Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On The Scene: Raiders of the Lost Ark 30th Anniversary

Cross-posted on

One of my all time favorite movies and probably one of yours too, Raiders of the Lost Ark, screened in downtown Los Angeles last night to celebrate its 30th anniversary. I have an interesting past with Indiana Jones - in elementary school I watched Temple of Doom constantly, without even realizing, despite having seen them as a child, that there were other films in the series (blame TBS or its early 90s equivalent). Then shortly after graduating college, I finally experienced Raiders for the first time for real, on a big screen, at a theater my friend managed, where roughly ten of us watched, drank and yelled things at the screen like "Life magazine is for Nazis."

But last night was my first experience watching any Indiana Jones film with a packed crowd. It was my first experience with an audience laughing when I laughed, gasping when I gasped, and hiding their eyes in anticipation of what is to come right along with me. Watching the stunning print (being prepped for Blu-Ray release - more on that below) with an audience filled with fans, including those of the famous variety like Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Damon Lindelof, and minor characters from both Glee and Cougar Town (no, really), felt like a gift in many ways. And if the screening alone wasn't enough, on hand to discuss the film in a post-screening Q&A were Steven Spielberg and surprise guest Harrison Ford. Never before had the two talked about Raiders together in front of an audience, and we could tell it was as special for them to be doing this as it was for us to be witnessing it.

Geoff Boucher of the LA Times, the man responsible for the event, introduced Spielberg by going through a long list of his best films (sadly omitted? Two of my modern favorites, Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report), reminding us, as if re-watching Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't already, what a genius the man is that we were about to hear speak. What followed was a wonderful 45 minutes, filled with honestly, surprises, old stories, new stories and insightful thoughts on film and its industry. To find out how the infamous swordsman scene came to be, what the friendship between Spielberg and George Lucas is like, how Spielberg feels about Lucas changing Star Wars for Blu-Ray, Spielberg's favorite Indy films, details on the blu-rays for both Indy and ET, and a whole lot more, read on. Full transcript below.

On the beautiful print we had just watched,

Steven Spielberg: This is the best it's ever looked because in preparation for the eventual release on Blu-Ray (applause), we had to go and correct the print again and get the original negative out of the salt mines (laughter) and then we had to do the separations and basically, the files which were just amazing with all the technology today, without changing any of the movie materially, like we haven't removed anything (applause) we haven't added CGI...This is the movie that some of you may remember from 1981, looking at the age of the audience, most of you don't remember it from 1981 (laughter). But it is THE movie, it just looks so much better.

On the difference between Steven Spielberg before Raiders compared to after,

SS: Well before Raiders I needed a job because I just made 1941 and no one would hire me (laughter). Except George Lucas, my friend. So yeah, I needed the eggs, you know? And this was sort of right up my alley because I had been a tremendous fan of the B Movie Republic serials and certainly so was George Lucas, so when, you know, it's an old story, but maybe bears repeating, that I was in Hawaii with George cause he was terrified of the opening of Star Wars so he called me and said, do you want to go to Hawaii with me and we'll sit there and just build a lucky sand castle cause you know, Star Wars was about to open, this was May of 1977. It opened and it was a huge success. In those days you knew it was going to be a success when all the 10am shows were sold out and they were, across the entire nation, and George came back, more relieved than I had ever seen him and started planning his next opus and he brought me this concept he had to me called Raiders of the Lost Ark about this intrepid sort of gravedigger archeologist going after somewhat paranormal antiquities from all over the world and he did not have the story...but he had the genre, he had had the idea and the homage it would be to the B Republic material. Right away I was intrigued and we made this make this movie.

On his friendship (described as "best friends") with George Lucas,

SS: George doesn't do text or email ever, I've never received a text or email from George and he's never received one from me. He's a phoner you know, it's all over the telephone or it's in person. So it's either eyes on or it's a telephone call, but it's never texting...You know, you get a phone call and it's like here, (Spielberg slips into George Lucas impression) "Hey Steve. (laughter) What are you doing?" "Oh I'm just sort of sitting around working George, making ten pictures a year as a producer, what are you doing?" "Oh. I don't know." (laughter)...The thing with George, when George and I get on the telephone, I have to clear my morning or my afternoon because we talk for a long long time. The only person I've ever talked to at the length I talk to George, believe it or not, was Stanley Kubrick, back when we were friends in the 80s, but George, you know, we talk about everything, we talk about movies, his projects, my projects, we talk about our families and our friendship and it's an enduring friendship. I met George when he premiered THX at the Royce Hall UCLA/USC Film Festival in 1967 I think it was, so we've known each other for a long time.

