Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Decorating Raiders – Michael Ford’s Journal

Set Decorator Michael Ford worked in the film industry from over 40 years, and won two Oscars during his career, for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and TITANIC. RAIDERS was Ford’s second production with Lucasfilm, having previously decorated THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Ford dressed the sets for RAIDERS at Elstree before moving on to Tunisia to dress locations there. The British decorator kept a daily journal while working in Tunisia, which was part working notes and part personal diary. On the 30th anniversary of the release of RAIDERS, Ford has allowed us to share this journal. The entries below are transcribed exactly as they were written during production, and we have annotated them where possible with additional information. This offers a rare candid, if brief, insight into the production of the film that would become a legend.

[Editor’s notes]

1980 – Tunisia

Set Decorator Michael Ford, in hat at far left of above left photo, studies the Degache location where the

Tanis Digs set was built for RAIDERS. Production designer Norman Reynolds is at right pointing,

and property master Frank Bruton stands further down the hill.

Friday August 22 – Tunisia

Living Allowance in Tunisia:

Lunch 7.00

Teas 2.00

Dinner 8.00

Laundry 1.00

Location Allowance 3.50

Meal allowances apply only when meals not supplied by the company.

Arrive Tozeur [Tozeur, in the west of Tunisia, was the production’s base. The Tanis Digs site was near here, and the Truck chase was filmed here.] – 10:00

Saturday August 23

7:00 – visit Tanis digs site – fantastic! Sec. unit shooting in Nefta – fried alive!

Sunday August 24

5:00AM – Leave hotel / Tanis Digs. 1:00pm fin.

3 days Allows 64.5 D [dinar – the local currency]

Monday August 25

Digs! Meeting / NR [Norman Reynolds, production designer]

5:00 – 7:00

Tuesday August 26

Kairouan [Kairouan was the location used to shoot the streets of Cairo. It is approximately 300km northeast of Tozeur]

Car breaks down! Arrive 10:30.

Sallah’s house.

Walk streets loc. – Monastir [Monastir is a town near Kairouan where décor may have been sourced]

Prop room & Sousse [Sousse is another town near Kairouan where décor may have been sourced]

Hotel El Hana Beach

5:00 – 8:00

Wednesday August 27




Taib off

Baskets etc. – Return to Nefta

6:30 – 6:30

Thursday August 28

Tanis Digs (Degache) [Degache was the specific area of the Tanis Digs set]

Chaos. Marions tent too big. Enormous wind / sand everywhere blowing into all.

Saw sample basket in Tozeur. Crane on site. ½ track [type of vehicle] at Base. Field kitchens in position. Tried camel at wheel.

5:00 – 3:00

The completed Tanis Digs set in Tozeur

Friday August 29

Fried in Sun! F/ing burnt…

Tozeur – cooking pots & pans / chain

Bell tents repaired & erected

No rods for Belloq’s tent! Erect wooden frame – hopeful.

Entrance well of souls comp.

Baskets seen – templates to follow tomorrow AM.

Stencil / skull & cross bones

5:00 – 6:00

Saturday August 30

Rods on set 7:00

Dress command tent.

Dumper & dozer arr. & Citroen half track. Belloqs tent up. Water towers up in position.

4:00 pm – SS [Steven Spielberg] tours Tanis digs – schooling outing in Air con coach!

5:00 – 7:30PM

Sunday August 31

Tanis Digs – Passed out in paint shop (Quadruple runs!)

Driven home to Sahara Palace and Bed 11:00ish.

7:00 – !

Another view of the fully dressed Tanis Digs set

Monday September 1


Stinking hot! 120o

3000 bottles water drunk by mid afternoon.

700 Arab extras.

Unit got fried!

Set looks tremendous.


7:30 – 7:30

Tuesday September 2


Leave Nefta 6:00AM

Front tyre blows out!

Kairouan. M.S.

Hotel El Kanta

Port El Kartaoui



6:00 – 6:00

Wednesday September 3

N.R. [Norman Reynolds, production designer] lost car key – late start!

Arr Kairouan 6:30

Start trek for Stalls gear.

