Indiana Jones – Real life Hero

For Jessica and I going to the set in the morning, staying through lunch and then spending the afternoon sightseeing or playing at the hotel or my house became fairly routine. But one day our routine was disrupted as they were going to shoot at night. It was exciting to go to the set at night. We felt grown up heading out to “work” when normally we would have been settling in for the evening. When we climbed the dirt paths from to the location there were all of the now familiar crew members with their smoke machines and cameras, cables and clipboards, but the atmosphere seemed much more laid back than during the day. Maybe people were less punchy with the relief from heat that the evening brought. Jessica and I watched as they filmed a slim boy stagger over the rock into Indy’s arms several times before they broke for dinner. The meal was set up in a building close to where we were shooting. Tables lined the center of the cramped room. Lights dangled from cables strewn across beams in the ceiling casting shadows of the peopling queuing for food on the uneven walls making it appear like there was a second more ominous group waiting to dine after us. The smells of friend chicken, baked beans and corn bread made my mouth water as we waited in line. I had a lot of great food on that set, but this was my favorite meal! With plates piled high we exited the building and ate near the iconic stone in the center of the village. Just as we were finishing we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Suddenly massive clouds rolled in. I had heard that expression used to describe an upcoming storm, but this is the first time I had really witnessed it. Giant foggy masses visible despite the dark sky slid over the hills beyond the set and tumbled towards us. Suddenly papers and loose objects around the set began to move and make noise in the increasing wind. Almost simultaneously all evidence of twinkling stars disappeared and giant drops began screaming down from the darkened sky. While some raced to cover cameras and equipment, others ran back towards the dining area and huddled in the crowded building to wait out the storm. The pounding rain outside made it necessary to shout for conversations to happen. Although it was cramped and hot, people were laughing and picking at the remnants of dinner. Then, suddenly there was a startling flash and a deafening crack that shook the ground as lighting seemed to strike the hills just beyond us. The lighting silenced everyone for a moment but people quickly began to resume chatting. However, they were quickly silenced again when someone in charge of that kind of thing came in and adamantly told the group that our location was not safe and we all needed to clear the set immediately.

The room rapidly emptied as people scrambled to take care of things they were in charge of. Cables were being wrapped and road cases were being packed and snapped shut. Kate, Jessie and I were not in charge of anything so we started out the door and headed towards the vans. Outside the rain had already soaked the ground and there were standing puddles everywhere. As we started down the hill the muddy paths had become tiny rushing rivers. Kate and Jessica were ahead of me but there were multiple paths down the hill and I knew the way. As I came around a bend the narrow footpath went in between two large boulders. Two cables met at a junction directly between the rocks and water was rushing over the intersection of the two thick cords. I heard a popping and humming noise and realized the water could be electrified and might not be safe to traverse especially in my leather flip flops. I tried to go around the rock to the right, but beyond the boulder was thick brush. Same thing on the other side. I looked at the rocks and weighed my options. Should I risk a nasty shock or try to climb the boulder that was taller than I? Just then I heard the theme music to Indiana Jones – Just kidding, that is what I hear when I remember the story. But, in reality all I heard was someone coming up behind me. I turned. It was Harrison Ford dressed in his full Indiana Jones attire, whip and all. He quickly assessed the situation and came to the same conclusion that I had. “Climb on.” he commanded and hoisted me onto his back. He clambered over the boulder on the left and we rejoined the path on the other side. “Thanks!” I said. I know that twice during the making of the movie Ford complained about an injured back. I hope I was not the cause. He put me down near the vans where a soaked Kate and Jessica were just climbing in. We all bounced down the muddy road and as we headed towards Kandy, Kate pointed out that Harrison Ford, movie action star had been a real life hero.

newspaper article

A Pinch Too Much Enthusiasm

Although Jessica and I spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves on the village set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, not every day was spent on this repurposed tea plantation.  There were days when filming moved to areas along the Mahaweli Ganga (river). This longest of Sri Lanka’s rivers flows through Kandy and in places has cut a deep and impressive gorge creating beautiful vistas from the hills surrounding the water. It was across this river that the iconic Temple of Doom rope bridge was constructed.

rope bridge

Luckily for the crew, a massive project to dam the river to harness power and provide dry season irrigation was underway in the vicinity. This meant that there was a great supply of engineers on hand to assist with the design and construction of the bridge. My family was allowed to see the bridge suspended 200 feet above the river, but understandably we were not allowed to walk across it. I was not there the morning they rigged the bridge with wire cutters and explosives and had one take to get the climactic scene in which the bridge falls.  As I recall Jessica and I decided it was too early to get up. But, we did hear a lot of happy people celebrating that night at the hotel that their one-take had been successful.

