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TheRaider.net Films Raiders: The Adaptation Interview
 
Interview with the Raiders' Guys
by Gilles Verschuere - posted Aug. 8, 2005
 

Chris Strompolos
Besides occupying the leading role of Indiana Jones, Chris was also the producer and Sound Mixer of the Adaptation.
Eric Zala
The director, storyboard artist and Art Director of the Adaptation. He also played French villain Belloq.
Jayson Lamb
Jayson was the Cinematographer, Editor and Special Effects expert of the Adaptation.
 

Part I - Adapting Raiders

How did you guys meet each other?

Eric Zala: Back in the fall of 1981, at age 11, I met Chris and Jayson on the school bus, riding to elementary school, of all things. It was a long, bus ride, more than an hour each way, and so there was a lot of time to kill. I noticed that this kid (Chris) had this Raiders of the Lost Ark comic book. I loved the movie, which had come out that summer, and so I asked to borrow it to read it. I also remember sitting next to Jayson and thinking, what an eccentric guy. Twenty-three years later, we actually still have that comic book, which in some ways was the original catalyst that got us all talking to each other.

Chris Strompolos: We were all going to school at Christ Episcopal Day School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. We rode on the bus together and knew one another from the long morning rides. Jayson and I knew each other earlier than that. When I saw Raiders, I bought the official comic book, completely digested it and then passed it onto Eric. Jay and I used to get together and play with special effects and gore and stuff. After I got the idea to do a "remake" of Raiders I called Eric and then shortly after, I called Jayson. The trio was born.

Jayson Lamb: We all went to the same grade school together. Although I was in the same class as Chris, I didn't meet Eric until a couple of years later. This was when Chris had called me up to help out on the movie. As brilliant as Eric & Chris are, they couldn't make a mummified corpse for the movie. So I came in and whipped it up with the odds and ends that were lying around the house. Soon, I fell into the role of the "technical-guy" (cameraman, pyrotechnics, editing, some stunts, FX, etc.). We each just seemed to be like a piece to the puzzle that allowed the making of our movie to happen.


Why did you choose to make Raiders: The Adaptation?

click to enlarge
Eric, Jayson & Chris.

Jayson: Chris chose the project. When he asked me to join, it was like being asked to ride the greatest roller coaster on earth. And the next 7 years were precisely that.

Chris: When I saw the movie, the character of Indiana Jones completely changed my world. I tended to live in a fantasy world anyway and was coming off my Star Wars fascination. I wanted nothing more than to be Indiana Jones, inhabit his world and be able to have the same chances and choices he did. So, I set out on doing that. In retrospect, I guess I made a good choice, as Raiders is still to this day one of the most perfect adventure films ever created. It changed the face of cinema forever.

Eric: Quite simply, it sounded like fun. A lot of work, mind you, even in the first moments when Chris called me up out of the blue and asked me to help. A real challenge, how in the world would we do it? But man…what if we did…? That seemed exciting to me… challenge… risk… reward… the stuff of adventure itself. That’s what made me say "yes". Little did I know what I was getting into!

How old were you when your Raiders: The Adaptation adventure started?

Chris: The movie opened in 1981. I was 11. That’s when I got the idea, but nothing started until 1982. We finished in 1989.

Jayson: The original Raiders film came out when I was 11. I believe I was 13 or so when I came on board our Raiders project. I was nineteen when we finished and had our Mississippi premiere in 1989.

Eric: After that phone call, the summer after graduating from elementary school, Chris and I met for the first time outside of school, to figure out where the hell to begin. This was the summer of 1982, so I was twelve, Chris was eleven. Jayson joined the following year, at which time he was thirteen.


What was your budget when you started making the film?

Jayson: Budget, what’s a budget? We just made it up as we went a long.

