Cinema & New Media Arts | On Apr 01, 2013
The New Yorker highlights early story meeting transcripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark:
Over the intervening decades of enormous wealth and success, both Lucas and Spielberg have carefully tended their public images, so there is a voyeuristic thrill to seeing them converse in so unguarded a manner. As the screenwriters Craig Mazin and John August pointed out recently on the Scriptnotes podcast, one delight of reading the transcript is watching Spielberg throw out bad ideas, and then noting how Lucas gently shuts him down. Spielberg, who had sought to direct a Bond movie—and, astonishingly, been rejected—thought that their hero should be an avid gambler. Lucas replied that perhaps they shouldn’t overload him with attributes. (Lucas himself had briefly entertained, then mercifully set aside, the notion that his archaeologist might also be a practitioner of kung fu.) There’s a good reason we seldom get to spy on these conversations: really good spitballing, like improv comedy, requires a high degree of social disinhibition. So the writers’ room, like a therapist’s office, must remain inviolable.
Spielberg fires off ideas with an adolescent’s stamina—and not all of them are bad, either. In fact, among his spontaneous interjections are some of the most iconic episodes in the film. “I have a great idea!” he exclaims. “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!”
Lucas eggs him on during these riffs, pushing him to wring the full potential from each sequence. Spielberg conjures a scene in which the hero falls asleep on an airplane, only to wake up and discover that the other passengers have parachuted off, and the plane is in free fall. “He’s trapped in this airplane and it’s going down.”
“Then what happens?” Lucas says. “One sentence further and it’s a great idea.”
Like a number of ideas from the meeting, the flight-from-hell sequence proved too much for “Raiders,” and was incorporated, instead, into “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” But what is extraordinary, reading the transcript (which runs to nearly a hundred and fifty pages), is how many inspired elements from the film were originally cooked up in these conversations.