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The Making of

Chapter 4: Indoors adventures


After filming in Sri Lanka, the production moved to EMI Elstree Studios outside London to shoot the remaining half of the film's footage. Early plans to film in Australia were scrapped due to lack of studio space, construction materials and technically skilled engineers.

EMI, aka "Lucas East," had made available every soundstage, including the monolithic Stage 6, which served the Star Wars crew perfectly. Actually, there were about 9 stages and in some cases they had stages that converted to other sets. Much of the budget was spent on the sets and on the ILM special effects, which outnumbered what they had in Raiders. This time they had roughly between 150 and 160 effects shots, which is nothing compared to Return of the Jedi, but still a lot for this kind of picture. Elliot Scott erected the Palace of Pankot in its entire exotic splendor, using enough raw materials to supply a small country. Equally elaborate sets included mines and a stone quarry. Crews had built, dismantled and rebuilt with the choreographed precision of a Marine drill unit. As testimony to Scott's talent, new sets appeared almost overnight, ready for filming the next day. It was a vast business to create this many sets. At one point they had about sixty plasterers alone at work.

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Pleasure pavilion, wind tunnel and temple set design illustrations.

Shooting was going well under schedule when something unpleasant came up. Mounting the elephants for many hours of shooting in Sri Lanka exhausted Ford bringing in the surface an old back problem and by the time the crew stepped in London he was in such a pain that made Spielberg sent him in the United States for urgent attention. He was taken to the Centimella Hospital in L.A. that is specialized in sport injuries, and there doctors immediately diagnosed a ruptured disc. Doctors in order to avoid the painful operation treatment tried a revolutionary new technique. According to this technique an enzyme coming from Papaya fruit would eat way at the disc. The results were very impressive, although Ford was ordered to rest - which resulted in an insurance bill in excess of $1 million. According to Lee Pfeiffer and Michael Lewis' book The Films of Harrison Ford, Ford's friend Howard Becker visited him in the hospital and described the actor's concentrated efforts to hasten recuperation: "After the operation, he used a relatively tenacious and disciplined rehabilitation-stretching, a type of yoga, if you will. He was working his muscles very hard. I was worried, I kept telling him to slow down. As a former athlete, I had a track scholarship at college; I know that strong people can sometimes come back too fast. But he healed completely, and did it faster than the doctors expected. He's a very strong-willed person."

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Kate Capshaw dancing.

Back in London and during his absence Spielberg rearranged sequences to shoot around Ford, this wasn't easy since the actor was in most of the scenes. Among the scenes filmed during Ford's absence was opening credits dance part, reminiscent of Berkley's musicals. "It was a pleasure to direct because I always wanted to make a musical movie from start to end. And I've been a little frustrated by that urge because so many things had come up in my life." Danny Daniels was the choreographer.

Despite Spielberg's innovations the production shut down for three weeks. During that period they went to the US and did some second unit work. When Ford returned, they returned to England and shot for a further three weeks. Completing their work in London they went back to the US for two more weeks.

The week following Ford's return on the set started the filming of the Club Obi Wan sequence. Spielberg shot the opening sequence for three days, assembling the action, as usual, to a mental plan. By this time, the script was beginning to crumble from repeated changes, many of them dictated by Ford's back. Spielberg stopped shooting a number of times, called for a typewriter and wrote new lines on the spot. At night he was on the phone to friend John Milius, who dictated dialogue from L.A.

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Spielberg talking with, then future wife, Kate Capshaw and with Lucas.

On the third day, with the club half-demolished, Spielberg arrived on the set and said, "Let's go back to the scene at the table. I know how to do it now!" unaware that the table with its revolving 'Lazy Susan' centerpiece had been irretrievably smashed. The assistant director managed to find another one and for half a day Spielberg reshot the by-play with the diamond, the urn and the antidote vial.

With Ford's back not fully recovered all his work fell on Vic Armstrong, his stunt double. Armstrong had worked with him several times before and a friendship had grown between the two men. Armstrong's uncanny resemblance with Ford helped the production a lot. Ford once said jokingly: "We could go home to the wrong wives and they wouldn't notice!" Even Spielberg used to get the pair muddled up on the set of Raiders. Vic Armstrong shared the same sentiments with Ford, "We really are spitting images. Harrison's a really super guy. The man you see on screen is the man you see in real life. He's an absolute perfectionist." Ford acknowledged that he could never have done Indy II with out Armstrong.