Also along the river was to be the scene where Kate was going to tangle with a giant snake. You may recall the room rented at the Hotel Suisse under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow which housed two giant pythons. Kate mentioned again and again the scene in which she was going to have one of the snakes as a scene partner. She told us the gist was that the snake was going to wrap around her and begin to squeeze. Indy was going to try unsuccessfully all of his manly adventurous tricks to get the snake to let go and finally only succeed by singing it a song. However, when faced with the snake Kate told us she had a massive panic attack and told them she simply couldn’t do it. She said later in the script she had to deal with bugs, but that those would be simple because bugs you can just throw on a person. It turns out when it came to it hundreds of creepy crawly creatures were scarier than she anticipated as well. I don’t know anything about the negotiations that took place regarding the Longfellow’s appearance, but I do know that scene Kate described was never in the movie. She did however deal with one of the pythons that she mistakes for a pesky elephant’s trunk.

Jessica C

When not on set, Jessica and I spent many happy afternoons swimming and touring around Kandy. Her friend Jamie was adventurous and game for anything I suggested. I took them for a walk in Udawatta Kale, a lush forest reserve in the hills above Kandy where we saw several poisonous snakes who did not have their own hotel rooms. On our way to the nature preserve we passed a movie theatre with a sign welcoming the Western movie guests with special showings during the week of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.  We went to the theatre and saw Star Wars and the next day on the set I told Lucas we had seen it. “You noticed my name is the first thing you see in that movie?” he inquired. Honestly, I had not noticed, so I just smiled and nodded.

Jamie

Jamie dove into every experience. At the market she bargained at stalls for batiks and trinkets and commissioned some outfits from our local tailor. She also worked with a jeweler friend of ours to design a combination ring and bracelet which they created and delivered to her before the film crew left the country. Sri Lanka is known for its gems and my mother had been slowly purchasing stones during our months on the island. Some she was buying for specific friends back home who had sent her requests. Others she was acquiring in the hopes of selling them for a profit back home with the help of her father who worked in a jewelry store at the time. When our new movie friends made it known that they were interested in looking into gems as well, Mom had her preferred salesman from her favorite store bring a selection of offerings to our home to show. She had a dinner party and Harrison Ford and his then wife Melissa Mathison came to look along with Steven Speilberg and Kate Capshaw. We had several fun dinner parties at our home with this group.

One especially hectic day on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came when the crew filmed all of the children rushing back into the village and being reunited with their families. There were a lot of people around that day and all of the kids were very excited. In what was the final scene of the movie which leads directly to the credits, Willie Scott informs Indy she is headed back to Missouri “Where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out, luring you into hot pits…”  She storms off to ask for directions when he lassos her with his whip and pulls her in for a kiss. My guess is being ensnared by a whip could be quite a painful process but it was accomplished by a clever camera cut and simply tying the whip around her waist. As he pulls her in, the kiss is initially thwarted by a generous dousing of water from an elephant’s trunk, but of course Indy always gets the girl, elephant nose water be damned.

As they finally embrace, all of the children the couple rescued from the mines happily surround them. Well, technically they were not the same children rescued from the mines as all of those scenes were filmed on a sound stage in England with different extras, but for the purposes of the movie plot of course they are the same. Jessica and I were able to watch all of the filming from within a hut that had been constructed as part of the village. Although the structure was clearly visible in the shots, we were told we could stay in the building if we were not seen so we watched through cracks and holes in the walls just feet away from the action. I guess our peeking eyeballs are therefore in the movie, but hard as I have tried I see not even a shadow to indicate where we were. With the help of interpreters Spielberg whipped the children into an excited frenzy and told them to encircle Ford and Capshaw as they kissed and show their appreciation to the couple. His direction may have been a bit too inspiring. After several takes Kate asked to speak to Spielberg. After conversing with Kate in hushed tones he looked around and called out for me. Since Jessica and I had been given strict instructions to stay hidden I timidly peered out from the door of the hut worried that we had done something wrong. Spielberg caught my eye and hurriedly gestured for me to come over. I glanced questioningly at Jessica who shrugged before I stepped out of the hut and jogged over to him. It seemed like everyone was looking in my direction. He put his arm around me and told me he needed to say something to the kids that might be better coming from another kid. Apparently in their enthusiasm the extras were showing a bit too much affection towards the leading lady in the buttocks region. As he explained I gave a surprised look to Kate. “A lot of pinching going on,” she said nodding.