Chris: I don’t even think we had fully wrapped our heads around the concept of budgets, money, etc, etc. We just started and pulled together our resources accordingly. As we got older, we became quite refined, just by trial and error. There were quite a lot of those – trials and errors. Our estimate is somewhere between three and five thousand.

Eric: When we first started, we weren’t sophisticated enough to think in terms of budgets. After all, we were eleven and twelve, and so our thinking didn’t at first proceed beyond the linear path of… let’s earn enough allowance to buy the hat… then the jacket… Birthdays and Christmases became seen as windows of opportunity to acquire key props and costumes as gifts. As the years went on, we got more sophisticated in our thinking and planning, even if we never kept track of what we spent. To this day, we’ve no idea what our film cost to make… we’ve made a rough guess of around $5,000, all told between the three of us.


Was it easy to find help? Like did you have to look long to find a girl who wanted to play Marion?

click to enlarge
Chris with Angela.

Chris: Well, I wouldn’t classify any aspect of the whole adventure as "easy." Local neighborhood kids were momentarily excited. I was a good front person and good at bringing people in, getting them interested – but Eric was the true force that kept them there. As far as most of the recruiting goes, I would have to pass that trophy to Eric. Additionally, it was Eric who found Angela (Marion). Thank god he did, because none of us really knew any girls at that time.

Jayson: Eric and his little brother, Kurt did all of the recruiting.

Eric: It wasn’t that hard to find someone who found the idea interesting, and to dress up in a costume for us, for an idle summer afternoon. What proved challenging was to find kids that would stick with it, and not lose interest… which is kind of required when you have characters needed for multiple scenes, shot on separate days… and particularly for us, since filming each summer stretched over seven years in total. I had this dog-eared handwritten list of neighborhood kids and their phone numbers, and would spend hours each night calling them up, trying to schedule the requisite number of Arabs, soldiers, students, bar patrons, whatever, for the scene we had scheduled for that weekend. Sometime it felt like I was in sales sometimes, trying to convince them to show up again, that it wouldn’t rain like last time…

Over time though, we developing something of a following, and some relationships with kids committed to the Cause. For the main supporting cast, we were very fortunate.

When our original Marion moved away to Alaska, we had to find a new Marion. As we were in early adolescence, and as is probably evident by now, we were of the geeky variety, so we didn’t know a whole lot of girls. I did know of a pretty girl who went our church each Sunday morning named Angela Rodriguez. I remember approaching her with the awkward line of "my friends and I are doing this movie… do you want to be in it?" Thankfully, both she and her parents recognized my intentions as honorable, and we had our Marion!


Did you have any cooperation with locals, authorities, etc? Or did you just hope no one asked any questions?

click to enlarge
Cairo Street Fight.

Eric: For certain locations, such as the submarine, we got permission (and as it was an active tourist attraction, actually shot around the bemused tourists). For locations such as the Cairo Street Fight Scene, we chose to shoot guerilla-style in the back alleys of the Gulfport, Mississippi business district on a Sunday, when all businesses are closed and the place is like a ghost town. That did nearly back-fire one time, when the owner of a diner wandered in the alley and discovered all these kids setting up Arab merchant stands and a wheelbarrow full of hay… somehow, he got it in his mind that we were shooting a porno film, and promptly called the authorities. Still remember sitting on the curb with Chris, waiting for Gulfport’s Finest to arrive and take us away… Then, as we sat there, the owner of the business on the other side of the alley came out his back door, and asked what we were doing. As we explained, we got a bright idea: We asked him if we could have his permission to shoot the scene in his half of the alley. He said sure. So by the time the Gulfport police arrived, we had moved everything over to that side of the alley, and we could legitimately claim to have permission to be there. The shoot was saved.

Jayson: Mostly, we filmed at Eric and Chris's houses. When we shot outside those areas, we did what we could to secure permission, as with the USS Alabama Submarine and a dirt farm we used for the Tanis Digs. But there were other times, like the Cairo Street Fight, where we just went in and just did it. In those times, we did end up talking to the authorities. Luckily Chris was born with a silver tongue and got us out every time.

