Article originally posted on the website abnersjournal.com, you can read it here
WE'RE JUST SPITBALLING HERE
It all started on a beach in Hawaii. That's where George Lucas first pitched the idea to Steven Spielberg about a globe-trotting archeologist that made a living searching for supernatural relics. The year was 1977, and Lucas had traveled to Hawaii seeking refuge from the initial release of Star Wars, far away from the madness that was quickly becoming a worldwide pulp culture phenomenon. Spielberg was also vacationing on the Big island, fresh off his success with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
"I GOT THAT BEAT"
While building a sand castle at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Spielberg told Lucas how he wanted his next project to be something fun, like a James Bond film. Lucas responded to the effect that he had "something even better," or "I got that beat."
He began to tell Spielberg about an idea he had of a film that would harken back to the old matinee serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Raiders of the Lost Ark would center around a playboy-type archeologist and anthropologist, who would travel the world in search of relics connected with the supernatural and the occult. The film, could be made on a low budget by shooting on location and using practical stunts and effects. Spielberg loved the idea, he saw it as "James Bond without the hardware", and in January of 1978, with Lawrence Kasdan and Frank Marshall brought onto the project as screenwriter and producer, the team that would be responsible for bringing Indiana Jones to life was formed.
RAIDERS STORY CONFERENCE 1978
Held up in a little house in Sherman Oaks for nine hours a day, for five days straight, Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan began to throw out ideas, spitballing scenarios, that would allow Raiders to take shape. The product of those recorded meetings eventually became a typed transcript over 100 pages long. The result is an amazing look into the creative process and a snapshot of Hollywood history.
Lucas went into the meeting with a handwritten treatment describing an adventure film that would build upon one cliffhanger after another with a concentration towards believability. They started out defining the character, who they saw as a Humphrey Bogart, Treasure of the Sierra Madre type, that carried a whip and pistol. A doctor by day, grave robber by night.
The potential character dynamics stretched from Indy being an alcoholic to even being a potential pedophile. He was seen as a man that would rather talk his way out of a situation than fight, but it was never a question of who that fight would be against, the trio agreed that the Nazis should be the main antagonist.
The meetings discussed the Raiders' heroine as well, she was seen as a "back street girl", a possible singer or call girl, not soft at all. Her intentions never defined, she was described as being "in it for the money" just as much as the Indy character.
Lucas then goes through the plot points of the treatment, discussing the details of the various action scenes. The basic outline of the Ark of the Covenant was always there, a McGuffin that Lucas and his friend, filmmaker Philip Kaufman came up with earlier. What was discussed was the functionality of it all, getting the hero from point A to point B in 120 pages or less.
When the brainstorming sessions had finally ended, Lawrence Kasdan went on to use the recorded meetings to write the first draft of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Many of the action scenes discussed during the conference did not make it in the final film, a few would see life in the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
For those of you that have not read the transcript, it is a must for any Indiana Jones fan. See also the article by The New Yorker entitled "Spitballing Indy", a great read.
A link for the transcript for the 1978 story conference is here, enjoy!
I think what the next Indiana Jones needs is a little more spitballing. Disney should put a team of like-minded individuals together and have them sit up in a house somewhere for a few days and discuss the next film. I know you can't recreate that sort of magic, but there is a form of objective reality that arrives when people are bouncing off ideas and brainstorming together. You tend to rule out the absurd ideas, that maybe one person is close to, but does not work for the majority. That's how those old serials were written in the first place. The same for the old pulp comics. You had a group of passionate collaborators doing nothing but coming up with hypothetical situations for their hero, going over endless possibilities, driven by the desire to tell good stories.
So why not build an old library on the Disney lot, straight out of the 1930's, and let these inspired writers do nothing but talk about the universe and imagine stories and scenarios in that setting; a "dream factory" in the style of old Hollywood. Sitting up talking into the late hours of the night, sipping on bourbon, smoking cigars, writing stories... I'm available Disney, just give me a call.