In July 1982, after E.T. opened and became a huge hit, Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for a sequel to be titled E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears [pdf] (NOTE: For educational purposes only). It would have seen Elliott and his friends kidnapped by evil aliens and follow their attempts to contact E.T. for help. Spielberg decided against pursuing the sequel, feeling it “would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.”
Know where you’re going.
The treatment is the most vital selling tool in your screenwriting arsenal. Writing a great treatment is a skill that can help any screenwriter succeed, at any point in the creative process.
For further reading and learning:
- Proper Treatment by Terry Rossio
- Loglines and Treatments: How to Write Them
- James Cameron’s legendary 17,000-word treatment for The Terminator
- Investigation treatment by Paul Schrader
- Paul Schrader clarified the screenwriting development process in an interview with Richard Thompson from 1976 when Taxi Driver had just opened, Film Comment magazine, March-April 1976 [pdf]
- “Melissa delivered this 107-page first draft to me and I read it in about an hour. I was just knocked out. It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day. It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” —Steven Spielberg
- The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers
- The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters
Original cloth-board bound complete revised fifth-draft script for Raiders of the Lost Ark. This incredible piece was used by Harrison Ford throughout filming, complete with color revision and daily hand-typed dialogue pages (showing folds and wear from carrying in Ford’s pocket). The majority of pages are individually rubber stamped “ROLA 103020” for security control purposes. Contains 145 pages, of which 112 sides have hand-annotations (over 1,300 words) penned by Ford in his distinctive block capital style of writing. Notes range from single words to complete pages of writing and cover all aspects of the filmmaking process, ranging from dialogue alterations and questions about the plot to suggestions and perspectives used to create the iconic character of “Indiana Jones.” Of specific interest are:
- Ford’s concern about avoiding references to “Han Solo”-like behavior
- A list of hat related superstitions
- The dialogue for the famous line: “there’s a big snake back here”
- Notes asking, “what exactly is a headpiece to a staff of ra?”
- Direction suggestions on a number of scenes (Hawaii plane sequence, Tanis dig, etc.)
- Thoughts about the depiction of drunken behavior (a side of the character that was eventually removed from the film)
- Suggestions for background reading books (such as Temple of Solomon)
The script remains in fine condition, with light wear and stains to covers, exhibiting normal signs of daily, on-set use. Arguably the greatest script in modern cinema, forging the character of “Indiana Jones” which would become one of the greatest icons in film history. In 2010, Indy stands as #2 on Time Magazine’s greatest fictional character of all time—surpassed only by “Sherlock Holmes.” Sold for $100,000.00
Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a 1981 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by George Lucas, and starring Harrison Ford. It is the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise; and it pits Indiana Jones (Ford) against the Nazis, who search for the Ark of the Covenant, because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible. The film originated with Lucas’ desire to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s.
Production was based at Elstree Studios, England; but filming also took place in La Rochelle, Tunisia, Hawaii, and California from June to September 1980. Released on June 12, 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the top-grossing film of 1981; it remains one of the highest-grossing films ever made. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1982, including Best Picture, and won four (Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, Visual Effects) as well as winning a fifth Special Achievement Academy Award in Sound Effects Editing. In 1999, the film was included in the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as having been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
- FX Storyboards
- Raiders Storyboards
- Script Checklist
- Screenplay title pages
- Ford’s Raiders script
- Rolling Stone Interviews 1980-1981
- Behind the Scenes Photos of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
- The Making Of Raiders of The Lost Ark: 1981 PBS Special
Original Medway Productions Script for Raiders of the Lost Ark. With page changes. Signed by Vic Armstrong, Harrison Ford’s stunt double, and Jim Steranko, who created the original concept art for Indiana Jones. Medway Productions is an oblique reference to the then-home of George and Marcia Lucas.
Read, learn, and absorb: Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for the Raiders of the Lost Ark, revised third draft August 1979 [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
A holy grail of Indiana Jones artifacts: a 125-page transcript of the original story-conference meeting involving producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and writer Lawrence Kasdan. The blog, Mystery Man on Film, somehow got its hands on the alleged transcript, which features the filmmakers talking at great length in January 1978 about what would eventually become Raiders of the Lost Ark. The thing’s a pure joy to read. In it, you can find the genesis of everything from Indiana Jones’ name to his fear of snakes to his (possibly risque) romantic history with Marion Ravenwood.
