Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Story Conference Part 3

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Story Conference Part 3






S — …a double agent, maybe. And I know you don’t like the idea of somebody just tagging along for conversation, but make her someone who wouldn’t have been in this picture, and if she weren’t in this picture, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t have taken place. As the place is crashing, she’s the pilot. They’re going to crash land together. She’s really angry at him. She gets involved in the plot, and is useful. She’s not just somebody to be around for comic relief or romantic relief. Rather than being a kind of quasi… In the Dietrich mold like a double agent.


G — It’s more of a plot thing. I had her a German double agent who was stuck over there. Then we can use her in the plot. She sort of has access to information. She is useful and tied in. It has to be something where they’re sort of tied in together on this thing, where it’s conceivable. Again, she doesn’t have to be German, she could be American, she could be French or whatever. But I don think that we should come up with some reason to keep her from being just a tagalong. The only thing I can come up with is that she’s sort of a mercenary, and she’ somehow involved. Like she has a piece of the puzzle, rather than being forced into the situation. Because if she’s forced into it, you’re constantly fighting to try and keep her there. Every scene you’re going to have to explain why she’s there and why she doesn’t leave. Half of her dialogue is going to end up being “Smokey and the Bandit” dialogue. In this we have to come up with something so we’re not constantly justifying her existence. She has to be there for a reason. I’d say greed.


S — If she’s a double agent, I think it would be interesting. He goes from Washington to where?


G — To Cairo. We can have him go anywhere. The concept is that he’s chasing a puzzle. He’s got one piece of it, and he thinks he knows who has the other pieces. So you can send him to Hong Kong. I was thinking you could do a tiny piece in Hong Kong where people are constantly trying to knife him in the back and shoot poison darts into his ears. You had mentioned that you didn’t want to spend all that time in the desert, so you can condense some of that time by taking the stuff that could happen anywhere, which is the finding pieces of the puzzle, and put it where ever you want.


S — One thing you should do — He’s on this airplane. There are about four or five passengers around him. He’s asleep and these passengers are looking at him. We don’t know why. They they all get up and put on parachutes, and they jump out the door. He wakes up when he hears the door open, and realizes he’s all alone. The door to the cockpit is locked. The airplane begins to go into a spin. He’s trapped in this airplane and it’s going down. The whole thing was a set up. That’s a great cliffhanger, to see how he gets out.


G — That’s great. Then what happens? One sentence further and it’s a great idea.


S — Well, he’s never flown an airplane before, but he kicks in the pilot’s door. That would be interesting, he’s never flown before, but he brings it down. The other thing would be if he knows how to fly, but he’s too late. It’s one of those jungle scenes, you’ve seen where the plane crashes into this dinosaur infested jungle, only now without dinosaurs. He has to bring it down over the tree tops. Either that or he crashes into the Mediterranean, into the water.


G — Part of it is stylistic, but one of the things that works in movies is when the guy gets out of that situation in a unique very bravado sort of way. He has to do something so audacious that you have to say, “I’d never think of anything like that.” And he gets away with it.


S — One of the things he could try, although it takes away from the suspense… If I were him, I’d jump at the last minute with a parachute.


G — The way to do it is to have him… You have seat covers or something. He starts ripping off the seat covers and tying them together. Then he jumps out holding all these seat covers. That’s sort of unbelievable. If you could make something like that believable. He’s over the water. It’s James Bond. Not only do you have to get him out of it, you have to do it in a very colorful way. I’m not saying that you actually have to be clever, just make it believable. Sometimes he does it in a totally outrageous way, but it works and it’s truly great.


S — One thing he can do is wait until it’s almost crashed into the ground and then jump out and land in a tree, or on a roof top.


G — If we take him from Washington, why don’t we take him to Hong Kong or Shanghai. That’s a great place. It’s more exotic than Hong Kong. So he’s crash in the water, with islands and Chinese junks.


S — He does this. Under his seat is a life vest or a life raft. He takes the life vest out from all the seats and he blows them all up and he gets inside, and is completely insulated. Then her jumps out of the airplane. He just surrounds himself with these huge cushioned items.


G — Did they have those things in ’36?


S — They had them in all airplanes.


G — That’s a little research item. They might just have had life preservers. If they had life preservers, you could more or less do the same thing. If he’s over water, the plane could be going down at a steep angle.


