Monday, March 09, 2009

The “Raiders” Story Conference

Hey, guys, you’re going to love this (and thanks, Viktor).

There is a
link now available to download the 125-page transcript (in the form of a .pdf document) of the original 1978 story conference between Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan for a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Some background first. Spielberg suggested that Kasdan write Raiders because he admired his Continental Divide script. Lucas agreed. Now, imagine with me: Lucas had just released Star Wars, the biggest film in the history of Hollywood and a cult phenomenon. Spielberg had just released Close Encounters of the Third Kind and before that, Jaws. Now Kasdan was called in to have a story conference with the biggest names in Hollywood who wanted to talk about their next blockbuster. The conference took place at the L.A. home of Jane Bay, who was Lucas’ assistant. They had 5 consecutive 9-hour days to talk about the story. This .pdf is a transcript from taped recordings of those meetings.

By the time Lucas and Spielberg setup these meetings with Kasdan, they knew for the most part what they wanted. This was just a matter of “okay, so, how do we tell this story?” Lucas did most of the talking. He seemed to be just talking through all of the ideas. He came across as, on the one hand, a strong driving force behind the film and on the other hand, a bit controlling. Spielberg occasionally threw in some exciting, funny, and even wacky ideas, which at times Lucas tried to dial down. But many, if not most, of Spielberg’s ideas would be used. Kasdan doesn’t say too much. I imagine he’s just soaking in everything he’s hearing, but he was certainly in sync with the filmmakers. He'd occasionally interject suggestions and also good questions about logic, characters, and plot.

Man-oh-man, Spielberg and Lucas were idea machines. They could’ve sat there coming up with Indiana Smith ideas forever. There were enough ideas generated in these meetings for two films, which they actually used for two films. I must say, it’s rather unusual to have meetings with a producer and a director and be given so many ideas. Not that meetings with producers and directors wouldn’t have a lot of ideas but I’m not sure you would encounter such a volume as this. For screenwriters, it’s a goldmine. If you try to forget the finished film and put yourself into Kasdan’s shoes and you have all these ideas thrown at you, it can be a daunting task. What do you keep? What do you throw away? How do you make all this work?

In any case, there were about 10 Screenwriting Lessons I took away from this experience and thought they might be worth sharing.

1) Before they ever discussed the plot, they figured out who and what their hero-protagonist is and how he'd be similar and also different from other heroes in cinema.

The story began with the character, which was integral to the concept. So much was said that it’s hard to condense, but here’s a taste:

(Key: G = George; S = Steven; L = Larry)

G — The thing with this is, we want to make a very believable character. We want him to be extremely good at what he does, as is the Clint Eastwood character or the James Bond character. James Bond and the Man With No Name were very good at what they did. They were very fast with a gun. They were very slick. They were very professional. They were Supermen.

S — Like Mifune.

G — Yes, like Mifune. He's a real professional. He's really good. And that is the key to the whole thing. That's something you don't see that much anymore.


G — He's the guy who's been all around the world. He's a soldier of fortune. He is also... Well, this gets into that other side of his character, which is totally alien to that side we just talked about. Essentially, I think he is a, and this was the original character and it's an interesting juxtaposition. He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D. He's a doctor, he's a college professor. What happened is, he's also a sort of rough and tumble guy. But he got involved in going in and getting antiquities. Sort of searching out antiquities. And it became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be an archeologist, he became sort of an outlaw archeologist. He really started being a grave robber, for hire, is what it really came down to. And the museums would hire him to steal things out of tombs and stuff. Or, locate them. In the archeology circles he knows everybody, so he's sort of like a private detective grave robber. A museum will give him an assignment... a bounty hunter.


G — I think basically he's very cynical about the whole thing. Maybe he thinks that most archeologists are just full of shit, and that somebody's going to rip this stuff off anyway. Better that he rips it off and gets it to a museum where people can study it and rip it off right. That's the key also. He knows how to enter a tomb without destroying it. He knows what's important. He knows not to go in there like a bull in a china shop and destroy half the stuff that's valuable.

And later:

G — It's such an odd juxtaposition, especially going around. The first sequence is in the jungle and you see him in action. You see him going through the whole thing. And the next sequence after that you see him back in Washington or New York, back in the museum. Where he's in a totally academic thing, turning over this thing that he's got. Then in the rest of the movie you see him back in his bullwhip mode. You understand that there's more to him. Plus, it justifies later things that he... the fact that he's sort of an intelligent guy. Peter Falk is one way of looking at him, a Humphrey Bogart character. The fact that he's sort of scruffy and, not the right image, but...

S — Peter's too scruffy.

G — Yes. We'll figure a way of laying that out in his personality so it's easily identifiable.