Geoff Boucher: Do you ever talk about another Indiana Jones movie? (one audience member says WOO!)

SS: One person! One person wants to see another Indiana Jones movie. (laughter) The ONLY person in the audience

GB: It was Shia! (laughter)

SS: No, I think that was the only bridge we didn't burn because of Indy 4. We talk about it, yes. And we're hoping, we're hopeful. (lots of applause this time!)

More, including Harrison Ford making a surprise appearance, after the jump

GB: I've heard so many different versions of how [the swordsman shot by Indy's gun] scene got into this movie. Could you clarify for us, exactly how that happened?

SS: Okay, well, the truth is, that the morning we were supposed to shoot this three page long sword vs whip fight between the swordsman and Indy, and Harrison came to me in the morning and he said, he always called me "Pal", he said "Listen Pal, (laughter), I went into like, SeƱor Barfies and I had something that didn't agree with me last night and you've got about an hour with me and then I'm going back to the hotel cause I'm really sick, so what do you wanna do?" And I think I said, "Well we have a few pages to shoot, but if you pull out your gun and kill the swordsman, you can go back to the hotel."

(Over the mic, a voice from the distance) No, no (audience starts going nuts. Out walks Harrison Ford. Standing O commences.)

Harrison Ford: That was an approximation. (laughter). What happened was that I was -

GB: Harrison Ford, by the way (laughter and applause)

HF: I had chosen to eat the native food unlike Steven who went to Tunisia with a steamer trunk full of spaghetteos (laughter) and I had suffered mightily for my - for that. And I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for really more than it took to expose a roll of film, which was ten minutes (laughter) and then I would have to flee back there for some, uh, sanitary (laughter) facilities. It was really horrible and we had rehearsed the night before what was to be a three day scene. There was a certain logic to my plea the next morning. It was a bout a forty five minute to an hour drive from our hotel to the set and during that period of time, it came to me that there might be a way out of this (laughter) and it came out of the logic, you know, an interest in the film, we had just shot a lengthy scene in which their was a duel between the uh, the bad guys with swords and things -

SS: - (is amused) bad guys!

HF: - the bad guys, and the whip and we were about to shoot another scene that would take us at least three days to shoot and the ultimate, the sad thing is that the guy who was playing the black swordsman had won the part, probably the greatest contest for any part in the film was over this because Steven and George were convinced that you could throw a salami in the air and slice it into wafer thin slices, so this guy had trained and trained and trained and we had to tell him that he was going to die. (laughter) My logic was that we really didn't want to see another [fight]...we wanted to get to Marion who was captured, so I said 'Hey Pal, why don't we just shoot the sonofabitch?" And Steven said "I was just thinking that." (laughter) And that's all there is to it. But the poor guy. When the news was broken to him that he was not going to get the chance to show any of the skills he had spent the last three months acquiring with a sword...

SS: Yeah, but he became the most famous swordsman ever to die by Indy's gun

HF: The first time I shot him, it took about three weeks for him to die, because he had been robbed of the drama, that was his due, so he did a very elaborate death scene -

SS: First he dropped the sword, then he stumbled backward, then he came forward again, ...started to weave, and then ... he stood there on his knees and went face down. That was take one.

HF: Yeah. And then I said to Steven, "Steven, watch this".. and before he had the chance to say action, I pulled the trigger and he went (impression of what the swordsman does in the film), and fell down, and that's what's in the movie.

GB: So Tunisia was a rough time for you guys?

SS: I never got sick there because I ate the...canned food - spaghetteos, pork and beans...I just packed a steamers trunk of food because I had heard that you get a little bit of indigestion there and you needed to take care of yourself, so Doug Slocombe, the DP, and I were the only ones who didn't get sick over a 6 month shooting period.