S — The other thing he can do that’s more in keeping with the heroic side is, rather than abandon the plane, he could kick down the door and we see the ocean just coming up at him. He’d pull the plane up at just the last moment. That’s the old cliche shot. The plane is bellying on the water. The water bursts through the cockpit. The plane begins to sink, and that would be interesting. He gets out of this sinking airplane and finds a vacuum. He takes a big breath of air. He can’t climb out until the pressure is equal. That means the whole plane has to be under water before he can climb out the window. Then he just climbs out the window and swims to the surface.


G — I like the part where he jumps out. That’s a clever idea.


L — What if he makes himself into a ball with the life preservers and just goes skipping into the water.


G — If he like he ties himself into a ball with these preservers and he jumps out at the last minute.


L — If there were a life raft he could enclose himself in it.


G — That’s a good idea. I’m just worried they didn’t have life rafts then.


S — They had life rafts all through the second world war that were inflatable. I wanted him to be on a clipper. It’s a big plane.


G — Is there one we could use for take off and landing, and use a miniature for the crash.


S — I heard that there’s one left in South America someplace.


G — I just want to send a second unit to shoot it taking off and maybe get some extra stuff. If we send him to Shang Hai we could have him going to see his enemy and we could connect it rather than having it unconnected. The only reason we’re talking about the Orient is that it’s exotic. He’s going to leave Washington and go to three exotic places. He’ll go to the Orient with the crowded streets and dragon ladies. Then we send him to the Himalayas, with the snow. And then we send him to Cairo. Going from the Himalayas to Cairo he would be going over water.


L — He could land in the snow. One thing about landing in the water that bothers me is that we end up in the water on the sub.


G — Actually, he could land in the snow.


S — When he hits, the raft comes open and he has a toboggan ride.


G — It’s even better, because when he thinks of the raft over, well that’s why he thought of it. But if he thinks of it over snow, that’s even more clever. And snow is soft.


S — If the plane gets to crash in the mountains, there would be a huge explosion that we wouldn’t have in the water. The plane is going into a box canyon and the guy has to jump. On top of a mountain he jumps out. The plane hits the mountain and there’s a big fire ball. The pieces go everywhere. He’s on the raft holding onto the ropes, coming down the mountain. And for comic relief he should go right through some sort of village, with a fiesta or something happening, with llamas. He knocks a llama over.


L — There could be a ceremony with monks… (garbled) They’re all looking up.


G — It can be amusing, but at the same time it has to be very realistic. It has to be what would really happen. You have to believe that someone could live through it like that. We have to concentrate on keeping it clean and not go through unnecessary explanations. The fun part of that flight is that it comes out of nowhere. You just don’t expect it. It’s great if it’s the second flight in the movie. We’ll cut to him flying various places. We want to get all that great period stuff. We have all these flights, and then suddenly you cut inside to all this craziness going on. I think he should go to Shang Hai to find this guy, his enemy. We get a little more information about the enemy. Also, maybe he gets a piece of the puzzle that sends him to the Himalayas.


L — (garbled, something about a museum)


G — Right. Sort of the Shanghai Museum of Modern Art.


L — He knows his enemy is in Paris, so he’s on his own protecting the museum, his henchmen are. Is there anything our guy can do to pick up whatever information his enemy already has? Somehow see the information that has already passed through that room?


G — Right. He’s trying to find out what that guy knows.


L — It takes him right to the heart of the other guy’s strength.


G — I like that. We can do that easy. Before I had the girl providing that. We can decide which way. I had the girl get a copy of the drawing. If that guy had it, it would have to be in a safe or something. (not clear, something about an indentation)


L — Exactly how do you see this puzzle?


G — I see it as a tablet, a piece of stone with a map. It’s not really a map. It’s a description of the site. It’s like a plan of the city. It was drawn at that time. And it has hieroglyphics on it telling the legend. It’s an architects drawing that was done in stone, and it shows the placement of various temples, and of the Ark. The tablet was found out in the desert where the Germans are. it has to be the lost city of something.


L — Does it lead you to the Ark?


G — It shouldn’t be something that shows you where the Ark is. It shows you where a certain temple is. If you find this city, and you have the map that shows you where this temple is, then you can find the Ark. Otherwise you have to dig up the whole city. The Germans have found the lost city. And they have two-thirds of the map, which maybe they found when they were digging. Other portions of this map have been found before, antiquities in various museums and other places


L — Let’s say her father is there. Her father may have been his mentor. He has been working on some unrelated project. But it was her father who discovered the first fragment of the map. She has it. Her father dies. That’s why he’s going to Nepal, to get it from her. That’s why they know each other. That’s why she’s reluctant to part with it. Does any of this sound possible?


