Author, original fanboys in Austin
“It took me in the first viewing,” Strompolos said by phone. “I wanted nothing more than to play Indiana Jones.”
With little more than an indefatigable selfconfidence, fifth-grader Strompolos approached sixth-grader Zala about making a shot-for-shot remake of the Steven Spielberg crowd-pleaser.
The two Mississippi residents spent the next seven years forming (and intermittently chiseling away at and rebuilding) a close friendship while undertaking the Herculean task of recreating an instant classic that featured dangerous stunts, pyrotechnics and snakes.
More than a decade after they finished “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation,” it would go on to become a cult hit, buffeted by the support of filmmaker Eli Roth, Aint ItCoolNews.com’s Harry Knowles and Alamo Drafthouse owners Tim and Karrie League.
Now, almost a decade since the movie played a sold-out run of shows at the original Drafthouse, a book has been released that details the friendship of Strompolos and Zala and the labor of love they never expected to be seen.
Alan Eisenstock’s “Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” relies on exhaustive research and interviews with the guys, their families and friends to recreate the timeline of this minor movie miracle.
On Friday night, Alamo South and BookPeople will host a screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation” and a book signing with all three men in attendance.
The story of Strompolos and Zala earned national media attention a decade ago with an article in Vanity Fair, but Eisenstock’s novel, released in November by St. Martin’s Press, expands on the grueling process of getting the movie made and the filmmakers’ lives from childhood to present day.
The book uses a journal-entry style to present stages of production, using datelines and locations to guide readers. The story of the boys’ meeting is told in the present tense with huge chunks of dialogue retold through the voices of Strompolos and Zala.
“Alan, like myself, is something of an obsessive guy, so he jumped at the opportunity to fly down to Mississippi and stay at my mom’s house (our ‘Raiders’ headquarters),” Zala said. The author toured shooting locations, interviewed cast members and devoured 40 hours of outtakes, even using some of the dialogue in the book.
Like many childhood friendships, the “Raiders” boys were a study in contrasts. Strompolos was charismatic class clown. But he knew little about movies other than he wanted to be Indiana Jones. So he approached straight-A student Zala, who had appeared in a sixth-grade student film.
As with any childhood endeavor, the boys’ mothers would bear the burden of their sons’ ambitions over the better part of the 1980s.
“Probably like any other mother, initially they were sort of cheerful and supportive,” Strompolos said. “But as we sort of got into it and showed our obsessive vision of it, both moms really stepped up. They never doubted us. They were very supportive.”
Eric’s mother turned her basement over to the pint-sized visionaries, who almost burned the place down during the fiery Nepalese bar scene. Using a script bought at Walden Books and a bootlegged audio copy, the boys went about piecing together the film scene by scene, with Zala drawing more than 600 storyboards.
They used large chunks of John Williams’ score as their soundtrack, and for the sections not on the original release, they borrowed liberally from the “Temple of Doom” and the “Last Crusade.”
The guys would spend almost every day of their summer vacations from 1982 to 1989 trying to see their vision through to completion. The book details the more difficult points of the process, such as building a believable boulder and securing automobiles to destroy.
The production challenged the friendship of the two guys several times, most dramatically when Zala accused Strompolos of trying to steal his high school girlfriend. Eisentock’s book recreates the combative scene and subsequent making of amends. They would have another falling out in the editing process, but by the end of the summer of 1989, their movie was complete.