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The Write Stuff:

The Art and Craft of Screenwriting
Spring 2014

* Unless otherwise noted all screenplays are PDF format


Story Conference Transcript
(January 23 - 27, 1978)
George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan

     In the early 1970s young film maker George Lucas - at the time an editor and documentarian working under creative “older brother” Francis Ford Coppola, had just completed his first theatrical feature - THX-1138, and was embarking on his second - AMERICAN GRAFFITTI, when he decided his next project would be a “throw back” adventure to the glory days of yesteryear’s Republic-style thriller diller adventure serials.  Intending to couch said adventure in deep ceded Jungian psychological archtypes he debated whether to go with an intergalactic set actioner or an old school 1930s / 40s era style ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION-like cliffhanger.  The space set adventure won out, and STAR WARS became one of the most successful films in cinema history. 

     A nervous wreck after STAR WARS troubled production shoot, Lucas was vacationing in Hawaii with good friend (and creative younger brother) Steven Spielberg as the first days results came in on his galactic opus - which exceeded all expectations!  Now able to relax for the first time in months he asked Spielberg - who had just completed his own soon-to-become classic science fiction epic CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, what he had next up on his creative agenda.  And when Spielberg replied that he’d always wanted to direct a James Bond film, Lucas knew the time was right to pull that other cliffhanger story treatment, entitled RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, our from his proverbial sleeve.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Pre-Production Concept Art by Jim Steranko

     The fast moving pulp-style adventure yarn of an archeologist / borderline grave robber who becomes embroiled in an intercontinental race against agents of Adolf Hitler to find the biblical Ark of the Covenant (because der Fuhrer believes it contains mystical powers which can benefit his army), RAIDERS’ hero, Indiana Smith (later renamed “Jones“), would be part Bond / part TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and CASABLANCA Bogart, and all late 1970s / early 80s tongue-in-cheek post modern homage to a “kind” of character … rather than a totally realistic character in and of himself.


     In an attempt to hone in on the proper tonal quality for their film, Lucas and Spielberg - along with Lucas’ original collaborator on the project, writer / director Phillip Kaufman (who would later become famous for THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE RIGHT STUFF and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING), would bring in “hot new kid on the block” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.

     Spielberg had become so enamored with Kasdan's fresh and clever  borderline “wise-assed” writing voice, he had recently picked up the young scribe's spec script CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, and was concurrently producing it as a feature starring John Belushi and Blair Brown as RAIDERS went before the cameras.

     Kasdan would later stake his own claim to 1980s / 90s cinematic fame as screenwriter of Lucas' STAR WARS follow-ups THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, and as writer / director of the soon-to-be classics BODY HEAT, THE BIG CHILL and SILVERADO.  He'd also return to that "galaxy far far away" as co-scriptor of the upcoming STAR WARS: EPISODES VII, VIII and IX along with the first of the new series' eagerly anticipated spin off films.  But in late January 1978 the three-headed creative beast that was Lucas, Spielberg, and Kasdan would gather to toss ideas into the cauldron for what would eventually emerge as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s narrative outline.


   Lucas and Kasdan on the set of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

     Recorded to tape the brainstorming session was later transcribed, and the existence of this transcription has become something of a “Holy Grail” (the subject of a later Indiana Jones quest) to writers and film fans alike.

     As such it is with a great deal of pride and pleasure that the Write Stuff presents, from the GullCottage / Sandlot's personal archives, the complete written transcription of those legendary Lucas / Spielberg / Kasdan story sessions.

     Following the end of the official story transcripts (on page 117) are ten additional pages of transcribed research discussion between production liaison / researcher Deborah Fine (THE GODFATHER PT. II, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE BLACK STALLION), Phillip Kaufman and Lawrence Kasdan.

     A very special shout-out and thanks to Bob Cho.

     CEJ (5/29/14)

Lucas, Spielberg & Kasdan remember the legendary RAIDERS story sessions (2003)

 * RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Story Conference Transcript (pt.1)  RAIDERStrans1Comp.pdf
15.9 MB

 * RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Story Conference Transcript (pt.2) 
12.7 MB

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From Steven Spielberg's Q&A session before a screening of
Oct. 22, 2013 - Celebrating the L.A. CINERAMA's 50th Anniversary


Q&A Moderator:
Jonathan Josell

    S: George gave me enough of the concept in Hawaii that day, 24 hours before STAR WARS opened at the first 10 a.m. show, he pitched me the story, and I was just absolutely just blown away by it."

