Sunday, 17 February 2013

Chapter 5, Part 2 - Harrison Ford: Matinee Idol

Keeping Indie independent

Despite his enthusiasm for the project, one aspect of Raiders bothered Ford. ‘My only immediate reservation about playing Indiana Jones,’ said Ford, ‘was that in the script the character was a little bit like Han Solo. Steven Spielberg and I wanted to make sure that the characters were spread apart. We did that by making use of the opportunities that existed in Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay.’

Time was too short for a re-write of the script. Yet Spielberg recognised in Ford a native ability with dialogue and wanted to implement some of Ford’s suggestions. What happened was like a scene out of a Let’s-make-a-movie movie. ‘The production was based in London,’ said Ford, ‘and Steve and I sat on the plane from Los Angeles and went through the script, line by line, for fourteen hours. By the time we got to Heathrow, we’d worked out the entire film.’

It’s just as well that they had, for no sooner had Spielberg and Ford arrived in Britain than the entire cast and crew were whisked off to La Rochelle in France to spend the first five days of the movie’s shooting schedule filming the submarine hijack of the Bantu Wind. It was during these five days that Ford was to get his first taste of the stunts he would be required to perform in the course of portraying Indiana Jones. ‘Swimming to the submarine didn’t involve danger,’ said Ford, ‘it only involved discomfort.’ The worst was yet to come.

Steven Spielberg directs Harrison Ford in the Peruvian Temple set
that features in the strong opening of
Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Wars had put the phrase ‘special effects’ into everyone’s mouth. Suddenly, after Star Wars opened, reviews were peppered with the words. It was as though George Lucas had invented the concept all by himself. With Raiders, Lucas was to elevate another previously ignored movie art to star status. Stunts.

Much was made, at the time, of the fact that Harrison Ford did many of his own stunts for the film. ‘Hell,’ he quipped, ‘if I hadn’t done some of the stunts in Raiders, I wouldn’t have been seen in the movie at all.’ Yet strangely Ford is no kind of keep fit freak. ‘People always ask me how I keep in shape. Every time the question comes up, I can manage to sneer. It’s a common enough question, considering Raiders. And I say, being in movies is enough exercise for me.’

In reality, Ford was lucky enough to have some of the best stuntmen and stunt directors in the business working with him. Stuntmen are always used for the most dangerous ‘gags’ for the simple reason that if the star of the film were to hurt himself and hold up shooting, hundreds of thousands of dollars would be wasted.

‘There were some very capable stuntmen doing some of the action bits, but I probably did a good deal more action stunts than an actor normally would do. That was important because we wanted to have our fights always be character fights, instead of just having whatever spectacular event a stuntman could come up with. Indiana Jones fights in a certain way, which Steven (Spielberg) let the stuntmen and me choreograph. Some of Indy’s battles are incredible. “How can Indy possibly do all this?” We had to take the edge off that with a bit of humour and at the same time not make fun of the material. So Indiana Jones had to be a character with a sense of humour. It’s Indy’s way of looking at life that makes our fights unique!’

Glen Randall was the stunt co-ordinator on Raiders. Says Randall, ‘They talk about the dangers stuntmen go through, wrecking cars and airplanes, but I think the stunt that gets the most people hurt in this industry is the simple fight routine. When you throw a punch, you’re throwing it with all the force you’d normally use to hit someone, but you’re missing them by inches. There are a lot of stuntmen who just cringe when they find out they’ve got to do a fight with an actor who’s not had a lot of experience doing them – ’cos nine times out of ten, they’re going to get hit!’

Harrison Ford raced the boulder ten times
- astonishing that he won every time.