Download the 125-page transcript [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Steven Spielberg talks to Japanese TV in this little-seen profile from 1982. It’s an incredible piece of footage and highlights include behind the scenes footage from Twilight Zone: The Movie, a tour through Amblin’s offices, interviews with Leah Adler (Spielberg’s mother), Melissa Matheson and Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s thoughts on TV (Cheers, St Elsewhere, Hill St Blues are good, soap operas not so much), Spielberg and John Williams chatting music, Ben Gardner’s head, John Milius and Spielberg eating pumpkin pie… —Paul Bullock, From Director Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg directs Henry Thomas in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
“Melissa delivered this 107-page first draft to me and I read it in about an hour. I was just knocked out. It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day. It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” —Steven Spielberg
No one ‘channels’ Steven… Steven is very precise with story, plot, and action—there’s no need at guessing his point of view. ‘E.T.’ was entirely imaginative. Steven and I shared our imagination on this story; we both brought our own memories and strengths. In 1982 I was not yet a parent, but was a stepmother, and had been a consummate babysitter and an older sister. The kids in ‘E.T.’ can be directly linked to kids I knew. I even stole some of my little friends’ best lines: i.e. ‘penis breath.’ What adult woman could have thought of that? Both Spielberg and Scorsese are more verbal; Marty talks about span and Steven talks about moment… In story meetings Scorsese would ask me, ‘So, what’s the shot?’ Terrifying! He didn’t need my advice; he was trying to construct his movie in his head and needed to know if moving the camera a certain way around the Dalai Lama’s house would not only incorporate all those nagging exposition points, but be culturally accurate and true for character. Steven would be more about the moment—what is the impression? What’s going on in the theatre seats? If E.T. is coming through the corn stalks, is it funny or scary or thrilling? Choose! These are simply great filmmakers—their minds are in the film. The writer’s job is to help them see it. —Melissa Mathison
Read, learn, and absorb: “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” 1981 revised shooting script by Melissa Mathison [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Here is a remarkable improvised audition by Henry Thomas that moved Steven Spielberg to tears.
The reason I’m so proud of E.T. is that I was able to say I could do all that with fewer people and fewer dollars and yet not limit imagination, not limit size. I don’t think E.T. is a small picture at all. I said it was a small picture for a long time because I didn’t want a bunch of people hanging around my set with cameras out. But E.T. is, if I may say so, an emotional epic. That’s always how I’ve regarded E.T. —“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” Spielberg interview 1982
“There would be days when at two o’clock in the morning, John would let himself into my house and he’d just sort of gently shake me awake. I’d look up, and there’s John… He says, ‘I’m gonna crash here, OK?’ I remember the next morning I’d wake up and John was on the floor under the TV set of my bedroom. Fully clothed and sound asleep. John crashed at the house several times.” But Spielberg insists his leading man was not the self-destructive force he has been portrayed as: “John was a very sweet guy… I think he was just burning the candle at four ends, if that’s even possible. Dan Aykroyd was his minder. Dan was his best friend, and he gave me the handbook on how to handle John. Probably Dan’s responsible for keeping John alive as long as he did.” The comedian died from a drug overdose in 1982. —John Belushi kept Steven Spielberg up at night
Thanks to LoSceicco1976
J.G. Ballard waited 40 years before writing about his experiences in a Japanese internment camp. Here he remembers how Hollywood hijacked his childhood memories to create a deeply moving film:
Surprisingly, it was the film premiere in Hollywood, the fount of most of our planet’s fantasies, that brought everything down to earth. A wonderful night for any novelist, and a reminder of the limits of the printed word. Sitting with the sober British contingent, surrounded by everyone from Dolly Parton to Sean Connery, I thought Spielberg’s film would be drowned by the shimmer of mink and the diamond glitter. But once the curtains parted the audience was gripped. Chevy Chase, sitting next to me, seemed to think he was watching a newsreel, crying: “Oh, oh…!” and leaping out of his seat as if ready to rush the screen in defence of young Bale.
