Interview: Indiana Jones and the Fortress of PR



CANNES, FRANCE ― The nearest that yours truly ever got to George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and Steven Spielberg was the balcony above the tent for their big photo call at their big Crystal Skull press conference in Cannes. See the back of George’s white-haired head (or crystal skull?) in the middle of my amateur snapshot above? See the arm that’s wrapped around his shoulders? That’s Harry’s arm. Now: See that little stub on the other side of Harry’s back? The thing that looks like a claw? That’s his other arm― or I’m pretty sure it’s his other arm, mostly hidden from my camera’s sight as it cradles another guy: another guy with tons and tons of cash, but with less height than the other two, a guy by the name of Steve. He’s the guy who made Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 ― and who raided Raiders thrice since, not to mention the archeological dig he pulled on our precious pocketbooks.


The critic’s thumb meanwhile ― in relation to Episode IV, a new hope for Indy fans, opening wide on Thursday ― is pointed...well, it’s pointed up, in fact. Not straight up, perhaps, but the thumb is distinctly erect ― excited, juiced, manly, action-packed, like the flick. Said thumb is the same one I used to push the “record” button on my l’il digital doohickey while the sounds of said press conference were beamed as if by magic to every TV set in the gargantuan Palais des Festivals, Ground Zero of Cannes. The fruits of that great labor are hereby presented to you below ― free of charge. Just a transcript of some loaded old dudes with crystal skulls flappin’ their lips about a movie en route to raiding your treasure chest.


― Rob Nelson 



The first question was wondering whether there was there any sort of communist pressure on Mr. Spielberg to create this movie?

Spielberg: You want me to actually try to answer that question?


As well as you can. Give it a shot.

Spielberg: Well, the pressure that was put on me to set the film during the Cold War was the fact that 19 years have elapsed, and if you did the math, we were no longer in the late ’30s; we were in the area of 1957 and the era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. And so that’s what motivated us to create these heroes and these villains in a period that would certainly be relevant to those kind of geopolitics. That’s as simply as I can answer that question.


There’s been a great deal made in the United States that the film at one point wasn’t going to be released on digital cinema. And Mr. Lucas, you being an advocate it of it, and rumor had it, Mr. Spielberg, you were not jumping. Could you talk a little bit about why you didn’t want it to be released digitally, and whether it will be released digitally?

Spielberg: Well, the film is being released digitally ― not on a lot of screens, but on about 300 screens. Making a film digitally, and releasing a film in the same digital process, [produces] a beautiful image, it creates an extraordinary, clean, sharp image. But making a film on celluloid ― what I like to do with all of my pictures ― and then transferring it, and releasing it and projecting it digitally, is very difficult. So the decision to go with the vast majority of theatres ― motion-picture film theatres ― was a simple decision for me to make. But digital cinema is inevitable, it’s right around the corner, and some day even I will have to convert, but right now I love shooting on film. I love film.


Mr. Ford, initially, you were against the [crystal] skull as a poltergeist. Why? And Mr. Spielberg, how did you keep this story and the film secret, since there was a burglary in your office and a computer was stolen?

Ford: Let me just start by saying I believe you are misinformed. I have no resistance to the crystal skull as the object of Indiana Jones’ quest. The process that developed the script was largely between George and Steven, and at the appropriate moment I had my say. And we were all very satisfied with the script before we ever exposed a frame of film. So I have no resistance whatsoever to using the skull as an object.


Can you comment on the theft of some computer files?

Spielberg: Well, there was a great deal of interest in our movie as we were making it, and there was a break-in in our production office, and about 3000 still photographs, basically covering the first three-quarters of our entire production ― we were almost finished shooting ― were stolen and turned over to a website (I won’t mention the website), that started printing the pictures. The website called the legal department at Lucasfilm and Paramount Pictures and conducted a sting operation and arrested the person that broke into the office. So the pictures were recovered without ever leaking out. You know, the way we kept the movie secret was we didn’t give the script out to every single person on the crew, we didn’t give the script out to all the agents and managers of all the people. And we were all very loyal to the story, and we kept it to ourselves, and we just didn’t talk about it. Until now.