S — Remember the movie Soldier Of Fortune with Clark Gable? There was a good deal of Rhett Butler in that character. The devil-may-care kind of guy who can handle situations. He's so damn glib he bluffs everybody around. People think that he's a push-over. He's challenged, and he always appears like a push-over. But in fact he's not. He likes to set himself up in these subordinate roles from time to time to get his way.

G — What I'm saying is that character just would not fit in a college classroom or even as an archeologist. He's too much of a scruffy character to settle down. A playboy, or however you want to do it. He's too much of a wise-guy, maybe that's a better way to say it, to actually be a college professor. He really loves the stuff, but he became too cynical, he's too much of a wise guy to fit into an academic situation, or even an archeological situation. He's really too much of an adventurer at heart. He just loves it. So he obviously took this whole bent that was different because it's just more fun. He just can't settle down. It's a nice contrast. It's like the James Bond thing. Instead of being a martini drinking cultured kind of sophisticate, he's the sort of intellectual college professor James Bond. He's a superagent.

S — Clark Kent.

G — Yeah. It's that thing, which is fun. It's the same idea, only twisted around a little bit...

On the name:

L — Do you have a name for this person?

G — I do for our leader.

S — I hate this, but go ahead.

G — Indiana Smith. It has to be unique. It's a character. Very Americana square. He was born in Indiana.

L — What does she call him? “Indy?”

G — That's what I was thinking. Or “Jones.” Then people can call him “Jones.”

2) A character arc? What's that?

There was also no discussion about an arc, and as you can see, they referenced characters that did not arc, such as James Bond, the Man With No Name, Superman, and some of Clark Gable’s characters.

3) A racy backstory can keep a plot moving.

Interestingly, the discussion about Marion was hardly as thorough as the one about Indy. For a while, they weren't sure what kind of girl to have as a counterpart to Indy. Lucas had first described the love interest as a blonde double-crossing German agent, which they ended up using in Last Crusade. Spielberg said, “She should have hair like Veronica Lake. You only see one eye at a time.”

There was talk about a big name professor who taught Indy everything he knew. Then there was the idea about this German girl, and for the sake of expediency, Kasdan suggested that Indy instead have an affair with the mentor’s daughter, which they loved. And then Lucas and Spielberg were off and running with ideas about how’s she’s been left in Peru and has this bar and is trying to get money together to get back to the States and loves (and resents) Indy to no end. In fact, Kasdan said he wanted Indy and this girl to already have a history when they meet because, “I like it if they already had a relationship at one point. Because then you don’t have to build it.” Hehehe

Then the discussion turned to how old Marion and Indy were at the time of the affair:

G — I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

L — And he was forty-two.

G — He hasn't seen her in twelve years. Now she's twenty-two. It's a real strange relationship.

S — She had better be older than twenty-two.

G — He's thirty-five, and he knew her ten years ago when he was twenty-five and she was only twelve. It would be amusing to make her slightly young at the time.

S — And promiscuous. She came onto him.

G — Fifteen is right on the edge. I know it's an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once she's sixteen or seventeen it's not interesting anymore. But if she was fifteen and he was twenty-five and they actually had an affair the last time they met. And she was madly in love with him and he...

S — She has pictures of him.

And now consider the dialogue of that scene in the film:

INDY: I never meant to hurt you.
MARION: I was a child! I was in love.
INDY: You knew what you were doing.
MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.
INDY: Look, I did what I did. I don't expect you to be happy about it. But maybe we can do each other some good.
MARION: Why start now?
INDY: Shut up and listen for a second. I want that piece your father had. I've got money.
MARION: How much?

4) Consider the debate about un-sympathetic protagonists.

At one point, they figured out that he’d go to Marion to get a pendant thingee, a puzzle of some kind that her father collected and will help Indy find the Ark. But she doesn’t want to give it to him. And she goes with him on this adventure. So then the question became, how does he get this thing from Marion to solve the puzzle?

They tossed around an idea about him stealing the pendant from her, which prompted a short debate about un-sympathetic protags:

G — It would be nice if they left in a huff, they fought or something. He left rather pissed. I don't think he would leave without the pendant. That's the only thing that bothers me about that.

S — So he goes upstairs and stays up, plotting how he's going to take it off her.

G — That makes him into a real rat.

L — That's all right. He never does it. What he does is just the opposite, save her life.

G — No matter how you do it, the fact that he thought about it is the rat part.

S — Rhett Butler was a rat.

G — He wasn't a real rat --

S — He proved himself by raising her family. Before that he was a gambler, dealt with cheap ladies.

G — There's a difference between being a rat and somebody who's having fun. He never hurt anybody.

L — I'm a little confused about Indiana at this point. I thought he'd do anything for this pendant.

G — But he still has to have some moral scruples. 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, trusting and true. But at the same time he's confronted with this difficult problem. We have a great thing when she won't give it to him. She doesn't like him.

