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The Making of

Chapter 3: On location in Sri Lanka


The scene in which Short Round, behind the wheel of a Duesenberg, rescues Indy and Willie began the film's production, as part of the second unit work under Mickey Moore, who shot Raiders' famous truck chase. Mickey, along with Vic Armstrong and Glen Randall, traveled to Macao to shoot the chase through the Shanghai streets the very first week of shooting, a week before principal photography in Sri Lanka. He did all that with doubles, everything from Indy and Willie coming out of the nightclub window, through the blinds, into the car, and up to the shot prior to their approach to the airport.

April 18, 1983 found cast and crew on the tropical island of Sri Lanka, formerly the British colony of Ceylon, drinking champagne and wishing good luck to each other.

Marshal remembers, "When we arrived in Sri Lanka, it was like a great reunion; we had almost all the same crew there. The same production people, transportation people, same caterer, those sorts of things. We also had Indiana Jones again, so we were starting out on a completely different level than before. We all knew what kind of a movie it was what the atmosphere and spirit should be, who the character was. So it seemed like we were starting on the first day of Temple of Doom where we'd left off on Raiders."

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Ford, Capshaw and
Spielberg discussing.

Being one of the only two people who hadn't worked on Raiders Capshaw felt like an outsider during the first two weeks on the set in Sri Lanka. "There I was very far away from any place I had ever known, with people who all knew each other and seemed to really know what they were doing. I really felt they were checking me out that I was on approval and had to prove myself to them. After the second week, Frank Marshal and Steven took me aside and explained everything, made sure I felt like one of the gang. They're really just very wonderful people."

The Mayapor village sequence was shot at the Hantane Tea Estate located on the hills above their base of operations near the city of Kandy. The plantation was lying in the midst of coconut groves and mining caverns - a steamy wilderness right out of H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tea fields surround the area; most of the world's supply grows on the island, and major companies such as Lipton have established local headquarters. Local workers constructed the village, under the supervision of Elliott Scott, consisted of about twenty clay houses including a water wheel. Clay cracks wonderfully when it dries and the effect was excellent.

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Filming Indy's arrival at the Mayapor village.

Situated above the outpost of Kandy in the provincial hinterland, the plantation's location caused problems in transportation. Because the large trucks could not get up the narrow mountain roads they were forced to use smaller trucks. Three trucks for every one that they normally used. And in the end they had a convoy of some hundred vehicles. To further complicate matters, it is nestled in a narrow valley between sheer cliffs; the only accessible road spirals up a mountain for 45 minutes before reaching the production site.

No existing hamlet was feasible due to the transformation, which occurs during the film. Desolate when Indy arrives because the life-endowing gems have been swiped, it becomes a vigorous mecca when the jewels are returned. This prosperous look was shot for scenes at the film's end; earlier footage required setting, the place town on fire!

To achieve the proper look of devastation they had to torch the tea foliage on the hillsides, and parts of the village.

The production left little to chance as the scrub brush and healthy tea plants are set ablaze with handheld torches. Fire extinguishers and an emergency team were on stand-by alert in case of mishap. The burning was handheld with no problem and shooting commenced.

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Elephants are coming!

An elephant "orphanage" located in Kandy, 40 miles from the shooting site provided the wild pachyderms the production needed. Three grown bulls and an infant were temporarily "adopted." Transportation for the animal actors was another matter.

"The elephants had to walk from one location to the next," Watts explains, "and their average speed is only six miles per hour." Besides costly delays in awaiting the beasts' arrival, production had been halted occasionally because of their innate sense of quitting time.

"They know when to stop," the exasperated producer groaned. "They have a time for work and a time to quit and lie in the sun. It's very difficult to convince an elephant to work when he know he should be done for the day."

The mammoth animals were less than ideal in other respects, too. Elephants are difficult to ride because they have huge, broad shoulders that require tight straddling. Astride the beasts for hours at a time, when the cameras finally stopped rolling Ford would drop from the animal's neck and collapse in a heap under the nearest tree saying, "Those brutes are harder to ride than camels." During pre-production Lucas and Spielberg had asked Ford: "We're thinking about setting this film to the jungle. Is there anything you care for or you don't care for?" and Ford replied, "You guys do whatever you want but for this picture I think we should have elephants." This was an idea Ford had already started to regret.

"Riding an elephant is very uncomfortable. I developed an antipathy towards elephant riding. You ride with your lags in a hyper extended position to accommodate the girth of the animal right over its shoulders. First one leg, then the other is pulled forward, which tends to spread you apart-like being stretched on medieval rack, I imagine." He later quipped to the New York Times: "The only fun thing about riding an elephant is getting off!"

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Kennedy & Marshall, Ford and Lucas with the elephant.
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Harrison Ford and Jonathan Quan at work.

