Posts Tagged ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

“Sometimes your convictions are the greatest stumbling blocks to fixing a story problem. It’s that thing that you’re certain of, that you don’t challenge — that you just know is right about a scene — that stops you from finding the inventive solution. It’s a good idea to have this general rule: challenge everything. Go through the problem scene step by step and consider the effect of doing the exact opposite of your story decisions.

“The audience will come to ‘know’ the character through their actions. When characters can make decisions that run counter to expectations, bringing immediate reversals into the story, that’s of immediate interest. (When Indiana Jones ties up Marion instead of releasing her [In Raiders of the Lost Ark], it’s a marvelous reversal, and we gain huge insights into Indy’s character by that one action.”
Screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay Columns/ Plot Devices

I couldn’t find the Indy/Marion scene online, but the classic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great reversal that goes from positive to negative.

And speaking of Rossio & Elliot, how about this reversal from their Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl script“You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” to “That’s got to be the best pirate I’ve ever seen.”

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Rossio & Elliot’s Wordplayer screenwriting columns you’re missing out on some of the best free screenwriting advice on the Internet—for almost 20 years!

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this.”
Steven Soderbergh (on going Jack Sparrow with a Spielberg classic) 


Can you spot what’s different about Indiana Jones?

I know it’s now officially Fall, but the Screenwriting Summer School is still in session on this blog. Today’s class with be led by Professor (producer, writer, director) Steven Soderbergh (whose dad really was a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge). And now Soderbergh can add pirate (for “educational purposes only”) to his resume—and the results are fabulous.

In fact, I’ll go as far as saying what Soderbergh did is my favorite film related article/video I’ve seen all year.

Yesterday on his website Extension 765 he posted an edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) where he shifting the color to black and white (it looks great) and replaced the sound with a music track, rumor has it, done by Trent Reznor.

Now why would Soderbergh go to all the trouble? Why would Soderbergh mess with a classic? Why nix the John Williams Oscar-nominated score?

Simply to explore the old film school truism (at least that’s where I learned it many years ago) that you should be able to watch a film without the sound and still know what’s going on simply by the visual storytelling.

Visual conflict & key light via hot poker pulled from a fire.

Visual conflict & key light via a hot poker pulled from a fire.

According to Soderbergh the new score “is designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect.” Worked for me. I watched the whole new Raiders version by the other Steven S. last night from 10PM to midnight and think it’s an instant classic. (And I’m guessing will be instantly abhorred by others.)

Raiders does hold up well without dialogue, but then again I’ve seen it a few times so I’m not the best judge.

Speaking of judges… It’s a little ironic Soderbergh just lifted an entire Paramount film since on his website under Privacy and Terms it states; “Unauthorized use of the Contents is expressly prohibited by law, and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. You might want to look up the word SEVERE, if you’re thinking about screwing with us.”

I’ve wondered if Tony Zhou’s excellent Vimeo account would be taken down because he makes his filmmaking points using many movie clips. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but my understanding is You Tube and Vimeo is a little beyond the means of educational purposes in a classroom. Often times I link to movie scenes found on You Tube that hit on points I’m trying to make, only to find out later that they’ve been pulled because of a copyright violation. I welcome any lawyers to clarify this area, because it is a direction I’d like to head for this blog in 2015.  Regardless, better catch Soderbergh’s Raiders ASAP in case Paramount makes him take it down soon.

Related posts:
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1) “I thought making a silent film would be a magnificent challenge.”
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 7) “The reaction to the action is critical.”—Blake Edwards via Marshall
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich

Soderbergh Related Posts:
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Fast & Furious—Steven Soderbergh
“State of Cinema” —Soderbergh
Sex, Lies, & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana) 

Raiders Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Scriptnotes’ 100th Podcast

P.S. I’ve been getting a few hits from a Malibu Screenwriting group that’s having a meet-up tonight (9/23/14) in Westlake Village. The were following a link to my 2008 post Screenwriting & Exposition. For what it’s worth, Indiana Jones saying, “I hate snakes” at the start of Raiders is exposition. Plus a nice set-up that will have a bigger payoff later in the movie. For that group here’s another post you may find useful, “Exposition is BORING unless…”

Scott W. Smith

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On this repost Saturday, I thought I’d reach back to September 2009 when I wrote this post on Lawrence Kasdan that was originally called From West Virginia to Hollywood:

Since Diablo Cody is my poster child (female) for a screenwriter coming from outside L.A. (and the original inspiration for this blog)  then I think I’ll name Lawrence Kasdan as the poster child (male) screenwriter from outside L.A. Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Quick, name another screenwriter from West Virginia.

