Co-directors Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon knew about Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation in the same general, vague way that every other movie nerd knew about them. Rumors of an impeccable shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s immortal classic made by a group of 11-year-old best friends from Mississippi had traversed fan circles for so long that they didn’t even know if it was a real thing. Until one day, when like Indiana Jones himself, they stumbled upon a treasure stranger than fiction.
A chance screening of the actual film and a meeting with its now-grown up star Chris Strompolos inspired the pair to continue the story with Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. The documentary chronicles the ups and downs of Strompolos and collaborator Eric Zala’s childhood labor of love to complete their faithful recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had been missing one final shot.
Inverse spoke to Skousen and Coon about what it took to continue Strompolos and Zala’s story, how filming the completion of the movie’s explosive airplane set piece was perfect timing, and why such an ambitious adaptation probably couldn’t be done by kids today.
When was the first time you guys heard about or saw Eric and Chris’s adaptation?
JC: I’d heard rumors of it but I couldn’t find it anywhere online. But in March 2013, Chris and Eric showed it at a kid’s film festival as part of their book tour. I saw it with about 20 people, and about 15 minutes into it just fell in love. Creatively I wasn’t in a good spot. At the time there were no projects I was excited about and this hit me at the perfect time.
Did you guys make those kinds of fan films when you were kids?
JC: I didn’t because I played too many video games.
TS: You watch The Adaptation and you feel shame for your own childhood. You’re like, “I wasted my life!” I didn’t make any films like that. I have kids now and all I can think is I really hope my kids are more like Chris and Eric than me. But I did make a lot of skateboard videos. I was one of those people emulating Spike Jonze or something.
What do you think made Eric and Chris keep going over all those years?
TS: Chris always starts things and Eric always finishes things, so they’re a really good team. Chris has the passion of, “I want to try this, I want to do this,” and that’s how it started with them as kids, and he just happened to partner with the right guy because three or four years in he was sort of done. Eric is the type of guy that if he decides he wants to do something, he’s going to take it all the way.
It was Chris who wanted to do this airplane scene and Eric wasn’t sure because he kind knew what it was going to take to finish it, and then he was finally convinced.
You guys have collaborated on movies about teen angst before, with Napoleon Dynamite and The Sasquatch Gang. Do you think that theme is what mostly attracted you guys to the Raiders! guys?
TS: I guess we just find teenagers funny. With these kids it was a natural fit for the kind of stories we’ve always told about people that are in transition, and who’s more in transition than teenagers? This had all those elements, but it wasn’t a script. This was a real thing that happened.
What did Chris and Eric say when you approached them to make the documentary?
JC: I met Chris at the screening and I was just like, “Hey, how long are you in town?” I had dinner with him the next night, and just kind of got to know him. Then he worked on Eric who took a little bit longer to convince. But that’s a good thing because it took two or three months to just kind of get everyone on the same page. Once they signed on it was a totally open book. Chris sent me a box of everything he had related to The Adaptation for us to go through. It’s pretty powerful to have someone trust you with their life and their childhood. I would have an extremely hard time doing that.
The plane sequence seemed like another natural kind of way to progress the story too.
TS: It was perfect from a documentary angle. It gave a trajectory to the film so it wasn’t just everything based on the past. It’s something that’s happening today that can be more cinema vérité style where we’re observing them now doing what they did as kids.
Were they comfortable with you guys around them filming? Did they just act natural?
TS: Documentaries are all about relationships.
JC: It’s not any different from how you make friends. You build a rapport with someone and you’re going to get there as long as you take care of them and you’re honest. Stuff like that goes a long way. It would be really hard to make a documentary with someone that you’re not friends with.
You also include a lot of great in-between takes footage from when they were shooting as kids. Was that just part of what they handed over to you?
TS: That was part of that stuff. The interesting element here is the third collaborator, Jayson Lamb. As a kid he actually wasn’t that into remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was more interested in doing the special effects and stuff like that.
They were filming this for all those years, and in between takes he was more interested in filming them as teenagers than he was in the remake. So that was really lucky for us because we ended up with all these cool little moments.
Do you think there’s a movie out there now that you think kids would want to recreate like the Raiders! guys did?
TS: That’s a tough question because it gets into all these things like, are we getting so old that we just don’t think movies are as good as they used to be?
JC: I don’t know that there’s the kind of iconic movies that we had growing up now: Jaws, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Raiders. There is no “the film of 1981” or “the film of 1982” anymore. Those movies were so ground-breaking at the time, and now there’s just so much content for kids that it’s hard to gravitate to single thing.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity