Indiana Jones And Me: Steven Spielberg

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This article first appeared in issue 227 of Empire magazine. Subscribe to Empire today.


Steven Spielberg

The story of Indiana Jones and me really started as George Lucas and me. It seems I’ve known George forever, but I first met him when I was in college at Cal State Long Beach and went to a film festival at UCLA where he presented his short film THX 1138. We met at backstage party and became friends. In 1977 we planned a vacation together to help him getaway from the pressure of the opening of Star Wars. Anything to get away from staring at the walls, waiting for the grosses to come in. Instead I joined him in Hawaii, where we stared at the waves and waited for the grosses to come we know now, George survived that one. We got word early that the movie was hit- and that it was destined to become a classic, a cultural landmark. George celebrated for about two minutes, then heaved a sigh and changed the subject from Star Wars to what film I wanted to do next. An action-adventure movie, I said, something like James Bond. George threw one of his ides at me, and that was the first time I heard the name Indiana Smith.

Which would of course become Indiana Jones, the two-fisted archaeologist. I loved the idea and found a very talented young screenwriter named Larry Kasdan to write the script, based on a story George had worked out with Phillip Kaufman. Larry, George and I discussed the script over several three-day story conferences and what then came out of Larry’s typewriter (yep, we still used typewriters) was better that we had imagined.

As always, casting was crucial. We auditioned many young actors and finally picked Tom Selleck, but his television show, Magnum P.I., took off and we found ourselves without a hero. Then I saw the Empire Strikes Back and said, ‘George, Han Solo is our Indiana Jones!’ He resisted the idea at first; he loved Harrison, but was reluctant to use the same actor he’d used before, but there was really no-one else who could play this character as well as Harrison Ford.

Steven Spielberg "I had a lot to prove when I made Raiders Of The Lost Ark because I had done three movies in a row that had gone wildly over budget and schedule." Steven Spielberg I had a lot to prove when I made Raiders Of The Lost Ark because I had done three movies in a row that had gone wildly over budget and schedule, 1941, close Encounter and Jaws. I was ready to turn over a new leaf and Raiders was my chance to make a movie responsibly- under schedule and under budget. Fortunately my friend George is a tremendous producer and gave me a lot of support and help with preparation. I wasn’t dreaming of big budget or making a classic: all I focused on was making a film the audience would like, and doing it in a way that was fiscally responsible.I think we were all surprised by the worldwide success of Raiders. I remember hearing people quote lines from the film or seeing kids pretend to be the characters, and realizing that the film had gone beyond box office success and had entered pop culture. That was, I think, one of the happy aftershocks of making that movie. More than anything, we want our films to be watchable, and Raiders is a movie I can watch with my kids and completely detach myself from the fact that I directed it. I sit back and enjoy it. I have a lot of favorite scenes in Raiders, like that basket chase, and the moment when Indy decides that rather than having a lengthy scimitar-and-bullwhip fight, it might be easier to just pull his gun and shoot the guy. I also love the line, “Snakes, did it have to be snakes?” to which Sallah comes right back with “Asps, very dangerous- you go first.”

For a kid who grew up dreaming of making memorable images, it’s a thrill to know Raiders is ne of those films where people just have to see the silhouette of the main character, and they immediately think, “Indiana Jones!”

When George and I shook hands on the idea on the beach in Hawaii in 1977, it wasn’t just to do Raiders, it was to do a trilogy. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom came next. George felt strongly that, just as The Empire Strikes Back explored the darker side of his Star Wars trilogy, this story should dip into a dark world of human sacrifice and the cult of Kali. I was unsure of that approach. I was worried the film wouldn’t be commercial enough but George was tenacious- he had seen a three-movie arc, this is what he wanted to do, and I had agreed to help realize his ambition.

We had a close call while making the film when Harrison injured his back. The injury happened while we were filming the scene in Indy’s suite at the palace where he gets attacked by a Thuggee; I remember Harrison flipped the guy over his back and let out a scream as if he was being stabbed. We immediately stopped filming. Our friend Steve Ross sent the Warner jet and flew Harrison to California where he had emergency surgery. For a while it appeared the film might never be finished, but Harrison came back six weeks later, completely covered.