One of the most spectacular thrills in Raiders is in the opening sequence when Indy races the giant rolling boulder for the exit in the Temple. It was Ford himself outracing the rock. ‘Looked a little scared that scene, didn’t I? I’d have to have been crazy not to be. It wasn’t a real boulder, but it wasn’t cardboard, either. It took 800 pounds of plaster to make it roll right. And if I had tripped, I could have been in big trouble. The director thought at first we ought to use a stuntman - but I thought I could do it and Glen Randall, our stunt coordinator, agreed. We all felt the more action scenes I could personally do, the easier it would be for the audience to identify with and believe in the character. But if I didn’t trust the stunt guys who were manning the safety devices and looking out for me, I never would have done it. No way!’ The scene was shot from five different angles, twice from each angle. ‘So Harrison had to race the rock ten times,’ said Spielberg. ‘He won ten times and beat the odds. He was lucky. And I was an idiot for letting him try!’ 

Indy’s escape from the Well of Souls provided an opportunity to the filmmakers for a really spectacular stunt. In an effort to break a hole through the wall of his prison, Indy topples a huge statue of a jackal god and rides it as it falls, a tip of the hat, perhaps, to Slim Pickens’ riding the Atom Bomb to his last round-up in Dr Strangelove. Harrison Ford, intrepid but not stupid, knew the time to step aside for professional stunt double Martin Grace.

As Glen Randall explained, ‘The Jackal was 28, maybe 29, feet high. Plaster of Paris but still incredibly heavy. And we put big hydraulic rams on one leg and hinged it at the bottom so we knew exactly the plane it was going to fall in. It could only fall one way, if everything went right. We had a huge breakaway wall for it to fall through.’

But for all the planning, something went wrong as the stunt was filmed. If you watch closely during this scene in the movie, you’ll see ‘Indy’ lose his footing for an instant as the statue begins to topple. ‘Yes, it went too soon,’ agreed Martin Grace. ‘And that’s when you have to think very fast. I was actually still hanging down when it started going. I should have been actually on my position ... Stunt people are usually very fast thinking people. In situations like that you have to think very fast and get it together. We’ve got sort of lightning reflexes, very sharp minds and that’s a great combination to come up with the goods.’ Grace emerged unscathed.

With Ford doing so many of his own gags, it’s no surprise that he had a couple of near misses himself.

‘There’s a scene where I run through the jungle,’ Ford told an American magazine, ‘swing on a vine, let go the vine, fall into the river, grab onto the pontoon of a seaplane that’s taxi-ing, get onto the wing and climb into the cockpit as it was taking off – and the plane crashed on take-off.

Of course Ford wasn’t hurt. But it does show that no matter how careful you are, accidents will happen.

Ford and George Lucas sit in the shade beneath
the Flying Wing aircraft on location in Tunisia.
Harrison Ford must have been on a lucky streak during the filming of Raiders. He had had another near miss on location in Tunisia during the shooting of the Tannis Dig sequence. Ford told the story to Prevue, the magazine published by Raiders’ concept artist Jim Steranko. ‘Indy has a fight which takes place in and around the propellers of a Flying Wing airplane. The engines are running full tilt and one set of wheels is chocked, so the plane’s going round in circles. The bad guy is supposed to throw me down in front of the wheels and I was supposed to roll over backwards to get away from the wheels.

‘All day long the technical crew was having trouble with the plane. It weighed a couple of tons, so they were powering it with low-gear, high-torque electric motors – the kind that can push through a brick wall without slowing down. They had to stay out of camera range, at the end of a cable 50 yards away.

‘I still wanted to do the fight myself. I’m able to add bits of character touches to moments like these, and when the audience recognises the actor, it adds credibility to what is normally straight action stuff. We rehearsed the scene several times, then decided to shoot it.

Ford wanted the audience to see it was really him fighting
the tough German soldier beneath the Flying Wing.

‘Everybody’s ready and the take begins. I go down and start to roll away – and my foot slips, right under the rolling plane’s tyre.

‘Everybody was yelling, “Stop! STOP!” while the tyre crawled up my leg. Luckily the brakes worked – inches before my knee was crushed – but I was pinned to the sand.

‘I’m not normally a worrier, I know they’re not going to kill the main character in a twenty million dollar film. I also know Indy wouldn’t look good with a peg-leg. I was a lot more careful about stunt work after that!’