Discovered Rue Lindaria No 3. [presumably a shooting location]

5-6 walk by Marina – Kantaoui

5:00 – 5:00

Thursday September 4


Mel arrived (Norm’s daughter)


5:00 – 5:00

Friday September 5

Diarrhoea strikes again – half steam!

Drove Citroen to Kairouan – frozen hands!

Non productive day.

Wires over Sallah’s roof top.

Still no Borgarvillia etc.

Saw cart maker near Sousse. OK.

Look for Dagge.

Shops nearly all closed like Sunday.

Petrol: 4.5D [dinar, local currency]

5:00 – 5:00

Saturday September 6

Productive day!

Moncef 1:00PM

Lunch at Family house. 30k out of Kairouan.

Drive out to PRIMITIVE farm (Apricots) Bath in well. Dinner under stars. Hot house!

Sunday September 7

Drive back at 5:30

Nice cool drive.

V. hot & muggy

Try to sort out all the locations and requirements.

Monday September 8

Felt really well!

Progressive day.

Gathering materials for stalls / Bazaar.



Pray mats & camels.

Saw fabulous carpet £220 – sorely tempted.

Run through locations and storyboard in afternoon.

5:00 – 5:00

Tuesday September 9

Fairly progressive day!

Problem with Borgonivillia OL metal rubs.

Bill [presumably Bill Welch, construction manager] ill but struggled with Sallahs roofing.

Sam interp. [interpreter] goes to exams 3 days – recruit Jo.

Select wools for wool stall.

Buy material for B/cover @ Sousse / Casba

Buy another waist coat.

Tip top for dinner.

5:00 – 5:00

Wednesday September 10

Continue stalls etc.

Norm [Norman Reynolds, production designer] to Nefta

Hair cut in Sousse (2D!) [2 Dinar, local currency]

5:00 – 5:00

The streets of Kairouan stood in for Cairo in the film. Kathleen Kennedy,
associate to Spielberg,

can be seen at the far left of this shot for just a few frames.

Thursday September 11

Day at the Arab bar

(Arranged carpet £110 deposit)

Arrive Oct. 11

Collect Frank Bruton [property master] from Monastir airport.

Eat at Hannibal Palace – excellent! [Hannibal Palace hotel was where the Raiders crew stayed in Tunisia]

5:00 – 6:00

Friday September 12

Walk about all locations. Non productive day!

Look for low tables 2 hrs – haught.

Tried large cart down streets to Kodak square. [The crew frequently gave nicknames to shooting locations]

Frank Bruton goes to Tozeur.

Robert Watts arrived.

Should get my notice today – yooo-peeee!!

5:00 – 3:00

Saturday September 13

Progressive day – found lots of tables!

Street stalls continue.

Bedcover re made.

Eat at le gormet in Sousse – V good!

5:00 – 3:30

Sunday September 14

Progressive day – again!

Finished Sallahs bedroom

Continued stalls.

Roof top touches.

Washing [washing machine] up / Washing down!

Very hot day indeed 90 S.

5:00 – 3:00

Monday September 15

Sack of dates. 3 more daggers 3 more swords.

Start dressing in Kodak squ!

Washing [machine] goes up again in fits & starts.

Extremely hot again.

Signs / near completion.

Omar’s garage blind goes up.

Norms [Norman Reynolds] / Mel [Norman Reynolds’ daughter][ Bill [Bill Welch] & I go looking for spot for U boat shot – paid for wonderful swims!

All eat in Sousse at le gormet.

5:00 – 6:00

Tuesday September 16

UNIT MOVE UP FROM NEFTA TO SOUSSE. [Filming now completed at Tanis Digs’ location]

Very hot.

25 ‘de ariel’ [hundreds of ariel antennaes had to be removed from the skyline of Kairouan for shots on Sallah’s balcony] men arrive. Continue various Bazar Bazars/ dressing until –

Walk-about with Steven Spielberg en troupe. Changes everything – utter confusion!

Last afternoon of freedom / swim in Med I guess.

Fred Hole [art director] arrives, so does rest of the unit.

