I just learned through Mystery Man on Film that there is a downloadable transcript of a story conference for Raiders of the Lost Ark. (2017 note: The link is no longer live, but if you hunt around I bet you’ll find it.) It includes George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Larry Kasden walking through their ideas back in 1978 for the blockbuster film that would eventually be released in 1981. (Philip Kaufman who has a story credit on the film comes in toward the end of the 126 page transcript.)
There’s great stuff there and I highly recommend it to any screenwriter. I am currently writing two screenplays with others writers and it’s nice to see that the process is basically the same as what happens at this story conference. Not that I’m writing the next Raiders, but that the give and take is the same. You talk about other films, characters, and situations that are like your story.
Here’s an excerpt of George Lucas from the story conference discussing the Indiana Jones character;
Now, several aspects that we’ve discussed before; The image of him is “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” outfit, which is the khaki pants, he’s got the leather jacket, that sort of felt hat, and the pistol and holster with World War One sort of flap over it. He’s going into the jungle carrying his gun. The other thing we’ve added to him, which may be fun, is a bull whip. That’s really his trade mark. That’s really what he’s good at. He has a pistol, and he’s probably very good at that, but at the same time he happens to be very good with a bull whip. It’s really more of a hobby than anything else. Maybe he came from Montana, someplace, and he…There are freaks who love bull whips. They do it all the time. It’s a device that hasn’t been used in a long time.
And at another point when they talk about the opening scene in the Temple they talk about spiders, snakes, and skeletons, Spielberg adds, “What we’re just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland.” And for anyone who didn’t like my post Screenwriting by Numbers here is another Spielberg line, “This is the first scene in the movie. This scene should get at least four major screams.”
Is the document authentic? I don’t know but it certainly seems plausible and it’s a joy to read.