for moving isotopes in nuclear laboratories) to squirt pigment into the tank at the appropriate level. It is designed so that someone can control the insertion of the pigment from back near the camera, so he can see pretty much what the camera sees as he makes a shot.
The most startling shot in this sequence occurs just before the debacle, when one of the wispy manifestations drifts up toward the camera to reveal a rather angelic-looking female countenance which then suddenly transforms into a ghoulish death’s-head. A woman dressed in a white flowing gown and with white makeup on her was placed on a platform that was hanging from three wires and was filmed in many movements.
Once the transformation from angel to demon has been effected, the full fury of the awesome forces within the Ark is unleashed against the Nazis violators. Flames leap forth from the open chest, and in a matter of moments, Dietrich’s face shrinks to a mummy-like visage. Toht’s features melt away from his skull, and Belloq’s head explodes into a pulpy mess. Spielberg had decided that the villains should be disintegrated. The storyboards dictated close-ups of Belloq, Toht and Dietrich with their faces shutter and crumble away but after many efforts and thoughts they realized that they couldn’t do such a thing, so instead of disintegrating them they decided to give to each of them a different kind of death. Life molds of the characters in the screaming positions they would ultimately reach had to be taken. They had them hold their positions while they took castings of their faces and then special make-up artist Chris Walas had to rebuild their faces from the molds. Walas produced a series of three artificial heads. The first, representing Colonel Dietrich, employed inflatable bladders which when pumped up with air, sustained the face’s proper shape. Joe Johnston’s hand was used during shooting in the close-up to impart some added life to the scene. When the air was sucked out, the bladders deflated and the face became instantly mummified. It took eight or nine people to control the effect, manipulating different levers inside the head, all of which had to be done on hand.
Toht’s head was made from a multi-layered gelatin compound and was filmed in time-lapse as it melted down the skull from the heat provided from a dryer. The time-lapse for the melting head was shot at a little less than a frame a second.
In the case of Belloq they blew his head up by using a sort of plaster skull with a pliable substance over it to built the sculpture up. The final effect for Belloq’s head employed a large air cannon directly in front and below the head, two shotguns placed about fifteen feet or so behind the head and off to the sides and explosive charges. Then they used four or five pieces of primer cord to sever the neck and three different dets under the eyes and chin. Inside the head Thaine Morris, who handled all that with the assistance of Ted Moehnke, had placed a very thin plaster skull, which they filled with blood bags that had all kinds of garbage in them – dried latex, vermiculite, pieces of foam etc. The head had to be blown up three times before they got the desired effect turning the stage in an absolute mess. Since the exploding head was to lead directly into the holocaust shots the optical department decided to superimpose pyrotechnic effects to help detract from the gore. The pyrotechnics, which were put in front and in the back of the head, were being exposed more than the exploding head itself with out losing the impact of the effect. A certain amount of optical work was done on all three shots, which included matting fire on one side of the frame.
While one part of the Raiders effects team was busying themselves creating elements for the film’s breathtaking conclusion, others began with the comparatively few effects shots that occur elsewhere in the film. One of the earliest in the film is the shot of the China Clipper that Harrison Ford boards for the flight to Nepal.
They knew that there was only one similar seaplane in the world that could still fly. But it was located in Puerto Rico and due to budget constrains they couldn’t go there. As luck would have it, they found an old flying boat that was in a shipyard about five miles from lLM. It wasn’t a real China Clipper, but it was close enough—a four- engine passenger seaplane. It was on dry land and could not float. So they built a ramp next to the plane to suggest a dock and placed pans of water on the ground to reflect a moving water effect underneath the wings. Actors were dressed in appropriate 30s costume and filmed boarding the plane and then the only working engine would get started to add some realism.
Then they took a helicopter trip around the bay to find a pier that would look right for the foreground of the shot. They found such a pier on Treasure Island and made a deal with the Navy to film there.
The completed shot is made up of two separately photographed plates and a matte painting of the seaplane base, taxicabs, etc. tying the elements together. There was the plate of the pier, the plate of the seaplane and the matte painting by Alan Maley. Subsequent flying shots, photographed by Jim Veilleux, were done with a miniature replica of the plane built by Mike Fulmer.
One of the most popular shots in the film was the shot at the end of the truck chase sequence with the Nazi car flying off the cliff. It was a cooperative interdepartmental effort. The cliff was a matte painting by Alan Maley, photographed by Neil Krepela. The animation of the Nazis and the car was handled by stop-motion artist Tom St. Amand with Jim Veilleux as cameraman.