On Doug, the DP

SS: Well Dougie, now, he's still with us, but he's like 101

GB: 98

SS: 98. Woah. ... And Dougie was older then and I had really loved Dougie's work in a number of movies he made.Oone was the movie Julia, I loved his work in that and he was just a supreme camera man and what I liked about him was he wasn't afraid to use fill light, and I wanted this movie to look like an old fashioned Hollywood Saturday matinee movie, which meant instead of having a lot of abstract, Noirish lighting, where it's really bright on one side and really dark on the other, I wanted the faces to be seen, and I didn't want someone to flatly light the movie, I wanted somebody to know how to give it an elegant style, you know, let me see the faces but also the use the sun, use back light, the characters needed to stand out from the background. He already came to the party with that style and he was kind of known for that and I cast him for that reason. And Dougie was amazing, he was, if I wanted to put the camera up on a small mountain and I said lets get the camera up there, I'd tun around and ten minutes later, Dougie was halfway up the mountain already, ahead of the cameraman, ahead of the dolly grip, ahead of the focus pull, ahead of everybody. And he was just this rugged, yet funny individual, he told me a story one day and this is sort of the quintessential Dougie Slocombe, he said he had a few pints at the local pub one night and he had divorced his first wife or she had divorced him about 20 years before, and he was a little tipsy and got home and he took his keys out of his pocket and he started to look for his key and found the right key and put it in the lock and it wouldn't go, he went to the second key and it worked, and he opened the door, he went upstairs, and there was wife of 20 years ago, in bed with her husband of 20 years and he had gone to the wrong house (laughter). That was just Dougie! He was the absent minded director of photography.

HF: Dougie never used a light meter. He would just read the density of the shadow by the shadow of his thumb against his palm and he would give a light reading to the cameraman with that method

SS: He also stuttered, and it was kind of a beautiful stutter because his gaffer's name was Martin and of course it was hard for him to pronounce Martin... The M was difficult for him and then it would always be "Martin, umumum 11 5." and he was always right. Or he would look around and say "Martin umum um 5 6. "and then we'd move out of the shadow - "8 11" - and he was just spot on. I never worked with a DP before or since that didnt use a light meter.

On getting cast as Indiana Jones,

HF: I got a call from George Lucas saying that he wanted me to meet Steven Spielberg and that he was sending a a script over that he wanted me to read in preparation for that and I read the script and thought it was an incredible opportunity and about two hours later, I was at Steven's house talking about it. And of course it was because, oh whats his name, um, uh, um, Tom. Selleck? Tom? Tom? Tom had to drop out, Tom Selleck, because of an overlying commitment to do Magnum PI, so I hadnt heard the name Indiana Jones until about four hours before I had the part.

SS: What happened was after Tom [had to drop out]...,George asked me to come up north to see a cut of Empire Striesk Back...when it was over I walked over to George and said "We have our Indiana Jones" and he said, "Who?" and I said "That guy, Han Solo, that's Indiana Jones", and George said "Well yeah hes a great actor, but you know, but he's identified now with this characer in Star Wars" and I was like "Yes, but he's an actor, he can be identified with other characters as well!" (laughter) and George had never thought about Harrison in that context but he immediately, at that point he said yeah... and said it would be great amd he called Harrison a couple days later.

On revisiting the character of Indy,

HF: Maybe a fifth. But I ain't going to Mars. (loud applause and cheers)

SS: Well I ain't going to Mars with you

HF: What was the question?.. (laughter) It's an absolute delight to revisit this character and the chance to work with Steven again, who only hires me for Indiana Jones. I'm an actor, you know? (lots of applause and laugher). I guess I have to wait for Tom Hanks to take a series. (lots of laughter)

TH: You know who I offered Jurassic Park to? This guy. Alan Grant. First offer to Harrison.

