Lucasfilm.com: Touching on your background before you started working on the Young Indy series, could we ask about your familiarity with Lucasfilm’s productions leading up to that time?
Jonathan Hales: I’d seen the first three Star Wars movies and the first two Indiana Jones movies. I had seen them purely as a moviegoer.
Speaking about your career itself, you appear to have had an interesting mix of experiences between theater, film, and television. Could you summarize a little about what you’d been doing, and do you feel that there was anything specifically that made you a strong candidate for Young Indy?
I started in theater, both writing plays and directing them. I wrote a lot for television and then moved into feature films. I didn’t necessarily want to do features because I liked them too much! One of the things that might have helped with Young Indy was that after I went to university in England, I went to the University of Texas in America. I did a lot of traveling around the States while I was there. That experience helped me, and I did talk about it with George Lucas. My living experiences and some of the interests I had fitted within the scheme for the series.
You were interested in history, correct?
Yes, I’d done a lot of reading and had information that was useful. I knew about Mexico, the First World War, and these different topics.
In your initial discussions about the series, how was it explained to you?
Quite simply, I was living in London and my agent telephoned me explaining that George Lucas was coming to town with an idea for a new television series. Of course, I was interested in meeting him. I went to the Pall Mall area of London, and met with George and [producer] Rick McCallum. George explained that he wanted to do a television series about young Indiana Jones, which would cover a large part of the 20th century, because that was Indy’s lifetime. He wanted it to have an education aspect. That was important to him. I liked the sound of that very much. It wasn’t much more than that. We met for about 20 minutes. I was their first meeting that day, and they had a list of other writers they were meeting with, and I remember trying to read the list upside down across the table to read the names of the other people! After about five or six days, my agent phoned up and said, “They want you to do it.”
Did you start work on the series before you came to California?
No. I can’t remember how long it was, maybe five or six weeks, before we all went out to San Francisco and Skywalker Ranch. Five British writers went out. [Lucasfilm research librarian] Debbie Fine had sent us all a big folder with information about Northern California, which was very nice, but that was it.
So you arrived at Skywalker Ranch with only a general idea of what the series was going to be.
Could you tell us more about this group of writers? How did these men and women work together, and did you know any of them previously?
I didn’t know any of them previously. We were a disparate group coming from Britain. Matthew Jacobs was a director/writer who had done some interesting work for the BBC. Rosemary Anne Sisson had started off writing plays. She was very bright and lively, and had written a number of television shows, including a very popular one over here called Upstairs, Downstairs, which was similar to what Downton Abbey is today. Reg Gadney was a novelist who’d also written a series about John F. Kennedy for British television. Gavin Scott had been a local television reporter. When we arrived in San Francisco, we were met at the airport by Jonathan Hensleigh, who was the one American in the initial group of writers. There were six of us to begin with, and then soon after, Frank Darabont arrived from Hollywood. Later, another American named Jule Selbo joined us. We all had different ranges of experience.
What was the workflow like when you were at the Ranch?
We’d come out to the Ranch for two weeks at a time. Upon arrival, we’d be given a folder of research notes on the specific period and historical personalities that we were going to talk about the next day. We had a bit of homework that night before. Then we would meet the next morning in George’s office, and we’d talk about the characters, the period, maybe the particular incident that was going to be the central part of the episode. Then after lunch, we would construct an outline for the episode, which consisted of 16 main scenes, four per act, as it were. At four o’clock, someone from the kitchen would bring tea in on a trolley with little cakes. It was delightful, and then we’d go on until we finished, usually around six o’clock. Afterwards, we’d go back to the guest house and have dinner together, and retire back to our rooms and do our homework for the next day (or not do our homework depending on how lively and conscientious we all were).
At the end of two weeks, we had 14 episodes outlined. On the last day, we would all write down the two episodes we each wanted to do and give it to George. He then had his own little secret chart where he decided which episodes we were going to get. Curiously, it tended to work out as we wanted. We often got our first choice, and often our second choice. Only once can I remember an occasion where George had to allocate episodes to someone who didn’t choose them (that happened to me). Then we would all go home and write our two episodes, and send them into the Ranch. A couple of months later, we’d all meet again, having read each other’s scripts, and talk about them. People would throw in suggestions and criticisms. When that was done, we’d go home and write the final draft of the script.