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The Kids Who Remade Raiders
A bunch of friends + seven years = the ultimate fan film

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There can be few young film fans in possession of a video camera who, in a fit of youthful exuberance, haven't tried to remake their favourite movie. But most of these will be swiftly abandoned after someone has to go home in time for tea, the family dog proves resistant to direction and everyone involved realises that they're making something that might kindly be described as unwatchable. Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb were the exception to that rule. After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at the age of 11, the trio was so enamoured of the movie that they decided to remake Indy's first adventure. But this would not be a half-baked effort; they would redo the film shot for shot. The endeavour would take seven years and eat up huge amounts of allowance, cause fractured friendships and leave one of their number briefly eyebrowless. But the result is a film that has been championed by Eli Roth and lauded by none other than Steven Spielberg. It is the ultimate fan film. We spoke to Strompolos and Zala about making the movie, meeting Spielberg and the excitement of Indy IV.

The Kids Who Remade Raiders

What do you remember of the first time you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Chris: I remember waiting in line forever and just rushing with adrenalin, then sitting down and, literally from the first frame, being completely enthralled and taken in. My senses were thrown all over the place and it just felt like a real, accessible world to me. I think that's much of the reason I wanted to be in that world and wear the jacket and make my own version of the world. It was amazing. From that first viewing experience it strangely defined the rest of my life.

Eric: I had low or no expectations. And I was, of course, euphorically jolted to my core, tapping directly into a wellspring of giddy excitement that I hadn't known was there. And, oddly, I still recall when leaving the theatre thinking, "Now wouldn't it be funny if that film is to change my life somehow?"

And how quickly after that did you decide that you were going to remake the film?
Chris:
I was dead set on playing Indy - that was basically the main reason to do it.
The second I walked out of the cinema! I sat with the idea for a little while and bought the comic book and the script. I was dead set on playing Indy - that was basically the main reason to do it. I rode the school bus with Eric and Jayson and read the comic book with Eric. He had done a film with his sixth grade class and I thought, well, this guy knows something about filmmaking. So, gave him a call and said, 'I'm doing this remake of Raiders, do you want to help?' We were 10 or 11 at the time.

Eric: I got a phone call out of the blue from Chris, this kid that I hardy knew, who had this crazy idea to remake Raiders using teenage actors. He asked me if I wanted to help. I thought about it for all of say, five seconds, and said "sure". I envisioned that most of the other actors had been cast, the sets built, costumes and props ready, that I'd just walk on and pitch in. Little did I know that the only thing that Chris had done at that point was to buy the published screenplay of Raiders - and to cast himself as Indiana Jones!

Were there any arguments about who'd take what role?
Chris: Initially, my plans were to star, direct and produce. Then we started to go through the mechanics of putting the whole darn thing together. The mechanics of shooting were an absolute nightmare. Eric, who had been storyboarding some things - he hand-drew over 600 frames, which served as our template. He would just start setting up shots and saying where we should put the camera and what angles we should use, so I figured maybe he should direct.

Eric: I nodded, and said "Yeah, okay." And we stayed in those roles, determined in a five second conversation, for all of those remaining years, and even now into our thirties, as we mount our new production company. In brief, we were able to go with our strengths, and not think about ego, and that helped us find what role we were to play.

It took you seven years to make this film. What was it that took so long?
Chris: It was just a gargantuan undertaking. It had global locations, and we had all these costumes and extras and special effects. Also, we only made this during summers. There were mishaps and problems. In fact, the first couple of years of footage that we shot were just bad, kind of unwatchable. So we'd re-shoot over and over and over again.

Eric: Turns out it's a big endeavour, remaking a $26 million dollar on your $5-a-week allowance.

Were there fallings out during that period?
Chris: We certainly had our dark times. Every summer we were surrounded by naysayers and people asking if we were ever going to finish this movie. And just being tired and burned out. Actually, Eric and I got into a little argument. I got a bit too flirtatious with one of his girlfriends and took her out to dinner behind his back. That was scandalous. Nothing happened but he was very mad at me. It's now known as the Salad Incident, because I bought her a salad. So production stopped and we didn't talk for a while. Then we kinda worked it out and production continued.

Eric: And then near the end, in year six, there was something of an editing room mutiny over what degree of work we were going to give the sound, and we went our separate ways for a year, the fellowship seeming to fail even as we were nearly over the finish line at last. But we came together again, and got past all that, which is why for me our story is primarily a story of how friendship can endure, and has, for twenty-six years now and running.

What was the most challenging part to shoot?
Chris: All the scenes had their challenges. There were things that we worked on that had their own challenges that were fun, and then there were things that were challenging and just miserable. Two examples would be the truck scene, which was really hard but really fun, and the Tanis Digs, which was excruciating.

