Article entitled "The Indiana Jones Brain Trust", originally posted on the website abnersjournal.com, you can read it here.
WELCOME to "The Reboot Awakens", an ongoing series that follows the development of Disney's new Indiana Jones film.
INDY FIVE: THE REBOOT AWAKENS
EPISODE 8 : THE INDIANA JONES BRAIN TRUST
NOVEMBER 17, 2015
Thanks for joining us for another installment of "The Reboot Awakens". It has been awhile since the last post and I'm sorry for the delay... I got to pay the bills, you understand. Well a lot of things have happened during my absence; the powers that be are talking. So why all the chatter about Indiana Jones 5 recently? Is the ball finally rolling on the project, or is it just the fact that Disney has their hands on the franchise now and the players that once had control are in the limelight with other projects and are being asked questions? Or is it just the same ol' song and dance? After all they were talking about Indy 4 for almost 20 years. But any news is still news and really it's good timing for me and with the direction I wanted to take with this particular article.
In the last episode I discussed the role of fans, good and bad, in today's popular culture and how "fans" could even end up shaping how the next Indiana Jones film looks. If you have not read Episode 7, you can do so here. This week I wanted to delve a little deeper into the creative process by exploring whether or not the use of a "braintrust" or "writing group" will be utilized by Disney to help with the continuity, world-building and story development of the Indiana Jones universe; and if so, who will the group be comprised of?
BUT FIRST, A LITTLE NEWS
Nothing in the way of official news from Disney to report but who cares, important people are talking and we must listen...
- Spielberg, you old dog. The famous director has been on the press circuit pushing his latest masterpiece Bridge of Spies. It was during an interview with Yahoo Movies that he first mentioned doing another Indy flick with of all people, Harrison Ford; which seems to undermine all the rumors we have been hearing about the beloved character being recast. Spielberg's nonchalant tone during the interview led most to believe that he was merely comparing the number of movies both Hanks and Ford have been in. But then Spielberg sat down with Extra for the discussion you can check out below and threw more fuel on the fire...
- Frank Marshall also had something to say about the recasting of Indiana Jones. “We’re not doing the Bond thing where we’re going to call somebody else Indiana Jones," said the producer in an interview with Total Film (read the entire article via Den of Geek). Marshall seemed to imply that a "passing of the baton" would be a potential route.
- Even Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, has spoken out about the next Indiana Jones film. While sitting down recently with Entertainment Weekly to talk about Star Wars the question of Indiana Jones 5 came up. Here's what he said: “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’d love to do another Indiana Jones. A character that has a history and a potential, kind of a rollicking good movie ride for the audience, Steven Spielberg as a director — what’s not to like?”
- The beautiful prints above are from the talented artist Matt Ferguson, and were available to purchase at bottleneckgallery.com (unfortunately they sold out in no time). Still take a moment and visit Matt's website, cakesandcomics.com, where he has other prints and posters available.
- If you have not heard the bi-weekly Indiana Jones podcast at The Indycast, do yourself a favor and go listen, they just released their 221st episode, celebrating their 8th year anniversary!
- Going to be in the Washington D.C. area? Go check out the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archeology exhibit at the National Geographic Museum. Running until January 3, 2016; the exhibit offers a redefined, modern experience with a combination of Hollywood magic, history and science. Head here for more details.
- Want an Indiana Jones MAGAZINE? Of course you do. INDYMAG recently released their seventh issue all about the classic Fate of Atlantis video game.
EPISODE 8: THE INDIANA JONES BRAIN TRUST
There has been little news from Disney about the direction that the Indiana Jones franchise will be taking in the future, still that does not mean that there are not moves being made behind the scenes at this very moment. Disney has a history of putting together collaborative groups to work on projects in order to receive the highest financial and critical gain from the public, but Indiana Jones is a conundrum in itself; it's installments have always been laid out by the partnership of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, with Harrison Ford also playing a heavy part. Now that the franchise has been sold to Disney, what will be the role of these filmmakers? Are they still considered part of the creative team? From the original creators of the series to the new talents at Disney, I thought it would be interesting to delve into this modern process of defining a cinematic universe and maybe come to a conclusion of how the Disney designed "brain trust" or "story team" will shape the Indiana Jones franchise.