I was deeply moved by the film but, like every novelist, couldn’t help feeling that my memories had been hijacked by someone else’s. As the battle of Britain fighter ace Douglas Bader said when introduced to the cast of Reach for the Sky: “But they’re actors.” Actors of another kind play out our memories, performing on a stage inside our heads whenever we think of childhood, our first day at school, courtship and marriage. The longer we live - and it’s now 60 years since I reluctantly walked out of Lunghua camp — the more our repertory company emerges from the shadows and moves to the front of the stage. Spielberg’s film seems more truthful as the years pass. Christian Bale and John Malkovich join hands by the footlights with my real parents and my younger self, with the Japanese soldiers and American pilots, as a boy runs forever across a peaceful lawn towards the coming war. But perhaps, in the end, it’s all only a movie. —J.G. Ballard look back at Empire
This is why I love Steven Spielberg.
In 1990, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert interviewed Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese about the future of the movies.
Thanks to Larry Wright
While studying at Long Beach state in the 60s, Steven Spielberg was introduced to aspiring producer Dennis Hoffman who provided the young filmmaker with a budget of $15,000 to produce a screenplay Spielberg had written entitled Amblin’. The resulting twenty-six minute short received a theatrical release in 1969 alongside Otto Preminger’s Skidoo (1968) and would prove to be his breakthrough, with Spielberg becoming the youngest director to be offered to a long-term deal with a major studio when Universal executive Sid Sheinberg signed him to a seven-year deal.
Dialogue-free for its duration and set during the hippy movement of the 1960s, Amblin’ is a romance about a couple of young travellers who meet up and decide to accompany one another on a journey to the Pacific coast. Amblin’ demonstrates Spielberg’s emerging talents as a visual storyteller and features impressive cinematography from Allen Daviau, who would later collaborate with the director on feature projects including E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Colour Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987).
For more on Steven Spielberg, check out Trevor Hogg’s in-depth career profile Encountering Spielberg.
Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013) was an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. He may be known best as the author of I Am Legend, a 1954 horror novel that has been adapted for the screen three times, although five more of his novels have been adapted as major motion pictures: The Shrinking Man, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time), and A Stir of Echoes. Matheson also wrote numerous television episodes of The Twilight Zone for Rod Serling, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet and Steel. He later adapted his 1971 short story Duel as a screenplay which was promptly directed by a young Steven Spielberg, for the TV movie of the same name.
Spielberg was already a fan of Richard Matheson before the movie was made due to Matheson’s contributions to the Twilight Zone.
For his 40th birthday Steven Spielberg‘s friends made him this short film based on Citizen Kane (1941) about his life and career up to that point. With a March of Time segment voiced by Dan Ackroyd, John Candy plays the reporter who is assigned the task of uncovering the famed director.
Keep a look out for previous Spielberg collaborators such as Dennis Weaver (Duel), Allen Daviau (E.T.), Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (1941) and Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (longtime producers). You wonder how this stuff ends up online but I’m glad it did. —Ambrose Heron, FILMdetail
Legendary composer John Williams has been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards. He has won five Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, seven BAFTA Awards, twenty-one Grammys, is a member of the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and is tied with Hollywood legend Alfred Newman for the second most nominated person in Oscar history behind Walt Disney.
“No one’s had this experience except [Williams] and myself but Jaws with John is one thing and Jaws without John isn’t Jaws,” said Steven Spielberg. “I’ve always said, if I can get a tear to form in someone’s eye, John can get it to call down their cheek.”
TCM Presents: AFI’s Master Class — The Art of Collaboration is an in-depth, one-hour special focusing on the 40-year collaboration between filmmaker Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. The Art of Collaboration takes a look at the four-decade friendship and working relationship between filmmaker Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams, one of the most prolific and influential artistic collaborations in film history.
“Steven called me to screen Schildler’s List at his house in South Hampton. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the requirements of the film. It’s certainly the most moving film I’ve ever seen. At the end of the film, you may remember, is a scene in Israel where the survivors come with their children to place stones on the gravesite of Oscar Schindler. At the end of the film, the lights came up and I couldn’t speak [because] I was so choked up.” “I just excused myself and went outside and walked around the building and came back in. I said ‘Steven’ and I meant this not to be deprecating but to be nothing but objective. ‘Steven, you need a better composer than I am for this film.’ And very sweetly he said, ‘I know, but they’re all dead.’”
This one is among the best: video footage of Steven Spielberg and John Williams tapping out an early draft of the main E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial theme on a piano.