L — What if you see them separate, and you see them both thinking about it, and it's clear that she's going to give it to him. Then he saves her and she doubts his motivation, was he coming to steal it? Or was he coming to rekindle the romance? It doesn't have to be crystal clear to her.

Interesting to me that they didn’t have a debate about un-sympathetic protags when they were talking about Indy having an affair with the underage daughter of his mentor. That builds sympathy how? But they’re terribly concerned about losing sympathy if we might watch Indy consider stealing the pendant from Marion. (Also, here, Lucas and Spielberg were both projecting their own unique feelings onto Rhett Butler. Rhett WAS a cheating rat and he never once redeemed himself with that dysfunctional family he created. He spoiled the hell out of his wife and his little girl, which was in part why she died.)

However, I think there might be some screenwriting nuggets here. What happens in the past, off screen, good or bad, does not affect sympathy. It’s what we see the character do in the present that determines how much we will or will not care about that character.

5) Consider how tension was always a high priority as they laid-out their plot for the film.

The first scene was all about building the tension to a big payoff, which was a boulder as Spielberg suggested. But you had to set that up first and work your way backwards. So going backwards, you create tension with the near betrayal against Indy when he put the map together and had to use his whip on the man that pulled out the gun. You have the fresh poison darts of the Hovitos. You have his entourage not going any further when they reached the stone sculpture of a Chachapoyan demon. You have tarantulas. You have the dead competitor in the Chamber of Light. You have the pit. You have the dart floor in the Foyer of the Sanctuary. And then you have the big payoff to all the big danger that all of these details setup.

The consideration in Act Two was about maintaining tension. Here are highlights of comments George made…

G - People are trying to kill him as soon as he arrives or maybe even before he arrives on the airplane. As soon as he gets there, there are knives coming out of walls, all these slimy characters are following him, all that stuff that happens in those places in the thirties…

…There's a lot of tension because we have established that everybody is trying to kill him. People are following him all over the place…

…The idea in the middle sequence was to create sort of a race, tension, who's going to find the Ark first situation.

So much of the tension and gags was a matter of backtracking. Consider how Indy is finally underground in the temple. He found the Ark and had it hoisted up. At this stage of development, the temple was not full of snakes. The Germans grab the Ark and seal Indy inside to die. So what do you do with Indy then?

How do you raise the tension and suspense in this scene and also find a way for him to escape? They first decided that the temple be suddenly filled with water and Indy floated up to a place where he figured out how to escape. This idea could be setup with Indy entering a sand temple and there's moss on the walls. But will audiences believe that there could be so much underground water in a desert? Lucas suggested setting that up verbally by talking about an underground water system. Nah. How about filling the temple with sand? Nah. Then Spielberg suggested that the Germans lower hungry lions into the temple to kill Indy, which would give him the chance to use his bull whip. Nah. How about rats? Or how about snakes? Hundreds of thousands of snakes. It could be a giant snake pit.

And then they were off and running about the snakes in the temple.

S — It would be funny if, somewhere early in the movie he somehow implied that he was not afraid of snakes. Later you realize that that is one of his big fears.

G — Maybe it's better if you see early, maybe in the beginning that he's afraid: "Oh God, I hate those snakes." It should be slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens this up, "I can't go down in there. Why did there have to be snakes? Anything but snakes." You can play it for comedy…

So then they go back to figure out when and how you can setup the snake joke in the opening sequence. A lot of screenwriting is backtracking, of setups and payoffs.

6) Consider their approach to exposition.

So Indy’s in Cairo with his friend. We're at a scene that we know will be full of exposition, that is, the Staff of Ra was too long for the Germans and they’re digging in the wrong place. So the question was, "what are we going to do to make the scene interesting so the audience doesn’t fall asleep?" And the idea was presented that this exposition could be done over dinner that’s been poisoned. As they pick up tainted food and gesture with it, we fear for their lives. They loved it. (And I've been saying this for years - great exposition is always given in the context of something else.) Okay, now that we have the setup, how do they figure out the food is poisoned and survive? A pet nibbles on it and dies. Okay, what kind of pet?

S - What if it's an animal we hate, an animal the audience can't stand. It's always after our hero and doesn't like him very much, like a mongoose.

G — A monkey is a perfect thing.

S — What animal don't people like?

G — A rat.

S — A pet rat.

G — It doesn't have to be a pet.

L — He's looking the other way, the rat comes up.

S — That's a pretty brave rat.

G — It wouldn't come on the table.

So then they’re off and running about this pet monkey. Why is the monkey here? Is it a family pet? Maybe it just attaches itself to one of the characters and won’t go away. Is it dressed up like a circus monkey? Perhaps it’s secretly helping a German agent? Well, what kind of bad things can a monkey do for a German agent? It was hilarious. I was rolling. But ya know, figuring out those details is crucial to a script. Finally, at one point, Spielberg suggested that the monkey humorously do the “Heil, Hitler” gesture. Lucas responds, “That's up to you and the trainer and the monkey.” Hehehe...

