Film & TV

Scene Deconstruction: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Ron Howard

Lesson time 19:38 min

Ron shares a story about how a lucky mistake—forgetting his headphones on an airplane—taught him how to better understand the mechanics of shots, camera setups, and sequences in an action scene.

Ron Howard
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One of the things, having grown up in the business as an actor, that I've really had to work on as a director is understanding action. Roger Corman gave me a very good piece of advice when I was doing Grand Theft Auto, and I admitted that I was concerned about all the car action scenes that I was going to have to stage in that one. And he said, well, here's a clue for you. You understand staging actors because you've been an actor, and I can see from your short films that you're very good with the actors and the staging. I said, yes. He said, well, they're all characters. I said, yeah. He said, so are the cars. And ever since then, I've learned to look at all of the elements in an action sequence as characters really, as forces, that are interfacing, whether they're human, animal, a monster, fantasy, or a machine. But I've also continued to try to push myself to understand the challenges of staging and shooting action-- where the camera should be, the editing. How does the production planning influence the way the scene is going to work. How long should the shots be? And one day I was on an airplane, and Raiders of the Lost Ark was playing, and I wanted to see it again. I thought, well, this is perfect. I'm thinking about action scenes. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the action in it. It's fun. It's exciting. It's all the things that I love. I'll watch it. And my headphones didn't work, and there were no other headphones available on the airplane, and I was really annoyed. So I said, OK, well, I won't bother, and then every once in a while I would glance up, and I became riveted. And then came the famous truck chase where Indy takes over the truck. I watched the whole thing without sound. And the minute I got home, I got hold of what was probably then a VHS, and I just started watching that scene over and over without sound, and I learned so much. I've done that since then with all kinds of scenes-- music performance moments, you know, other kinds of action, and even dramatic moments. And it's very interesting to see how great directors choose to stage and shoot scenes, and you are more sensitive to the details of the kind of mechanics of it-- where did the camera go? How long how long was the shot used? How many times was the same camera setup used in that scene?-- by forcing yourself to kind of distance it and just watch it with the sound off. So I thought today it would be good to flashback to that moment on that airplane where my headphones wouldn't work and start off looking at the great Steven Spielberg action sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and let's look at what might have gone into making it. Now, I wasn't there. I've never talked to Steven about it, but let's look at it. I think we might surmise a few things. Well, that's a camera shot with a crane. It's one setup. This looks like...

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Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


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The discernment of how long to hold on a shot/moment is essential. Thank you, Mr. Howard

Paul K.

Ron's comments and breakdown of the truck scene is gold for me. I like how he compared two types of action scene coverage as both being valid.

Juan Carlos E.

Wonderful! Just like being on set under the sun. Great advice and exercise.


Interesting and useful exercise, watching the action sequence without the sound.

A fellow student

I quite like this. That sequence from Raiders was one of the first extended action sequences that really caught my eye. Seeing it without the sound was a new look

Ruben R.

Great walk-through on that action scene. Very instructional. Totally dig Ron Howard

Avery D.

One of my absolute favorites that I can now enjoy even more! Wonderful insight!

Adham E.

Thank you Mr Ron Howard I learned this lesson a lot 1 stay safe when filming 2 carefully stage the action 3 Use multiple cameras in different locations 4 In car chases its not a must to be moving very fast (JUST DONT FILM THE TIRES) 5 Use wide shots or film from behind when using the stunt double

Ting K.

This lesson also makes a little comparison between Raider's of the Lost Ark and Borne Identity. Love it.

Phil A.

This scene can actually be found on YouTube, and I'd recommend anyone watch it after watching this lesson. I watched it first with the sound off, analyzing what I'd just learned, then with the sound on (for full effect, but also for the entertainment of it!), but either way could of course work.