Every story starts with an idea. That idea could be simple, not fully formed, but once that idea has been tossed around and molded into a full story, something cool can be done. That’s how Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark came to be. 

In 1978, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and Larry Kasdan sat down to develop the story for Indiana Jones. The transcript of that conversation reveals how Lucas and Spielberg created Indy from characters like Sean Connery’s James Bond and heroes from the spaghetti westerns like Clint Eastwood and how the plot of the story came to be. After listening to the transcript, here are a few tips that we pulled to help you bring your next idea to life. 

If you’d like to listen to the full transcript, check out the video below! 

Create well-rounded characters 

The idea for Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) came from the spy and spaghetti western genres. He is the 1930s version of James Bond—calm, cool, and collected—but still a brave and rugged hero like Clint Eastwood in any of his films. He wants to persevere and protect the history that is valuable to the world, like Clark Kent.

He is human, which means he can be a little bit of a mess, but not so much that the audience doesn’t want to root for him. Like any hero, he has his power of choice, the bullwhip. It is an extension of him and uses it to get out of most situations. All of these little details create the Indy we all know and love. 

The side characters are important as well. The goofy character can be a tad bit aloof but is still deadly like Tuco (Eli Wallach) from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. They still serve the story and elevate the stakes of our hero. They also make the hero look cooler than everyone else. 

The love interest for the hero of an action-packed story has to be able to hold her own. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the love interest, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), is tough and does what she needs to do to survive. That may be flirting with the villain or punching anyone in the face who disrespects her. She and Indy make a team that can’t be beaten. 

Raiders-of-the-lost-ark-indiana-jones-marion-ravenwood-karen-all-1271508-1280x0_0Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood in 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Every great hero needs an equally great villain

A hero is what every story needs, but what’s a hero without a villain? 

The villains in this story are the Nazis, obviously. Just like Indy, the Gestapo agent Major Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey) and the rival archaeologist René Belloq (Paul Freeman), seem unstoppable. From killing anyone who gets in his way to just wanting to spite Indy, these men are equal to Indy but want the opposite thing. 

A villain that goes against someone as cool and savvy as Indy has to be menacing. The moment they are on the screen, the audience fears them and their intentions. 

Villains like these work so well because the audience doesn’t know how the hero will take them out. Lucas and Spielberg let Toht and Belloq end up with the ark. It’s the characters' ignorance of its power that becomes their downfall.

C8749cd2-6373-4984-b6a3-74ede71b88ceRonald Lacey as Major Arnold Toht in 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Ground the story in reality 

Even though there are scenes that are dramatic and a bit over the top, Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make a story that could be real. In any situation that Indy found himself in, there was a very realistic way for him to get out. 

If Indy was able to get out of every situation too easily, then the movie would feel too fantastical. There would be no stakes or tension. 

The scene of Indy being caught in a tomb originally started off being filled with water that would slowly rise to the top. The idea was quickly scratched when Lucas and Spielberg considered that there wouldn’t be a surplus of water in the desert. The next idea was an animal. A tiger, to be more exact. But how do you fly in a tiger to a part of the world where they are not very common? That would have to make the villains rich, but not practical. Eventually, Lucas and Spielberg landed on snakes. You don’t need a ton of snakes, but enough to pile on top of one another to make it look as if there are a lot of them. Sound design helps create the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by snakes.

IndyHarrison Ford as Indiana Jones in 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Make the audience not trust the story 

Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make a movie that resembled a Disneyland ride. There is action lurking around every corner, and the audience doesn’t know when those moments are going to strike.

There was a simple rule for the film—there should be a cliffhanger every 10 minutes or so. A cliffhanger leaves the audience wanting more action and heroism from Indy. We don’t know who could be working for the villain or who will turn on Indiana Jones to get the ark, but the audience is always rooting for Indy at the end while still trying to catch their breath from the wild ride. 

The opening of the movie establishes this idea. We enter a cave full of boobytraps. The wrong step triggers spiked death traps or poisoned arrows that could fly out of any one of the holes that cover the walls. That’s not even mentioning the fact that Indy is almost crushed beneath a massive boulder. All of this happens in five minutes, and the audience doesn’t know what else the movie is going to throw their way.

Mv5botkxmzqymty3nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtu4mzczmw'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Creating a story has a lot of moving parts, but start with the simple elements first. Who are the main characters? Why are they doing what they are doing? How do they get from point A to point B, and is there any way back? Keeping these ideas in mind will help build a fully realized story.

Don’t worry about missing any details while brainstorming. You can always go back and add little details like the hero being afraid of snakes that make certain situations all that more exciting. 

Let us know what you think of these tips from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in the comments below!

Source: Now You See It