Chris: There were a handful of occasions where cops would show up and firmly inquire as to what the hell we were doing. In fact, one time, six cop cars showed up cause someone called and reported that we were shooting skin flicks in the alleys of Gulfport, Mississippi. Another time is when Jay and I were firing off shotguns at night in the back of my house. Thank goodness I was born with the gift of gab and managed to talk us out of any serious problems.


Which was the hardest scene to film?

Eric: The most dangerous and complex scene to shoot was no doubt the Truck Scene. The entire 76-shot sequence took place in multiple moving vehicles, under a sweltering Mississippi summer sun, full-on 100% humidity… in which we had German soldiers being thrown from the truck onto the dirt road, into nearby ponds… and let’s not forget Chris being thrown through the windshield, over the front, holding on for dear life, then going under the truck and being dragged behind it. Thank God we had the good sense to save this scene until late in the production schedule – most importantly for safety reasons. Also, it worked out because, in our knowledge and experience of the craft – we were at the top of our game.

Chris: Truck scene and the excavation scenes. The heat, the complexity of the set-ups, the number of extras involved, the stunts, the dirt, the distance we had to drive, the RAIN. Ever try and keep twenty filthy, tired, hungry children at bay in the middle of a dirt pit in the middle of nowhere? Eric was better at keeping the troops controlled than I was. I enjoyed the truck scene though it was hard. Shooting the Tanis scenes were just plain horrible.

Jayson: For me, the College Scene (beginning of movie) was the hardest.
Because the scene is nothing but long winded, talking heads. It worked well in the original movie. But when we filmed ours, the actors constantly messed up on the extremely long takes. In one shot, where Indy lectured to his class about a burial site, we retook it about 20 times and it filled up 45 minutes of raw footage for that one shot. Even though we had air-conditioning in the building we filmed in, filming the College scene was by far more grueling than filming in the hot swamps with mosquitoes and water moccasins.


Which scenes do you have the best memories of?

click to enlarge
Dragging behind truck.

Eric: For me, the answer to this would also be the Truck Scene – the stunts, the physicality, shooting a moving vehicle perched atop another moving vehicle, the sheer rugged adventure of it. What was very satisfying was that not only were we at the top of our game, we had really gelled as a crew. We’d been through a lot by that point, the relationships were full-formed, we could communicate through shorthand, we knew what to do, and how we worked as a team. So, when we approached the challenge of how to pull off these crazy stunts in each shot, we did so together, as a unified crew. It’s a really good feeling to be part of that.

Chris:The truck scene for sure. The kissing scene (it was my first kiss captured on screen) was a definite highlight. Also, the submarine scene was a ball.

Jayson: The truck scene was a blast. But for me the melting scene was the best to shoot. Because I spent 7 years trying to figure out how to do the FX and so when we finally filmed it, it all just came together.

Was anyone hurt doing the stunts?

Jayson: The only person who ever had to go to the hospital was Eric, and he was the director. Besides that, it was all smooth sailing.

Chris: Despite the fact that I played Indiana, I never got hurt. Eric was the one that was always getting hurt. Once, Jay and I encased his head in plaster and Eric almost died. Eric got burned and also broke his arm. We had one kid hurt his back during the truck scene when I was throwing him through the windshield. Aside from that and a brief case of heat stroke for me, there were no deaths reported in the making of Raiders: The Adaptation. (smile)

Eric: In short, no one was hurt seriously. But, the funny thing is, the degree to which anyone was hurt in our film doing stunts – only happened to me, not Chris – who’s Indiana Jones, for Pete’s sake! I play the part of Belloq, you’d think I’d be out of the line of fire, right? As it happened, in the course of the seven years, my arm was broken, my hair singed when I doubled for the Ratty Nepalese catching on fire during the Barfight, and I nearly suffocated in plaster during our attempt to make a plaster mold of Belloq’s face for the special effect of his spectacular death in the end. There’s a nod to this in the ending credits of our film. But hi-jinks aside, thankfully we were all very fortunate.