Eric: The Tanis Digs excavation site was the most difficult for its sheer complexity of logistics. It requires carting out a ton of tents, lumber, tables, benches, props and twenty neighborhood kids in traditional Arab costumes out to a giant dirt pit doubling for the Sahara desert... and then it rains. Exhorting the mob to huddle beneath a leaking tent tarp for the rain to let up, everyone's muddy, cranky. It was hard to hold our crew of young volunteers together during that time. But we made it!

The Kids Who Remade Raiders

What did you most enjoy about making the film?
Chris: I liked the truck scene and the submarine scene was fun. The kissing scenes were pretty fun too. I was a young kid and had never kissed a girl before, so Angela, who played Marion Ravenwood, was my first kiss.

Looking back, what part of the film are you most proud?
Eric: I think I'm most proud of the Truck Scene - seventy-six shots chock full of stunts and shot by multiple, moving vehicles, driven by under-age teenagers who may or may not have had their driver's permits. I always love seeing the audience's reaction to the finished result. And the most fun time also occurred then. I'd say it was some point filming the truck scene on location, feeling like we were on top of our game, not only capturing some cool stunts and channeling the spirit of Vic Armstrong and the other stuntman greats... but also loving it, joking around. We had gelled, and were a professional crew. We'd found our Raiders identity.

Chris: I think what I'm most proud of - and it's not something I was aware of back then - is seeing the movie through other people's eyes as we travel around the world and seeing how it inspires them... Knowing that we're somewhere in the tome of Indiana Jones chronicles is really flattering.

You had to do all the stunts yourselves, of course. What was the most difficult?
Eric:
Turns out it's a big endeavour, remaking a $26 million dollar on your $5-a-week allowance.
Despite the fact that Chris played Indiana, it seemed that I was the main person who suffered major injuries, including my head being trapped inside layers of construction plaster; suffering singed hair from being lit on fire; and a broken arm. Yet, all-in-all, no one was seriously injured, another means by which we were very lucky. Most dangerous for me would have to being lit on fire (I was stunt-doubling for the character of the Ratty Nepalese, who is killed during the fiery bar-fight), my back doused with gasoline. I was wearing a fire-retardant raincoat underneath my costume, so I naively thought I was protected well enough. But the kids manning the smothering blankets kept pulling them off prematurely, fanning the flames higher. We eventually wound up blasting me with the fire extinguisher. We got the shot, but man, it could've turned out bad.

When did you first notice attention from outside your family and friends?
Chris: I think it was always a bit of a local oddity. We got some local TV coverage, which was really nice. But it was in 2003 when Eli Roth found the film and it got its world premiered in Austin, Texas and Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News gave us an amazing review. That's when things took off.

Eric: Eli passed it on to Steven Spielberg, who saw it, apparently loved it, and asked Eli to track us down, to write us a letter of thanks. So Eli tracked us down, through the Internet. When I got this email from someone named Eli Roth claiming to have seen our movie loved it and passed it on to Spielberg, I frankly didn't know whether to cheer, or to wonder if someone was pulling my leg. It was just so fantastic.

Have you had the chance to meet many of those involved in the real Indiana Jones films?
Chris: We've had the amazing honour of having contact with Steven Spielberg. He wrote us an amazing letter and then a year later we went to his office and sat with him for a good hour and hung out with him. That was amazing. We've also been up to Skywalker Ranch and Industrial Light & Magic. We haven't met George Lucas, but we've seen everything in the Lucasfilm archives. Meeting Spielberg was incredible. I still get chills up my back thinking about that. He was everything that a fan of Spielberg would want.

Eric: There were so many times during the making of our film where we'd fantasize about how cool it would be if we ever met the Man - Spielberg -- himself who, along with George Lucas, crafted this perfect adventure, created this world that we so much wanted to inhabit. Then jump forward 15, 20 years, and the three of us are sitting in a conference room at Amblin, on the Universal lot, drumming our fingers on the table nervously [waiting to meet Spielberg].

There's been talk of a film being made about your experiences making this film. Do you know what's happening with that?
Chris: As far as we know, it's still in active development. Daniel Clowes finished the script and Paramount loved it. Indy IV is such a dominant film that I think they're going to wait until it clears before putting it together... I know Dan has stuck pretty close to our experiences - that's what he tells us - which is nice. I think we'll just be included as consultants and maybe work with the kids playing us. We'll be on hand. But Scott Rudin's producing and he is a very powerful and very intelligent producer. I don't think he needs us to help out. He knows what he's doing


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