HF: ...It was a lot like going to Mars

SS: What really scared Harrison was I had the art department, and I still have the patining, the art department made a paintg of Alan Grant and the kids Lex and Tim in each hand running toward camera with a huge T-Rex chasing after them and i told him to put Harrison's face on the character, I think that night have done the trick

HF: Next time we get a script for Indy, I would be delighted to play the character again. We both had an ambition for the character and the series.... each time we meet Indiana Jones, we have an occasion to... we wanted to advance the audience's understanding of, and experience with, the character not just by putting him into adventures, but by learning something new about him, something about what made him what he is and that led to meeting his father in the person of Sean Connery and his son in the person of Shia and bringing back Karen all for those things, which are to me what makes the character so interesting.

Boucher starts to talk about Spielberg's upcoming projects and points out Simon Pegg in the audience

SS: Hey Simon! Now I forgot, were you the twin with the P or without the P? All right, and Nick Frost is the other one.

On Raiders' link to Tin Tin,

GB: You hadn't really heard of Tin Tin til Raiders was released, is that right?

SS: I hadn't heard of Tin Tin at all, when Raiders came out, my assistant came over and said French newspapers ...kept mentioning Indiana Jones in reference to Tin Tin and .... Indiana Jones spelled out and next to it, Tin Tin, all over the place. [I got it] translated and it said Indiana Jones owed a lot to Tin Tin and so I got my hands on a book which was not easy to get in 1981 in the United States, but I got book and I could see that there were a lot of similarities, adventure stories especially the globetrotting aspect, but thought they were different enough that they could both coexist in the same world at the same time , so I tried to get the rights to Tin Tin back in 1983, when I was directing Harrison in London on temple of doom and I had the chance to talk to Herge and he invited me to Belgium and we had the chance to talk about making a movie out of his work and sadly he died a few weeks later but I was invited back about a moth later by his this movie has spent what, almost 30 years in the planing stages.

On the making of Raiders,

HF: It was arduous, but I was young and dumb (laughter) and I really enjoyed it. And the thing about the action that I think was original was that we had the notion to show Indiana Jones' fear in a way that hadn't been often expressed before and so we got the opportunity to complicate that a bit with character, I thought that was interesting. But it was fun to do, it was arduous and it became more arduous as the years went on, I don't think I made it through one of the movies without a major injury. I was run over by the flying wing in this one and tore an ACL in the middle of Tunisia, and in the second one I shut the whole movie down for about a month and a half while I got my back operated on.

On Indy's fear,

SS: That was Harrison's contribution, his approach to the whole character wasn't something I was going to do with the movie, and that was to let this hero be afraid i thought he was going to be this great movie idol, this great movie hero, with many iconic possibilities, but Harrison said "if you want the audience to believe that I'm real and not just some guy in a cape, you better let me show that I'm afraid and I'll recover from it okay but I need to show that fear." Harrison brought that entire tapestry to the entire part. That transformed the movie for me.

Boucher then brought up the controversy surrounding George Lucas changing Star Wars - cue audience groan - and asked if Spielberg feels the need to go back and change things,

SS: That's a little hot topic, isn't it? (laughter) Let me put it this way. George does what he does cause there is only one George Lucas and thank god for that. He's the greatest person I've ever worked with as a filmmaker and collaborator, he is a conceptual genius, he puts together these amazing stories and he is great at what he does. And my feeling is he can do whatever he wants with his movies because those are his movies. We wouldn't have been raised with Star Wars or Indiana Jones had it not been for George, so what he does with his films is great. Speaking for myself, you know, I tried this once and I lived to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but simply because I was disappointed in myself. I was overly sensitive to some of the criticism ET got from parent groups when it was first released in '82 having to do with Eliot saying "Penis Breath" or the guns...and then there were certain brilliant, but rough around the edges close ups of ET that I always felt, if technology ever evolves to the point where I can do some facial enhancement for ET, I'd like to. So I did an ET pass for like the third release of the movie and it was okay for a while, but then I realized that what I had done was I had robbed the people who loved ET of their memories of ET. And I regretted that. (massive applause) And the only contrition that I could possibly do because I felt bad about that was, the only contrition that I really performed was when ET came out on DVD for the first time, I asked Universal, I didn't ask Universal, I said you're gonna do this, when you release this on DVD you have to come out for the same price of one DVD, you have to put two movies in the box and one movie will be the 1982 version and the other will be the digitally enhanced version. I'd like to ask you this, let's do a little poll here, cause I know we're coming out with the blu-ray of ET, if I just came out with one ET on blu-ray, 1982, would anyone object to that? (loud NO from the audience). Okay then, so be it. (huge applause)

Boucher points out that they should do a 30th anniversary screening of ET next year - there is wild applause in response

The questioning then turned to Ford. Boucher noted the last time they saw each other was at Cowboys and Aliens (which received healthy applause from the audience, much to my surprise), pointed out Damon Lindelof in the audience, then asked Ford to elaborate on what he said on set, which is that he finds that most films heavy on the digital don't have a soul.

