'Raiders!' Stars on SXSW Debut, Harrison Ford's Plane Crash: "It's Like a Family Friend Is Hurt"

Raiders Still 2015 -- H
Courtesy SXSW

"We were feral geeks in the basement" say Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala who recreated Raiders of the Lost Ark shot-for-shot over 33 years.

It’s pretty safe to say that Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala never thought they’d be the subjects of a movie, even as they were making their own. When the two were 8-years-old, they decided to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark shot-for-shot – and then stuck to their guns for the next 30-something years. Now in their 40s, the duo finally finished Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation with a Kickstarter-themed, fully-color corrected, professionally-shot version of the infamous airplane-fight scene done, and a documentary about the whole process in the can.

Raiders!, directed by Napoleon Dynamite producer Jeremy Coon, premiered to acclaim at SXSW this week where it screens again Thurs and Fri. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the duo -- Strompolos is now an independent producer and Zala a video game quality assurance manager -- in Austin to talk about their unlikely movie stardom, nearly setting themselves on fire, and Harrison Ford’s seemingly superhuman resilience.

How has your South By been so far?

Eric Zala: It’s a unique experience for us -- it’s our first time at SXSW, there’s a documentary in the festival which helps, and Austin is our town for the Raiders [The Adaptation] stuff. It’s where it was discovered, we have great support here, Harry Knowles [who screened the then-unfinished Adaptation 12 years ago] is here, so our birthing, so-to-speak was the Alamo Draft House.

How did the doc idea even get started? What led to it as a real thing?

Chris Strompolos: I was in Utah screening the Adaptation at a kids’ festival and doing a book signing [of 2012’s Raiders: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made] when Jeremy Coon approached me and we just sort of hit it off. We had been approached by documentary filmmakers for years, and it was never a match. Jeremy had a good vibe, he’s a smart man, and it seemed like a good match.

Did you have apprehensions about it?

Zala: No apprehensions, except the built-in thing -- it’s a scary thing, entrusting someone to tell your life story. Whatever is put out there becomes the reality. But we met with Jeremy and Tim Scousen, the co-director of the doc, and they seemed like talented filmmakers and ones with integrity as well. In short, trustworthy. We committed. And I’m happy to say our instincts seemed to be dead-on. Ours is not a simple story to tell -- it spans over 33 years and the guys had over 300 hours of footage. To whittle that down to 104 minutes -- they did an amazing job. It’s been a joy to open up our world to the guys. I’m still reeling from the surreal experience of seeing it for the first time here.

What’s the experience of sitting in a full movie theater watching your lives on screen?

Zala: It was like a bizarre episode of This Is Your Life – I had my mom on one side of me, my wife on the other as the lights dimmed, and boom, it plays out. I was terrified. It’s a terrifying experience. You feel naked, and excited nonetheless. It’s immensely powerful, and a gratifying experience. It’s… wow.

Obviously you weren’t shooting behind-the-scenes footage as kids: where is the 300 hours of footage from?

Strompolos: Forty hours of outtakes from back in the day -- we kept all that stuff.

Zala: [Cameraman] Jason [Lamb] would keep rolling, capturing moments outside of that. They even show stuff back [in] the first year, before we accrued filmmaking skills…

Strompolos: We did a lot of stuff over and over again.

Zala: Like, “Older version 2 out of 5.” Stuff that nobody’s seen before, and then behind the scenes of the airplane scene -- the 11 most grueling days of our lives. They captured us from the very beginning, launching the Kickstarter campaign to wrapping.

In Adaptation, you guys almost burned down your parents house trying to recreate the firey inferno from the movie. What’s it like to watch that as adults?

Zala: In the film, you see not only me with my back on fire, but also that we couldn’t get the fire out. The struggle to get the fire extinguisher, Chris pushing me to the ground, [that’s all in the documentary]. It’s the only solemn moment of Q&As that we give. We say, “Kids, don’t try this at home.” [You’re watching] big mason jars of gasoline spilling over and sloshing.

Strompolos: We were feral geeks in the basement, lighting things on fire.

Zala: As kids, you don’t have the basic idea of the fragility of the human body. That pattern continues in the airplane scene as adults -- even though we endeavored and told our wives, “no more setting ourselves on fire, we’re parents now, we’re going to be safe,” there was some unexpected, life and death situations.

What’s next for the doc?

Strompolos: We’re going to Dallas and Hot Docs, and targeting some international dates. But they’re keeping it under restraint because of distribution discussions and possible deals that could put it in a traditional distribution strategy to screen it wide.

Finally, what were your thoughts when Harrison Ford’s plane crashed?

Zala: I was terrified. It seems like a family friend is hurt at this point.

Strompolos: [If he’d been injured or worse], it would have been a dark shadow to hang over this festival for us. It’s a good thing that he emerged. It continues his tough-guy persona: “Indiana Jones Emerges From Vintage Plane Crash On Golf Course In Los Angeles.” It’s mind-blowing. My acerbic side thought, “Well, I guess Chris Pratt has a job now.”