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Back in 1981, the classic action-adventure movie Raiders Lost Ark was a fan favorite for many. The film went on to become one of the most beloved mimetic treasures of all time. But the ultimate fans were a teenage trio who kind of took it a little bit further and created the greatest fan film of all time.
At age 12 and 11, in the summer of 1981, our guest today, director, Eric Zala, and friends devoted what turned out to be seven years of their childhood to shooting a shot-by-shot adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This ultimate love letter to Indiana Jones was shot over the course of seven summers. The cast all grew up in front of our eyes. During the film production they did stunts, dangerously I might add, almost burned down their mother’s house and much more.
Driven only by their fandom with no idea about editing, sound, or movie making, Eric, Chris Strompolos, and Jayson Lamb finished the film (except for the blown-up plane scene) and even had a hometown premiere.
The guys decided to finalize the project with their new recognition by shooting the final scene they had abandoned.
Director Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen joined them to document their adventure. In 2015, The Raider! The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Made documentary was released. It is currently playing on Hulu.
Eric has credits on other films like An Early Twilight (1993) and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (2003). After all these years, Eric’s start to indie filmmaking remains a fascinating dream-coming-through story. It was hilarious hearing about the making Raiders adaptation and their parents’ reactions.
Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Eric Zala.
Alex Ferrari 0:08
I'd like to welcome to the show Eric Zala. How you doing, Eric?
Eric Zala 0:14
Oh, I'm doing great. Thank you for having me on the show.
Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thanks for thanks for being on the show. Man. You know, you're you have I have a lot of independent filmmakers on the show. I've had big and small, but you have a such a unique story about how, how you made your not only your first film when you were 12. Also, you know, afterwards making being part of another film, documenting the making of the first one is such a unique story. So for everybody who doesn't know your story, can you talk a little bit about Raiders of the Lost Ark and what you what you guys did in a nutshell in a nutshell, because we'll go deep into it.
Eric Zala 0:59
Sure. So back in 1981, like a lot of kids loved Raiders Lost Ark but and a lot of kids played Indiana Jones in the backyard we kind of took it a little bit further. We from age 12 to 19 seven summers we devote our entire childhood to the idea this wacky i doing idea of doing a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just kids we had no camera no clue, no idea what we're doing no money. Had no idea of what we're getting into. But we stuck with it and managed to finish and have a hometown premiere and sat on our bookshelf for 14 years and we went off to college in life thinking finishing all but one scene the airplane scene, you know cuz move airplane blows up?
Alex Ferrari 1:52
Eric Zala 1:53
We we then were reunited when it was accidently discovered by Eli Roth, who got a copy to the director of the original,
Alex Ferrari 2:07
but we've sat up there for a second How did he get a copy of it? It's been on your shelf like where did it live in the ether that he could even see a copy of this thing.
Eric Zala 2:15
You know, bit of serendipity Alex? six degrees of separation. I went to NYU film school and then after graduation, I'm rooming with a fellow alum who made a copy of my film after I showed it to him. He was a working editor great guy passed on to a friend pass on to a friend. I was working at trauma in New York. Nice red Raskin got it to Eli Roth, I'm told and Eli, he he grew up doing a shot for shot remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and saw our story and this and managed to bring this battered VHS bootleg tape to his own pitch meeting slid across the conference room table and got it so Steven Spielberg, who loved it, and said I want to write these guys a letter. What's their addresses them? Eli doesn't know he's never met us. But thankfully, it's 2002 at this point. And so he looks tracks down one of us through the internet, and gets our addresses we get a letter from Mr. Spielberg, thanking us for a very loving and detailed tribute, and then met the man himself about a year later. That's led to a 10,000 word article in Vanity Fair to our story being told in a book by Alan eyes and stock in St. Martin's Press, called Raiders, the story of the greatest fan film ever made. And then then we decided to reunite the cast after 25 years and do the one scene that we couldn't do as kids the airplane scene. And a documentary crew followed us and doing that. So now there's a documentary about these wacky Mississippi kids doing the shot for shot remake of Raiders Lost Ark in the 80s. So I keep expecting to close the book on this Raiders thing and it keeps
Alex Ferrari 4:13
popping up. It keeps popping up. So I have to ask. Okay, so let's let's take it back for a minute. So it's 1981. Like we were talking before, before we got on the air where if similar vintage, you're you're a few years ahead of me. I remember at I remember at 182 because that's when VHS is and VHS video stores, at least where I lived in New York started to show up. Yeah. And I'm not even sure if Raiders was out yet because it was such a new thing that they didn't want to release it. So how could you even conceive of doing a shot from memory?