(While Morgantown is the second largest city in West Virginia it only has about 30,000 residents not including the students at the University of West Virginia. My lasting memory of Morgantown goes back to 1994 when I was there for a video shoot and the news broke of O.J. Simpson’s famous low-speed police chase. I remember walking down the main drag and seeing restaurant/bar after restaurant/bar having the same helicopter shot of the Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on their TVs.)

Kasdan left Morgantown to attend the University of Michigan where he was an English major. A gifted writer he would go on to win Hopwood Prize at UM for creative writing. In his 30s he became  one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood with a string of box office hits— Star Wars: The Empire Strikes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He has also had  three Oscar nominations for his screenwriting —Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and The Big Chill.

But what I think you’ll be interested in is that little period between college in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his first sale as a screenwriter. While reading The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches I found this retelling by Kasdan when he would have been a 28-year-old advertising copywriter:

“One summer day in 1977 my agent asked to lunch, which was so unusual it made me nervous. It has taken me a long time to get an agent, so naturally, I was worried about hanging on to him. For two years now he had been trying to sell a thriller I had written for my favorite star Steve McQueen, who didn’t know I’d written this thriller for him. Originally, the agent thought he wouldn’t have much trouble selling the script, so he agreed to represent me. But after sixty-seven rejections he was getting discouraged.”

But his agent didn’t want to part ways with Kasdan, but he did want Kasdan to try his hand at writing for television, specifically Starsky & Hutch. Kasden reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Soon he heard back from the powers that be at Starsky & Hutch that he didn’t have the goods to write for the show. He told the agent not to give up on him that he had a new screenplay in the works that was almost done. He thought that would buy him a little more time to breakthrough.

Then Kasdan writes, “But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me. But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”

So while you dream of writing the next  Raiders of the Lost Ark or Return of the Jedi (or get discouraged in your own career) remember Kasden’s line, “After nine years of writing screenplays without success.” And also keep in mind that while that first sale came in 1977 it was fifteen years before the film The Bodyguard was produced and released into theaters. (The film starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in roles that were originally thought would star Steve McQueen & Barbra Streisand. The movie made over $400 million worldwide.)

Related posts:
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting from Michigan
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Postcard #8 (West Virginia Fall Colors)
Quote from the Road #2 (Morgantown)
Jennifer Garner’s Old W.V. Job

Scott W. Smith

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"Snakes are moving in force up the pillar toward Indy's dwindling torch. Indy grasps the pillar for dear life, grimaces with exertion and pushes against the wall with all he's got."
From the script Raiders of the Lost Ark
Written by Lawrence Kasdan

“It’s a hell of a way to make a living.”
Stuntman Terry Leonard

Raiders of the Lost Ark is ranked #11 on AFl’s 100 Year…100 Thrills and #2 on Empires The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (just after The Godfather). The movie picked up nine Oscar-nominations and won four. The movie’s score won a Grammy for Best Album.   Even a program about the movie—Great Movie Stunts: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”— won an Emmy. (And with all that critical acclaim, it also made $389 million at the box office back in 1981.)

The film really is a tour de force of stunts. The stunt I remember most from that film was when Indiana Jones in hanging on to the front of the truck and ends up crawling underneath it to the back. The stuntman doubling for Harrison Ford at that point was Terry Leonard. I was reminded when I watch the above video yesterday that Leonard visited my film school (Columbia College—Hollywood) in the 80s to do a stunt workshop with students. Here’s a clip where Leonard and Raiders’ stunt coordinator Glenn Randall Jr. discuss horse stunts and why horses usually fall to their left.

Yesterday was my 1,600 post on this blog and I don’t recall ever writing a post on stunt work so as a tribute to all of the stunt men and women over the years who’ve helped bring the words of writers to life we’ll take a little detour today to spotlight that important role in filmmaking.