First a test pan on the painting had to be shot. The live-action plate was rear projected into a corner of the painting as the matte camera recorded the plate and painting with a slight pan of the matte camera to suggest the effect of tracking with the falling Nazis. This test footage was taken over to the miniatures stage and used as a guide to shoot the miniature car and Nazis. The match-up of the matte painting and the stop-motion miniatures was done by eye. The stop-motion miniatures were shot against the standard blue screen backing. Later, Bruce Nicholson’s optical department went through the necessary steps to produce an anamorphic holdout matte of the car and Nazis.
This black and white travelling matte film element went back to the matte department just about the time Alan Maley was putting the finishing touches on the cliff painting. Then the matte department shot the final take of the matte painting with the live action rear- projected into the corner window, but this time the black and white travelling matte is running in bi-pack in the camera. This matte leaves a perfect ‘window’ of unexposed emulsion for the car and falling Nazi.
Finally, the optical department took this ‘held take’ and exposed the miniature car and falling Nazi into the hold created by the travelling matte in the matte camera then the film gets developed.
In the original script Kasdan embroidered dozens of images to take the story from one country to the next – huge montages from San Francisco to Nepal, from Nepal to Cairo, from Cairo to the Mysterious Island in the Mediterranean. To save money and pay tribute to the films that inspired Raiders Spielberg decided to show a map of the world with little animated travel lines tracing the route of our adventurers. As Indy’s plane flies to Egypt a map with a red line moving across it is superimposed over the image. Such a device was used in many old films, amongst them Casablanca. The shots of the mountains in the background, according to Tony Crawley, were rented from the 1973 film The Lost Horizon while the exterior shot of Indy’s house is supposedly taken from The Hindenburg, although Richard Edlund maintained that it was shot with miniatures.
The film’s last shot of Indy in the staircase of the government building wasn’t in the script. It was Marcia Lucas who after watching the rough cut observed that there was no emotional resolution on the ending, because it showed only Indy delivering the Ark to the US government officials, and Marion wasn’t shown anywhere. Spielberg re-shot the scene in downtown San Francisco, having Marion wait for Indy on the steps of the government building.
Spielberg’s first cut had a running cut of approximately 3 hours but together he and editor Michael Kahn cut it down to something less than two hours.
When Spielberg completed his version of the film he voluntarily turned it over to Lucas. Lucas filled the screening room at Parkhouse the first time he watched Spielberg’s cut, because he didn’t want to see it without an audience. The next morning he called Spielberg and told him, “I’ve got to tell you, you’re really a good director.” Later Lucas, together with Kahn, cut seven minutes out of the first half of the film, making it more tight, slick and fun. Spielberg although he questioned some changes he was pleased and impressed. “I would trust George with any movie I ever direct to edit in anyway he sees fit. He knows the secret of what an editor can do to a movie, how he can enhance the film.”
Lucas had visited the set of Raiders many times, in fact he was on location in Tunisia two of the five weeks of shooting, three of the nine weeks in London, and throughout the shooting at La Rochelle and in Hawaii. Lucas claimed that he visited the sets only to keep company to his friend although many believe that he did it to keep an eye on his friend’s job. Lucas’ presence was catalytic in Spielberg’s work. He was there to drop ideas, while on the other hand he provided the required liberty that any director needs. At the end of shooting Spielberg told to Time magazine, “Lucas was to me what David O. Selznick was to his directors on Gone With The Wind. I respect his comments totally. Raiders proved that two people can make a movie together and remain friends”. Indeed, the relationship between the two worked as best as it could for the film’s interest. When they would have a disagreement they treated it with humor. Lucas would say, “Well it’s your movie. If the audience doesn’t like it, they ‘re going to blame you.” And Spielberg would answer, “okay, but I’m going to tell them that you made me do it”, and after that they would start exchanging ideas to find solution.
During some pick-up shots in the hold of the Bantu Wind, where the Ark is being carried we see the Ark surrounded by rats. They had got the rats so that they’d start to run toward the Ark; and most of them scattered to the corners, which were dark, which was great. But there was this one rat that, all of the sudden, ran toward the Ark, and then stopped and started turning around in circles. It just kept turning in circles, which was perfect, because it looked like the hum from the Ark was hurting its ears. Richard Edlund and Kathleen Kennedy were dying because they didn’t know what was wrong with it. They found out from Mike Culling, the animal trainer, that he’d had the rat since it was a baby, and it was deaf and also had an equilibrium problem.
