Welcoming the Raiders Guys at KU

In 2013, I was fortunate to catch a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989), the famous shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) produced by Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala over the course of seven years while they were growing up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. This fully costumed, fully action packed remake has been called the greatest fan film ever made, and I believe it. Chris (“Indy”) was present at the Alamo Drafthouse in Kansas City that night and during a Q&A after the screening I mentioned there was one thing missing from their otherwise spot-on recreation: the flying wing scene that follows Indy and Marion’s escape from the Well of Souls. Chris explained that he and Eric were unable to recreate that set piece as teenagers but they would soon launch a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise enough funds to film the missing scene and digitally remaster their film.

From Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Photo: Raiders Guys

True to their word, the “Raiders Guys” hosted a Kickstarter fundraiser for that effort and raised over $58,000 in donations. The production took place in the summer of 2014 with Chris, Eric (“Belloq”), and others involved in the original film reprising their roles. They reconstructed a full scale airplane set, captured the scene in meticulous detail on high definition video before detonating the airplane on camera, and have since been at work incorporating the footage into a newly restored version of their unique film. As a proud supporter of their Kickstarter, I was happy to learn that DuArt is restoring their original footage and Skywalker Sound is mixing the audio. In the ongoing story of this heartfelt tribute to a Lucasfilm production, the participation of Skywalker Sound is especially impressive.

Since my first screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, I remained in contact with Chris Strompolos and eventually suggested that a screening of his film would be most welcomed at KU. I thought that the students here would appreciate what the Raiders Guys were able to accomplish as kids with limited resources and also how they have continued to work as filmmakers in adulthood. Chris liked the idea and last Friday he brought this adventure before an audience of aspiring filmmakers in Lawrence, Kansas. As I had hoped, Chris (in person) and Eric (via Skype) shared their inspiring and thoroughly entertaining story of making their film, their breakthrough into mainstream attention several years later and eventual meeting with Steven Spielberg, as well as their subsequent reunion as filmmakers.

On set during the 2014 production of the airplane scene. Photo: Raiders Guys

Each academic year, the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas hosts a Film Rally to welcome its students. In screening Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, I wanted to impart on the Film and Media students that Chris and Eric were able to create an exciting and unique adventure film using a small fraction of the technology and money available to most contemporary film students.

Dreams and determination compelled the Raiders Guys toward their film’s completion, and the on-screen preamble to Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation reflects a creative impulse shared among a generation of fans (myself included) who grew up watching the classic Lucasfilm and Amblin Entertainment productions:

This film is a tribute to Steven Spielburg [sic] and George Lucas for their giving birth to what we consider to be the ultimate adventure film. It is because of their genius that a film exists with such an enduring and nostalgic adventurous spirit. For eight long years we have been driven by an almost obsessive inspiration. This inspiration was fueled by the collective brilliance of these two men. It is to them we give our thanks for the work they have wrought which has left a permanent impression upon the direction of our lives. It is through them we have discovered our love for film.

The recent production of the flying wing scene, as well as their new films in development, prove that their creativity is still alive. Chris and Eric were wonderful guests and offered some great advice to the students, including the invaluable maxim of never giving up and never letting anyone tell you that you can’t make your movie.

Prior to screening the film, Chris premiered a trailer for a forthcoming documentary about them which they hope will be included in the next Sundance Film Festival. In fact, the trailer was an exclusive preview that had not been seen by any audience until that night. The story of the Raiders Guys was recently recounted in an excellent book by Alan Eisenstock and a narrative feature film based on their adventure is currently in development.

Discussing fan edits with Chris Strompolos (third from left) during his visit to KU.

Anticipating the screening last week, film critic Eric Melin colorfully wrote in the Lawrence Journal-World that Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation would “melt faces” at KU, and I think there’s no better way to put it.

From the official press release for the KU event:

LAWRENCE — In 1982, 11-year-old Chris Strompolos asked 12-year-old Eric Zala a question: “Would you like to help me do a remake of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’? I’m playing Indiana Jones.” And seven years later, a cult classic film was created. That film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation,” will be presented by the Department of Film & Media Studies during its annual film rally at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, in Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union.

Following the screening, Strompolos will be present to lead a discussion about the film and the recent Kickstarter campaign that raised $50,000 to film the final scene not previously afforded. Eric Zala will Skype in for the discussion. A meet-and-greet with film & media studies faculty and alumni, as well as several campus organizations, will take place at 7:30 p.m. The event is free, and the public is welcome.

Every shot is the product of Strompolos and Zala’s creative collaboration and their self-taught filmmaking skills, along with assistance from their friend Jayson Lamb. This fan film shows people that even with a lack of resources, it is still possible to create something passionate and meaningful.

“The creative machine is filled with both turmoil and bliss, and it’s important to learn the tools now to be diligent and tenacious,” said Strompolos. “Hopefully after watching our tribute to ‘Raiders,’ it will excite and inspire and plant the seed that if kids can remake ‘Raiders’ shot-for-shot, then the sky is the limit. As far as staying motivated, choose great material, choose a great team, and don’t ever give up. Finish it. Always.”

Strompolos and Zala did it all themselves – every shot, every line of dialogue, every stunt. They borrowed and collected costumes, convinced neighborhood kids to wear grass skirts and play natives, cast a 15-year-old as Indy’s love interest, rounded up 7,000 snakes (sort of), built the Ark, the Idol, the huge boulder, found a desert in Mississippi, and melted the bad guys’ faces off.

“This is an opportunity to see a rare and incredibly unique film. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation’ illustrates how rewarding creativity and persistence can be,” said Joshua Wille, doctoral student in film and media studies, who was instrumental in bringing the film to KU. “The university is an ideal space to present this film because students of KU, particularly in the School of the Arts and film & media studies, can appreciate the imagination and aspirations of filmmakers like Chris and Eric.”

Flyer for the KU FMS Film Rally.