Posted on Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is one of the most purely entertaining documentaries you will see this year, a tribute to the joys of cinema and the agonies of childhood. Directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen tell the story of Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, two childhood friends who set out to remake Steven Spielberg‘s Raiders of the Lost Ark. When they were eleven years old. In 1982. Their efforts resulted in Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, which has found a cult following over the years. Raiders! pulls double duty, exploring the making of the original fan film and the modern attempt by Strompolos and Zala to actually finish what they began as children and complete the one scene they never managed to film: the famous brawl on the German Flying Wing.
With the film currently touring around the country for the rest of the summer (you can check out the schedule and purchase tickets here), I sat down with Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala to talk about their experiences in making “the greatest fan film ever made,” their future filmmaking endeavors, and whether or not they’re sick and tired of Raiders of the Lost Ark at this point.
One of the key moments in the film involves your adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark screening at the Alamo Drafthouse. And now, you’re back in Austin and back at a Drafthouse theater to show the documentary. That must be pretty surreal.
Strompolos: It feels amazing. We feel very much part of the family. It’s like a big warm hug. It feels like we’re coming home in the best way possible.
Zala: It’s very fortunate. This tale is sort of like a Cinderella story. There have been ups and downs but it’s turned out perfectly. And with [Drafthouse Films] being the distributor for the doc, it’s turned out perfect.
Strompolos: Perfect match.
The first time I watched the doc was at Fantastic Fest last year, where it was a huge crowdpleaser. How does it feel to see your childhoods transformed into something so purely entertaining and cinematic?
Strompolos: I’m thankful for it. I think the overriding thing that I am grateful for is that the film is honest. Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen did a great job telling an honest tale and the adaptation has a certain…people use the world purity. It has a purity about it that is entertaining and people find it entertaining. At the end of the day, when you’re sitting in a movie theater, that’s what it’s all about.
Zala: Yeah, to have the best bits of your childhood put in order and set to John Williams and watch it on the big screen with hundreds of raucous strangers is a pretty joyous thing. It never expected it. This was never supposed to happen. But I’m very grateful for having spent my childhood in a most unusual way. I think of myself as a storyteller, but I never expected to be the story itself. It’s kind of odd.
I’m glad you brought up how honest the movie is. It would have been easy to whitewash the entire film and just deliver a fun look at kids remaking a famous movie, but it pulls no punches. It’s a true portrait of you guys growing up and the struggles that come with that.
Strompolos: I think that had a lot to do with the tone that was set by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen at the onset. It’s one of the reasons we trusted them at the beginning to tell the story and embrace the darker components and put our lives on display. We knew that they would handle it well. There was a safety there. There was a comfort level there. After that, Eric and I made the pact that this was going to be warts and all and we were going to share everything and get into the ins and outs of our life because that’s the truthful path that happened. We both felt instinctually that it would serve the doc better. We didn’t want it to be a fluff piece. It could have been happy happy Raiders and everything’s great and we grew up great and everything is great in the end, but then people wouldn’t be left with anything outside of “eh, it’s cool.” You know? But there’s a resonance that’s woven into the documentary because of those honest elements.
Zala: When we said as much to Tim and Jeremy, they were delighted and said that they wanted it to be warts and all, too. They made that very easy in terms of creating an environment where we could bare our souls, as it were. It’s a very naked feeling, having your life laid out for the world. It’s a big act of trust. Those guys have integrity and they made it easy to trust them.
I’m curious about one of the supporting players in your story: your make-up and effects guy, Jayson Lamb. He’s often the Greek chorus of the movie, saying what nobody else wants to say even when the truth hurts. Has he seen the movie? How’s he doing?
Zala: You know, I actually don’t know his reaction to the doc. We toured with Jayson for years and it can be thrilling to tour with the fan film, but also kind of emotionally exhausting. Jayson took kind of an emotional sabbatical. He joins us periodically, but I haven’t heard yet what he thinks of the doc.
Strompolos: As far as Jayson’s personality and the way that it is presented in the documentary, Eric and I love Jayson for that. That’s what we grew up with. It doesn’t really come as a shock and we accept Jayson for who he is. We don’t know what he thinks about the documentary, but there is nothing that is altering or surprising in it.
Zala: No surprises after 33 years.
On the timeline of events, we have you guys making the fan film as kids, the fan film being discovered, a book about your experiences being written, and now this documentary. At what point during all of that did the filmmakers approach you?
Strompolos: I was on a book tour after the book by Alan Eisenstock came out. We were promoting it, just on a much smaller scale than what we’re doing right now. We were going from city to city, screening the adaptation to cross-promote. I met Jeremy in Utah and he bought a copy of the book and inhaled it overnight. He loved it. That was the foundation from which Tim and Jeremy cultivated the vision for the documentary. It was really off of Alan’s book. [We] resuscitated the idea of the flying wing scene to have a present day narrative to serve as the cornerstone of the doc and it was a nice match. Everyone was in agreement after talking it through. And that’s how it started.