“Tunisia was a tough location, everybody was ill. It was just excruciatingly hot and we had to stop shooting at two o’clock when it reached 120 degrees. You didn’t even sweat; all you had was salt on your arms because it evaporated before it hit the air.”
Vic Armstrong on working on Raiders of the Lost Ark
From his book The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman

Another book on stunts is Hal Needham’s Stuntman!: My Car Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life. Needham was a stuntman and stunt coordinator for four decades but he was also a director of Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, and a film about a stuntman Hooper.

“When people see my movies, I want to get their adrenaline flowing; if I don’t, I haven’t done my job. Hooper was the story of a stuntman, so I wanted to put in every stunt I could dream up—a motorcycle sliding under a moving semi, car jumps, fire, flights, high falls.”
Hal Needham

And as a reminder that stunt work can be fatal, here’s the documentary on Dar Robinson (1947-1986). The closing credits of Lethal Weapon read:” This picture is dedicated to the memory of Dar Robinson / one of the motion picture industry’s greatest stuntmen.”

Here’s the complete links to the documentary narrated by Harrison Ford on the stunts on Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also serves as a sweeping overview of the history of stunt work:

P.S. If you’d like a live action taste of the movie check out Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney MGM Studios in Florida.

Scott W. Smith

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“The whole language of the underworld and the understanding that the characters have of each other, you feel like you’re being led into a secret world.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan
On the film Out of the Past (1947)

According to various interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan the roots of Raiders of the Lost Ark range from the B-films of the 30s & 40s, Doc Savage novels, the western Nevada Smith (1966) starring Steve McQueen, the episodic Don Winslow of the Navy, to banter found in writer/director Howard Hawks‘ films. Can you see hints of Indy and Marion in this scene from His Girl Friday (1940)?

But according to NPR’s Movies I’ve Seen a Million Times, screenwriter Kasdan gives us one more clue into his personal film influences on the road to writing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“The the movie I’ve seen a million times is Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. I’ve probably seen it eight or nine times. It is a film noir, and one of the best ever made. Every scene has got great things in it. It’s very funny, very wised up in the manner of film noir.

The Robert Mitchum character is a former private eye who’s been involved with some ugly things and had straightened out and now runs a gas station in a small California town. And the beginning of the movie is all sunlit and cheerful. But as you get deeper into the story, you see his history, and that’s a very dark, complicated history.

And he becomes involved with a beautiful woman, with Jane Greer making her debut.  She’s the girlfriend of Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas hires Robert Mitchum to find Jane Greer, who has taken off with some of his money. And Mitchum finds her, falls in love with her, tries to run away with her, gets caught. And they get involved in a terrible scheme, and then they’re separated. There’s one amazing scene when he is reunited with Jane Greer, who has totally betrayed him.  She’s gone back to Kirk Douglas. Now, she comes in secretly to talk to Robert Mitchum, and he’s totally disgusted by her presence, doesn’t believe a word she says. And there’s bitter dialogue that I thought was some of the greatest ever written.”
Lawrence Kasdan

Here’s a couple more scenes from Out of the Past.

Out of the Past was written by Daniel Mainwaring based on his novel Build My Gallows High (under the name G. Holmes. According to IMDB, James M Cain (well-known for writing the novel Double Indemnity) did uncredited work on the Out of the Past script. Mainwaring also wrote the script for the cult classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The 1984 film Agaisnt All Odds written by was a remake of Out of the Past.

P.S. What originally got Kasdan on Steve Spielberg’s radar was the screenplay for Continental Divide which eventually got made in 1981—the same year Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in theaters. The same year Body Heat which Kasdan wrote and directed. 1981 was a very good year for Lawrence Kasdan. But gets your hand on the script for Continental Divide and watch the movie. Not because it’s a great script or film, but because it shows a simple kind of story that got the former school teacher noticed on his way to writing some great films and receiving four Oscar-nominations.