Assistant director David Tomblin commented on the subject, "I take my hat off to Spielberg, because we never stopped shooting in those three weeks, and it wasn't stuff that one would say, 'Oh that's a double.' Then Harrison came back, and we shot more material. I defy anyone to know who's the double and who's Harrison. I have great admiration for Steven Spielberg. He is very unusual and talented director and he overcomes hurdles, not only does he overcome them, he makes something good of them, which is a rare talent."

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Chief guard fight scene.

Despite his ability to continue filming action scenes, it was clear to everybody that Ford was in significant pain. He made some of the needed scenes, like the fight with the Palace's chief guard, played by Pat Roach, in great pain and he forced himself to continue like this without complaining just for once. Still, he to being a bit nervous about resuming the intense physical demands of his role: "At one point, the guard throws me into a mine car, and since I had just come back from back surgery, I had second thoughts about being the throwee!" The crew watching Ford's dedication to do his job, no matter how he felt, decided to make him lighten up and overcome his distress.

Pat Roach remembers, "There was a whipping scene where Harrison's tied up to a rock. Barbra Streisand came in, dressed in black leather, and while Harrison was chained up to the rock, she took my whip off me and whipped him! She said, 'That's for Hanover Street, the worst movie I ever saw!' and then she whipped him for doing Star Wars and earning all that money. Then Carrie Fisher ran in-she was dressed up, too-and she threw herself across Harrison, and shouted, 'No, no, no!' And then Irvin Kershner ran in and said, 'Steven, is this the way you run your movies? I would never let this happen on one of my sets!' Then, Steven said to Kersh, 'Get off my set!' They filmed it, and I think they sent it back to Hollywood. It was hilarious."

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Filming a mine chase close-up of Ford.

After that the mood was more lighten up but hard work was expecting them. Next for filming was another danger-laden episode that occurs at the film's climax, in a mine beneath the Temple of Doom, as the daring adventurer must narrowly avoid death in a manner never before seen on film. The mining car action has him in peril up to the brim of his rumpled fedora. Actually, Elliot Scott had built a roller coaster where someone could take rides in it. One circular track on three levels with a total running distance of five or six hundred feet. The center was all-open so the camera crew could get in there to shoot and light it. Each mine cars had independent electric motors in it and was very controllable. Real mine cars were bought and George Gibbs' department placed an electric motor and batteries controlled by a hidden motorcycle-type twist grip to each car. They also installed disc brakes, plus the electric motors had their own built-in braking system. Eventually, they rigged up four cars, which could carry four people each. Gibbs had to visit a lot of specialist companies for help designing and building an asymmetrical track plus installing steel flanges behind the wheels to keep the cars on the track around curves. To film the action Spielberg used master shots with run-bys, or the camera in the car, running next to the car with the actors. Before shooting Spielberg made a steady test and discovered that he couldn't get the camera steady. The photography on the first day was unusable because the camera shook too much when it was in the mine car. Spielberg found that absolutely realistic and filmed the entire scene this way. For certain shots he even loosen the mounts of the camera to register more vibration. While the actors were going around in the mine car only at ten miles per hours, Spielberg adjusted his camera to shoot in lower speed in order to show them running twice as fast. But the complete round of the soundstage was made in just twenty-five seconds and he wanted his scene to last at least seven minutes. So, with the help of Douglas Slocombe, he shot every trip the mine car made from a different angle and with different lighting, creating the illusion that each shot was taken from a completely different section of the mine-tunnel. The scene would be completed in post-production with the use of miniatures.

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Filming the mine chase and the cast taking a break.

For the campfire scene, taking place in the jungle, a menagerie of wild animals including owls, elephants, snakes and an infant chimpanzee were imported from around the world, and housed on the British set. A bull elephant borrowed from the London Zoo settled in a mobile trailer used to swaying until the entire van heaves on its frame! "The best animal we used in this movie was Oscar the Owl. Oscar had belonged to his handler since it was an egg, so he tended to identify with humans rather than with other owls. We did about six takes with Oscar. He always flew in and landed exactly on cue. The best animal I ever worked with... better than a lot of humans!" said Watts forgetting his previous experience with the monkey on the Raiders set.