They had to be laughing as they were talking about this.

So we’re back at the dinner scene. The exposition about the Staff of Ra will be fed to the audience in the context of Indy possibly eating poisoned food. It’ll be a bad secret agent monkey that eats the food and dies. Spielberg had a hilarious suggestion that I loved:

S — …it would be funny if, as they're talking about this and the olives are between them, you see a hairy little paw is pulling olives off the plate, coming in and out of frame. Finally the paw comes up to grab an olive and begins slipping, like palsy. You use a little mechanical paw. And then you hear a thump.

Of course, the final result was the quick "bad dates" scene. All of that thought and work for something so quick. Welcome to Hollywood.

7) No idea is a bad idea when you’re brainstorming.

These guys were all over the place with ideas and there’s nothing wrong with that. As I mentioned earlier, many of the ideas discussed, like the plane crash sequence and mine cart chase, were used in the second film. So what helped determine which sequence should be kept and thrown away? Redundancies in concept. You already had a chase scene here, so why have another one here? Let’s come up with something different. You know? That kind of thing.

At one point, when the bad guys had captured Marion, they were debating what to do next.

G — What can he chase them with? What if he jumps on a camel?

S — I love it. It's a great idea. There's never been a camel chase before.

L — Is this camel going to chase a car?

S — You know how fast a camel can run? Not only that, he can jump over vegetable carts and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You're laughing your head off and suddenly, "My God, she's dead."


S — We still have the big fight in the moving truck to do. And now we have a camel chase.

G — We've added another million dollars.

S — Not really. How much trouble can a camel be?


8) Consider their approach to budget.

Keeping the film cheap was a way of testing the idea of Indiana Smith. Lucas said, “Part of it is the energy of making it reasonably low budget. It’s also a test of the idea. If it’s good, then we’ll be okay.”

9) Consider their approach to the ending.

G — If you follow classic dramatic plotting, that's what is going to happen. You put your biggest boom last, and you create as much tension as you possibly can.

I’ve also been saying this for years, what I coined, “The Big Bang Theory of Screenwriting.” If you’re going to have a big bang in the beginning, you sure as hell better have a bigger bang in the end.

There was a lot of discussion about the ending and ideas about how to make it bigger than the opening sequence. This involved a sub to a secret island, the ritual with the Ark, everyone getting fried, Indy saving Marion, a mine cart chase back to the sub, and somehow the entire island completely blowing up. Interesting how early concepts had Indy much more active about resolving the conflict and yet how strangely satisfying the ending is with Indy just closing his eyes.

And finally:

10) Consider the transcript as a whole, the sheer volume of thought, discussion, analysis, questions, and debate about the story before they ever sat down to write the script.

It’s like what
Billy Wilder said, “You always start with too many ideas.”

Raiders looked deceptively simple and easy and fun, but the story required so much more thought than you can imagine. The good films always make everything look so easy but they never are. And I suspect that many aspiring writers fail because they jump into their stories with too few ideas, without brainstorming first, without outlining, and without really thinking through the story. Certainly not to this degree as we see in these story conferences. And so the question is, “Have you put as much thought into your story?”

Let me conclude with this anecdote from

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.


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Luzid said...

MM, this is a gift! Thank you, and Viktor!

Mystery Man said...

Luzid - Thanks so much. Hope you're well.


Matt said...

I got a hold of this Master-class-level transcript last week, but your analysis as always enriches and deepens whatever you're looking at, MM.

I'd also wager a good portion of this week's paycheck that Marion didn't get a lot of discussion because the two of them were, at the time, stunted man children who didn't really know women. ;)

crossword said...

Wow - talk about mother lode.

Thanks a bunch, MM! That was some terrific reading. It's a real treat to get your take on all this. And an amazing resource to get a glimpse of the inner machinations of these guys.

Salva Rubio said...

Thank you VERY MUCH!! This is not only a true gem, and possibly THE insider's peek, but also an incredible opportunity to learn from the writing and thinking processes of these geniuses.

On a side note, I was impressed by the Lucas anecdote of giving him the Star Wars assignment. I am sure Kasdan was a nice guy and this was Lucas' way of saying it.

If actions speak louder than words, that was what Lucas was saying to Kasdan when they went for lunch without even reading the script: "This is not about the movie, this is about you and me being friends and having fun".

It sounds almost absurd to point ot this, but spending 45 hours in a hotel room throwing ideas means they really connected. I bet that was the key for the success of the project.

My point is that you can be the best writer/director/whatever and still not being able to get a job if you are not capable of having a quiet nice coffee having fun with other people.

Ah! The social side of the business- that unbeknownst field for the writer.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mrswing said...