Theoretically Watts had timed the production's arrival to coincide with a period between two regular monsoons. During his visit shortly before filming he discovered the waters were heavily polluted, he even took samples that proved unacceptable. By the time shooting started the first monsoon hadn't hit and there had been a drought, which resulted to the water levels being dropped about 75%. For the scene where Willie falls off an elephant into the river, they had to create a pool and fill it with fresh water ferried up in tankers to ensure Capshaw wouldn't get sick. Despite Watts miscalculation they only experienced one serious tropical thunderstorm. They were up in the mountains at the village attempting a night shot, standing around waiting for the sun to set, waiting for the twilight. The caterers were just serving out chicken and baked beans when it hit. A cloud descended over the hill from nowhere and broke into a deluge. The lighting was spectacular, the thunder deafening. Everyone scattered to their cars for shelter and get out of the mountains before the roads became impassable while a desperate Watts waved at everybody shouting 'Wait a minute, just a minute 'til this shower is over and we'll get on with the shot.'

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Between takes.

There was a scene in which a snake slithers out of a tree, into a pool where Willie is bathing and wraps itself around her. The funny thing is that the Sri Lankans aren't very partial to snakes. So the production booked the pythons Mike Culling had brought over from England into their own hotel room adjacent to his under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow! When time came to shoot the scene Capshaw couldn't do. They had trained the snake for weeks in advance; she had been trying to psych herself up for this scene. She said when she touched the snake the first time it undulated and she thought she was going to die. She started sweating. Then, they tried to put the snake on her shoulders to show her what it would be like, and she just totally freaked out. Steven was ashen and said, "That's all right. Ok, if you're not going to do this, there's no way you're not going to do the bugs!"

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This is a real bat folks!

Other members of the animal kingdom employed in this film were bats. Strange, ugly creatures the giant fruit bats that lived in the trees in Kandy would sleep all day, folded up in trees, looking like some weird foliage. The crew couldn't get too close to them because of the danger of rabies, although they were fruit bats, they were big and they would bite anything in self-defense. To get a good shot of a swarm of them the crew, led by Frank Marshall, let off a firecracker. The trees would be barren as they came swooping around, real unhappy at being disturbed.

There was a small part in the script for a child who has escaped from the mines of Kali and gotten back to the village. It's the arrival of this child that persuades Indiana Jones to visit the Palace of Pankot. Spielberg wanted to cast this part with a local child, so eventually they brought up three kids from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, who's had some experience in acting. While they were testing them on the set, they noticed a boy sitting on the wall, watching, taking everything in and looking very keen. They asked him down to try out too. He turned out to be the best of all. He was the son of a local woman who picked tea on the plantation. A kid who lived in a mud hut. He proved to be absolutely amazing; he hit his mark every time and even had a couple of lines.

Ford's proficiency with the bullwhip was again proved to be valuable, completing the Indian swordsmen scene, for instance, in one take. "He could shave George Lucas with that whip", confided a crewmember.

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Spielberg and Lucas
on the rope bridge.

The last sequence filmed in Sri Lanka was the one where Indy is in the middle of the rope bridge with enemies in each side of it. The bridge was constructed with the help of a British engineering company that was building a large dam in a nearby canyon. Their help was very valuable and saved the production from money and man-hours. The 18 inches wide bridge, that took four weeks to build, was actually made of steel and cable that afterwards had been camouflaged with ropes and wood in order to look unstable and dangerous for someone to cross. Although the bridge was safer than it looked, the fact that it was swaying precariously 250 feet off the ground made it very dangerous. Safety precautions had to be taken but as days went by cast and crew tent to familiarize themselves with the situation. "After you've been there for a day, the crew - 50 or 60 people total - gets very familiar with the danger and tends to forget to put the safety lines on. So, you've always got to go around saying, 'Put the safety harness on, put the safety harness on,'" recalls Watts.

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Stunt legend Vic
Armstrong at work.

Cutting the bridge wasn't as easy as it looks on the screen. Mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs had to device a way to cut the steel cable on the rope bridge without any sound and without any smoke from explosions because the plot called for Indiana Jones to cut the bridge with a sword. Gibbs turned to a company in Marseilles, France, called Pyromecca, which specialized in pyrotechnic releases for space capsules and things like that. They designed and made, especially for him, these cable cutters, which were no bigger than a normal paper teacup and had the power to cut through 19-millimeter cable without any noise. The cutters have a slot in the bottom, where you hook them over the cable -that's called the anvil. Inside that, there was a high tensile steel chisel. Above the chisel, there was a small amount of explosive -it was no bigger than a thumbnail, but that explosive power is enough to drive the chisel through a steel cable 19mm thick. When the day came to actually film the scene Gibbs had made preparations down to the last detail. The night before, he said to Spielberg, "Whatever happens, if we want to stop the cameras, we mustn't shout out cut, in case I'm nervous'".