One of Temple's most suspenseful scenes was the spike chamber sequence. Inspired by the classic B-movie tradition of hair-raising traps and split-second escapes, a secret tunnel had been added to the plot as Indy's deus ex machina. "The spike chamber is a cliffhanger scene with strong comedic overtones," described Watts, "its very heart stopping." Indy and Shorty wandering the tunnels under the palace come to a subterranean cavern to confront the dreaded room with deadly spikes bristling from the floor and ceiling. Indy stumbles in a fallible moment, setting the trap in motion. As the room closes in, similar to the garbage scow room in Star Wars, Indy and Shorty turn to Willie for aid. In order to provide the needed assistance Willie has to face hordes of bugs. Repeating the great horror scene of the Well of the Souls, Lucas and Spielberg came up with chamber infested with a million of live and crawling insects. Poor Capshaw had to go through mental exercise every day to withstand the fact that she had to be covered with the insects. "The worst part was having large bugs placed strategically on me where you can literally feel all their legs sort of grip you. The special animal trainer would start at my waist and my arms and work up my shoulders and then he would start placing them in my hair. And I would always be afraid that they would start crawling into inside my hair and I had just keep breathing and I closed my eyes and everybody would be quiet on the set. It was as good as working with bugs could have been."

Marshal complained that handling bugs proved to be far more difficult than directing the snakes in Raiders. "The bugs were much harder to work with than the snakes we used for [that one]," he commented. "You can 'arrange' a pile of snakes-add one here or there. That's impossible with insects. Believe me, we had a couple of terrible days at Elstree due to bugs; days when we'd grind film all day and night and get nothing usable. They hate bright light, so the minute you dump them in front of the camera, they run. If you don't get everyone's hands out of the way the minute you put them in, the shot is ruined. Mike Culling, the animal trainer, would come on the set and I'd say, 'We need more bugs! Not enough bugs!' He'd groan, 'I just put two thousand down there!' I found, too, that people were much more scared by the insects than they were by snakes. Every once in a while I'd hear this shrieks because one of the bugs crawled through from the bug tunnel to the tap dance rehearsal stage next door. Of course, this was a bad place for any bug to be, thirty-two girls tap-dancing away, so both the insects and the girls would run like hell. Mutual fear!"

Most of the things in Pankot Palace were totally phony. The only real thing on the set was the eels that came out of the snake. They didn't bother the actors, but the two kids hated them. Especially, Sanji who played the little maharajah couldn't stand them. They couldn't use one or two takes where the eels got too close to him, he just didn't like them at all. The rest of the stuff... the beetles had squashed-up banana in them, and the monkey brains were a kind of custard cream, with raspberry sauce on top.

After spending three weeks in Elstree, "blue screen" shots were made in the United States at Lucasfilm's facility, at Marin County, while additional sequences were completed at other northern California locations. The interior of the Duesenberg, in which Indy and Willie escape from the nightclub was done in California at the UK shooting's end, several months after the exteriors, as part of the post-production. At the same time, they did the Shanghai airport scene at the dressed-up Hamilton Air Force Base just north of San Francisco. That was actually the last day of principal photography. This little scene was filled with cameos from comic actor Dan Akroyd, as Weber the official dispatcher at Shanghai airport, Frank Marshall playing a coolie pulling a rickshaw, while Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Anthony Powell and Sid Ganis appeared as missionaries waiting for the airplane.

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Steven and George and the airport set.

Principal photography completed on September 8, 1983 after eighty-five days of filming and five days under schedule with 18 weeks of shooting and only four weeks on location. An additional week's shooting with Ford took place in March 1984 for completion of special effects. At the same time Lucasfilm's Vice President of Marketing, Sid Ganis, was present at the 42nd World Science Fiction convention to tantalize fans with slides taken at the Sri Lanka locations and some studio interiors. Presentations at World Cons and other conventions around the US had become standard operating procedure for Lucasfilm, a policy initiated by the filmmakers in part of a thank-you for the loyal support of Lucas' fans, in addition to piquing interest and word-of-mouth about a film. In such conventions Marshall showed a 9-minute featurette on the making of the film, which was later expanded into an hour length for network broadcast. Lucas visited the set only for a while because he was involved in the post-production of Return of the Jedi. So he wasn't around as much as he was on the Raiders set. In total Lucas visited the set of Temple once in Sri Lanka, a couple of times in London and during the shooting in California.

The end of principal photography on September 1983 meant the beginning of hectic post-production.

Next: Fulfillment of an adventure >>


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