I have to disagree with your comments about the strangely satisfying ending... In my opinion it's one of the worst examples of storytelling in mainstream cinema. Not only is Indy complete passive during this entire sequence, his presence isn't even necessary! If he hadn't been on the island, the Nazis would have been destroyed by the Angels just the same.

So why the success? Because of the gore and the horror factor. Raiders was the first 'kids movie' to feature gore which would not have been out of place in an Lucio Fulci flick.

Joshua James said...


that's all I can say.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thanks, Man!

P.S.: BTW, it's the Staff Of Ra.


Anonymous said...

What a resource, thanks for whoever is responsible for putting it up there in the first place.

"Indiana Smith and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". Magic.

And nice anecdote re:Kasdan, who turned in the only Star Wars film worth a damn.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post - thank you so much!

Sabina E. said...

SlashFilm just linked to your blog post, FYI.

yeah, that transcript sounds pretty cool, although I'm too afraid to downlaod it.

Ian said...

This is priceless stuff. Thanks so much for posting it!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jordan said...

MM- I had no idea this transcript existed. Many thanks for posting it (and to for reposting).

I've downloaded the pdf and look forward to reading that amazing conversation in its entirety. I'm curious... do you happen to know how and by whom it was made public? I wonder what other documents like this exist.

Anonymous said...

"Staff of Rod"? Who the hell is 'Rod'?

Its the staff of Ra. The sun god.

Good look on the transcript though. Just finished your article and am about to crack this baby open.

But seriously... Rod? Ra!

Jim Endecott said...

Outstanding. Thank you.

Mike Olson said...

What's that? The "Staff of Ra" thing has already been mentioned?

Well then -- I'll just say thanks for this excellent analysis.

Anonymous said...

Thanks ! I am glad that you just affirmed some of my own thoughts about script- writing: that really any idea should be discussed, for example. most masterpieces are preceded by crazy, almost stupid looking ideas (remember the original draft for star wars). most people think, genius artists (like spielberg and lucas) recieve their ideas from heaven or what and write them down in the way we know them, but that is not the way it works.

Anonymous said...

mrswing said, about the ending, "In my opinion it's one of the worst examples of storytelling in mainstream cinema. Not only is Indy complete passive during this entire sequence, his presence isn't even necessary!"

The ending is not about Indy winning.
The point is one last ultimate death trap. (and the wrath of god is about as ultimate as a death trap can get. It's just more escallation over the course of the movie.)

And *how* does Indy escape it? Only by using his PhD in archeology. In fact, being tied to the pole is what *forces* that point - after all the physical stunts, all he can rely on is his wits.

It's perfect for the character. It's a meaningful ending.

Anonymous said...

Is there hopefully another way to get the .pdf? I can't seem to get sendspace to work for me here in Holland. It always says they are 'at full capacity'.

Or if anyone would like to take the time to e-mail it to a complete stranger, I'd be really thankfull.

Thanks in advance,

Anonymous said...

I got it to work, so never mind the last post. :)

asdflj asdflj said...

@ mrswing

Dude, don't namedrop Lucio Fulci unless you know what you're talking about.

And if you're similarly comparing the violence in 'Raiders' to a Fulci flick, then you obviously don't.

Anonymous said...

That "first draft" you linked to is actually the Revised Third Draft, August 1979. I know of no other available...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I haven't touched the transcript yet, but your commentary was extremely helpful and educational.


Anonymous said...

Your stats are going to explode! LOL. Finally more people will discover MM. Amazing work as always.

Karel said...

Thanks MM. Your blog is one of the reasons why there has never been a better time to be a screenwriter. So much gold, readily available to anyone who wants to put in the effort to learn.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so freaking much. I know what I'm doing tomorrow... :D

David Alan said...

Bunch of fuckin' moochers some of you people are.

That said, it really did seem like these guys were havin' a blast. Favorite part of the thing for me was Lucas shooting down Spielberg's "Indy should be a good gambler" character idea because he didn't want things to be confusing. Did he not realize that he just spent the last five damn minutes throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the character? That shit was just hilarious. How dare Spielberg suggest one character trait!

And okay, I am guilty of Lucas's numbers game. I start outlining with a page number and list of major sequences in mind. It's true. I feel like a total nerd now. But I am glad you mentioned backtracking. That's the only way I could pull off the above. It's also the only way to go. You know? I mean, don't you find it breaks up the monotony? I really wish some jackass would've told me about it when I was starting out. It would've saved some trees. Well, maybe not, but it would've been nice.

And yeah, if one is not putting the degree of thought G, L and S put into Indiana, they are going to really hurt themselves. One must be constantly looking at scenes from every possible direction and exploring those avenues. Though, you said it better than me.

-- David Alan

Nicholas James West said...

Why didn't Kasdan work on the Star Wars prequels? Was there a falling out?

David Alan said...

Like I said...moochers...