Eric Zala 4:51
Great question. Yeah. So Raiders of course came out in summer of 81. We got the idea in 82. Thankfully, They used to do theatrical re releases of really popular films.
Alex Ferrari 5:05
Eric Zala 5:05
Raiders came out at this time. And you're right video stores were around, but they were in their infancy and you could not yet read graders. So, after Chris and I decided to embark on this endeavor, we snuck in a audio tape cassette recorder into the movie theater playing Raiders to amazing serendipity, you know, to surreptitiously record the soundtrack at the thinking as naive and foolish as we were, we were 12 we're going to use capture the sound effects. Oh yeah. And no concept of like
Alex Ferrari 5:43
editing, sound recording entity quality.
Eric Zala 5:48
We're fumbling around in the dark on how to do it. But the idea was that it did wind up being helpful, I'm sure even though you know the tears were were visible. You could hear it sounded terrible. But I what I did was I used it as a memory jogger later on. I got Raiders, the storybook Raiders, the movie on record, Raiders, you know, the trading cards, every thing Raiders like allowance could support and cobbled it all together and spread it all across a dining room table. And I spent a whole summer. Yeah, drawing the storyboards from memory, using my visual memory jobs and the soundtrack. And it took me a whole summer 602, storyboards and all but finished. And I finally felt like I'd lived in that world for a while. And I think it prepared me for directing. We wouldn't, we wouldn't shoot until the following summer. But it provided a homemade blueprint for the film.
Alex Ferrari 6:52
That's absolutely ridiculous and amazing all at the same time.
Eric Zala 6:56
And of course, of course, a mere year or two after that Raiders comes out at your local blockbuster. And we're like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, we
Alex Ferrari 7:03
go on. And just watch a friend literally. Then at that point, you can finally and blockbuster wasn't around yet. So it was probably your mom and pop in at three because blockbuster hadn't come around. Just I used to work in a video store. This is why I know these things. Yeah. But yeah, so it was like your mom and pop and it was you couldn't purchase it because purchasing it at that time would cost you. I don't think it didn't come through sell through. Not yet. So it was still 125 bucks to buy it. If I was
Eric Zala 7:29
saying was he a man figured it out yet? Yeah, it was by her alibi. Tom Selleck movie for 50 bucks.
Alex Ferrari 7:36
I mean, yeah. So I mean, it was insane. Until I think he didn't come out until like 8788. I think 80 came up. And that was the first big sell through other than Disney. Disney is going at 2499 for a while. But the big studios haven't got an 80 showed up and then everyone's like, wait a minute, we can make money with this VHS stuff. And then everything and then everything became sell through and then so you had it. You had it and you rent it so you would rent it and then watch it rent it and watch it. Well, I our dog dubbed it or dubbed it. Well,
Eric Zala 8:11
Chris, when Chris's mom remarried. The owner of the local TV station Chris was in. He was in a rich house so they could afford a laser desk.
Alex Ferrari 8:24
Oh, yeah. Yeah,
Eric Zala 8:28
very. So we studied it like a friend that you could do frame collars. frame by frame that. Yeah, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Exactly. And I mean, to this day, every note of the soundtrack every line of dialogue is permanently indelibly etched in my brain. You know, and of course, I tried to like commit as much to memory in that theater in 82. But But yeah, as it turns out, my storyboards were pretty accurate there were a couple compositions flipped but for the most part a fairly faithful rendition.
Alex Ferrari 9:04
Now when you watch Raiders for the first time I want people to understand this who are might be younger didn't have the opportunity to watch Raiders when when they when it came out the theaters. What was that thing that what was that magical thing that when you saw it, it just it because I've had so many big guests on the show. And Raiders always pops up as their top three and their top there's one of those films that just like change cinema and then Spielberg just was changing cinema like almost every picture he made was changing cinema. But Raiders was just like, what did it do it for you what it can what it How did it connect to you in that way that caused you to do this?