FEELIN' THE FLOW
First a little history (come on it's Indiana Jones, there has to be a little history). The term "brain trust" has its roots in politics, first being used during the Franklin Roosevelt administration to describe his team of close advisors, which consisted of a group of academics, prized for their expertise in particular fields. These men played a key role in shaping both the First and Second New Deals. Since then the term has expanded to encompass any group of advisers to a decision maker, whether or not in politics.
This practice of bringing together talented individuals for the purpose of a goal was not a new idea in the 1930's; team work, after all, is one of the building blocks of the human race. The fact that it worked so well might be why the term gained so much attention. People were inspired. After all, that essence or spirit of great minds working together to overcome is the story of America. Think of what the founding fathers represent.
While researching this episode I came across an article from the University of Berkley's Greater Good website, which you can read here. The author, R. Keith Sawyer, discusses a team of comedy writers that was formed by Sid Caesar in the 1950's to write for the television show, Your Show of Shows. Caesar’s team included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Neil Simon.
They developed the show in a small suite of rooms on the sixth floor of 130 West 56th Street in Manhattan. Caesar created a fun and improvisational environment, where the team would riff on each other’s ideas constantly. “Jokes would be changed 50 times,” Mel Brooks later remembered. “We’d take an eight-minute sketch and rewrite it in eight minutes.” They constantly reworked the same scene until something really great emerged. The writers felt like they belonged to something greater than themselves.
Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe a particular state of heightened consciousness—what some people refer to as being “in the zone.”
Sawyer describes this collaborative effort as "group flow", and I think that is a nice description that sums up what occurs when like-minded individuals come together. Creative inspiration has always prospered with team work. Think about all of the great movements in art; the Renaissance, the Impressionists, the Surrealists, the Beat Generation. Even the inception of Indiana Jones was benefited by collaboration. I wrote an article about the creation of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a great example of "group flow", which you can read here.
NINE OLD MEN
"I am in no sense of the word a great artist. I have always had artists working for me whose skills were greater than my own." - Walt Disney
Walt's Nine Old Men were a core group of supervising animators, some of whom later became directors, who created some of Disney's most famous animated cartoons, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs onward to The Rescuers. Walt jokingly called them his "Nine Old Men" (even though most of them were in their 20s when they first started at the studio) - referring to President Franklin Roosevelt's nine Supreme Court judges (Roosevelt again?).
Maybe the Nine Old Men didn't start out as a "brain trust"; they were not originally all brought on together and they weren't exactly experts in their fields. They had to prove themselves within the system. But these nine men quickly set themselves apart from the others, banded together and created cinema history. (Read more about the individuals that made up the Nine Old Men here.)
THE NEW DREAM FACTORY
A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments. So how can a manager ensure that his or her working group, department, or company embraces candor? By putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable. One of Pixar's key mechanisms is the Braintrust, which we rely on to push us toward excellence and to root out mediocrity. It is our primary delivery system for straight talk. The Braintrust meets every few months or so to assess each movie we're making. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid. The Braintrust is not foolproof, but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal."
- from Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
(Read more of the excerpt here)
A beautiful thing occurred when Pixar was created and work began on their first feature film Toy Story. A group of not always like-minded storytellers came together to write and produce and sometimes butt heads but hopefully deliver a charming classical story told with original characters. Not only did they achieve their goal but they created a structured checks and balances of operation during the filmmaking process. One Catmull says was based on "candor", but the main idea of the process was to have a round table discussion of what works and what doesn't within the context of the story being produced; with the notion that the filmmaker hard at work on his or her subject might very well become consumed with their project and not be able to see possible story problems staring right at them.