The film’s score was composed by renowned composer John Williams who Lucas and Spielberg had used in almost every of their previous works. He had allocated themes to people, and symbols, with some distinct separation. The Ark: this is religious, orchestra and chorus but using the two as one sound; you won’t hear the chorus. Indiana Jones theme: this is a heroic. Marion’s theme is a recurrent love theme. The baddies theme, the Nazis, etc is dark music. Those are the four main themes, which recur. There is a fifth, almost a set piece within the main music and related thematically, for the scene with the monkey and Marion and Indy in the Cairo street. This was Spielberg’s idea. He was trying to have a kind of “As Time Goes By” feel, a ’30s attitude. Much of the atmosphere in the old serials was evoked by the score. John isn’t as familiar with the music of the old Republic serials as I am. Johnny is essentially a classicist and a lover of Victorian and Elizabethan sound. Johnny isn’t a “pulp” composer and I’m not a “pulp” director, but this is a “pulp” movie. But Johnny watched the film and saw that it was a very realistic kind of movie on one hand with a sort of pulpish treatment; he was not about to compose a score for this as he would compose a score for, say, Bridge on the River Kwai. By the same token Johnny’s music has a seriousness, which is important; I wanted a serious score, which is what he gave me. For Raiders Johnny and I discussed some sort of a march, something you could walk out of the theater whistling. The Indiana Jones theme has a lot of whistle value and the Marion theme is right out of the Warner Bros. Classics—a cross between Dark Victory and the love scene from Casablanca.
Chapter 7: The great adventure returns
Raiders of the Lost Ark came out on June 12, 1981 in 1708 theaters across the United States and soon became the most profitable film and the cinematic event of the year.
The film opens with a great 15-minute sequence filled with so much action that the audience could leave the theater in these first minutes totally satisfied. Spielberg’s intention was to keep close to the spirit of the old serials, which always began with a brisk reprise of the previous week’s cliffhanger. “It’s not part of Raiders at all. It belongs to the film that comes before it—Raiders of the Lost Fertility Idol, if you like”, was Spielberg’s aspect. On the other hand Spielberg was fulfilling an old desire. To make a James Bond film. In all the James Bond films their opening sequence had nothing to do with the movie’s real plot. So, in Raiders Spielberg uses this style of storytelling to introduce the character of Indiana Jones.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was a hit not only in the United States but all over the world making Ford begin a tour around Europe to promote it. He attended the London opening in July and several festivals. In Britain in less than two weeks into its initial run Raiders earned nearly $5 million and became the number one slot in bookings outpacing England’s “national” hero James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only. In Paris, 500 people were turned away when Raiders opened to a full house on the Champs Elysees. French spurred by a chorus of rave reviews from critics at the Deauville film festival, Raiders drew fully 21% of all filmgoers in the French capital on its opening day. In Italy a month before the scheduled opening day Raiders distributor ordered a record number of prints to satisfy a demand that is soaring on word-of-mouth alone.
At the Venice film festival, the normally blasé audience at a Raiders screening cheered wildly for the good guys and hissed the bud guys just like kids used to do when they went to the movies years ago.
Audiences around the world responded to Harrison Ford’s heroisms transforming him into a real superstar. His performance as Indiana Jones marvelously, combines elements of Errol Flynn, Cary Grand and Clark Gable. From the first moment of casting for Raiders Spielberg wanted someone like Harrison Ford. Someone who could be villainous and romantic at the same time. Derek Taylor wrote for Ford’s performance, “Harrison was so crucial to the film and so rarely off screen that had he been unpleasant, things could have been really miserable.”
Of course credits should be given to the rest of the cast, too. Especially, to Karen Allen, who was the only woman in the film. Allen with her intense presence and her aggressive sexuality managed to impose her role as equal among the other male characters creating a 80s female profile although it was referring in the late 30s.
The success of Raiders grew even more when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science nominated it for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, only to win five of them.
Raiders of the Lost Ark earned $384 million worldwide and became the first video to sell a million.
Paramount made $49 million in film rentals, recovering its $22 million production investment in the process. Spielberg made in excess of $22 million, more than he had earned from all his previous hit movies combined. Lucasfilm made $21 million from Raiders and Lucas personally earned only $2,5 million as producer. The other profit participants, including actors and crew members, divided more than $7 million in profit percentages. Lucasfilm now gets 50% of everything Raiders earns after Spielberg’s share is deducted. Paramount has maintained the right to distribute Raiders forever.