And he’d have to be. Still to come was the hazardous chase in which Indy starts by leaping from a horse onto the speeding German truck that’s carrying the Ark, and ends with our hero falling from the front of the truck, crawling hand over hand beneath the vehicle, then being dragged for a couple of miles down the road in the dirt before climbing up the tail board. You’d think for that Ford would insist on a stuntman. He did, and he got one ... for the long-shots. In the close-ups, there was Ford, hanging onto the rear of the truck, scraping up the gravel road on his belly. As usual, Ford was dismissive. ‘It couldn’t possibly be dangerous,’ he said at the time, ‘because I have a few more weeks shooting the picture.’

It's pretty unlikely that it's actually Ford in this shot
- almost certainly stuntman Martin Grace.

Being so closely involved in so many of the gags on Raiders has given Harrison Ford a stuntman’s outlook as far as ‘falls’ are concerned. ‘The stuff that always turns out to be dangerous is the stuff nobody thinks about. It’s not the dangerous stunts – which you think about, protect yourself, calculate and worry about, so that you take the danger out of it – it’s the stuff you didn’t think was dangerous that sneaks upon you.’

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chapter 5, Part 1 - Harrison Ford: Matinee Idol

From the Stars to Star

‘Harrison Ford is more than just an actor playing a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was involved in a lot of the decision-making about the movie as we went along. And this wasn’t by contract, it was because I sensed an exceptional story mind and a very smart person and called on him time and time again.’ Steven Spielberg, director of Raiders of the Lost Ark

‘The little film that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to make together is growing by the minute. Shooting begins of Raiders of the Lost Ark on May 15th, 1980 at George’s happy hunting ground of Elstree Studios – and already, before a single shot is completed, they have four sequels in the planning stages,’ was how British fantasy film magazine Starburst announced the start of work Lucas’ follow-up to the Star Wars saga in February, 1980. The report gave Lawrence Kasdan as the script writer, Frank Marshall as producer, but no hint as to the cast.

Before long, rumours were circulating that Raiders of the Lost Ark was not a new project at all, but the third part of the Star Wars saga. Said Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz of that idea, ‘I can categorically deny that. It’s not science fiction at all. It’s a Thirties action adventure type story about a search for a lost treasure. A typical Clark Gable, soldier-of-fortune kind of movie.’

No more news issued from the Elstree set of Raiders until the movie opened in America on May 25th and at London’s Empire cinema on July 30th, 1981.

The tale of Raiders’ genesis was reported both in Dale Pollock’s Skywalking (the George Lucas biography) and in Tony Crawley’s The Steven Spielberg Story. Both books told of Lucas’s retreat to the Hawaian beaches to forget the horrors of making Star Wars, and of Spielberg’s joining him there with the news that Star Wars had been a monumental hit. Over a sandcastle, the world’s two most successful filmmakers hatched a plot to make a movie that would mix the mythic qualities of the occult and the derring-do of the Saturday matinee serials and out-Bond Bond in the process. The co-author of the original story of Raiders, Philip Kaufman, was originally slated to direct, but when he dropped out of the project, Spielberg stepped in.

At this stage, the project still had no writer. Until Spielberg introduced a young Chicago advertising copywriter, Lawrence Kasdan to Lucas. Spielberg had read a screenplay by Kasdan called Continental Divide and was trying to acquire it to produce for himself.

Behind the scenes on location in Tunisia, with Karen Allen,
Spielberg, Ford and Rhys-Davies.

‘When Spielberg first read it,’ said Kasdan, ‘he told my agent, “I’m doing a movie with George Lucas and I think this guy would be great to write it. Would it be all right if I showed George Continental Divide?” And we, of course, agreed. Then I came in and met George – he had read the script and liked it – and at that first meeting, George hired me to write Raiders.’

Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan spent a week thrashing out the basic plot of Raiders. These sessions were preserved for posterity on tape and at the end of the week Kasdan went off to write the first draft script.

