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.

Two injections and one game ball.

Thanks for visiting again to hear more about my adventures as a young girl in Sri Lanka. This next installment is part of the “still getting there” set up, but soon I’ll begin writing about the island nation where I met presidents and elephants, so stay tuned!

My classmates were all up in arms. Clogs had been banned from the halls because, as Mrs. Peters had told us, the “constant clomping was distracting to teachers and students.” While the footwear controversy was the topic in the school lunchroom, at home our conversations focused largely on our impending year-long trip to the tropics. For me, the next few months were spent finishing the 4th grade, preparing for the trip and getting one of two reactions about our upcoming travel. My friends barraged me with questions. “Will you have electricity? How will you go to school? What do they eat?” One classmate asked, “Do they have bathrooms there?” “Of course,” I snapped, “I’m going to another country not another century.” But secretly she got me thinking. I had no idea what kind of situations my family would be enduring.

From adults I received a completely different reaction. “What a wonderful opportunity. You must be so excited! I bet you can’t wait for your big adventure!” I’d smile and say, “Oh yes. I can’t wait.” However, change to a fourth grader is scary and a year, which to an adult seems to slip by so rapidly, looms like lifetime to a ten year old – especially spending an entire year away from what you have always known. One late spring evening my parents hosted a dinner party with some of my father’s colleagues. These academics were squarely in the “This will be an experience of a lifetime” camp and I had endured their recounting of magical sabbaticals in Portugal, the Philippines, and Mexico all throughout the meal. I asked to be excused to go outside and play a bit on the wooden swing set my grandfather had built for us, before it grew too dark. The sun was low and, although the air was cool, the rubber swing seat still radiated heat . As I swayed back and forth I composed a song I entitled “Why me.” The lyrics were simple. “Why me? Why is it always me? Do do do do.” I was clearly not a great lyricist. Generally I was not a sullen child prone to composing angst-filled ballads about my life, but traveling abroad for a year seemed very daunting to me.

As school wound down in June our preparation efforts vamped up. My girls’ softball team was in the league playoffs and there were games and practices to fit in around trips to sit for new passport photos and various other administrative chores. I spent what seemed like hours at the travel agent’s office with my parents, challenging myself to see how many times I could spin around in the brown leather chair next to the agent’s desk before I felt dizzy, while Mom and Dad organized flights for the four of us and the college students. One Friday, we visited the college health office where we received gamma globulin and Tetanus shots. The shots were painful, but not a big deal; there was nothing else to do that night except rest up for the championship softball game the next day.

Our team, Malcuria Trucking, had been the little engine that could since the start of the season. We were a younger than average team with consistent base hits and a great pitching duo. My contribution was largely to stand at the plate, and present a strike zone so tiny that I would almost always draw a walk. I would then disappear into right field, an area rarely reached by hits from 3rd and 4th grade girls. Saturday morning, however, I woke with a swollen sore right arm and an achy backside. Mom helped me pull my red uniform over my head and indicated she thought the soreness would fade as I moved my arm. We were to face Mr. Twisty – the other team with pitching chops – but my arm remained as stiff as our team performance that day. My right field counterpart began the game. When I would usually sub in, the coach asked if I felt up to it and I reluctantly declined. “I’ll put you in for the last inning,” he said. As I sat watching the other team’s lead grow to three, I chalked up another reason why this trip to Sri Lanka was a huge pain. So I spent most of our championship game on the bench, trotting out to my spot in right field only for the final at bats of the other team. Although it was early June I was hot in my polyester uniform and felt feverish from the reaction to my vaccinations.

When Malcuria Trucking came up for its last licks, it was three up and three down in the bottom of the inning. With the last strike, the other team jumped for joy and celebrated their championship while we began to shuffle out of the dugout for mandatory good game salutes to the other team. Suddenly the young umpire waved her hands and called the coaches over. The Little League had a rule that all players must get up to bat before a game was official. Malcuria Trucking still had one active player to take the plate.

“Now batting, the right fielder, Johanna Bloss,” boomed the announcer as the coach explained to me that we still had a chance. If I got on base the game would continue until we got another out. “A walk is as good as a hit!” yelled my teammates. As the consistent walker I was used to this kind of encouragement. However, on this day, I really just wanted to quickly put an end to the angry stares from our opponents who were eagerly awaiting their celebratory ice cream party. So after taking one ball I swung at the second pitch. Much to everyone’s surprise, the ball zoomed down the first base line and into right field, where I am certain the right fielder was as shocked to see action as I was to have hit to her. “Is it foul?” I asked. “Just run!” yelled the coach, and I ran to second base before I heard him scream, “Hold up!” Twelve red shirted girls now clung to the dugout fence with hope that Malcuria Trucking might pull off a miracle. I would like to say that my hit started a rally that cost Mr. Twisty the championship that year, but the truth is the next batter struck out and the other team got their victory party after all. I did, however, get the game ball.

softball

“For swinging away despite a sore arm, and for good luck on her adventure,” said the coach. In addition to our second place trophies we enjoyed a pizza party! I have to admit that helped my arm feel a lot better.