Mr. Spielberg, this is your first time in Cannes since 1982 with ET, I understand. What does it feel like? And now that we’ve seen Indiana Jones, are we gonna be seeing more of him?

Spielberg: Well, only if you want more of him. That’s the reason we made this Indiana Jones, is because we have had so many people over the years come up to us ― George, and Harrison and myself ― and basically just say, when is another one coming out? The only two movies anyone asks me, “Is there going to be another one?,” are E.T. and Indiana Jones. No one ever asks if I’m making A.I. or another 1941. I’ve never heard that! But I’ve been asked a lot about this movie. So certainly, we’ll have our ear to the ground, to hear what happens, and that will decide where we go from here. I love it here in Cannes. It’s been 26 years since E.T. debuted here, that was the last time, in the old Palais, they closed it down after E.T. and moved into this new Palais. 


I’ve heard that [Cate Blanchett was] dreaming when [she] was little to be Indiana Jones. How does it feel like to be a Russian, iron-like woman in instead?

Cate Blanchett: It wasn’t a bad consolation prize when I couldn’t convince Steven to give me the title role. I got to play a fantastic villain, with an extraordinary figure. So thank you, George.


My 8-year-old son wanted me to ask: How can such a very simple character as Indiana Jones create solutions for all sorts of problems?

Ford: I’m not sure an 8-year old boy needs to know those answers. But it’s all smoke and mirrors, of course. The pleasure of playing this character is his wit and his intelligence and the situations that the filmmakers put him in, and watching him twist in the wind, and then work his way out of these situations. And the virtue of having an antagonist played by an actor as powerful and convincing as Cate is that the only measure of Indiana Jones is in what he comes up against. So the villains, and they are all over the place here, really provide the opportunity for him to exceed expectations.


Can you describe the balancing act, not only in keeping up with the Joneses, but also keeping up with one-upping films like National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, and all the adventure films that have come out since Indiana Jones started?

Lucas: Well, we didn’t really set out to try to one-up all the imitators. We decided we knew what we were doing and were going to make the best Indiana Jones film we possibly could, and we weren’t gonna have F-14’s flying under freeways, and we were gonna do it very realistically with a real stunts and with a real story about real people. And what happens after that is the adventure falls out of the characters. We don’t go and say, ‘We’re going to make the most amazing chase that’s ever been made,’ we just go and say, ‘What’s the story at the end of this, and how can we make it as entertaining, funny, exciting, and suspenseful as we possibly can?’


There are quite a few chase scenes. Shia, you’ve got two of the toughest with the motorcycle and then shooting in Peru on the jeeps. Which was the most interesting, the hardest, the most challenging for you to shoot?

Shia LaBeouf: Definitely the jeeps. Because a lot of people were involved and it was weeks of filming. And the motorcycle was always scary because Harrison was on the back and if I went down the movie was over.


Ford: Well, your part of the movie was over. [Laughter]


How flattering is it that there are hundreds of people outside right now and since early this morning  with “Need Indy Tickets” signs?

Ford: I don’t know that I take it personally. I’m very gratified. This is a service occupation, the way I see it, we’re storytellers. And we require that people want to hear the stories we tell or we’re out of luck. And out of business. So I’m very gratified that there has been a consistent interest in this character and these films over a pretty long period of time, we’re talking nearly 30 years now. And I’m delighted that we have the opportunity to release a film now because for a couple generations, people, young people, have just been seeing this on DVD at home, and now we have a chance to see it in the cinema. The way its gonna be seen ― I’m very excited about that.