What was the total cost to film Raiders: The Adaptation?

Eric: To this day, we’ve no idea what our film cost to make… we’ve made a rough guess of around $5,000, all told between the three of us.

Jayson: Impossible to say sense we used mostly what we had on hand and Christmas gifts to supply what we didn't have. Most of the money we earned went to pay for the several cameras we used. $3-5,000 is our closest estimate of the total movie budget.

Chris: Approximated: $5,000


How many people were involved altogether?

Chris: Counting cast, crew and all of the folks who ever helped us or donated their time or something – probably somewhere between 80 and 100.

Jayson: I would have to count up the credits, but I think it was about a 60 or so kids over the years that worked on the project.

Eric: Gosh… I’m not sure. I suppose one could go through a count each unique name in our ending credits. There was of course Chris, Jayson, and myself. My little brother Kurt Zala is listed in something like 18 different roles, because as my little brother, he was always there! There was Angela Rodriguez as Marion… Alan Stenum as Sallah… Ted Ross as Toht… Mike Bales as Dietrich… Billy Coon as Brody…Clay LaGrone as Satipo… the multitude of kids who played bit parts or extras, either one time or many…our parents were instrumental in emotional support and driving us around before we had cars or licenses... Fact is, this film is the result of a contribution of a whole lot of people, as can be plainly seen from the 60-70 names in the end credits, that take over six minutes to scroll off the screen. Those credits play in full wherever our film gets shown, with the lights down.


How much time (years) did it take to film and edit Raiders: The Adaptation?

click to enlarge
At the premiere in 1989.

Jayson: Chris came up with the idea shortly after Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in the summer of 1981. We started filming in the summer of 1982. Editing finished and our Mississippi premiere happened in the late summer of 1989.

Eric: Seven years total, from the summer of ’82 to the summer of ’89, when we finished editing and held a hometown premiere.

Chris: Seven years. Editing was a nightmare. It nearly split us apart for good. But we finished thank god.


Seven years, I can't think of a better way to test a friendship. Ever had any difficulties staying motivated?

Jayson: Someone recently commented on how much Eric, Chris and I still seem to have the same personalities as we did back then. I think that’s because all three of us have always had a sense of ourselves and a respect for the differences in each other. So our seven-year project wasn’t simply about the need to be filmmakers, instead of just dreaming about it. It was also a rite of passage that had to be completed. Just as an adolescent can’t walk away from puberty, we couldn’t walk away from this movie.

Chris: Of course. We kept one another in check. Eric was a huge driving force through many of those years. We were all such good friends, there was an inter-accountability between us. The trio (Eric, Jay and I) all leaned on one another and pushed each other when morale was low. There were some times where we "felt" like giving up and the friendships were tested beyond normal parameters for sure, but we stuck it out. There were a few years there where we didn't speak to one another - mainly from burnout. But when the third one came out, Eric called me up and suggested we go see it to get inspired again. So we did. The friendship was patched up, we set our old stuff aside and kept rocking until we completed it.

