Loving a film as a youngster is one thing, but when your adoration is so strong that you embark on a seven-year odyssey to make your very own version of that film, the term ‘fanboy’ takes on a whole new meaning.
Having had their 12-year-old minds blown by Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala ignored their lack of funds or filmmaking experience and set about making their own version of the Spielberg classic.
Seven years later, having survived a nasty incident with industrial plaster, the concern of parents and the scorn of schoolmates, the pair completed their 100-minute Raiders remake and held a small screening at a local Coca-Cola plant in Mississippi. The film was then tucked away for 15 years before a VHS copy wound up in the hands of Harry Knowles, the influential uber-geek behind Ain’t It Cool News. His screening of the affectionate take on Indy won the film celebrity fans – including Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino – a thank you from Messrs Spielberg and Lucas and the prospect of a film telling the incredible story of their incredible labour of love.
Lewis Bazley talks to Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, the men behind one of the greatest fan films ever made, ahead of the film’s UK premiere on April 28th.
Why did Raiders have such an impact that you wanted to remake it?
CS: I think the initial draw to it was I was a huge Star Wars fan; specifically, a huge Han Solo fan. So it was a natural transition and then the character of Indiana Jones was so well-crafted and different to anything I had seen. It was borne out of fantasy, and role-playing. He was earthy, academic, accessible; it seemed like a really cool world to be a part of. As far as the film, it was just a brilliant, timeless movie.
Was the reality of the character and the situation why you chose to remake Raiders, rather than, say Empire Strikes Back? You didn’t have an ice planet after all!
CS: I hadn’t really thought about any of the practicalities! (laughs) The only thing I thought about was I wanted to be Indiana Jones!
EZ: You’ve said you found Indy more relatable because he was grounded in our world…
CS: Yeah, he seemed human – he had girl trouble, he was an academic, he was a loner. He just needed his hat, and his bull whip and his jacket to go out into the world and fight the bad guys.
How far into the seven-year making did you realise it become more than just a fan film? Did you ever think about giving up?
EZ: Of course, you change a little bit between 12 and 19! (laughs) One of our falling outs during that time was a fight over a girl and there were plenty of times when we it just didn’t feel fun. And there were plenty of naysayers along the way. There was one kid who was perennially like that but, ironically, he kept showing up year after year to help us out! (laughs) It was tempting sometimes to give up but we kept pushing through…
What about with some of the onset injuries? Eric, wasn’t there an incident where you ostensibly baked your own head through using industrial plaster?
EZ: (laughs) Yeah, in retrospect, a lot of the stuff we were doing was really stupid, we could have died about 40 times over! The reality of that has only sunk in since we completed it and looked back with shock at how many times we dared death. But when you’re a kid, you don’t have a sense of your own mortality and the fragility of the human body.
The impact among fans and the professional opportunities it’s afforded the both of you must mean a lot, but are the positive reactions of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas the most rewarding thing to come out of this?
CS: It’s one of the greatest rewards. The really joyful, sustaining feeling is to see people inspired and enjoying it and able to remember in a nostalgic fun way what they did. I think over time that’s as satisfying as it is to have your mentors say ‘Good job’.
What would your advice be to young aspiring filmmakers? Would you tell them it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money or if you’ve never made a film before?
CS: Eric and I lecture all over and the first thing we tell them is make sure you do it for the right reasons and make sure that it’s in your heart and your soul. Surround yourself with good people that are right for the project, understand that the creative process is not always fun and FINISH. No matter what, finish. I think it would have been a terrible tragedy had we not.
EZ: Had we not finished this would just be a box of videotapes in somebody’s basement! (laughs), So yeah, finish, and don’t be constricted by what you see as impossible. As kids, we naively thought we could remake this $26 million movie with no resources and as adults, we are all too aware of our limitations, real or imagined.
As Indiana Jones fans, what do you now think of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? It’s a divisive film…
CS: (laughs) Yes it is! For me, I’m such a loyal Indiana Jones fan so my excitement for the movie was unwavering. I stood in line at midnight for it. So as a fan, it was a split experience for me. I use that butterflies in the stomach technique that a lot of fans use, to find something in films to latch on to, and that’s the way it was for …Crystal Skull. It was great to see Harrison Ford and Karen Allen together again as Indy and Marion, and I like Shia LaBeouf, I think he’s really watchable and the moment at the end with the hat rolling up the aisle was classic Spielberg and I loved those flashes. There were some great set pieces in the film but a lot of disappointment as well.
CS: I think one of the biggest flaws was that I never really felt any true danger for Indiana. You’re supposed to be scared for your hero – that’s what made him real in the first place – and I never felt that anything was a threat to him. But I liked his age and the fact they made him a bit cantankerous and Cate Blanchett was fantastic, thank god she was in the movie. But that threat didn’t hold up.
EZ: The exposition felt a bit heavy in the lack of a sense of peril but I was able to enjoy it if I went in accepting the fact that, for better or worse, there will only be one Raiders. Crystal Skull can sit comfortably alongside The Last Crusade on the shelf. But there will only be one Raiders, it was lightning in a bottle.