Spielberg motioned for the group of kids to gather around and I explained in Sinhala to be gentle with “the madam.” I told them that she had a lot more movie to make and that it would be better if she was not sore. Some of the kids sniggered, and they got back into place for another take. She told me it was better after that, but if you watch her reaction in the footage they used in the movie I wonder if they used one of the earlier versions. She seems a bit shocked at how enthusiastically they greet her!

See the clip here.

Too much lunch.

April 19th, 1983

“Johanna still has three weeks of vacation. She is hobnobbing with the U.S. film director Steven Spielberg (he did Star Wars, E. T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Harrison Ford who starred in these films. We met a little girl at the Suisse Hotel pool who it turns out is the leading lady’s (Kate Capshaw’s) daughter. She’s six – Jessica. Anyway, Johanna is doubling as friend and guide/interpreter for the group. She leaves the house about nine, goes off to spend the morning watching the shoot on location, has lunch and spends the afternoon swimming or shopping with them, and we see her sometime after dinner. I can’t understand why he hasn’t asked her to sign on yet. Anyway, she’s keeping busy.”

-Judy Bloss

This is how my mother described my April school vacation,1983 in a letter home to my Grandfather. I had just turned 11 and found myself hanging out on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Most of the filming was taking place just above the Hantana Tea plantation located across the valley on a hill opposite my house in Kandy. Each day, a van would pick me up and make the drive of about 30 minutes to the film location. My travel companions depended on the shooting schedule for the day. Most of the time Jamie (Kate Capshaw’s friend) would bring Jessica to meet her mother on location and they would pick me up on the way. But, sometimes Kate could arrive later on set and she would make the trip with us. Occasionally we would be joined by Ke Huy-Quan (Now Jonathan Ke Quan) who played Short Round in the movie. He was never without his mother. She did not speak much English and so I think he was looking after her as much as she was looking after him. It is reported that they privately referred to Spielberg and Lucas as Bearded Man 1 and Bearded Man 2. I wouldn’t be surprised, although his English was still a little rough, he was quick at making jokes and frequently made us laugh.

We would travel down the winding road from my house through the heart of Kandy before climbing the hills on the other side. I had grown accustomed to the driving in Sri Lanka. Close calls with bicycles and overcrowded buses no longer registered. But the wide eyes of my fellow passengers were a clue that driving in California was more, shall we say, regulated.  When the driver would make especially adventurous forays, the van inhabitants would take a synchronized breath in as if they could somehow suck in the sides of the van as they sucked in their guts. The closer we got to the film locations, the bumpier the ride became and we bounced off each other like pinballs. Kate Capshaw would cross her arms and hold her chest, “Gotta hold on to the puppies,” she’d say. I didn’t even have kittens at the time, so I could not relate.

Some of the jungle brush surrounding the area had been freshly cut back to allow a primitive road to be built specifically for the film crew. Larger vehicles couldn’t pass beyond a certain point and we would walk up a steep series of dirt paths behind grips, best boys and gaffers carrying equipment that weighed more than we did. Yeah – I just threw those terms in there to make it sound like a film set. I really didn’t know what most of the workers scurrying around me were up to and I certainly didn’t know their titles. It all seemed very complicated. There were camera tracks on the ground, cables everywhere and men walking around with smoke machines. Yet, with all of these unusual things and all of the famous actors, directors, designers and producers, I was the one who seemed to be the curiosity.

At every break in shooting, and there seemed to be a lot of breaks, somebody would sit next to me and ask about my unique situation in Sri Lanka. After inevitably commenting on how hot it was, they would ask about food, culture and customs of the country. Many of the same crew had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and so I guess I was somebody new to talk to.