‘I left those meetings feeling I was in pretty good shape and then sat down and realised, Uh-oh, this is going to be hard!’ said Kasdan. And hard it was, at least hard enough to keep the young writer occupied for a full six months.

Finally, Kasdan took the finished script in to show Lucas. What happened next came as something of a shock. The scriptwriter working on Empire, Leigh Brackett, had died suddenly. Lucas desperately needed a writer to take over. Could Kasdan handle it? ‘But you haven’t even read Raiders, yet,’ protested Kasdan. Lucas only smiled. He was following his instincts – which were rarely wrong.

Meanwhile Spielberg had read Kasdan’s Raiders script and was delighted. ‘Larry didn’t stick with our story outline one hundred percent,’ commented Spielberg, ‘A lot of the movie is Larry’s own original ideas, his characters. George provided the initial vision, the story and the structure of the movie. Then George and I together provided key scenes throughout the film. And Larry essentially did all the characters and tied the story together, made the story work from just a bare outline, and gave it colour and some direction.’

With the script in the safe hands of Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas and Spielberg could turn their attention to who was to play the key role of Indiana Jones.

The auditions for the movie were to be held at Lucasfilm’s West Coast offices. ‘We wanted an unknown, originally – a total unknown. Conceitedly, George and I wanted to make a star out of Johnny the Construction Worker from Malibu. We couldn’t find a construction worker in Malibu, so we began looking at more substantial people in the film industry.’

Both Lucas and Spielberg had a picture in their mind’s eye as to the kind of hero they were looking for. Lucas saw Jones as a scruffy playboy, the kind of adventurer who, on duty, dressed like Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Spielberg’s Jones was more of a grizzled alcoholic, gruffly romantic and ruggedly handsome.

Steranko's visualisation of Indiana Jones made it into the
film pretty much intact.

Lucas and Spielberg then approached well-known Marvel Comics artist Jim Steranko to produce some concept paintings to nail down a visual appearance of the character of Indiana Jones and his world. Steranko came back with four paintings, which defined the appearance of Indy, from the fedora hat, which Steranko had added unbidden, to the leather jacket which Lucas had asked for and the Sam Brown webbing, again Steranko’s addition. Lucas and Spielberg were so impressed with the artist’s work that they asked him to produce a further fifty paintings, one for each major scene in the movie. But the catch was that the artist would only have fifty days, a deadline that would be gruelling, to say the least. Steranko, not wanting to turn in sub-standard, rushed work, declined the assignment.

The filmmakers’ first choice for the role was TV actor Tom Selleck. Selleck was enthusiastic but aware that the new pilot he was working on, Magnum P.I., might turn into a full series for CBS television. CBS didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to take up the option for the first series of the show. ‘The show had sat there and nobody wanted it. And the option was about to lapse,’ recalled Lucas. Itching to get on with Raiders, Lucas contacted Magnum production company Universal with a request that Selleck be released from his contract. But while Universal were agreeable, CBS were suddenly alerted that the two biggest names in Hollywood were interested in ‘their’ star for a movie and instantly picked up Selleck’s contract for Magnum P.I. So Lucas and Spielberg still had no lead actor for Raiders.

‘We were stuck,’ said Spielberg. ‘We had three weeks left to cast the part of Indiana Jones, and there was nobody close. Then I saw The Empire Strikes Back and I realised Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. I called George Lucas and said, “He’s right under our noses!” George said, “I know who you’re going to say!” I said, “Who?” and he said, “Harrison Ford! Let’s get him.” And we did!’

Harrison Ford was able to play the many sides of Indiana
Jones' character with ease - he was at the same time
brawler, scholar and sophisticate

According to Skywalking, Harrison Ford had read the script for Raiders shortly after Kasdan had finished it but had remained cool towards the project. ‘They could find me if they wanted to,’ Ford is quoted as saying. Nevertheless Ford must have known that the part was perfect for him. ‘It was clearly the most dominant single character in any of George’s films,’ said Ford, ‘quite in variance with his theories about movie stars and what they mean.’