Eric Zala 9:43
I do remember this. You know, it was a side and Ocean Springs cinema with a buddy of mine. I actually wasn't looking forward to seeing it that much. You know, like man, he's like great. Why? cowboy chasing after Noah's Ark? What was his thing? All right. Critics seem to like it. Right. And you know, the dark, you know, we see the man with the hat moving through the the forest. By the time we get to the boulder scene, and I see the boulder barreling down on Indy I split my brain open, I did not know that. Movies could do that, that they could be that exciting. I mean, I love Star Wars, but, you know, grounded in our own reality set in a time when Raiders you know, the 30s pockets of mystery still existed throughout the world. It I think maybe that's why it resonated. Especially, but what a thrill ride what a utter roller coaster and I I wanted to someway inhabit that world. And so when Chris, later on, you know, about half a year later, looks me up in the white pages, and calls me and says, Hey, I'm that kid from the bus. I'm doing a shot for shot remake a rage laughs dark Do you want to help? I thought for all of five seconds, you know, imagining that all the sets were built and I just kind of walk on and help. But the movie was so amazing. I think had Chris chosen smoking the bandit. As great as that Burt Reynolds flick is I don't think it would have endured because yeah, it lit the fire. You know? I think it was the you know if I had to pinpoint it it was the the boulder scene that in the truck scene that just absolutely captivated me. Yeah. Yeah. And movies would never be the same after that. How could they be was lightning in a bottle?
Alex Ferrari 11:46
I remember they released the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark on VHS and on this was a two parter. It was a two parter. And the second part was like the history of stuntman. Yeah, great movie stuff like the history of stunt men or something like that. And I've had that I watched that because in for everyone Listen, you have to understand in the 80s there was no information about making movies anywhere other than some making of books, or the occasional like Star Wars making off or Raiders making of and then in VHS like that wasn't there was no DVD special extras there was laser discs. Exactly the Criterion Collection. That's when I caught all that
Eric Zala 12:26
extra stuff. If you are a real geek you subscribe maybe to starlog or got center or center
Alex Ferrari 12:32
or center or center whatever I want to call them. Not Yeah, but one of those Yeah, that the VFX book Yeah. All of those Yeah. starlog those kinds of things. That's super geeky. I never got to that geek. I didn't know that existed. I didn't know it existed or else I would have order would have ordered it I was in my I was in like Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was like there's nothing even remotely close to filmmaking anyway. So I was like not in that world at all. But um but yeah, so everybody understand that like that's why I can pinpoint that making of that making of and the making of of Dracula co couple of dragging those two making offs changed like it really changed the way I looked at filmmaking.
Eric Zala 13:13
I I held up my same audio tape cassette recorder to the TV when it came on when the making of came on PBS.
Alex Ferrari 13:21
Eric Zala 13:22
You know that song. Memories friends and eight by 10s.
Alex Ferrari 13:27
You Yes, I do. While we're on Eric, we're old Eric we are on now. We are older sir. So I have to ask you, so I mean, obviously you're 1213 you guys, you obviously don't have a plan with this. This is just a sec. This is just a crazy fan. This is before fan films. Yeah, well,
Eric Zala 13:48
before they were well known. We can't claim to be the first but certainly pre internet as far as we knew we were the only ones in the world doing this.
Alex Ferrari 13:57
Right? Yeah, I mean in 80 I was in 8889 my co like my co worker at the video store was doing Back to the Future to fan films like with the hoverboard and everything I remember them in making those things. So they were always there especially because the VHS or the high eight and higher cameras were out and you can shoot you shot with this with eight right? No, no Betamax originally and then VHS and then VHS so you just jumped right into both Jesus.