     Q: When you first read it, what were your initial thoughts? Were there things you wanted to change?

     S: Very few scripts come complete with a stamp of approval the second the writer hands it to the director. I must say, there only been a couple of movies in my experience that I've directed where the script was so close to being ready to shoot.

     One of those movies was E.T: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL And that was as close to shooting as anything I have ever worked on before. And probably only second to E.T. for a script that was ready for prime time was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  That's how Larry (Kasdan) had gotten to the original story.

     Q: When you start the process - "Now we are going to make the film", George Lucas is producing, you are directing, you guys are doing the biggest thing in Hollywood at that time, what is the process of going to the studio and saying, "We want to make a film"?

     S: I didn't really get too involved with that. That was handled by George and his attorney and my agent. All I know is that I thought there was a good chance nobody would make this movie because it was absolutely unlike anything that was being done in 1981.

     There was no precedent for anything like this, and most of the studio heads in 1981 had never seen most of the fun, cliff-hanging set pieces. The movie was turned down everywhere because we were asking for an unprecedented deal that had not been given to anybody but Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock and a few other actors. We were asking basically to draw down profit before the studio broke even. And that had never really happened to anybody before in my generation. Everybody in town said "No!", and the only person who stepped up to the plate was Michael Eisner at Paramount. He went ahead and said, "I'll do it." And all of the sudden we had a movie.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Pre-Production Concept Art by Jim Steranko


     Q: You had your budget. How many days did you have to shoot for it?

     S: I was scheduled to shoot the film in 87 days, and I came in at 73 days. There's a reason for that. I had made three movies before RAIDERS, and they had all gone stupidly over schedule - all of them. JAWS scheduled for 55 days went 158. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - which premiered here (at the Cinerama Dome), scheduled for about 70 days, went 110 days.  And 1941 my third movie, scheduled for, I think, 75 days, went 179 days.

     And I was so ready to be "born again" in a responsible way. So, in a sense, for me, RAIDERS was a chance for me to prove myself responsible, direct a movie not only on budget and on schedule but ahead of budget and ahead of schedule. And I really think that's why the film's tight. I really think the movie is tight because I didn't shoot the amount of coverage; I didn't give myself enough time to do all the angles that I had normally shot - at least on the last two movies like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and 1941.

Casting Harrison Ford
(incl. Tom Selleck / Sean Young screen test)

     (On CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and 1941) I got angles that you'll never see because three-quarters of the coverage I didn't need, but I went and spent somebody's else's money and shot coverage I wound up not needing, and I was convinced because George was and remains my best friend, that I was not going to do this to George. I was not going to be a prolific spender and spend all of Paramount's money and hurts George's reputation.

     So I decided to make the film with less money and less days. And in order to do that, I storyboarded every single sequence, every shot in this movie. Somewhere in some archive - probably my archive - has a storyboard. Even dialogue scenes with Belloq and Indy sitting across from each other at a table - that was also on the storyboard. And if I was running behind schedule, I would just go up to the big board, and I would take down three or four pictures, and I would be back on schedule again. And that's exactly how the whole film was shot.

     Q: You told a funny story about trying to sit down with Harrison Ford, and you tried to go through that storyboard with him a couple of times.

     S: Well what happened was that Harrison was very used to me in the morning saying, "Okay Harrison, here's the menu for today's schedule", and I would open up my storyboard book and I would take Harrison through the entire journey of that day - Day 23, of what we were going to shoot that day.

     And Harrison was really patient with me for the first couple of weeks. I think he was grateful that I cast him in the movie. But after a couple of weeks, and this is actually in one of the documentary films I was shooting during the time we were making the movie, (a cameraman) actually caught Harrison, as I'm explaining what the next shot is going to be, going like this, waving me off, getting up and walking out on me; leaving me alone in a folding chair with all my storyboards on my lap.  And that was the last time I ever went over any storyboards with Harrison."


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