Raiders of the Lost Ark original brainstorming sessions


In 1978, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan had early brainstorming sessions around Lucas's outline for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." They recorded the conversations and had the tape transcribed. Here it is (PDF). Over at the New Yorker, Patrick Radden Keefe provides a summary and excerpts some choice bits.

The hero, Lucas explains, is a globe-trotting archaeologist, “a bounty hunter of antiquities.” He’s a professor, a Ph.D.—“People call him doctor.” But he’s a little “rough and tumble.” As the men hash out the Jones iconography, they refer, incessantly, to other films, invoking Eastwood, Bond, and Mifune. He will dress like Bogart in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Lucas says: “the khaki pants…the leather jacket. That sort of felt hat.” Oh, and also? “A bullwhip.” He’ll carry it “rolled up,” Lucas continues. “Like a snake that’s coiled up behind him.”

“I like that,” Spielberg says. “The doctor with the bullwhip.”

"Raiders of the Lost Ark: Story Conference Transcript" (Mad Dog Movies)

"Spitballing Indy" (The New Yorker)


  1. Cool image, very Lawrence of Arabia: Indy looks like the Arthur Kennedy character, Jackson Bentley, the journalist who follows Lawrence in the second part of the film. And those Arabs and armored cars, they’re so channeling the film with that imagery: obviously it’s from the big dig section of the film, but how close it seems to Lawrence in the image!

  2. You can’t be an archaeologist and be an antiquities hunter. An archaeologist is trying to document the site and the culture that created it. An antiquities hunter is trying to steal individually valuable artifacts and sell them to collectors, corrupt museums, and so on. An antiquities hunter will disturb the site and remove artifacts from their original context destroying their scientific value.

    Indy behaves a lot more like an antiquities hunter than an archaeologist. Arthur Evans tried to be both, but the two were at odds, and this was a generation before Indy.

    1. Yeah, sneaking into an ancient temple, setting off every single trap in the place, and then hightailing it out the region with a single gold idol is not really the model an archaeologist would follow.

      The more I think about it the more I think that idol must have been fake.  Something setup to lure grave robbers to their doom in their corridor of amazingly still functional traps. 

    2. C’mon. It’s called ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, not ‘Carefull Unearthing and Conservation of the Lost Ark’.

  3. That transcript was amazing!  It inspired us to create a web series called ‘The Raiders Sessions’:

  4. From the “Secret of the Incas” wikipedia entry
    “The film is often cited by film buffs as a direct inspiration for the Indiana Jones franchise of films, with many of the scenes in Secret of the Incas bearing a striking resemblance in tone and structure to scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Throughout Secret of the Incas, the main character, Harry Steele, can be seen wearing the “Indiana Jones” outfit – brown leather jacket, fedora, tan pants, an over-the-shoulder bag, and revolver. The character also sometimes wears a light beard, unusual for films of its time, and there is a tomb scene involving a revelatory shaft of light similar to the “Map Room” sequence in Raiders.

    Raiders’ costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis noted that the inspiration for Indiana’s costume was Charlton Heston’s Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas: “We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series” and quipped that the film is “almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Lost Ark.””

    Yes, it is strange. Given that they did watch it I wonder whether they deliberately didn’t mention it on the record just in case they were sued. 

    1.  sadly, as i’m sure you know, the first 20 minutes of the indiana jones film (likely the most memorable) is an almost scene for scene rip off of the secret of the incas.

    2. Probably referred to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre since is was a much better film. I’d be kind of ashamed to admit I was stealing from a schlock film like Secret of the Incas too. But I do see more Bogey than Heston in Harrison Ford’s role, even if the costume drew more from Secret of the Incas.

      the movie’s here:

      1. Treasure of the Sierra Madre bears no resemblance to the Raiders films. I don’t think Secret of the Incas is schlock at all – it’s a good adventure film in its own right – considering how much it influenced the Raiders series. Heston’s character, Harry Steele, was much more realistic than Indy, morally ambiguous, meaner and leaner, and his tomb robbing wasn’t cloaked in the artificiality of an academic excuse.

        1. Lucas said he borrowed from Treasure of the Sierra Madre and I see Ford taking more cues from Fred Dobbs than Harry Steele, even the wardrobe which took definite cues from Incas is a mix of Steele and Dobbs. 
          Out of a mix of curiosity and hope, I suffered through Secret of the Incas.  There were (deeply exaggerated) claims that scenes were lifted straight from the movie, so I was hopeful it’d be a fun watch.  Instead it was an incredibly dull, poorly written, and painfully plodding piece, though I admit I may be biased against Heston.  The only reason we know of it today is because Raiders borrowed from it, otherwise it’d be forgotten, since there’s nothing memorable in it.

  5. Love, love, LOVE that Mifune was one of the actors they were modelling after. Adore his catalog under the direction of Kurosawa

  6. I’m surprised by how much sprang from their heads fully-formed.  The opening scene of the movie is almost exactly as they conceived it.  

  7. Lucas: He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.

    Kasdan: And he was forty-two.

    Lucas: He hasn’t seen her in twelve years. Now she’s twenty-two. It’s a real strange relationship.

    Spielberg: She had better be older.

    You can be a creepy guy, George Lucas.

    1. Yeah, when I read this some time ago, that part creeped me out. All three of them were probably nodding their heads in agreement.

  8. I was actually impressed on how defined the character of Jones was in Lucas’ mind.  Spielberg and to a lesser extent Kasdan seemed to be throwing a bunch of ‘left-field’ things into the mix.  Kinda cliche things.  Perhaps they were just trying to get a grasp on what was in Lucas’ mind.  After this and Empire, his ideas went downhill pretty fast;  Howard the Duck, the SW prequels.  

  9. Now I’d like to read the brainstorming behing nuking the fridge, except the transcript would probably look a lot like someone banged their head on a keyboard over and over.

  10. Jeez, they mentioned having Marion’s character raped so many times. As much as I love Raiders, it’s a bit awful to see how she was thrown around.

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