G — Sounds possible.


L — So they have a previous relationship through her father.


G — The other thing we can do, twisting what you’ve just done with what we’ve already got… My immediate reaction is to shy away from the professor’s daughter goes along. But what if we do it, and since her father dies, he left her broke. He was an archeologist and left her so broke she didn’t have any money to get back. So she’s stuck there. She runs the bar. She’s the local Rick. Sort of the American Rick. She’s sort of goofy…


S — Earning money to get back to the states.


G — Yeah. She wants to get back. She’s sort of made it her hone. She started out maybe singing or being a call girl or whatever. Eventually she bought out the guy who ran the place, or he died. Now she’s got this little tavern, and she’s doing sort of well. She could only sell the place for as much money as it would take to get her back to the states, and then she would be stuck there with nothing, no job. What she’d like to do is really strike it rich. But she doesn’t see any way of doing that. She’s sort of a goofy tough, willing to take care of herself, mercenary type lady who’s really out for herself. She has this piece and he wants it, so what she does is cut herself in on it. “Look, you’re going to have to take me along with you.” “What do you mean?” “Partners. I have one piece. You have the other.” That old story. It’s kind of the thing where she wants to go back to the states in style or something. She doesn’t want to get on a tramp steamer and make her way back, which she could have done a while ago. She really wants to go back as a lady. This is her chance. She says she’ll sell it to him.


L — This is in Cairo.


G — No. This is in Nepal. She’s stuck there.


L — Who are her customers at this Rick’s Place in Nepal?


G — There is actually a Rick’s Place in Nepal. Bill and Gloria know about it. They stayed there. It’s some expatriot American who lives there at the foot of the Himalayas. It’s got this hotel/bar.


S — I like the idea that she’s a heavy drinker and our hero doesn’t drink at all. She gets drunk a lot. She’s beautiful and she gets really sexy when she’s drunk, and silly. And he doesn’t touch the stuff.


L — I don’t want to soften her. I like the fact that it’s greed. I like all the hard stuff, but you’re going to love here.


G — This is good, but she obviously gets into something that’s way over her head as the whole thing goes along.


L — I wonder if someone hasn’t approached her already. The map has heated up considerably in three weeks. They’ve found the town. Does she have some tip off that this is worth while? When he comes to her, “That’s funny. I’ve had this ten years since my father died. Now in this week two people want it.”


G — If the Germans got there, first, they probably would have offered her a lot of money. And she probably would have sold it to them. Maybe no one knew where she is and he finds her through Washington or something. Some way where he would know, but no one else. Or government would know and he gets it from them. Maybe the enemy doesn’t know yet where this professor died. And that would make it interesting, because supposedly she’s secure, and he gets sabotaged on the way there. You know that they know more or less where he’s going. The immediate danger is that they’re racing to get there. She tells him that if he wants this thing so bad it’ll cost him $20,000. “I don’t have that kind of money. I don’t get anything until I get the whole thing, when we get the Ark. Then I get the money.” She says, “Okay, We’re partners.” It forces her to stay with him. If the Germans came and offered her the money right away, she’d take it. And they would give it to her. I think it’s better, at this point, to keep the Germans one step behind them. They’re one step ahead in sabotaging him, but they don’t know where he’s going. They begin to figure it out, and they decide to kill him and go get it. They’re on their way too. There’s another plane that’s flying alongside his that has the bad guys in it. They’re trying to get there first. They just don’t have as specific information as he does. They just know he’s in Nepal someplace. So we slow them down once they get there.


S — She gives him this map right away?


G — It has to be fairly quick.


S — He has to win her confidence.


G — Right.


L — Let’s say the Germans are a half hour behind them, and they’re haggling. She is in immediate jeopardy and he represents some security to her.


G — Since he got there first, it’s too late for them to try and buy it. All they can do is kill them both and take it.


S — How would they know where it is unless they torture her first to find out?


G — They won’t know.


S — They wouldn’t want to kill them until they have their hands on the map.


G — Maybe they’d just want to kill him.


S — She has a rooming house above the cafe. He hears this sound. In the middle of the night he gets up and looks over the banister. There are Germans everywhere. They have her and they’re interrogating her, in the middle of this empty cafe in the middle of the night.