Eric Zala 14:27
That's amazing. What was so you had no end game to this. So you were just doing it for the fun of it. You didn't think you were gonna make money with this? We had no more ambitious goal than to just finish the damn thing. And that as simple as it is seems after like oh five years then you really start to wonder
Alex Ferrari 14:45
well, I mean, listen to you guys kept going like it was this the summers like seven summers. And you kept going and you like you would go through the year and I'm sure I'm assuming there was some planning and like, Hey, I can go get this. I go go. Did you guys kept is up for seven years at that age where? Between 12 and whatever 19 changed a little bit. Yeah, change a bit. You're things that were cool at 12 aren't cool at 19 at any strain, so that you kept this all going really serves as a testament to the love of Raiders and, and of Indian and everything that they did. And what Steven and George put together with with the story and even to this day, I mean, right now as we're talking, Harrison's doing another indie. I believe it's his last one. I can't I can't I mean, I think he just got hurt on this one. Like, Harrison, I know you want to pay Chiclets, it's your ad. But you know, what, you you earned the right to do what ever the hell you so knock yourself out. But I so what was the toughest part of making this thing?
Eric Zala 15:52
I think, you know, it is ultimately the Battle of the Spirit, you know, as as challenging as the logistics of, you know, how are we going to make the boulder you know, how are we going to find a location suitable location for the Sahara Desert in on the Mississippi Gulf Coast? You know, in the 80s? You know, there's those challenges. But, you know, since your question is what's the hardest part? It's that, you know, battle of the Spirit thing in keeping going or keeping going exactly, and, and pushing through those moments of doubt, you know, where, you know, seven years, that's a long time, there's plenty of time, opportunity for conflict for as you say, disillusionment or, or whatnot, or other interests. So that and, well, people, you know, there's process and then there's people film, as you well know, is the collaborative art, right? You and you can create something together bigger and more spectacular than you could by yourself. But the rub is it's also can be the greatest source of stress and conflict. And that was the case in our, our journey to ego. Don't forget ego. Right? You know, we nearly split up over a girl and then there was conflict near the end on how much work to give the sound in the editing room, which split us up near as we were almost over the finish line. This is when you're still
Alex Ferrari 17:31
kids or towards
Eric Zala 17:33
towards the end at this point. Yeah, yeah, I I started my first year at NYU film school, the finish the film undone and us not talking to each other, truly and utterly done with each other. So, but we met it, things came together. And and so that's that's the toughest part, I think.
Alex Ferrari 17:57
Especially when you're doing indies or I mean, at this point, it's not even an indie it's, it's a completely there. It's a fan film. It's definitely an indie film, meaning independent, but not in any traditional finish it because you can't make money with it. There's no, there's no investors, none of that stuff. But when anytime you're doing things at that level, you're dealing with amateurs, I mean, you you guys literally were amateurs, you're all 12 year olds, with a camera and stuff. So you're, you're you're still figuring out who the hell you are, let alone trying to build art together and but the only thing that held this whole thing together was the love of of Indiana.
Eric Zala 18:36
That you know, and one thing that also worked, you know, one strength of collaboration is the sense of accounting inter accountability, you know, Yeah, all right, you know, my buddies are working on this you know, can't can't give up I think that helped you know, kind of keep the cast and the crew you know, the core together throughout all those years. That and some luck you know, like when our Marian when I approached pretty girl after church in the parish hall and said, hey, my buddy is an iron or making a movie. Do you want to be in it? You know, we didn't know many girls need an American so it would have been sunk. He said no. So she said yes. Having no idea she was making a multi year commitment. But they're too lucky. Oh, yeah. There's
Alex Ferrari 19:24
no there's no question and also that I read somewhere that this was kind of like a boy a DIY filmmaking boyhood. Because you guys grow up on screen. So like, like, how did you even think like, and it's, I'm assuming you shout out did you shoot in sequence, right, a sequence
Eric Zala 19:39
I don't know. completely out of sequence.
Alex Ferrari 19:41
Right. So you like when you're 12 when you're 17? Like that's amazing.
Eric Zala 19:46
There it is true when we started shooting. To simulate India's trademark stubble Chris got Vaseline and ash from the fireplace and you know, smeared it on his and by the end it's I just get to shaving for a day, you know? So yeah, it's true. There's one part in our college scene in which we cut away to a cutaway taken three years later after Chris's voice broke. And it's kind of obvious.