Related Posts:
From West Virginia to Hollywood The roots of Lawrence Kasdan
Screenwriting from Michigan Kasdan’s college roots
Raiders Revisited (Part 1)
Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough–“After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen.”—Kasdan

Scott W. Smith

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“The Indiana Jones story started before I started working on the screenplay for Star Wars. When I was thinking of doing a sort of modern fairy tale couched in sort of a Saturday matinée serial vernacular I was thinking about all of the great things I can do. And obviously one of the subjects that came up was to do it in outer space, and do it sort of like Flash Gordon. And the other idea I had at the same time was really to do it about an archeologist who goes around finding ancient artifacts that have sort of a supernatural flavor to them. And both of them would be kind of a serial not-stop action kind of adventure. I decided to really go with the space idea and I put the archeologist on the shelf to gather dust. Then I connected with Phil Kaufman, who’s another filmmaker up here in San Francisco, and he got very excited about it and we started working on it for about three or four weeks. He had the idea of making the sort of supernatural sacred object that we were looking for the ark of the covenant.”
George Lucas

P.S. A must read for any screenwriter and filmmaker is the transcripts of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasden. (I think it was why the Internet was invented.)

Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Scriptnotes’ 100th Podcast (Touches on episode 73 that was on Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Scott W. Smith

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“Indiana Jones is a master class on how to start a movie. It is a master class.”
Craig Mazin

Congrats to John August and Craig Mazin on their 100th podcast episode of Scriptnotes. They recorded that episode at the end of July and in either episode 100 or episode 101 (the Q&A with the live audience at that event) both August and Mazin said that one of their favorite episodes was where they did an entire episode on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And if you’ve never listened to an episode of Scriptnotes before Episode 73 is the place to start. I’ve listened to at least 20% of their 100 podcasts and Episode 73 is a gift to the screenwriting community. Here you have two working screenwriters doing something interesting in the world podcasting that I’m not aware has ever been done before—and that is elevating the role of screenwriter to podcasting celebrity.

Throughout film history screenwriters are notorious for being in the background. Sometimes not even in the background but banished to a galaxy far, far way. Again, historically speaking screenwriters have often not even been welcomed on the sets and locations of movies being shot from scripts they wrote.

So while it’s rare to see a screenwriter on a late night talk show, perhaps Scriptnotes signals a new way where screenwriters can have their voices be heard. And Scriptnotes is finding an audience beyond just screenwriters as it’s mentioned somewhere on episode 100/101 that some of the Scriptnotes podcasts have exceeded 200,000 listeners. I don’t think August or Mazin at this point in their career are interested in going the Kickstarter/Indigogo route like Spike Lee or Rob Thomas to fund a film, but if they wanted to their podcast gives them a wonderful platform to build on.

I’d love to see other podcasts pop up where perhaps older and retired screenwriters talking about movies and their writing experiences and challenges. But Scriptcast is great in part because you have two working screenwriters taking the time to talk about the craft and business of Hollywood screenwriting. Keep in mind that both men had a very good February this year.  Frankenweenie, which August wrote, received a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and Identity Thief, which Mazin wrote, had two weeks at the number one box office position here in the states on its way to a world-wide box-office gross of more than $170 million.

Their Raiders podcast came out in January. Check out the podcast or the trandscript.

“Everything that the movie [Raiders of the Lost Ark] is about is going to happen in the first ten pages. The tone, the characters, their weaknesses, their strengths, their internal flaw, the promise of what the movie will be, the spirit of the adventure, the rules of the world — everything is not only packed in perfectly, but it’s packed in interestingly and dramatically. It is a master class on how to begin a movie.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin
Scriptnotes podcast, episode 73

And while I’m passing out thanks, why not thank Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan and anyone else involved in helping bring Raiders of the Lost Ark to life.

Now August and Mazin take Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat to the whipping post in episode 100, but if you’d like to see how Snyder’s principles breakdown Raiders check out the The Raiders of the Lost Ark Beat Sheet.  Lastly, if you’re in Orlando tomorrow (8/4/13) you can see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Enzian Theater—one of my all-time favorite theaters to watch a movie.

P.S. I first read about the now legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark story transcript with Spielberg, Lucas, Kaufman, and Kasdan back in 2009 on Mystery Man of Film’s post  The “Raiders” Story Conference.  Anyone ever find out who the Mystery Man on Film was?

P.P.S. It may take a few years but I expect to see an indie film someday based on that Raiders story transcript.

Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmmaking Quote #2 John August)
Filmmaking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
Filmmaking Quote #22 (Lucas)

Scott W. Smith

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