There has been a lot of speculation about which Tintin albums you and Peter Jackson will be shooting. [Spielberg and Jackson have announced their intention to film a trilogy based on the Belgian artist Herge’s early 20th century comic-book The Adventures of Tintin; the Belgians refer to his comics as “albums.”] There has been a lot of speculation that those were going to be The Seven Crystal Balls and The Temple of the Sun. Now I see quite a lot of those albums here in this story. How free are you, having bought the rights to all of the Tintin stories, to apply those elements of the story in this Indiana Jones movie? To what extent has Tintin become Indiana Jones now?

Spielberg: You know, a Mayan Temple is a Mayan Temple. Herge’s source of inspiration was National Geographic and other travel magazines. And he was like an archaeologist too, he went all over the world finding interesting places to set his adventure stories. I had never heard of Tintin until a film critic wrote about Tintin comparing Tintin to Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I never heard of the books until 1981. And that’s when I got interested and went to meet Herge, but he had sadly passed away. A few weeks after the funeral we met with his widow and we were able to get the rights to the books. Then I made other movies, dropped the rights, and then picked up the rights again five years ago. Peter Jackson and I decided to make three movies based on the Tintin books ― I can’t announce today, at this event, what those books are. But the movies are being made [with] motion capture, which means they will resemble some of the art of Persia. So we’re not making them live action. They’re gonna be animated with actors like Ray Winstone, who played Beowolf. Ray knows what’s that like ― to put on the wetsuit and have the spots on his face and turn in a very serious performance. That’s very challenging. And that’s how we’ll be making Tintin. 


What was your secret weapon? Who had the idea to get together again to make this movie?

Spielberg: Any director who has worked with Harrison Ford has a secret weapon. Every director that has ever had the pleasure and honor of working with one of the hard-working actors in my experience ― and not only a hard-working actor concerned about himself and how he looks in his own part. He’s concerned about the whole, he’s concerned about the story and other characters. He is a collaborator in the entire process of telling the story. So that’s a great honor for me and it takes a lot of  pressure and weight off my back to have this kind of partner in the trenches every single day shooting the picture. And Harrison sort of started the ball rolling in 1994 at the Oscars and suggested that he was maybe ready to put the Fedora back on. That’s how it all started.


And who was the most resistant to the idea? Who took the most convincing of the three of you?

Spielberg: I did. I had to be convinced the most.


You mentioned wanting to do as many stunts as possible in this film. Is it a problem today [that too many films] rely too much on special effects in general? What stunts did you want done for this film which you didn’t want to rely on special effects?

Lucas: Obviously, when you get new technology, like when you get sound or you get color, or digital effects, they get misused. That’s human nature. And that will slow down in time. All special effects are is another tool to use to tell a story, just like the camera’s a tool, or the sound-recorder is a tool. It’s just how you tell a story, and it makes it a lot easier to do certain things you couldn’t do before. Many of the movies that have been made today could not have been made before the advancement of special effects. And it changes the kinds of movies that are made: you get more historical films, more epic films. You’re not just doing films on the street.   


Spielberg: There’s no inspiration when a cast and a director walk onto a blue-screen stage. Very, very difficult to understand what’s going on. And we wanted to do as little of that as possible on this picture because we were spoiled. We’ve had great art directors, from Norman Reynolds to Elliot Scott to Guy Dyas, on this picture and to build tremendous sets for us, that are practical. And almost in scale with what you see on the screen. And I wanted to walk onto a sound stage, and I wanted to be in a temple, and I wanted to be in all of these sort of booby-trap sets, and I wanted to get my ideas for good shots based on how the set inspired me. And I think they also inspired all the actors. So even though it cost a little more money, we were a real advocates ― I was certainly an advocate, and so was George ― about making as much of this movie practical magic, not digital magic.


Why did it take you so long to get to The Crystal Skull?

