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TheRaider.net Films Raiders of the Lost Ark Production
 
The Making of
 

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.

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Ford and Spielberg preparing a scene on the Bantu Wind boat.

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.

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Spielberg preparing the Forestall scene and the big hole...
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This is what they name a 'traveling shot' towards the golden idol.

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".

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Carrying the 'real' ark.

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.

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"Oh my God! This whole place is slithering!"

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.

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It's the cobra who's taking safety precautions...

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.

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Karen Allen surrounded by mummy's.

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.

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Preparing a bar fight.

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.

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Filming the Tanis dig site scenes near the town of Tozeur...
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... under the Tunisian sun with a temp. hitting 130 degrees.

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.

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Producer Frank Marshall playing the Flying Wing pilot.
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Steven Spielberg teaching Pat Roach (German mechanic) how to fight.

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.

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Stuntman Terry Leonard risking his life while Ford takes a break.

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.

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Meet George, the infamous Nazi-saluting monkey.

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.

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Crew filming Raiders opening scene on location in Kauai, Hawaii.

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.

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Lucas behind a camera.

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.

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Preparing the Paramount logo opening shot.

Next: Concluding the adventure >>

 

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