Two boys from Mississippi remade Raiders of the Lost Ark shot-for-shot over seven consecutive summers.
The first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, premiered on June 12, 1981. That was the moment Chris Strompolos decided to remake the film shot-for-shot.
Strompolos met his soon-to-be best friend and fellow director, Eric Zala, on the school bus. Strompolos noticed that he was reading a Raider of the Lost Ark graphic novel and asked him to be a part of the production. At the time, Strompolos was 11 and Zala was 12. This kick-started the seven summer journey in making Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.
The duo — with the help of other friends and family — completed the project in 1989. They shot every scene except for one: the airplane scene.
The crew reunited two decades later to tell their story and to finally shoot the famous fighting scene. Here are some fun facts from the documentary on how they made the film as a whole, as well as the airplane scene.
- The actors’ ages fluctuate throughout the film because they shot scenes out of order.
- The screenplay was written down on sheets of notebook paper they had bound together.
- Strompolos created the storyboard — drawings and descriptions of the scenes — from memory. The movie had not been released on tape, and he had only seen it once.
- Zala actually had his back set on fire during the bar scene. They had trouble putting the fire out, so from then on out they had to have adult supervision. When the cast re-shot the bar scene, the person supervising encouraged them to light more things on fire.
- After filming for a couple of summers, they watched the footage and deemed it unwatchable — so they redid the scenes.
- In the real movie, Dr. René Belloq, the villain, gets his face melted off and his head blown up. Jayson Lamb, the special effects coordinator for the fan film, came up with the idea to blow up a mold of Zala’s face. They made the mold, but instead of using dental plaster, they used industrial plaster. Industrial plaster has a tendency to burn, so when Zala complained of pain, they had to pull it off his face. Most of Zala’s eyebrow came off with the mold. He admitted to using his mom’s eyebrow pencil during high school.
- They used five different boulders: One boulder was a weather balloon, and another was made from chicken wire. The one made of chicken wire was sucked up by a hurricane.
- In Steven Spielberg’s rendition of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was a monkey. According to Strompolos, there was a shortage of monkeys in Mississippi during the ‘80s, so they used a hound dog named Snickers. At one point the monkey does a salute. In the fan film, they tied chicken wire to the dog’s paw to make it look similar.
- When they finished in 1989, Strompolos wanted to mail a copy to Spielberg. Years later, the famous director got in touch with Strompolos, Zala and Lamb to arrange a meeting. Spielberg loved the film. Harrison Ford and George Lucas were among others to see their fan-made version.
- In 12 days, they took 124 shots. On day five, they were 31 shots behind.
- The production had to be extended by two days because of endless rain. Zala’s job was threatened, but his boss reluctantly agreed to give him the two days off that he needed in order to finish.
- It took 30 days and $20,000 dollars to make the airplane they were going to blow up.
- When the time came to blow up the truck and the airplane, the crew took many safety precautions. The truck was going to be blown up first, and the plane immediately after. The truck exploded the way it was supposed to, but the airplane did not fully detonate. The pyrotechnician approached the plane and told Zala to keep the camera rolling. The technician was going to throw gasoline on the small fire burning beneath the plane when an explosion happened, throwing him to the ground. Luckily, there were people around to drag him to safety before another explosion erupted, sending the plane up in smoke. The technician was unconscious, but breathing. When he came back to full responsiveness, the first thing he asked was, “Did we get the shot?” And they sure did.
The cutest moment of the documentary was when Zala’s son made a comment.
“I think it’s amazing that Steven Spielberg needed $20 million to make Raider’s of the Lost Ark and all my dad needed was his allowance," his son said.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation will be screened Friday at 12 a.m. during the Athens International Film Festival. This event is free for all Ohio University students.