During one such break Jessica and I found a rock on which to eat lunch. Well, Jessica was eating; I was relishing. I had grown accustomed to and quite fond of Sri Lankan cuisine, but I hadn’t had good American fare in quite some time and the food on the set was – ridiculous. Hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, BROWNIES… I climbed up the rock careful not to lose a precious french fry or deviled egg. For fans of the movie, our lunchtime rock can be seen when the boy who escapes the mine comes staggering back to his village and collapses in Indiana’s arms.

srilankasetvillageboy

It was a warm day, but a portion of the rock was in the shade and as we ate and relished our meals respectively, Jessica and I chatted. We were soon joined by Mr. Spielberg who asked if he could share our shady spot. “Another hot one,” he said.  I moved over to make room, almost losing my ear of corn in the process. After some deft maneuvering, it settled back into the middle of my plate.

“Where did you find corn like this?” I asked. “I haven’t seen any since I got here.”

Spielberg explained that none of the food they were serving was from Sri Lanka. They were worried about the health of the cast and crew, and so everything was being flown in from West Germany. I quickly saw a way that the film could save a lot of money and provide the local cooks with work and explained that the food in Sri Lanka was delicious and safe. Surprisingly the assurances of an eleven-year old did not convince him to alter the catering practices of his 28 million dollar enterprise.

“What about the water?” he asked. “You don’t drink the water do you?”

I explained that at home we boiled the water that we drank and that I’d never been sick.

“What about the showers?”

This question confused me. “We just use regular water in the showers,” I said.

“Do you keep your eyes closed?”

Again, a confusing question “I – um – only when I wash out the shampoo.”

“I keep my eyes shut when I shower here. I heard that water that gets in your eyes can find a path to your throat and if you swallow it you can get sick.”

I tried to imagine the internal connection between the eyes and the throat and made a mental note to ask my Mom about what joined the two. He was definitely concerned with cleanliness, especially of the water. Kate later told me that when they had to film the scene in which she falls into a puddle of water that they damned up a small area and filled it with bottled water.

I was about to admit that I brushed my teeth with tap water when an assistant arrived with a wax-paper wrapped sandwich for Spielberg. With all the options flown in from Europe, he had opted for a classic PB&J. The conversation turned then from water purity to crunchy versus creamy. FYI I really like them both – depends on my mood.

Filming was interesting but could be tedious. On this day, they were filming the scene when Indy, Willie and Short Round arrive in the village. (The clip can be seen here) The villagers offer them some food. Mr. Ford had asked me how to say thank you in Sinhala the day before. When we arrived on set he asked me to remind him again, and after going over the schedule for the day with the director, it had slipped his mind again.  “Stuthi,” I said slowly. “Stoooooti.” As we practiced he was constantly being interrupted so finally I wrote it down on a scrap of paper and he kept it in his pocket. I helped him with a few other lines he said in Sinhalese. The speech by the village elder explaining the magic of the stones which Indy translates is all in Sinhalese. When the movie came out I read though every tiny name in the credits searching for mine. I thought, maybe I would be under special thanks. Much to my disappointment, I was not listed. But, I guess they didn’t forget me. When we were planning our wedding, my then fiancé sent letters to Ford and Spielberg who both sent back replies including this personalized best wishes from Ford on our wedding day.

Wedding Wishes

The hut where they were filming the scene was cramped. I first watched the scene from behind the camera where they were shooting. Short Round spontaneously copied one of the gestures that Indy used when describing his plane crash and Spielberg liked that and asked him to mimic him some more. We watched them film the scene multiple times. By then Ford had his Sinhalese line down. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the pronunciation, but it was hot, and for some reason despite all the discussions they were having about angles and light they were not asking the the kid in the the back for her opinion on dialect.  I gave Ford a thumbs up and Jessica and I went to sit outside. There were several director’s chairs just outside of the filming area and we hopped up into two empty ones next to George Lucas. I had often seen him standing with arms folded. To me, he appeared very quiet and serious and even intimidated me a bit. I tried hard not to stare at the white patch in his otherwise very dark beard. For some reason I wondered if it was real. “Action!” was heard once again from within the hut and we could catch the same dialogue we now had memorized. “I can’t eat this….That’s more food than these people eat in a week…I’m not hungry…” Just then Lucas shifted and crossed his legs and the chair he was sitting in made a terrible creaking noise. He cringed and a dozen heads snapped around to find the source of the disturbance, annoyed that the noise might have ruined the take. Lucas pointed toward me and then quickly put his finger to his lips as if to shush me. My eyes widened and my cheeks flushed. He was blaming me. But quickly he laughed – “No, my fault,” he said quietly to the crew as he patted his stomach. “Too much lunch.” Jessica and I giggled about it later. “He pretended he farted!” she laughed. I guess he wasn’t so serious after all.