In 1978, George Lucas, who had just released Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg, fresh off of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, met with writer Larry Kasdan to discuss a new film they were planning, called Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The five-day conference produced a 127-page transcript in which they hashed out the plot, characters, and scenes for the film, producing an incredible number of great ideas along the way, many of which percolated into the two sequels. George Lucas (G) does most of the talking, but Spielberg (S) interjects a lot of good suggestions. Larry Kasdan (L) is quieter. It’s fascinating reading the actual discussion process by which two geniuses (yes, George Lucas was once a genius) created one of the most beloved adventure films of all time.
For instance, how did Indy come to be afraid of snakes?
S: I like the idea of, while the water’s rising, he climbs up onto the moss on the rocks, he sees a column which is weak, he finds a rock and pulls it out of the wall. He begins pounding away at the column as the water is rising. His hands are all bloody. He’s able to loosen the column so that it falls through a wall or through a door.
G: And then all the water rushes through?
G: The only problem with the water is it’s going to be hard to do, and it’s going to be hard to rationalize it. We can’t. We can call it the temple of life and establish that it has a lot of water in it. But at the same time, it’s like the sand. Plus it’s such a classic thing.
S: What about snakes? All these snakes come out.
G: People hate snakes. Possibly when he gets down there in the first place.
L: Asps? They’re too small.
S: It’s like hundreds of thousands of snakes.
S: I think it should end quickly the minute the column falls and breaks down the door. I think he should ride the column down and get out right away. That’s the end of the scene.
L: He has to ride it as it falls.
G: He goes down with the column, does a tumble and runs out. The trouble is, you’re going to have him going through those temples without any light.
S: The column falls down, breaks through a wall, and light comes pouring in. It’s like salvation.
L: I don’t think there should be a door down there. He just sees that it’s weaker there.
G: Let’s just make it a wall. Since he’s an archaeologist, he would know how it (garbled). If it’s that dark, you don’t need that many snakes. You’re using shafts of light, so you can just see the snakes on the edge of the light.
S: The way you can do it is like “Squirm.” It has more worms than you can imagine. Snakes are ugly when they’re all piled up with each other.
L: I wonder what their reaction to light is.
G: You can get a snake charmer or something. I don’t know how you’ll do that. All you need is a lot of snakes in a very small spot, so it looks like there are a lot of snakes everywhere. You can also do a lot with sound, and close shots of snakes slithering across hands.
S: What’s real scary to me is when the rock comes down to seal the temple. The air pressure blows half the torches out. That place is air tight. A visual effect and a sound effect.
G: We shouldn’t have any snakes in the opening sequence, just tarantulas. Save the snakes for now.
S: It would be funny if, somewhere earlier in the movie he somehow implied that he was not afraid of snakes. Later you realize that it is one of his big fears.
G: Maybe it’s better if you see early, maybe in the beginning that he’s afraid. “Oh God, I hate those snakes.” It should be slightly amusing that he hates snakes, and then he opens this up, “I can’t go down in there. Why did it have to be snakes. Anything but snakes.” You could play it for comedy. The one thing that could happen is that he gets trapped with all these snakes.
Oh, and by the time you’re done, you’ll want to rewatch Raiders of the Lost Ark. I guarantee it.
Found at Mystery Man on Film, whence I also took the picture.