But the challengers weren’t over. Temple Of Doom got terrible reviews, and we also had to battle the ratings board (a process that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating). Personally I don’t love the movie. There is some work I’m proud of- the roller-coaster mine car crash, and the sequence in which Indy’s trapped with Short Round as the ceiling spikes grind down towards them, whole Willie Scott tries to find the courage to stick her hands in a hole full of insects and slime to pull a lever that will reverse the mechanism and save the day- but the parts on that one don’t add up to a satisfying whole, at least for me.

And then again the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life came out of the Temple Of Doom experience. The girl I cast to lay Willie Scott saved the day in more ways than one- Kate Capshaw became my wife. We’ll be married 17 event-filled years in October 2008.

When it came to do Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, George wanted Indy to go after the Holy Grail, but I just didn’t think that sounded very exciting. It was static, it was a cup- what’s it going to do? Sit on a shelf while I take pictures of it? But George said, “Well it could be something paranormal about it, a legend that says if you drink from the cup you get everlasting life, just like the fountain of youth.” Still I thought it wasn’t compelling enough, but as we talked I thought, “What if the Grail means more than that? Maybe it could be seen as a metaphor for the relationship between Indy and his dad? Indy sets out for the Grail but ends up closing the distance between him and his father.” I could relate to that emotionally because I had experienced something similar with my own father. Once Sean Connery came on board as Indy’s dad, I really felt like we had something special. When Indy’s dad calls him “Indiana” instead of ”Junior” and tells him to let go of the Grail, when our hero chooses wisdom and family over fortune and glory I felt we’d completed the character’s journey. And when they rode off into the sunset we’d finished the trilogy. The curtain had come down on Indiana Jones.

But the years went by and the idea of doing a fourth film kept coming up again and again. Whenever I was doing interviews for a new film, reporters would ask me about the next Indiana Jones; people I ran into all over the World would want to know the same thing. Eventually, Harrison, George and I decided that we would bring back Indiana Jones if we could find the right storyline. It took a while, but here we are, 19 years later after Last Crusade with Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

I was determined that advances in film technology would not change the heart of this movie. No blue screens- I wanted to walk on real sets, to stage real stunts. We approached this new adventure in a very traditional way, to stay true to the original trilogy and to the adventure that inspired it.

Steven Spielberg

Even though George and I initially made those films because of our love for B movies, we surround ourselves with the best A-team layers in the business: Douglas Slocombe, who was my director of photography on the first three films; Janusz Kaminski, who did the new one; my production designers Norman Reynolds (Raiders) and Elliot Scott (Doom and Crusade), and Guy Hendrix Dyas, who created the new worlds on Skull. And I cant forget the screenwriters, Larry Kasdan (Raiders), Gloria Katz and William Huyck (Doom) , Jeffrey Boam (Crusade), and David Koepp, the lanky charmer who wrote Skull.

There are so many more, the amazing teams of stunt people, my second unit directors, costume designers, propmasters, animal wranglers, special and visual effects creators, sound designers, my editor Michael Kahn, my composer John Williams, and my producers, among them George Lucas, Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy, who supported my vision through all four films.

We also cast the films with great actors. Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, River Phoenix, Julian Glover, Ke Huy Quan, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, Alison Doody and many others who appeared in big or small parts but always bought dimension to the characters. In Skull we continued the tradition with Shia LeBeouf, who was my one and only choice for Mutt, Cate Blanchett in the role of the villain, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent and Karen Allen, who’s back by popular demand as Marion Ravenwood. But in the end, Harrison Ford was and will always be the soul of Indiana Jones. The casting of that man to play that role was the most important decision we made. And nothing can compare to seeing Harrison Ford walk onto the set wearing the hat, the leather jacket and the whip.

Not a day went by on the Crystal Skull set that I didn’t hear a cast or crew member whistling the Raiders March or quoting a line from one of the other films. It always encouraged me, but also reminded me that Indiana Jones belongs to the world and to the audience. My responsibility on this new film has been to honor that connection for the generation that grew up watching the first trilogy, and to introduce the character to those who didn’t. we had great fun doing that and now it’s nearly done, I can say bringing Indiana Jones back for another adventure was a privilege and the right thing to do. For those of us who made the film, and hopefully for the audience as well, it certainly was worth the wait. Indiana Jones’ story, that started in the jungles of Peru, has finally come to an end in-

-C’mon, you didn’t really think I was going to tell you the ending did you?