Part I - Adapting
How did you
guys meet each other?
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.
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.
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
Why did you choose to make
Eric, Jayson & Chris.
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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?
Cairo Street Fight.
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
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
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
Which was the hardest scene
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
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?
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.
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.
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
What was the total cost
to film Raiders:
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
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.
How many people were involved
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.
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:
At the premiere in 1989.
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?
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
of Doom and Last
Crusade affect the
production of your adaptation film in any way?
Nope. It just made us more passionate, more excited
and more driven to finish our Raiders
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
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.
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.
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"...
II - In the spotlights >>