The "solution group" happily named Braintrust was box office gold, with a string of hits that rivaled the success of Disney's Nine Old Men. And once Disney bought Pixar the Braintrust structure began to filter down into other studios within the company.
It was, until recently, the structure that Marvel Studios employed with their Creative Committee (read more about Marvel's dissolving of their braintrust here). Which brings us back to the almost cautionary word used by Catmull, "candor". With candor one must realized that critique is not a personal attack. Easier said than done, when for most artists the creative process is passionate and internal. This "outdoors" analysis can be frustrating to some, and the process slower than normal, which seems to be the two main components which led to Marvel's change of operation.
I think it's disappointing that Marvel has abandoned the Braintrust. I understand that there are deadlines to meet; when you put out a schedule of films like they have for the next five years you need things to move quickly, friction free. But how will that effect the stories that they create in the future?
It could be mentioned that Pixar's success comes from it's ability to take their time, that there are certain liberties in not throwing all of their stories into one cinematic universe. For the most part their films are stand-alones. A cinematic universe is a different beast all together. Can the same braintrust model even exist in a studio producing a franchise within a cinematic universe?
Just so we're clear I wanted to define a "cinematic universe". The term is used loosely these days, kind of like me using the term "reboot" when I'm really not talking about a reboot in the real sense of the word (throwing out the films that came before, starting from scratch), a better term for me would simply be recasting. But for the purpose of this article, a "cinematic universe" will be a set of creative works where more than one writer independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project.
Now all of a sudden there is a lot going on, a lot of hands in the cookie jar. Artists are not just sitting around talking about characters and plot; they're checking in with other departments and hitting timeline marks. They're realizing they can't film this action scene because two years from now, so and so wants to do something similar. The originality of the creative process is suddenly stunted. Even the Braintrust model of evaluating story and character suddenly has to make a lifeline call for every decision made. A lot of P's and Q's.
But that hasn't stopped studios from trying and the next few years will be very crucial in determining whether or not the model can be expanded into these larger formats. Currently Universal has plunged into the process trying to bring life back into their classic monster franchises by creating a group cleverly dubbed "The Monster Men" (read Cinemablend's article here). Paramount has also joined the "story group" approach bringing together a diverse group of artists with the hopes to replicate Marvel's success with the Transformers franchise (read Cinemablend's article here).
LOOKIN AT LUCASFILM
This brings me to Lucasfilm, and one step closer to Indiana Jones; but first it's Star Wars, NOTHING BUT STAR WARS...
Sorry, it's almost December.
If I had to guess what structure the creative process will take for the next Indiana Jones I would bet money that it will look a lot like the photo below (that is if you took out JJ Abrams and put Steven Spielberg in his place with Harrison Ford sitting on his lap).
When Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney and producer Kathleen Kennedy was made president of the company, the whole direction of Star Wars changed. With George Lucas no longer the creative voice for the franchise, Kennedy went out and found a filmmaker they thought best embodied the adventure and fun of the original trilogy. But before the director was decided Lucasfilm brought in writer and producer Simon Kinberg, along with writers Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3″) and “Star Wars” vet Lawrence Kasdan. The three men held up at Skywalker Ranch for a week going over the structure of a new trilogy. The emphasis was to give the audience a new character driven set of stories all the while remaining true to the series practical science fiction roots. Hopefully a script of the meeting will one day surface, similar to the Raiders Story Conference that was held by the filmmakers of the original Indiana Jones film. (Read more about the Star Wars meeting here.)
Michael Arndt, taking those story notes, left the meeting to write the screenplay to Episode VII, but due to supposed time constraints JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over writing duties. (Decoding the 'Star Wars' Writers' Drama via Rolling Stone)
But developing the first film was only a small part of a huge endeavor that Disney undertook in establishing a new cinematic universe for Star Wars. They first erased everything that was deemed canon in the expanded universe and started a new timeline, the new films being the main foundation. To help with the organization of such a large project; with storylines intersecting through films, cartoon series, toys and books; Disney created the Lucasfilm Story Team who worked hand in hand with Leland Chee, keeper of the Holocron, a database that tracks the continuity of the entire universe, in order to maintain one perfect coordinated timeline (check out this video on the official Star Wars site here).