G — He comes in and saves her. You sort of introduce her as a damsel in distress. In the other way she’s sort of a tough girl. Or you could do both. You could have him come and haggle with her, and have her say no way. “No money. No deal.” He gets sort of pissed off and goes out. He comes back later and the place is empty and they’re in there torturing her.


L — The thing hasn’t been worth anything up until now. So she wears it around her neck, or it’s on the mantle. It’s like a joke.


G — Obviously it could be something semi-precious to her because her father gave it to her. We’ll assume that she did love the old coot.


L — He goes off to his room for the night. He gets up; he’s going to steal it. In the interim the Germans have arrived. When he goes down to steal it, he winds up rescuing her. He stumbles into this heroic role. She could doubt his motivation from then on. “You didn’t come down there to save me.”


G — We have to get them cemented into a very strong relationship. A bond.


L — I like it if they already had a relationship at one point. Because then you don’t have to build it.


G — I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven.


L — And he was forty-two.


G — He hasn’t seen her in twelve years. Now she’s twenty-two. It’s a real strange relationship.


S — She had better be older than twenty-two.


G — He’s thirty-five, and he knew her ten years ago when he was twenty-five and she was only twelve.


G — It would be amusing to make her slightly young at the time.


S — And promiscuous. She came onto him.


G — Fifteen is right on the edge. I know it’s an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once she’s sixteen or seventeen it’s not interesting anymore. But if she was fifteen and he was twenty-five and they actually had an affair the last time they met. And she was madly in love with him and he…


S — She has pictures of him.


G — There would be a picture on the mantle of her, her father, and him. She was madly in love with him at the time and he left her because obviously it wouldn’t work out. Now she’s twenty-five and she’s been living in Nepal since she was eighteen. It’s not only that they like each other, it’s a very bizarre thing, it puts a whole new perspective on this whole thing. It gives you lots of stuff to play off of between them. Maybe she still likes him. It’s something he’d rather forget about and not have come up again. This gives her a lot of ammunition to fight with.


S — In a way, she could say, “You’ve made me this hard.”


G — This is a resource that you can either mine or not. It’s not as blatant as we’re talking about. You don’t think about it that much. You don’t immediately realize how old she was at the time. It would be subtle. She could talk about it. “I was jail bait the last time we were together.” She can flaunt it at him, but at the same time she never says, “I was fifteen years old.” Even if we don’t mention it, when we go to cast the part we’re going to end up with a woman who’s about twenty-three and a hero who’s about thirty-five.


S — She is the daughter of the professor who our hero was under the tutelage of. She has this little fragment of the map.


G — He doesn’t have to have the fragment in hand. All he has to do is get a copy of it, make a rubbing of it.


L — (this section is not clear, something about the fragments and how he gets them)


G — His first job is to go to Shanghai, into the lion’s den to get this, which is usually at the end, so this is a twist. In Washington we have the advantage of being able to set up anything we want, in terms of information, what is going on. Say the Germans sent him the tablet to decipher.


L — They wouldn’t do that. They would send him the rubbing.


G — Suppose the rubbing wasn’t articulate enough. They could send a photograph, I guess.


L – Let’s say the arch-enemy is gone now, but it had been there in his lab. Maybe the arch-villain has had a piece or two all along. But it was useless to him. Our guy knows that it’s been kept there. The actual piece is no longer there. But it’s been sitting on felt or in glass, and there’s an impression of it.


G — Well, I like the idea of a sun spot, but then it would be the shape of the broken piece rather than what’s on it. Again, we can design this however we want. It doesn’t have to be a tablet. It could have been a painting on a vase. It can be any antiquity that we come up with. It could be a scroll. Or some kind of a statue or some sort of tall thing with a very strange design that is actually a design of the city. People have various pieces of it, something that’s stacked. It could be a thing with lots of little gizmos in it, very intricately carved. It was the top of a stack that the mayor of the city carried around. This would be the sun, and this would be tie city. The city reached the sun, a symbol. It’s been broken into a lot of pieces. There’s a piece at this museum, which is one of the reasons they would call this guy in. Not only is he a shyster and all that stuff, but he already has a major piece of. Say the Nazis only have half of it, or a third of it. This guy has a third. So with their third and his third, they have two-thirds of it. This other professor has a little piece. Make it quarters, so the Nazis now have half of it.


