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Help Support Films Raiders of the Lost Ark The Script
The Making of

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.

Lawrence kasdan
Lawrence Kasdan

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.

click to enlarge
Indiana Jones sketch.

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.

click to enlarge
Indy vs. snake sketch.

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.

Next: The Killer Deal >>


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