To add more realism to the scene Spielberg said, "I've got this shot: I want to look along the bridge, and when the bridge cuts, I want to see all these men throwing their arms about, waving their swords." That happened about eight weeks before hand. So Gibbs took about 16 ordinary tailor's dummies, made molds of them, and tilled the molds with soft foam. Internal pneumatic air cylinders were triggered, causing the dummy limbs to flail about, perfectly simulating human movement. In England's EMI-Elstree Studios there was a big tower, about 70 feet high, created for the film Greystoke. They were dropping smoke pots off the top, to simulate a volcano. Every other day, Gibbs and his team went up the tower and threw a dummy off to check it and videotape it. They would send the video off to Spielberg and he would say, "Can you make the head and wrist wobble a bit more?"

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The dummies opposite to the stunt doubles (notice Ford in the middle).

Ford's daredevilism continued and refused a stunt double once again. So when one of the crew members asked him how he would find the courage to stand in the middle of the bridge, Ford rubbed his chin and repeated a line from Raiders: "How should I know? I'm making this up as I go along". Ford had convinced Spielberg that he wouldn't be in danger, and so he took his position in the middle of the bridge. "So before anyone could do anything, I just run across it. In fact, it was dangerous as hell". When asked about doing stunts Ford answered: "As long as I can still fall down with some reasonable assurance that I'll get up again, I don't worry." But later he expressed a secret desire; "I'm almost looking forward to getting older parts that won't call for me to be bounced off walls every ten minutes."

The bridge scene could only be shot once. Nine cameras were trained on the action. "We had every camera we had -nine cameras out. And it's one go, and that's it. It was over cast, and we had everything ready. The assistant director, David Tomblin, timed it perfectly for a hole in the clouds when the sun came out. We rolled all the cameras -you must wait for each camera to report in to make sure they're all running, and then you go", said Watts. They had to have the sun out for the bridge would blend into the countryside because otherwise the bridge would look one-dimensional flat against a one-dimensional background. So they had for the effects to be right and safe to wait for the sun to come out. The filming of the scene would be completed in Elstree studios where another bridge was built for close-ups of the principal actors being hanging. This one was only fifteen feet above ground.

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On the rope bridge set at Elstree Studios in Great-Britain.

Spielberg always thought that the old Hollywood serials, taking place in some jungle, featured sounds created by someone at the studios but when he went on location he realized his mistake. "I was astonished at the amount of noise in the Sri Lankan jungle. I had always thought those jungle sounds were created back in 1929 by the MGM sound effects department! Part of the soundtrack on Temple might be interpreted as sounding cliché because we have all heard those jungle sounds in so many old motion pictures like Tarzan the Ape Man. But, in fact, those are the sounds of Sri Lanka, the sounds of the jungle. The Macao location was very different and rather difficult because it was simply a car chase through vet narrow, crowded streets with limited light."

Watts, looking back at the location filming said, "Sri Lanka was an eighteen-hour flight, then a dreadful drive to get to where we were set up. With Macao of course, you had to fly to Hong Kong then take a hydrofoil boat to Macao, a long, long way from home base London. We were able to pick up a lot of equipment in Hong Kong, they have a reasonably active film industry, but in Sri Lanka almost everything had to be sent from England. Including the catering truck and refrigeration units. One of the most important aspects, when you're shooting overseas is catering. You spend a lot of money in import caterers, cooks, and even foodstuffs -there's a mobile kitchen truck, brought in by ship from the UK or US depending on the location. This is vitally important, because sickness among the crew can wipe the production away. Although you want to give the crew good food, which is one side of the coin, you are also buying insurance for the production against sickness. With Tunisia the fault really lay there with ourselves and circumstances, not with Tunisia. The time frame for shooting had pushed the production into that location at the hottest time of the year. It's very difficult not to get sick when the temperature is 130 in the shade. When we used the location for Star Wars, we were there in March/April when the temperature is moderate, in the 70s. We didn't have any sickness. You're always careful, in any country, but particularly in the Third World countries - the standard of hygiene may not be quite the same as one is used to."

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Jonathan Quan with producers Kennedy, Marshall and Harrison Ford.

Shooting on Sri Lanka lasted three weeks filming mostly exterior shots. Although the conditions were much better than those in Tunisia were, the production crew followed a very exhausting schedule working from 7:30 a.m. till sunset for six days every week. Shooting schedules had been changed to comply with child labor laws, which meant that Quan must have an onset tutor, and may only work three-and-a-half hours a day. Young Quan had been taken under Ford's wing during filming, personally coaching him and even teaching the youngster swimming and how to use the whip.

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Spielberg & Ford with novelist Arthur Clarke.

His natural ability to deliver a line gave the director the key to a believable performance. Rather than memorization, Spielberg opted for spontaneity; he reads Shorty's lines to Quan just before filming. The child actor then repeats them in appropriate pidgin English for the cameras. Midget Felix Silla, who played in Back Rogers in the 25th Century and an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, substituted Quan appropriately.

Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Orient, was also the home of science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke, whom Spielberg and Ford paid a visit during their stay there.

Next: Indoors adventures >>


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