Anonymous said...

sendspace is shit, use this link. The thing is all over the web now anyway.

v said...

> Raiders looked deceptively simple and easy and fun, but the story required so much more thought than you can imagine.

"I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit ..."

Anonymous said...

Amazing blog Mystery Man!

I tipped of John August to this article and he seems to have picked it up. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Great information for screen and print...

PENDY 16 said...

Brilliant! Thanks for the wonderful insight into a modern classic. Now there goes an hour of work.

mrswing said...

@asdfl asdflj


I'll namedrop who I want. And don't tell me Fulci wouldn't have loved using that melting head/face. Though it would probably have been a prelude to undead gut-munching.

But if you want me substitute Joe D'Amato's name for Fulci, no problem.

Jessica said...

Oh man thank you so much for posting this! This is gonna make my afternoon.

Anonymous said...

P, I agree they do seem to be revisionists, particularly Lucas, who keeps claiming he had the entire star wars plotted out from day one. Which is bullshit, because he's talked in the past about doing nine movies, and obviously changed his mind about many important aspects (leia remembering her mother). But whatever, they're movie gods so they can revise history all they want as far as i care.

Anonymous said...

a very good article!!!!i give this baby 10 stars.

Jerry Cann said...

Why didn't Kasdan work on the Star Wars prequels? Was there a falling out?

From what I understand, mostly because Kasdan has moved beyond scripting other people's movies. In fact, I believe that he only did Jedi as a favor to George, and that was back in 1983.

Paul Schuegraf said...

I'm sure George didn't say this line in the "Crystal Skull" meeting:

G — It can be amusing, but at the same time it has to be very realistic. It has to be what would really happen. You have to believe that someone could live through it
like that.

Anonymous said...

I think we can all thank God for Lawrence Kasdan..I shudder to think what it would have been like without him.

Anonymous said...

I converted this to html last week, if you prefer. Typos remain.

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of the whole Indiana series and am excited to read the transcript. Anyone who would give these movies a bad review should read this to see the genius involved.

Anonymous said...

Here's the same discussion the three of them had about Indy IV:

L - Wanna make some more money?

K, S - Okay.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, this is a huge huge gift for those of us who want to learn or help others learn about how this kind of creative discussion goes down. I cannot thank you enough!

asdflj asdflj said...

@ mrswing

I know you'll name-drop who you want.

You just gotta be prepared to take your lumps and get laughed at when you make a ridiculous comparison.

Anonymous said...

"I have to disagree with your comments about the strangely satisfying ending... In my opinion it's one of the worst examples of storytelling in mainstream cinema. Not only is Indy complete passive during this entire sequence, his presence isn't even necessary! If he hadn't been on the island, the Nazis would have been destroyed by the Angels just the same. "

I must agree that the movie's ending was disappointing. I had felt this same disappointment with the endings for LAST CRUSADE and CRYSTAL SKULLS.

Jay said...

So is there any thing to indicate that they were being ironic about the age thing with Indy and Marion?

Danny said...

I must agree that the movie's ending was disappointing. I had felt this same disappointment with the endings for LAST CRUSADE and CRYSTAL SKULLS.

Why LAST CRUSADE? Indy was quite proactive in that climax, no?

Anonymous said...

I feel like I've just attended McKee's seminar . . . but without the bluster!

Thanks, Mystery Man.

Anonymous said...

Amazing present and great article. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this! This is a dream come true for me to be able to read this. I just posted a link to it on my blog and on a new screenwriting sub-reddit I created last night. Any screenwriters out there are invited to come on over and subscribe here:

Duh said...

Great Stuff. These are the kind of things that the public really likes to read about.

Anonymous said...

You know what would be a perfect complement to this article? A transcript of the writing session for the Southpark episode where they skewer Lucas and Spielberg for destroying the franchise with Crystal Skull.
"What if we have them rape Indy?" "haha that would be funny!" Brilliant satire must have a compelling origin too, right?

EL OBISPO said...

I always though that it was Spielberg who said that the name will be Jones instead Smith, but here it seems that was Lucas decission.

Lindsey said...

This is absolutely fantastic. What a find! I have to say that George Lucas doesn't strike me as fun to work with, but brilliant. Spielberg, however, sounds like both a hoot and a genius.

Eric M said...

This is so good. Brainstorming: just do it.

-Script Doctor Eric

Beth said...

Awesome. Thanks for condensing your thoughts and those quotes. :D

John Soanes said...

Came here via John August's blog, and glad I did, this is great stuff.

Kumar said...

Thank you SO much for this! Very informative and very helpful.

I got here from /Film, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love that discussion about the camel chase. Thanks for this!

Patricles Nucleus van Sandwich said...

can't wait to read the transcript. Great summary here.

Anonymous said...