A HOLY GRAIL OF INDIANA JONES ARTIFACTS
A holy grail of Indiana Jones artifacts: a 125-page transcript of the original story-conference meeting involving producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and writer Lawrence Kasdan. The blog, Mystery Man on Film, somehow got its hands on the alleged transcript, which features the filmmakers talking at great length in January 1978 about what would eventually become Raiders of the Lost Ark. The thing’s a pure joy to read. In it, you can find the genesis of everything from Indiana Jones’ name to his fear of snakes to his (possibly risque) romantic history with Marion Ravenwood. You can download the PDF version here, transcript here. More Making of Raiders documents can be found here.
John August and Craig Mazin interview Lawrence Kasdan, legendary screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, The Bodyguard and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The interview took place at WGFestival on April 16, 2016.
HARRISON FORD’S ORIGINAL SCRIPT NOTES
Original cloth-board bound complete revised fifth-draft script for Raiders of the Lost Ark. This incredible piece was used by Harrison Ford throughout filming, complete with color revision and daily hand-typed dialogue pages (showing folds and wear from carrying in Ford’s pocket). The majority of pages are individually rubber stamped “ROLA 103020” for security control purposes. Contains 145 pages, of which 112 sides have hand-annotations (over 1,300 words) penned by Ford in his distinctive block capital style of writing. Notes range from single words to complete pages of writing and cover all aspects of the filmmaking process, ranging from dialogue alterations and questions about the plot to suggestions and perspectives used to create the iconic character of “Indiana Jones.”
RAIDING THE LOST ARK, A FILMUMENTARY
Raiding the Lost Ark, A Filmumentary is the culmination eight months of reading, trawling, interviewing and editing. This time Jamie Benning has sourced some of the interviews himself, with contributors from Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Brian Muir (legendary sculptor), Mark Mangini (part of the Oscar winning sound team) and most surprisingly Sean Young (talking about her audition for the part of Marion Ravenwood).
Below is a tribute to legendary stunt man and stunt coordinator Terry Leonard, from the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. It played at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood before a screening of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, in which he famously did the truck drag stunt. Leonard also directed second unit on Apocalypse Now, coordinated the spectacular train crash from The Fugitive, and has a string of major film credits.
And that famous quote (“Memories, friends, and 8 X 10s”) Leonard came up with when asked on location on Raiders of the Lost Ark, about what stuntwork means to him? He told the guys at Propstore.
I’m standing there in North Africa, doubling Harrison, and this is what was running through my mind—they asked me, Terry, ‘What does working in the movie business mean to you?’ And I thought about it, ‘What does working in the movie business mean to me?’ Forget the movie, forget the incidental fame that you might enjoy… that was a real introspective question, and I didn’t want to answer it frivolously. So I stopped and I thought. I’m standing there in this desert, in 130 degree heat, watching a thousand camels go across the road (they graze them over there like we do beef cattle)… a thousand camels are going across the road, I’ve just been to London, four months earlier I’d been over by a stage coach, almost killed, I’d just gone through an expensive divorce, been all over the world playing cowboys and Indians, and now I’m standing in this desert in North Africa, and I stopped and I thought, ‘What happens when your career is over.’ What do you got? You’ve got a bunch of pictures on your wall, which are 8x10s of what you’ve done, which only means something to you, or maybe one or two people who come to have a cocktail and they say ‘Ah, did you do that?’ and I say ‘Yeah.’ It doesn’t mean anything. Money doesn’t mean anything.
I’m thinking of the people I’ve met all over the world, stunt guy friends of mine, when I was laying on my sixth hip replacement, I’ve had seven, I got phone calls from stunt guys from Spain. They heard all over the world that I’m having another hip surgery. I got phone calls at Christmas time from probably 10 guys—Canada, Spain, Mexico—so I’m thinking about this. Not that the hips had anything to do with it, because that was just a few years ago. But I started thinking about what really means what. Forget all the bull****, forget the cigar bar, forget all the pomp and circumstance, it’s memories, friends, and 8x10s. —Tribute To Stunt Legend Terry Leonard
From Jungle to Desert—this feature begins with raw location scouting footage, intercut with a Steven Spielberg interview. The piece continues to show audiences chronological behind-the-scenes footage of the making of various scenes, intercut with remastered clips from the film. Also included are on-set interviews with Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and additional cast and crew; deleted scenes; bloopers; outtakes; and more. This is a thorough, engaging supplement that practically transports viewers to the set of a major motion picture—and a classic at that—for a fascinating look at how it all came together.
Here are some great photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Photographed by Albert Clark & Terry Chostner © Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm, Lucasfilm Archives. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
We’re running out of money and patience with being underfunded. If you find Cinephilia & Beyond useful and inspiring, please consider making a small donation. Your generosity preserves film knowledge for future generations. To donate, please visit our donation page, or donate directly below:
Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in