S — Can they decipher every piece?


L — The design has the sun at the top of it. What if the way to the Ark is when the light hits a certain point on this sculpture it shows the entrance. So if you had the top half it would do you no good because the sun would be hitting nothing.


G — If you have enough pieces you can deduce the exact size. But if the Chinese and the Nazis have two sections, why doesn’t he just go right there and get both of them at once rather than go to where just one piece is?


L — Unless he thinks it’s going to be very difficult, as it turns out to be, to walk into the Nazi camp and get it.


G — Unless he thinks the Chinese guy is still there with both of them. He goes there to see if he can get it, and finds out the guy is gone. He knows exactly where it is because he’s been there before. But now it’s gone. Then he looks at the shadow. He doesn’t know he’s going to be able to get the Nazi piece. Right now he’s going to get all the pieces he can. So he copies the silhouette. Then he goes to get the part the girl has. From that he figures it out.


S — How does the audience…


Inventing history

Inventing history

In the early eighties I worked as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in London. One of my clients was Shell UK, and I often had to boast about how many million pounds Shell had invested in the North Sea, or paid in tax to the exchequer.

Inserting the figures supplied by the client would have meant finding and re-reading the brief, something I could rarely be bothered to do. However, rather than write £XXX, which to me looked untidy, I would insert ad hoc amounts, leaving it to the account director to correct them. Thus I’d claim that Shell had spent £1,952 million on Brent Charlie, or invested £24.46 million planting trees over its gas pipelines, these sums being derived from mathematical constants such as the year of my birth and the agency phone number.


One day a new brief arrived containing a figure that I recognised as the date of the Great Plague of London. I asked the account director where he had got it. He said he had found it in a newspaper article.

‘It’s wrong,’ I said. 

‘No it isn’t.  I double checked. Their source was one of our ads.’

After many years in advertising I switched to writing fiction of another sort, never dreaming that I could ever again be accused of falsifying history.

The other day I came across An Honourable Murder, a thoroughly-researched article about legal aspects of the infamous Nanavati murder trial, which took place in Bombay in 1959. The defendant, a handsome naval officer called Kawas Nanavati, had shot dead his wife’s playboy lover, and more than half the nation thought he had done the right and decent thing.

As the Nanavati case is at the heart of my novel The Death of Mr Love, I read the article with interest.

‘Blitz, the popular weekly tabloid owned by newspaper baron Rusi Karanjia,’ the article’s author Aarti Sethi wrote, ‘ran a parallel trial by media that not just acquitted Nanavati, but indeed celebrated the elegant Commander. . . Blitz sold the case as a classic story of love, betrayal and the restoration of honour. It recounted how the dashing naval officer had met his wife in England [and how she] had been tricked and seduced by the villain Ahuja, whom Blitz described bitingly as “a symbol of those wealthy, corrupt, immoral and basically un-socialist forces which are holding the nation and its integrity to ransom”. [6]

Strong words, and ones I knew well, for I had used them in The Death of Mr Love. With some indignation Sethi continued: ‘Blitz exhibited none of the discretion that is normally reserved for the dead. “Some”, it wrote, “may attribute this sickening event to the heat of the season, but this is a mistake. Persons such as he do not share the lot of the common man. They live in a world of privilege. For their sins, their outrages, their crimes, they and they alone are to blame”. [7]

Now this sneering passage I knew even better, for every word of it was my own. I had composed it as a small fiction set inside a larger one. It had taken me a long time to capture the snotty righteousness of Blitz’s prose and I had been quite proud of it at the time, one of those small achievements that no one but the author of a novel will ever notice or appreciate.


Turning to the article’s footnotes, I discovered that quotations [6] and [7] had as their source The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha.  

So this is how history is written. Unless someone takes the trouble to check the Blitz archives (which reside in a dusty Bombay building near the Excelsior cinema under the custody of a sweet man called Mr Vohra) or unless they read this piece, those two quotes will henceforth be as much part of Blitz’s history as if Karanjia had sweated over them himself – and I still can’t remember which of us wrote the first one.

The Honourable Murder: The Trial of Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati, by Aarti Sethi
The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha

Years ago I wrote to Graham Greene to ask if he would pass on the secret of a delicious sounding dish mentioned in Our Man in Havana. Back came a charming reply. ‘I am sorry that I don’t remember where I got the recipe for Granny Brown’s Ipswich Roast. I think I must have invented it.’