In “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala create a shot for shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” What’s remarkable is that they started when they were 11 years old, filmed throughout their adolescence, and almost competed the project, save for the final scene.
Filmmaker Eli Roth got his hands on their homage film, and it was shown at Austin’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival with Harry Knowles and Tim League. Encouraged by the Alamo Drafthouse/Harry Knowles group. They raised $58,000 on Kickstarter, and his film chronicles the story of their childhood obsession and subsequent adult commitment to finish what they had started
It took 8 years, but the journey to complete the final scene (the film’s explosive airplane set piece) has culminated in a documentary that transcends the fact that two youngsters from Mississippi were making a fan movie, and dives into the real life art of growing up and the pitfalls along the way.
We sat down to talk about the filming of the final scene, and to ask how it felt to have finally finished the movie. Not surprisingly, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala are far from finished with film. They’ve founded a company called (ta da!) Rolling Boulder Films and we founded in 2007. Strompolous said “We have a slate of movies, but the one we’d like to see take off sooner rather than later is “What the River Takes,” it’s a southern gothic action adventure movie set in Mississippi. Then we have a literary property we are targeting, and most recently we were approached by co-director Tim Scouson to produce his next film, so Eric will be working together with him on that.”
AMFM: I thought you made a tremendous effort it’s inspirational. When you were younger you had no idea it would end up here.
Chris Strompolos: Certainly not, Eric summed it up very well when he said “none of this was supposed to happen.” The pure energy of it has given it life, and we were very lucky that our beaten up VHS tape fell into the hands of Eli Roth, and Tim League, and Harry Knowles of “Ain’t It Cool News.” We’ve come into a pretty incredible family of film lovers and we feel extremely embraced here.
AMFM: What was going through your heads when you were filming the final scene, the Explosion of the plane?
CHRIS: A single word. When the plane exploded and I saw Dan’s body ragdoll I thought NO NO! It can’t have all lead to this. A culmination of over 30 years of love and passion and everyone’s efforts going towards this. It can’t. That was the emotional noise running through my brain when I saw that.
Thank God Dan’s okay, you’ve seen the Doc so you know he’s ok. The first words out of his mouth were “Did we get the shot?” But for that moment, the universe turned black. Thinking about it now, it’s upsetting. Even when I watched the documentary now, and I’ve watched it about a dozen times, it’s hard to see that scene.
ERIC ZALA: You know the ironic thing? When we started this we told our wives “No more fire, no more being dangerous, we’re playing it safe and hiring a professional pyrotechnician. What could go wrong?”
CHRIS: That just goes to show, Murphy’s law does apply to filmmaking.
ERIC: I was across the set, I was just coming back from the explosion area. I saw Dan’s body drop.
AMFM: Your worst nightmare.
ERIC: As a producer, to have someone die on your set, is a a terrible thing, and we had someone come very close. It would have left a terrible dark mark on the whole thing.
CHRIS: It would have changed everything, and stigmatized the project. You know, these irresponsible Raiders guys, people are dying on their set etc. So it was a very sinking feeling. Those are the types of moments, compounded by the fact that we were all incredibly exhausted, we pushed ourselves beyond anything that most of us had ever ever experienced. KC, who was the department head for our makeup and hair was an Israeli soldier. She said this was like war, we were in a warlike state. My point is there is an imprinting of a kind of post traumatic thing in that moment. It carried over, but we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and kept going.
That had a lot to do with the spirit that was established on the set. It was positive, it was “hey let’s get this done.” Dan is a consummate professional, and really positive. We picked up and kept trucking.
ERIC: We had prior scheduled a wrap party for that evening and Dan attended. He came in to a round of applause. It was a great shoot, brutally tough, but it bonded us in cement.
AMFM: Where will you be shooting your next feature, and what will you do differently this time?
CHRIS: We will most certainly be shooting “What The River Takes” on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
ERIC: The reason for that is it’s a landscape that we know and trust. Our teams are there, and that makes things possible.
CHRIS: Drawing on things growing up, love and cinematic sense of place.
ERIC: Sense of place, definitely, and bridging the world of Raiders into these original projects.
CHRIS: One of the greatest things about the airplane scene was working with all these people since doing Raiders is working with a team that was forged as if in fire.
ERIC: No pun intended
CHRIS: We know as we roll into it that there are so many great people who are ready from Team Raiders.
To answer what would we do differently? I’m not sure that we would do anything differently. We were extremely safe, we were extremely cautious. We worked with the resources that we had. We will continue to apply the same types of principles on the foundation we’ve built to the next thing. I don’t necessarily say that it gets easier, but more resources give you a greater fluidity.