I don't care.
I don't live in the past
One day we will turn
80 or so and become
old farts.
This movie is trivial
when you compare it
to he accountancy of
your retirement plan
and savings.
When Lucas or Speilberg
is 90 years old.
Will they think about
this very silly movie!
I like Indiana Jones
but as I get older I hate it.

SabreScribe said...

A million thanks, M.
Apart from being the mother of all TL;DRs, this couldn't have come at a better time for me, personally, struggling with many similar issues.

Thank you for this artifact and for being the mediating focal prism of its wisdom.

Mystery Man said...

Hey, guys, thanks so much for all of the comments. Can you believe this? I was in The New York Times this week! Woo hoo!

I won't be able to address everyone, but here are some replies to a few.

pdf - I got mixed signals about "pdf screenplays". I'm not sure this person wants to be mentioned.

mrwsing - I'll bet you would've never said that had your mind not been warped with ideas about "active protagonists." Hehehe...

Chance & Mike – Hehehe… Thanks. “Rod” has been fixed.

David – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with coming up with major sequences first and then working a story around that.

Jonas – Thank you!

P – it’s in the transcript.

Psugar – Yeah, you can read this and definitely see what went wrong with the fourth film.

Jay – on the age, it wasn’t irony, I don’t believe. These guys were young themselves when they had this meeting, and the mentality was very different in the 70’s. You could actually consider a backstory like this and get away with it. Not any more.

El Obispo – I think that’s true, though.

Thanks again, guys, for all of the very kind words!

Be well,


Mystery Man said...

Hey, this article was also used to help create a new word - retronovation.

Retronovation n. The conscious process of mining the past to produce methods, ideas, or products which seem novel to the modern mind.

That is so me! Hehehe...


FYT said...

Very interesting read - a must for any writer or even inventor.

I think a lot of movies nowadays try to make the big bang at the end too over the top if you ask me.

I like stories (like Raiders & Empire) that seem like a dramatic day in the life of a select group of people ... people that you know ... and wonder if they live dramatic secret lives.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say I greatly enjoyed your article. It's a pity that the latest Indy movie wasn't more like Raiders. It'd be great for them to make one more Indy movie, but only if it's a lot more believable. In terms of tension there simply wasn't enough of it. The idea of using the storage area shown in Raiders was a brilliant idea - it's a pity the rest of the movie wasn't as good. After doing some research I can understand why Lucas was interested in using crystal skulls as the basis for a story. It's just a pity he had to link them to aliens - some of the "real" crystal skulls discovered have enough unique properties already - they would have been interesting enough as an equivalent maguffin to the Shankara stones from the second movie.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Lucas/Spielberg and revisionism, and Lucas having said that he had nine films plotted - i don't know about that.

I do, however, know that apparently he sat and rambled into a cassette recorder for manymany hours - the number "twenty-seven" comes to mind, but it's probably my imagination - about the history/backstory, characters and so on back in the 70s.

A friend (noe deceased) who was considering/being considered to write one of the first SW original novels was telling me about it at an SF convention.

And he said he turned down the deal because as far as he could tell, all that "backstory" was just Lucas saying whatever came into his head, without any attempts at consistency or cemprehensibility.

One thing he mentioned as a for-instance was that Han Solo was raised by gypsies...

Jawsphobia said...

Excellent summery and the file itself. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favourite films and we've all heard the lore beaten to death, all the usual anecdotes. But being the proverbial fly on the wall is interesting. Might be fun to have people read it for a Youtube animation - sellected bits.

Once Upon A Galaxy about the making of Empire has a good secion of transcript about Ford evolving the "I love you/I know" dialogue.
But this is a real find.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Superman has an arc.

Anonymous said...

...and is it just me, or does George come of as really racist in more than a couple of places?

Martin_B said...

If I could just have been a fly on the wall... hey, I can be! Thanks, MM. For the link and for your insightful comments.

And thanks, Moedred, for the transcript, which is much easier to read.

(BTW, the 7.1 Mb pdf downloaded from with no problems over a 56k dial-up connection.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!

Wa said...


It wasn't just you. I detected the same thing in places.

Thank you mystery man. I've been fascinated by this all weekend.

Anonymous said...

Its true Indiana Jones didnt do much at the end, but I think his job was to keep him and her alive in a bad situation. The Ark was not going to discriminate-you look at it and you are destroyed. If he was out there fighting he would be killed. He did the only job he could do. In fact, you could say the Ark was the star of the movie. Indiana Jones was a fairly vague character. The Ark was the center of it.

Reading the story meeting was fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Most people don't remember this raiders moment

Anonymous said...

check out this deleted raiders scene

Anonymous said...

interesting read, how do we know its an actual transcript? and why would they authorize a release of those transcripts?

Eric M said...

Simply the best post ever. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Are there any links to the original document on sites that aren't infested with malware and viruses (according to McAfee SiteAdvisor, anyway?)