Eric: We had our conflicts, some falling-outs over the course of the 7 years it took to make and complete our film. Thinking about it now, it's remarkable that we didn't have more tribulations in our friendship than we did, when one considers the amount of change you undergo as a person while growing from age 12 to 19, changing interests, priorities. Plus, add to that the fact that the three of us were (and are) such different personalities... One of the strengths of our Trio is that, being so different, our different strengths complemented... when they could have clashed a lot more, one would think. Over time, for example, Chris and I have reflected that one such pairing of complementing strengths is that one of Chris's strengths is that he's the Starter, an initiator. It was his idea in the first place to remake Raiders, whereas I don't think that I would have gone there on my own. On the other hand, we've also reflected that, of the two of us, I'm the Finisher I have a drive to push things to completion, to do whatever it takes to do things right. Usually these different strengths complement, although there were rare occasions in which they clashed. The most dramatic would be the instance I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, when the three of us were editing in a cramped editing room all summer long. After we finished locking picture, I wanted to press on and give the same amount of care to laying down the music and sound fx, whereas Chris and Jayson were sick and tired of editing our film and were ready to be done. We had a blow-up, and we parted ways, not speaking to each other, at least not until the following summer when Last Crusade came out, and we came together again, renewed, and finished. So, in summary, there were times where our friendship was indeed tested, sometimes ironically by our very differences that enabled us to both start and finish this huge project.


So, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade got released during the production of your Adaptation. Do you remember your first reaction when you found out about the Indy prequel and sequel? Did you enjoy these films as much as the original?

Eric: I remember distinctly the first time that I saw a TV commercial for Temple of Doom. By that time (1984), we were a couple of years into our recreation of Raiders, so when I heard the Raiders March come through the TV speaker, and the new images onscreen of Harrison wearing the fedora again and brandishing that whip -- it was thrilling boyhood-sense-of-adventure excitement melding with a welcome familiar warmth, like seeing an old friend after spending years apart. And that's what it was like for me also seeing Temple of Doom the 1st screening of the 1st day it was released, at Surfside Cinema 4 in Biloxi, Mississippi. So happy to be transported again into Indy's world of adventure.
Last Crusade was released in 1989. Loved the "young Indy" opening sequence. Enjoyed the rest of the film as well, although the tone felt different than Raiders. The sequels, while fun, did not capture the imagination, nor captivate me in wonder to the degree that the original Raiders did. Of course, that's a high bar though -- it's still the only movie that I can imagine wanting to spend 7 years of my life recreating.

Chris: They inspired us to keep going, but Raiders was still more magical. Even though I love all three being the die-hard fan that I am, Raiders still sits in my heart in a very special way. So, even though we loved them, it was never in question where our focus was. Little piece of trivia for you: In our credit sequence, we actually use music from all three movies (smile).

Jayson: I was really excited when the movie came out. I enjoyed them, but I was a bit disappointed they weren’t as cool as the first one. Then again, it’s rare for sequels to better than the original.


Did Temple of Doom and Last Crusade affect the production of your adaptation film in any way?

Chris: Nope. It just made us more passionate, more excited and more driven to finish our Raiders movie.

Jayson: During the 80’s, when a Spielberg movie came out, there was always a sense of magic in the air, because they were such great rollercoaster rides of cinema adventure. Our remaking of Raiders was no less so. Although it was a bit depressing at the time for me that Spielberg had turned out 3 Raiders movies while we were struggling to make just one.

Eric: I think Temple of Doom stoked the fires of our giddy Indiana Jones excitement... we were thirteen or fourteen then, young enough to be inspired to start incorporating machetes in play (Indy vs.Thuggee, sword vs. whip) in between building sets or shooting scenes.

Last Crusade was released when we were around 18 or 19 years old, and nearly finished editing our film. We had actually had a falling-out the summer before over how much work to give laying down the sound fx, music, etc. We weren't speaking. However, the timing of the release of Last Crusade in the summer of 1989 couldn't have been more fortuitous... I called Chris, and suggested that we go see it. I was hoping it'd inspire Chris to get excited about our film again, to get together again and put in the additional work to complete laying down the sound fx, music, etc. We sat down in our theater seats, and the old Paramount logo filled the screen...

The movie was a fun ride, and brought us back there once again. Afterwards, Chris gave me a call, and said he wanted to get back in that editing room and finish the sound. And that's what we did. We did it right, and held the premiere that August, to 200 people in our hometown, friends and family. The invites asked those receiving it to "join us for our last crusade"...

Next: Part II - In the spotlights >>

 

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