HF: Well, what I think I was struggling to talk about properly was, the potential that filmmakers have with computer created graphics is wonderful and can be wonderfully creative, but it can also lead to a failure to attend to a human scale, to go so far beyond our experience and our imaginations as an audience, to remind us that we are watching a digital effect, rather than some subtle extension of our experience, which makes us feel like it's humanly possible and this leads to a vast field of computer created images as far as thee I can see and beyond, you know, against one or two humans, and this kind of potential I think often robs movies of a degree of soul. (applause) However. (laughter) That's just me.

SS: No, I think it's a tool. The digital tools available to all of us are simply that, tools, and we either make a movie that celebrates digital era or we throw away story for a bunch of crazy wonderful special effects that keep us entertained but don't give us anything to remember beyond the fact that we spent two hours watching all of these special effects, or we could continue to write good stories, original stories, real strong narratives where the digital components are simply going to if not enhance the experience, create another way to have an experience. Like, I couldn't have made Jurassic Park that anyone would have believed in this audience, even back in 1993, you wouldn't have believed that movie if the dinosaurs were stop motion animation or clay-mation, you wouldn't have believed it. That was a digital tool. That was the first movie ever to use digital technology to create an entire character, as a matter of fact, a whole bunch of characters in the animals. So there's a time and place for it. In The Abyss, that digital tool where Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio, her face is on the end of that water snake, was awesome it was phenomenal, we hadn't seen anything like it before, and that stands out when it's used because the story needs it to be used at that exact moment. It's when everything is just a special effect that we start to lose our way. (applause)

On Tin Tin making Spielberg feel like a painter more than ever,

SS: Well only because I could do it over and over again til I liked it, so I could get it right. Usually with a live action movie, we take the shot...the shots tell a story, you get involved, you look at it it makes you laugh it makes you think, gets you excited, in this case we do the same thing, but we can perfect it, we can actually bring it to a point of tremendous satisfaction without any extra cost...and you get it where it's right, so I had the chance to affect color, I was able to help light the movie, I certainly collaborated on all my live action films with all my DPs, but on this one I really got to light the picture, decide what time of day or night the scene took place in...and I did it quietly and privately, I didn't have 200 people waiting around me to make a decision, I could do it just with a couple of animators...between New Zealand and Los Angeles and it was a really intimate experience.

Then the Twitter questions began. Someone from the LA Times brought out the card with questions to give to Geoff, but it was comically intercepted by Spielberg who looked at the card and said "Who won the Republican debate?" then passed it to Harrison Ford who looked at it and said "Michelle Bachmann? Really?" It was an improvised bit that didn't perhaps make a ton of sense (why would the answer be on the card too?) but was delightful nonetheless and the audience loved it.

On a date for the Raiders Blu-Ray,

SS: We don't know. Soon. It's true that we don't know when soon is. Soon in my world would be about six months, soon in George's world is later than six months, but probably, I don't know, cause he's coming out with Star Wars first and then after that he's going to position Raiders, we're just not sure if it's gonna be Raiders, Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade , 1 -2 -3 separately or if they're all gonna be together, they haven't decided yet.

On what is harder and what is easier about making movies now compared to thirty years ago,

HF: Well, you know there's been a lot of changes in the business. Maybe the hardest thing is - you know, I was very lucky to come up in the hey-day of the movie business, it was a very lucky time, when more people went to the movies than ever, when show business was a good business to be in. That's less the case now, so it's hard to see a film that might find an audience or be a success ten years ago go down the drain now because the audience is so fragmented and because [of the business climate]. There are [fewer] chances being taken in some cases, there's less diversity in movie projects...

