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George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders brainstorming… read it all

Harrison Ford Raiders of the Lost Ark

If you’re any sort of Indiana Jones nerd, you’ve heard about the brainstorming sessions George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan as they were developing Raiders of the Lost Ark. Well, now, a transcript of the five-day spitballing conference is available to geek out over. From The New Yorker’s Culture Desk:

Lucas walked into the meeting with an outline of the story, but he wanted to flesh it out with his writer and director. In the transcript, he begins by articulating a recipe for the contemporary blockbuster: the picture will consist of one big set piece after another.

“And each cliffhanger is better than the one before,” Spielberg adds, warming to the idea. “What we’re doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland.”

The hero, Lucas explains, is a globe-trotting archaeologist, “a bounty hunter of antiquities.” He’s a professor, a Ph.D.—“People call him doctor.” But he’s a little “rough and tumble.” As the men hash out the Jones iconography, they refer, incessantly, to other films, invoking Eastwood, Bond, and Mifune. He will dress like Bogart in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Lucas says: “the khaki pants…the leather jacket. That sort of felt hat.” Oh, and also? “A bullwhip.” He’ll carry it “rolled up,” Lucas continues. “Like a snake that’s coiled up behind him.”

“I like that,” Spielberg says. “The doctor with the bullwhip.”

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… 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.

Download the 90-page PDF transcript here.

The thing that really gets me about this: the almost unimaginable luxury of having five days to just sit around brainstorming creative stuff…

Thanks to bronxbee for the heads-up.


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easter eggs
  • Tangeu

    This part got a good chuckle out of me

    “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…”

    Overall a real fascinating read, I love this kind of brainstorming/behind the scenes stuff

  • Tonio Kruger

    Indiana Smith. An obvious allusion to sci-fi author C. L. Moore’s famous character Northwest Smith, no doubt…

  • Jurgan

    Watch for the part where they discuss having Marion be young enough that Indy had sex with her when she was 13. Fortunately it was changed, but the fact that they considered it for more than a second says something bad about them.

  • Robbie McNamara

    Luv that transcript! Check out our web series based on that story conference … it’s called ‘The Raiders Sessions’: https://vimeo.com/60414633

  • RogerBW

    I particularly like the way Kasdan, who’s clearly the old hand in this group, keeps hauling them back to “yes, great ideas, but what are we actually going to do”.

  • sarabert

    Agreed!!!!!!!

    Much like when Natalie Portman, David Lynch and other Hollywood pervs signed that petition for Roman Polanski. It told volumes about their moral values.