Spielberg: It took a long time because I was sort of the hold out. I was the person saying ‘Well, I don’t know. Gee, I’m in my dark period now, making all these depressing historical dramas, and making movies with meaning that really, I want my kids to see when they get older.’ And, ‘Gee whiz, I’m not ready to go out and entertain a  lot of people at once.’ Then of course I made Jurassic Park and went, ‘Gee, that felt good. Wow, I forgot that feeling, that felt really good.’ And then I went back and made some historical dramas, but, you know, it took a long time to find the right story. I mean, George always had the idea about the crystal skull. That was something George brought to the table at the outset. There were a couple of other possibilities, but that was the one that stuck. But getting the focus of the story and who the villains were gonna be, that took a lot of time. And obviously, George was making Star Wars and I was directing a whole lot of movies. I was starting a new movie company. This really didn’t congeal properly until Jeff Davidson and David Koepp came on board. And all of a sudden the plot accelerated, the pages were fantastic, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m really going to be making an Indie Four, it looks like it’s really going to happen.’


You kept this film under wraps so tightly ― no one had seen it, very few people had seen it until this afternoon. What’s your feeling now, as it’s going to the public, and what were you doing during the screening? Do you want to know what people think about the film?

Spielberg: We were all with the press! During the screening we were having our picture taken, we were talking on television, we were here doing the cam waltz. It was wonderful. So yeah, you know, we thought this was the most loving way to present the movie, rather than the favoritism that often happens . . . There are a lot of people who see the film, really, three days after other press has seen it first. And we thought, because this film was well known, and its certainly been well publicized by everybody here over the last year of production, that the fair thing to do, and the fun thing to do, would be to ... where the whole world comes together, every year, at this wonderful film festival, and we thought that was the best place to introduce Indiana Jones to you again.


Indiana Jones isn’t really afraid of anything besides snakes. Are you afraid of what critics will say, or are you very confident?

Spielberg: I’m not afraid at all. I expect to have the whip turned on me. It’s not unusual for something that is popular to be disdained by some people. And I fully expect it, and I’m not really worried about it. I work for the people that pay to get in. They are my customers, and my focus is on providing the best experience I can for those people. And I know that we made this movie to reacquaint people with the pure joy that can happen in a dark room with a bunch of other people seeing something you haven’t seen before.


Harrison, you did the stunts yourself. What kind of physicality did that take? Did you have to change a lot of your routine? I mean, how do you stay in shape then?

Ford: Well, I’m going to say what I’ve said for twenty years: some guys do stunts, I do physical acting. And I think it’s very important for the audience to be able to see expressions and the story-telling going on during these physical events. Otherwise it just becomes kinetics. It needs to be an emotional event. Like every moment on the screen, it needs to be invested with real emotion, or pretend emotion, but in any case, you need to establish emotional continuity with the audience even through those events. Otherwise, it becomes watching kinetics. And that’s why its so gratifying that we were all happy to do the stunt sequences, or the action sequences, ‘old-school,’ ‘human-scale.’ It couldn’t be done, or I couldn’t do it, or if the stunt-man couldn’t help arrange it so that I could do it, and I think that goes a long ways towards making the people in the audience feel that they’re acquainted with the physics of this event, and its not coming from another world.


There is an atomic bomb explosion in the movie, a sensitive topic with Japanese people.

Spielberg: Well, you know, it’s a very sensitive thing to all of us as well. I grew up, all my formative years, were basically living under the threat of a thermo-nuclear annihilation between two great nations. And so, you know, I did the old ‘duck-and-cover’ in my elementary school, with all the air-raid drills that we would do in the 1950’s, and the early 60’s, but basically, Indiana Jones, 19 years later, as moved from the World War II, pre-World War II era, to, basically, the atomic era. And that’s where our story takes place, and we couldn’t just ignore that. And I also thought there was something iconic about the silhouette of Indiana Jones against the mushroom cloud, which really, at that point for me, gave the film a little more depth and a little more place in its time and in the history of that era. It really set the tone of where we were telling our story from.


Ford: there is no more graphic image of evil than the power of the atomic bomb. And we all quite well remember the consequences of using that bomb. And part of the quest of Indiana Jones has always been for the truth, for understanding, for the prevailing goodness over evil. And nothing more represents evil than that.

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