So does Star Wars have a Braintrust? (EmpireOnline asked the same question in the article here.) Maybe not in the sense that Pixar has one. It seems more that Lucasfilm will allow high profile directors to come in and make the movie they want as long as they hit certain key plot points. But still those directors must collaborate; Abrams has to share information with Rian Johnson and in turn those filmmakers have to share info with Colin Trevorrow. There must be some transparency. But as far as those filmmakers sitting around a table, being blunt with one another on whether or not story elements work, I think not.
A CLOSER LOOK AT: LELAND CHEE
Not only does Chee have to worry about the entire Star Wars universe, he is also the keeper of the Indycron, the database that organizes the continuity for the Indiana Jones franchise. Read more about his work here.
In an interview with TheRaider.net in April 2010, Chee stated that the only areas off-limits to writers are Marion Ravenwood's life between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Colin Williams.
NED, DUSTY AND LUCKY DAY
And now we come to Indiana Jones, a franchise that Disney has stated, as of this past May, that they have sat down and started talking about (via Vanity Fair).
Kennedy confirmed rumors that another Indy movie “will one day be made inside this company. When it will happen, I’m not quite sure. We haven’t started working on a script yet, but we are talking about it.”
The question then is, who is present at these meetings? George Lucas? Spielberg or Ford? Frank Marshall? Simon Kinberg or Lawrence Kasdan? Could these meetings be the reason for all the Indiana Jones 5 talk as of late? Was it discussed in those meetings that Harrison Ford will return once more as Indy? That Spielberg will direct and they will try and "pass the baton" off to a Chris Pratt student-type character, with Ford playing more of the Henry Jones Sr. type role? Will George Lucas have a say at all as to the direction of the new film? Or maybe the reason Spielberg has shown an interest as of late is because George Lucas is playing more of a minor part or no part at all. Spielberg has been a devoted friend to Lucas over the years, even making a picture that he himself was not totally set on making with the "alien themed" Indy 4. Spielberg has also spoken in the past about not having an interest in making action films anymore (here). So why the change of heart? It could be that Spielberg, very aware of the "fresh start" that the Star Wars franchise has received, sees the same opportunity now with the Indiana Jones property and wants to be part of it.
George Lucas has always been the one to break the story, the McGuffin. Back in 2011, granted this was before the Disney deal, Spielberg said in an interview with EW:
"It’s up to George. We have already agreed on the genre of the fifth movie, we already have a concept in mind. I don’t know where George is with the story. There is no Indy 5 until George says there is.”
Will Disney at least use the genre explained here by Spielberg? That remains to be seen. But I do think most of these questions can be answered by looking at the structure set up by Disney for Star Wars. When the deal was signed and Lucasfilm sold, included in the deal was all the story notes, the scripts, the drafts, the art work, for all the films, even the planned Episode VII-IX trilogy which Lucas was secretly working on. Lucas was kind enough to sit down with the new team of filmmakers and describe the direction he had for this trilogy, knowing full and well that Disney had carte blanche, and could totally dismiss his ideas, which they ended up doing for the most part. But when you have the opportunity to sit down with the creator of these franchises and talk shop, you take it; and I'm sure Disney will do the same for Indiana Jones if Lucas is willing, they would be stupid not to.
And what of Harrison Ford's involvement? Ford has always been one that seems to wait for Spielberg and Ford to come up with the story and he then checks off on it. Not sure if he was down with the direction of Indy 4, but Lucas was then Spielberg was on board, so he eventually went with it, on top of that he was taking home a big pay day. But I think Ford sincerely enjoys the character and wants to make more films as Indy, as he recently stated. Disney also seems like the kind of company that respects the history of the franchise, wants to please the original fan base as well as bring in new fans. For that reason alone, I think Ford will be Indy for as long as he wants to be. The "passing of the baton" will probably be used to bring in young actors into the franchise, similar to what they're doing with The Force Awakens. And then, after a couple of films with the "mentor" Indiana Jones character, if the public was to see films with the new cast they will make those, if they want to recast Indy and set the films back in the 30s they can do that. There is a certain flexibility here.