Mystery Man said...

Hey guys,

Thanks again for all the comments and kind words. I watched Raiders again after posting this and saw the film in a new light, which I never thought would happen with this particular film. I could see Kasdan fulfilling so many wishes on the parts of the filmmakers, the setups and the payoffs to so many aspects, and when there wasn't much going on in the scene, he'd end it with a bit of haunting concerns about the Ark itself to raise tension. I loved it.

Let me just address a few comments:

Sunnan & Wa - I believe you're referring to some of the comments about who the antagonist would be. Yeah, the mentality was certainly different in the '70's but a lot of times, they're talking in the context of (I think) types in films. I don't believe they would ever say those things (or they would be very careful) today.

suedenim - Well, since this article was posted, the file has been converted to html and also added to rapidshare. Hope that helps.


Anonymous said...

Good points, almost all! But:

"Interesting to me that they didn’t have a debate about un-sympathetic protags when they were talking about Indy having an affair with the underage daughter of his mentor. That builds sympathy how?"

Juliet was 13. I don't know why I'd get upset about a 15-year-old girl in love.

Who here wasn't in love when they were 15? Who here hasn't been in love with somebody they couldn't/shouldn't have been? And it's a movie about people killing each other during WWII, sometimes under humorous premises.

I lost sympathy for Indy for not having learned any of the language of the Peruvian natives, but not for him falling in love.

Anonymous said...

This is one the best movie script coverages and analysis I've ever read. thank you MM!

Anonymous said...

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Mike White said...

This is the piece I was writing... in my head so far but you beat me to it. And much better than I could ever do. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

A number of people have questioned the veracity of the transcript based on conflicting information that Lucas and Spielberg have given over the years since. Trust me. When you're part of that sort of free-wheeling exchange, often times you forget who said what after the fact, mainly because you play off their lead. I'm a published author of nearly 50 novels. I've participated in various brainstorming groups for a couple decades and you literally don't remember who sparked what idea. I can't tell you the number of times I've credited one of my partners and they've given me an odd look, and insisted the original idea had been mine. [shrug] Whatever. It's part of the process. As for why George and Stephen would release the information... I would have. It's an interesting historical reference and incredibly helpful to writers.

Anonymous said...

Has Spielberg or Lucas either personally or via corporate means reacted to this leak?

Anonymous said...

This is Awesome

Anonymous said...

To anonymous regarding "Indy in love": They were discussing Marion being 11 or 12 and Indy being 22... THAT I can blame Indy for.

Johnny Walker said...

What an amazing find! Thank you!

THANKS said...

is this available in an audio format?

i know it sounds greedy but hearing actual voices and reactions to ideas would be fascinating.

Canada Jobs said...

This is Awesome

Bill Peschel said...

Thanks for giving me a headstart on the transcript. I can't wait to start playing with these ideas. Thanks!

Mystery Man said...

Hey guys, thanks again for all the kind words. To answer one of the anon's questions, there is no audio copy available.

It's funny. I had watched the film again not too long ago, and those who read the transcript may recall all of the talk about the Well of Souls and how it works. They struggled to get past how the sun could hit the pendant when it's at different places during different times of the year and they were concerned quite a bit that the audience wouldn't buy this setup. Of course, this was all solved by Kasdan when, as Indy talks to the government guys in the college scene, has Indy say, "at a certain time at a certain place." That line was put in there because of so much talk about how the Well of Souls worked, and everyone bought it. No problem. Hehehe... I love it!


Anonymous said...

I'm new to this site and as much of a jewel as this transcript is this blog.

Thanks MM

Adam said...

Unbelievable. A true miracle appearing out of the blue. I can't believe I'm reading this. Wow. Wow. Wo.

M Kitchen said...

Thank you for posting this:
I can't wait to read it.

Lucas (especially the late 70's Lucas) has always fascinated me.

ToastyKen said...

Thanks for posting this. This is pretty much the most amazing thing ever! Masters at the top of their game! If only every movie (even Indy ones) got this much attention to detail in the planning process!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for sharing this! totally amazing, can't wait to read through it. :)

here from, btw.

Anonymous said...

Read the pdf. All makes sense and is pretty logical: 510+ stage Hero's Journey:

Anonymous said...

Where did this come from has anyone verified it?

Tanya said...

Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have "earn it before having it", for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

Tanya said...

Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have "earn it before

having it", for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

Gavin said...

Raiders of the lost Ark is one of my most favorite movies. My sons also like it very much.

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I don’t know If I said it already, but this so good stuff keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part Mba Gendeng just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks.

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Unknown said...

Thank you for this, MM. What a great education, and a truly enjoyable read. It's a great gift.


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Anonymous said...

I'd also wager a good portion of this week's paycheck that Marion didn't get a lot of discussion because the two of them were, at the time, stunted man children who didn't really know women. ;)

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