On how they feel about film today,

SS: I look at today as much more diverse than ever before in history, there's more independent film being made now than ever before, you got filmmakers, older filmmakers, artists coming out of different mediums that are able to make pictures, that are able to make You Tube movies, that are able to make movies for limited release on shoestring budgets and they have film festivals and small, kind of niche studios that are willing to make these pictures, so there's much more of a vocal presence, there's a tremendous variety in the kind of movies being made today. By that same token, when I was making pictures in the 70s and 80s, the directors made all the decisions about the genres and what films they wanted to make. Today it seems the studios are in control of the genres and what kind of films *they* want to make and they go out and they hire the directors that they think would be appropriate....Back in the 80s, 70s, the big studios relied on the filmmakers to have all the answers and today, big studios I think presume to have all the answers... I'm [at a] film studio right now, I don't presume to have all the answers, but I know what it feels like to think maybe once in a while that I do, and it sort of undercuts the filmmakers you really depend on to bring good stories to you. But I think it's always going to be a writer/director initiated medium, and it's always going to be carried home by the actors.

HF: That's what I meant (uproarious laughter and applause)

The Twitter question "What are you most excited about?" is met with hilarious silence from the guests

SS: Well you know, right here, talking to Harrison, we haven't done this before, this is amazing talking about - you know we haven't talked about this movie together in front of people before, this is a first for me, so that would be my answer

GB: (To Ford) I guess you gotta say the same thing now, don't you?

HF: (pause) Yeah. (pause) (pause) (laughter) (pause)

GB: This is from Todd (laughter), this is him speaking, I think Raiders is as close to perfect as a movie gets, (applause), is there anything in it you wish you could change?

SS: No, nothing, of all the movies I've ever made, this is maybe the only movie that I can actually bear watching from beginning to end and watch it like an audience, not like someone who knows what's coming next. I can get lost watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I also get lost watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, those are my two favorite of the four movies. I can't say that about every movie I've made, but this movie was very special to me in that way. (applause)

More on making Raiders,

SS: I was coming off of an extravaganza called was really a long picture. And I made everything up on 1941 as it went was an out of control production, completely because of me, and George and I sat down and George gave a big sort of big brother lecture to me and he said to me "I know you can do it, go back to your tv movie days...and I'll bet you anything, you need this movie Raiders to bring you back to a kind of responsible form" And he was right, he was right, so I storyboarded the hell out of this picture, I storyboarded every scene, I storyboarded scenes when it was just two heads talking to each other that had nothing else going on. And we made a documentary on the making of this movie...and there's a scene which is so typical of Harrison's relationship with me during the whole shoot, but I was so excited every morning to show Harrison the storyboards, I would walk him through his day, so I'd be there with my big book open of storyboards, and I would be explaining what's gonna happen next, we would do this, then Harrison said "Excuse me" and he gets up and he walks away, (laughter) ... and he doesn't come back, so you know...he didn't always listen, but I had the storyboards, so we finished the movie 14 days ahead of schedule because of those damn storyboards. (applause).

HF: Steven was very fast, very fluid, it was effortless to make the film. He was wonderfully open and collaborative and generous and it was really a fantastic experience. (applause)

And with that the men said their goodbyes and headed back stage, not before Spielberg took the time to sign an Indy poster for a fan in the front row though. Overall, a wonderful, insightful, exciting evening in celebration of one of the best movies of all time turning 30. And be sure to keep an eye on this website for video highlights from the evening - some of the moments between Ford and Spielberg cannot truly be captured in mere text.


tarasis said...

Thank you for taking the time to do this for those of us that were unable to attend. It was a fascinating read and it pleases me to hear Spielbergs thoughts on ET and Lucas.

DGalvez said...

I hope you get to upload those videos you promised. Can't wait to see Ford and Spielberg talking.

Anonymous said...

I hate just 5 movies , this is one of them, I do not like the plot, argument , I do not like anything about the movie !I prefer go shopping in xl pharmacy!

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Glad this article is still out there. Enjoyed reading Spielberg and Ford's comments.