THE OTHER AMIGOS
THE SUPER PRODUCER
Frank Marshall, the busiest producer in Hollywood, is definitely sitting in on these meetings. I'm not aware if he had a creative hand in the "storytelling" direction of the past Indy films, but he was there for all stages of production and his experience has to be paramount for Disney going forward. For him to come out publicly and mention the fact that Indiana Jones will not be recast is huge. He knows first and foremost the direction that Disney will take going forward; he also has close personal ties to the original filmmakers and I think would like to see those guys make one more film, leaving the series on a high note. But he has to also realize the marketability of a franchise headlined by a 70 year old man, and at some point Disney will think about recasting the character.
President of Lucasfilm, producer of The Force Awakens, no decisions for the next Indiana Jones film will be made without first going through her office. And it shouldn't be any other way. Lucas personally chose her as his successor before the Disney Lucasfilm deal. With a cool under pressure attitude, Kennedy quickly took the reigns of the most beloved franchise in cinema history, putting together a team of filmmakers (and fans) that would usher in a new generation of films. When the time comes she will take the same care and fortitude with the Indiana Jones series that she has with Star Wars, you can trust in that. (read about Kennedy's rise through the ranks here)
THE BIG CHILL
Lawrence Kasdan wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, then started reworking The Empire Strikes Back screenplay before the ink on the Raiders draft had dried. Hell of a year. He recently co-wrote The Force Awakens and is currently working on the script for the young Han Solo film with his son. But the question remains, what about Indiana Jones? Will he come back for the series that started his career? And why hasn't he already? Am I wrong, but did Kasdan ever try his hand at another Indy script? If not, why? Well, here's hoping he has something to do with Indiana Jones 5... Kasdan recently said that he is done with Star Wars (here), wanting to spend more time with his family and on directing.
THE INDIANA JONES LIBRARY
I would like to believe that Disney will bring together a diverse group of men and women when deciding the direction of the Indiana Jones franchise. Maybe even bring in some undiscovered talent (hint, hint). But a hodge- podge of the Braintrust idea would be nice, somewhere between the Kinberg, Arndt, Kasdan meetings and the Raiders Story Conference, with a mixture of young and old talent. Let them hold up in an old library surrounded by old books and maps, really immerse themselves in the feel of the series, while they sit around and talk about what the franchise represents now and where they hope to see it in 10 years. I believe that there is room to expand the cinematic universe of the series (which I will discuss in future episodes). I also believe that the timeline that has been established in the previous films should remain canon (more of that in the next episode). But as you can see there are numerous issues facing the series, many directions that could be taken. I guess deep down I like the Braintrust structure. I can't help to think of what problems could have been avoided in Indiana Jones 4 if the story was discussed within a group setting, amongst individuals that believed that a dialogue could be had, involving "candor", where egos would not get in the way and toes would not be stepped on.
But then again I have faith in Disney and the people in control of the project. I would also love to see all the original players come back for the next film, Lucas included, and if they don't have creative control hopefully they will make themselves available to "spitball" ideas. These are exciting times, none the less... another Star Wars, another Indiana Jones, come on!
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Keep checking in to Abner's Journal for the latest Indiana Jones news. In the meantime:
CALLING ALL SCRIPT READERS!
I need my script Indiana Jones and the Stone of Destiny (the link is here) reviewed for rewrites. I would like to trim about 20 pages of the script and would like your input on changes I could make. Send your comments or reviews to [email protected] and I'll post a few of them on a future episode about screenwriting. Until next time, thanks for coming back.