With thanks to FlyingBearFilmSchool
Tied to the movie’s 35th anniversary, Jaws: The Inside Story provides an exhaustive look at the summer blockbuster that turned Steven Spielberg into a brand name and rewrote the rules for summer movies. Drawn in part from an earlier doc, The Shark Is Still Working, as well as fresh interviews, it’s a fascinating account that could easily have had a few bites taken out of its two hours in the editing suite without losing much. Even so, fans will find much to feast upon, hearing from cast and crew in addition to inhaling rare clips from the difficult, five-month production.
Spielberg reveals the definitive word on the JAWS USS Indianapolis speech:
I owe three people a lot for this speech. You’ve heard all this, but you’ve probably never heard it from me. There’s a lot of apocryphal reporting about who did what on Jaws and I’ve heard it for the last three decades, but the fact is the speech was conceived by Howard Sackler, who was an uncredited writer, didn’t want a credit and didn’t arbitrate for one, but he’s the guy that broke the back of the script before we ever got to Martha’s Vineyard to shoot the movie. I hired later Carl Gottlieb to come onto the island, who was a friend of mine, to punch up the script, but Howard conceived of the Indianapolis speech. I had never heard of the Indianapolis before Howard, who wrote the script at the Bel Air Hotel and I was with him a couple times a week reading pages and discussing them. Howard one day said, “Quint needs some motivation to show all of us what made him the way he is and I think it’s this Indianapolis incident.”
I said, “Howard, what’s that?” And he explained the whole incident of the Indianapolis and the Atomic Bomb being delivered and on its way back it was sunk by a submarine and sharks surrounded the helpless sailors who had been cast adrift and it was just a horrendous piece of World War II history. Howard didn’t write a long speech, he probably wrote about three-quarters of a page. But then, when I showed the script to my friend John Milius, John said “Can I take a crack at this speech?” and John wrote a 10 page monologue, that was absolutely brilliant, but out-sized for the Jaws I was making! (laughs) But it was brilliant and then Robert Shaw took the speech and Robert did the cut down. Robert himself was a fine writer, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth. Robert took a crack at the speech and he brought it down to five pages. So, that was sort of the evolution just of that speech. —Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb.
Read the screenplay of Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The screenplay, which was finished by Spielberg from an original script by Paul Schrader was based upon the book, The UFO Experience by Dr. J. Allen Hynek. Hynek also served as the film’s technical advisor.
Spielberg brought Paul Schrader to write the script in December 1973 with principal photography to begin in late-1974. However, Spielberg started work on Jaws in 1974, pushing Watch the Skies back. With the financial and critical success of Jaws, Spielberg earned a vast amount of creative control from Columbia, including the right to make the film any way he wanted. Schrader turned in his script, which Spielberg called, “one of the most embarrassing screenplays ever professionally turned in to a major film studio or director. It was a terribly guilt-ridden story not about UFOs at all.” Titled Kingdom Come, the script’s protagonist was a 45-year-old Air Force Officer named Paul Van Owen who worked with Project Blue Book. “[His] job for the government is to ridicule and debunk flying saucers.” Schrader continued. “One day he has an encounter. He goes to the government, threatening to blow the lid off to the public. Instead, he and the government spend 15 years trying to make contact.” Spielberg and Schrader experienced creative differences, hiring John Hill to rewrite. At one point the main character was a police officer. Spielberg [found] it hard to identify with men in uniform. “I wanted to have Mr. Everyday Regular Fella.” Spielberg rejected the Schrader/Hill script during post-production on Jaws. He reflected, “they wanted to make it like a James Bond adventure.”
David Giler performed a rewrite; Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, friends of Spielberg, suggested the plot device of a kidnapped child. Spielberg then began to write the script. The song “When You Wish upon a Star” from Pinocchio influenced Spielberg’s writing style. “I hung my story on the mood the song created, the way it affected me personally.” Jerry Belson and Spielberg wrote the shooting script together. In the end, Spielberg was given solo writing credit. During pre-production, the title was changed from Kingdom Come to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. J. Allen Hynek, who worked with the United States Air Force on Project Blue Book, was hired as a scientific consultant. Hynek felt “even though the film is fiction, it’s based for the most part on the known facts of the UFO mystery, and it certainly catches the flavor of the phenomenon. Spielberg was under enormous pressure to make another blockbuster after Jaws, but he decided to make a UFO movie. He put his career on the line. USAF and NASA declined to cooperate on the film. [source]
Below: Steven Spielberg on location in India with François Truffaut.