5:00 – 5:00

Wednesday September 17


Sallah’s rooftop.

Horrendous day!

Redressed rooftop at 6:00AM.

Arab Bar by lunch time – unit moved after lunch – large crowd of Extras – chaos somewhat – back to Sallahs rooftop to complete.

Peter Hancock [Property Supervisor] ill.

Spoke Bruty re: wood barrels.

Oil barrels – 60

5:00 – 9:00

The Butcher’s Bazaar stall was to feature prominently in the fight with the
Swordsman that was later changed.

Thursday September 18

Norms / Bill / Bob – Return to UK

Fred Hole joins in. Horrendous day in Arab bar!

Dress butcher’s bazzar and other nasties.

Very hot long day. Walked miles.

Line up / rehearse in B / Bazaar.

Visit Peter Hancock [property supervisor].

Dinner in Sousse with an odd person!

Les Dilley [art director] arrives from Nefta.

6:00 – 8:00

Zig Zag Alley

Friday September 19

Dressed Butchers Bazar (school court yard) for fight sequence. [Another nickname created by the crew for a location]

He moved suddenly to Zig Zag alley for Basket shots! [Location nickname – sequence where monkey gives up Marion.]

Horrendous rushing about ending up with stuff good props into vans for Omars square dressing AM.

Dinner at Escoal – Hassmer!

6:00 – 8:00

Saturday September 20

Another horrendous hot sticky day.

Shot Omar’s square entire sequence!

Fred & I on garage roof with Blind & chains kept snapping! Lunch at Sammy’s with dressing gang.

6:00 – 8:00

Omar’s Garage – Michael Ford and Fred Hole would release the awning each take,
only to find the chains breaking on them on several occasions.

Sunday September 21

Worked – sat on beach watching special effects launch sub gear.

Sunbathed all day – afternoon with Hassay.

Monday September 22

Another horrendous day – everything got out of control!

Shot balcony sequence – rushing round de-plasticat shops.

Chucking stalls about – Prop arabs not been paid. Interpreters absent all afternoon!!

Props went / unloaded 3 van loads pots with Fred.

Robert [Watts] thanks us – off to Hawaii tomorrow. [Hawaii was the final location where Raiders would shoot]

6:00 – 8:00

Tuesday September 23

SQUARE OF THE MISFITS. [Location nickname]

Panic on lorry dressing – lorry not on set – Merc run out of gas… Paint ammo boxes red & 3 languages ‘Dynamite’ dodgy German spelling!

Second unit all over the place – rushing stalls about from one end of Kairouan to the other!


6:00 – 8:00

Blow-Up Square

Wednesday September 24

Frank Bruton in prop room on arrival!

Early call for periscope but N.G. [no good]

Unit arrived at blow-up square 11:00ish.

Fred & I had early morning panic – Glen (Stunts) [Glenn Randall, Stunt Coordinator] required 25 (period) oil drums on loading ramp! Rush round buying red paint – no brushes so used rollers. Tihib found a mixed bag – Stephen said ‘no red ones’!

Truck blows up well big crowd of lookers on.

Back in Port El Kataoui by 4:00 in daylight – wonderful.

Incredible unit Banquet at the Hannibal Palace.

Frank Marshalls Dr. Fantasy magic show was incredible. Crawled back to hotel 1:30

7:00 – 4:00

Thursday September 25

Les Dilley off the last location. Hawaii.

Air conditioning not working – room hot as hell (80)

Walk to north beach above Hannibal palace.

Met the two H’s & HPW…

Swim in sea – glorious day.

Friday September 26


Swim in pool until 9:30


Land @ Luton

Location gear for Tunisia:

Sun glasses

Sun hat

Eye shade

Anti burn lotion

Leather / canvas shoes

Tough thermos

Cameras (customs receipts). Polaroid

Tintaun ointment

TCP ointment


Hair brush

Teeth cord.


F/ Flannel

Toothpaste / Brushes.



Briefcase – Samson


Prop lists.


VAT invoice book?

(Writing paper / envelopes) pens.

Things I forgot:


Sticking plaster.


Small towel