Posts Tagged ‘Philip Kaufman’

So where did the Ark idea come from for Raiders of the Lost Ark?

The credit apparently goes to Philip Kaufman who received a story credit on the script. (Kaufman is best known as the writer and director of The Right Stuff.) Kaufman was born and raised in Chicago and his grandparents were German-Jewish immigrants. He majored in history at the University of Chicago before spending time traveling in Europe.

In an interview with Alex Simon for Venice Magazine Kaufman said, “I didn’t actually write any drafts of that. George Lucas and I sat down to write a story. I had the idea of the lost ark. George had the idea of the Indiana Jones character. We talked for about six weeks and then I got an offer to do another movie. About four years later, I got a call from George saying that he and Spielberg talked about the project on a beach in Hawaii, and would I mind if Steven did it? I said fine, and that’s what happened.”

In the Raiders Story Conference Transcript Kaufman explains how long the Ark idea had been kicking around in his mind. (And keep in mind this is an unedited, free flowing brain storming meeting.) “A kind of Middle Eastern adventure based around a similar idea to something like that book The Spear of Destiny where the Nazis were into mystical cults and so forth, and they were looking for, in this case, it was a thing that I, you know, have been thinking about for maybe twenty years since a doctor — my mononucleosis doctor — when I was in college, a famous blood specalist –and he had written –with another doctor — an article on the Ark of the Covenant and how he felt it provided a means of communication with some other extra-terrestrial or Godlike whatever — it was in a sense an elaborate radio setup –it contained silk curtains and veils and others things –I’ve forgotten — it’s all in the Bible, Leviticus, Exodus, the second book of the Bible, or whatever …A good part of that chapter in the Bible is the detailing of the actual Ark of the Covenant itself….”

They kick around details about the Ark for a while and then Kaufman says,”I told George the other day that there was a thing on In Search Of the other night –The Dead Sea Scrolls – and there was, kind of the landscape similar to what – to where I’d imagine this would happen – the tents in the desert and coming upon – suddenly in the Middle East – all of these Nazis who were out there looking for –tracking down clues to find this thing if they could in fact find it, all power would be theirs –they would be invincible, and immune.”

(How many times does Leviticus and Exodus come up in Hollywood story meetings?)

So you take the Ark, some Nazis, a James Bond-like archeology professor with a bull whip, a tough girl, a bad guy, some spiders and snakes, a little Exodus,  and you let Lawrence Kasden sort it all out and have Spielberg add his visual style in exotic locations, add some special effects like that guy’s face melting at the end and out pops Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It all sounds kind of simple, doesn’t it?

And what were the results?

A total of eight Oscar nominations with four wins; art direction, effects, editing and sound. The $20 million film made a domestic gross of $200. million and when  you add the sequels, tape and DVDs sales, and merchandising that simple concept has made a gazillion dollars.

And it also faired well in AFI’s top 100 films resting now at #66 and #10 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills. And it all started with an idea the George Lucas had back in 1973 called The Adventures of Indiana Smith. 

Side note: My only very, very loose connection to Raiders is that a couple years after the movie’s release stuntman Terry Leonard came to my film school to give a workshop on stunts. He was the guy that performed the famous truck drag scene that some have rated as one of the all time great stunts. Leonard once said, “Most people treat their bodies like a temple, whether they do or not, I treated mine like a South Tuscon beer bar.”


Scott W. Smith

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