Raiders of the Lost Art of Storytelling

It’s not the Holy Grail, but a new document floating around the Internet comes pretty close for movie geeks: a purported 117-page transcript of story meetings where George Lucas and Steven Spielberg brainstorm ideas for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The typewritten document, said to be from early 1978, is full of revelations – including that the main character’s name at one point was Indiana Smith, a moniker Spielberg apparently hated. The behind-the-scenes treasure trove was posted by Mystery Man on Film, a blog devoted to the art of screenwriting.

The transcripts are purported to be taken from hours of story conference meetings the two then-young movie giants had with Lawrence Kasdan, who would go on to pen the screenplay for the 1981 blockbuster.

The chats read like a master class in filmmaking and popular cinema, with Lucas and Spielberg citing influences ranging from “Casablanca” to “The Maltese Falcon” to “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

They saw Indiana Jones as a cross between James Bond, Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name Spaghetti Western anti-hero, a roguish Clark Gable type and Clark Kent.

“I like that,” Spielberg is reported to say as Lucas fleshes out Indiana Jones as a professor with a secret side life. “A doctor with a bullwhip.”

Lucas, according to the transcripts, does the bulk of the talking, though you can see Spielberg already has much of the manically paced action sequences plotted out. He talks about having Indy outrun a giant boulder, and notes it’s important that “each cliffhanger is better than the one before.”

While much of the film was clear in the creators’ minds, there was no lock on who would get the starring role. Lucas named two actors he’d worked with before: Harrison Ford and “American Graffiti” star Paul Le Mat, adding that the character called for the talents of a “young Steve McQueen.”

Spielberg, according to the transcript, mentioned Burt Reynolds and Mikhail Baryshnikov, though it wasn’t clear whether he was talking about the performers themselves or just character types.

“It would be ideal if we could find some stunt man who can act,” Lucas is reported to have said.

The transcript, whose provenance is a mystery, is a discovery worthy of Indiana Jones himself. Check out this inside view of two masters at work before the lawyers get in on the act and hide the document in that big warehouse where the Ark got secreted away among hundreds of identical crates.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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