Q&A with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford

A movie interview article by: Travis Walecka

The L.A. Times Hero Complex is back with its movie screening series, and I'm nearly speechless in presenting this one to you. But I can't stand that reticent, for a Q&A with the one Stephen Spielberg is far too important to let go!

Thanks to Hero Complex, I had the honor of being less than 10 rows deep from arguably the most influential figure in Hollywood's 100-plus year history. The same man who delivered unforgettable childhood memories of extra-terrestrial beings, horrifying aquatic terrors, and unfathomable prehistoric mammoths. Spielberg was certainly in the house, in downtown L.A.'s beautiful Regal Cinema. It was quite the regal night, that's for sure.

Now, while my late arrival was caused by Tom Brady's 511 yards passing on Monday Night Football, I crept in time to see the best parts and beyond of what many consider "the perfect movie." Even Spielberg himself let it be known that Raiders of the Lost Ark was the only film he made without regret, if not the only film of his he can still bear watching. The director even went on to mention that he "gets lost" while viewing Raiders and the third Indiana Jones film, The Last Crusade.

Raiders also happens to be his least calculated or processed film, as pointed out in recent talks with tonight's moderator and the LA Times reporter Geoff Boucher. And who can blame him after the extra-lengthy shoot that was 1941. Spielberg joked that nobody would hire him after that Pearl Harbor period comedy was made, and if that was entirely the case (hard to fathom), at least the director was good friends with…oh, you might happen to have heard of him… George Lucas. Spielberg revealed that the two, who remain best friends to this day—displaying a hilarious bit on a coy George anytime he gives Stephen a ring—have known each other since the premiere of Lucas' THX 1138. They ventured to Hawaii just before Star Wars debuted to discuss Indiana Jones, an adventurer that would pay deep homage to public serials. When all of the 10 a.m. showings of Raiders of the Lost Ark eventually sold out, that's when the dynamic duo knew they had a winner.

Now while George Lucas unsurprisingly got his Han Solo—Harrison Ford—to meet up with Spielberg for the part after the hard-luck Magnum P.I. dropped out, it was Lucas who wasn't entirely sold on the actor playing another recognizable character. Spielberg declared, "Well, he is an actor!" This conviction proved to be a delight to millions worldwide, just as it proved to be a delight in front of a few hundred this night when Indiana Jones himself showed up.

Of course, Ford had to tell "the rest of the story" when Spielberg declared his actor avoided a 3-page confrontation with a long swordsman. After an elaborate salami-slicing contest, the big man with the big blade never got to display his coagulated 3-month training. Spielberg also ruffled some light feathers about Ford's brevity: "he avoided the long extended [battle] after eating at Senor Barfees." Ford asserted that "just wanted to get to Marion… Why don't we just shoot this son of a bitch!"

Spielberg also cited that when numerous amounts of people got sick on set, he relied on a "steamer trunk of canned goods, Spaghetti O's." Douglas Slocombe didn't, though. It was interesting to hear that Spielberg's "supreme cameraman" wanted to shoot Raiders merely old-fashioned, avoiding noir-inspired shades and hues, even using the sun as backlight. Ford mentioned the oft-absentminded cinematographer would, "measure the density with his palm." Spielberg agreed: "I never met another cameraman who didn't use a measure."

Just a few other fascinating Q&A morsels:

  • When Geoff Boucher asked the audience if they'd like to see another Indiana Jones (after the flop that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Spielberg mentioned that only one person had cheered, to which Boucher nudged, "…and it's Shia!"
  • There was no response right away from Harrison Ford to the moderator's inquiry about doing another Indiana Jones. After a lengthy pause, the actor retorted: "I ain't going to Mars." Spielberg added, "And I'm not going to Mars with you!" Though Ford admitted he'd be delighted to revisit another Indy adventure, he complained the director "only hires me for Indiana Jones," and that he's waiting for Tom Hanks to take over the series so he can "move onto his film roles."
  • Since E.T. 's director felt contrition for making a digitally-enhanced version in the 90s, to the dismay of many longtime fans, next year's Blu-ray version will resemble the original, untouched spirit of 1982. Boucher vouched
    for a 30-year anniversary screening next year. Hell yes.
  • As for Spielberg's much-buzzed about animated flick, The Adventures of Tintin, the creator admitted Indiana Jones owes a lot to Tin-Tin in terms of globetrotting; however, the two franchises were certainly different enough that they could both exist. Astonishingly, Tintin has been in the works for over 30 years.
  • So when is the Indiana Jones trilogy (sorry) coming to Blu-Ray? Spielberg doesn't know. But "soon," he says.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the night was Ford's approach to the titular character. The legendary actor wanted to show fear with Indiana Jones, to make the hero realistic rather than "just a guy in a cape." And it wasn't hard for Ford to be afraid when he got majorly hurt in every movie. The actor went on to note that the shoot once had to be shut down for a month and a half while he underwent back surgery. Ford also tore his ACL in Tunisia following the scene with the major wing. When Spielberg mentioned they had to shoot 3 weeks without him, the actor added: "I'm sure they did a lot of the love scenes without me."

There was an interesting contrast in viewpoints about digital effects. Though Spielberg was naturally supportive of the new-age tools—having created some of the most inspiring special effects movies of all time—the director stated, "We lose our way when everything in the movie is a special effect." Just think Super 8 versus Transformers 3. Ford said many of these effects "fail to attend human scale." They often "go too far beyond imaginations, with a vast feel of disconnect…. [The effects] often rob movies of a degree of soul."

There was even more cynicism when it came to Ford's stance on current cinema. "I came up very lucky. More people went to the movies. Show business [in the 70s and 80s] was good to be in. It's harder to find a successful film with such a tough fragmented business climate. There's less diversity in the movie product…" Spielberg harshly disagrees, retorting that there's even more diversity today with a widespread of tools such as YouTube, a healthy independent scene, limited releases, and film festivals. The only difference then and now was the power of directors: "Now all the studios make the decisions. The writers and directors initiated this medium, carried on by the actors." Ford succumbs to the audience applause: "That's what I meant."

The two film greats would then go on to close out this magical night in accord. Working together was "effortless, open, generous, and collaborative." And for that, we have much to be grateful for.

Thanks to Hero Complex for the great photos!

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