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

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.

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Tanis dig site sketch.

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.

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Well of Souls sketch.

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.

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Flying wing fight sketch.

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.

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Flying Wing production sketches & one of Toht with a mechanical arm.

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.

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Well of Souls scale model & Spielberg overlooking his dig site.

Next: Casting, if the hat fits >>


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