Alex Ferrari 20:16
Oh my God, that's amazing. Now, I said, See in the film, you guys did some fairly dangerous stuff. Say that? What is the most dangerous thing that you guys did that looking back as a grown man today would go? Oh, my God, if my kids were down there doing that, I would lose my mind.
Eric Zala 20:36
Yes, yes. And it's the the only solemn moment when I give q&a is after screenings is to, you know, for all the young people in the audience Don't do this. You know, whatever you take from this, don't don't set yourself on fire. Don't you know, please be safe, we're young, we're dumb, we could have very easily been killed.
Alex Ferrari 20:56
And it was the 80s. And it was the 80s. And in the 80s, how we survived the 80s is a general statement as as human beings, because the safety protocols, the stuff that we're being fed. Exactly, we could survive anything.
Eric Zala 21:11
It's been observed that our movie probably couldn't be made today. And that's probably one aspect. You're right. Yeah. You know, from from being there. It was the, you know, the wild 80s where you, you don't have an understanding of the basic fragility of the human body yet.
Alex Ferrari 21:27
So basically, just for everyone listening when you are in an airplane, the smoking section was parted by a drape. So they thought that the drape would stop the smoke from circulating inside of the cylinder, a cylinder tube that's flying up in the air. This is what you had to deal with as a babies were their babies. I mean, you'd be smoking next Oh, baby. It didn't that Right. Right.
Eric Zala 21:51
Yeah, that was a different time. That's, that's for sure. But But to answer your question, I mean, there's so many I mean probably setting myself on fire. It ranks even higher than duct taping Roman candles to my arms and shooting them out of my arms to simulate the the power of God Sure. The Ark of the Covenant shooting through my my body character Belloc at the end, even more than the Roman candles. Yeah. You see, I stunt double for the character of the ratty Nepalese there was a neighborhood kid doing it but I wasn't gonna ask some kid to do that so I thought I'll do it and plus I know the block and so my costume was this think Chris's grandmother's shawl that we like stole out of the closet we raided parents closets underneath that a fire retardant raincoat, you know safety first. And we were in this we're shooting the the Nepalese saloon in the basement underneath the kitchen. And we were for the most part using ice propyl alcohol both bought from the local Kmart but for whatever reason that day I asked the guys to douse my back with gasoline, thinking it would not gasoline, not lighter fluid. I'm embarrassed to say
Alex Ferrari 23:17
gasoline. Got it. Okay. So high octane at least was a good octane was at premium
Eric Zala 23:29
So I I take my mark and and, and call action and stand up and hit my mark and scream and and the kid with the lit torch just out of frame rushes forth and lights me and I go up and I feel the flame It feels like an electric blanket on my back then turned up highs that's the best. But the guys are supposed to run forth with a smothering blanket. Finally they do. And the neighborhood kid throws it on my back and he's eager to see if he's successful. So he pulls it off sees Oh Eric still on fire back on, off on fanning the flames higher. Meanwhile, the small basement rooms filled with the stench of burnt hair and flyers that starting to lick the back of my hair and catch Chris Meanwhile, in the foreground, there's this kid with the fire extinguisher our plan B reading the instructions pole pan. I'm still on fire. Chris grabs the smelling blanket runs forward and knocks me down and push in. Smells mother's smothers Jeeva Yeah, yeah. The real heat came later when your parents found that mom's spotted me with my background fire and for some reason I had a problem with this.
Alex Ferrari 24:57
Eric Zala 24:59
yeah. were shut down for the rest of the summer told no more fire. Chris's mom suggested Why can't indie just hit the bad guy with a big sack of leaves? Big sack of leaves mommy don't understand. Anyway, the summer things that cooled off metaphorically speaking. And I had a plan to sell the moms on approving continued fire to words adult chaperone found an adult even less responsible than we were Peter Kiefer. God loved them who drank beer and gave us good instruction where to put the fire. And so, the fire the pyrotechnics continued unabated. And no one got hurt. No one got hurt. No one got hurt. And amazingly, I can show you a piece of charred wire that I was given by my parents years later. Turns out we had no idea how lucky we were. The heat from that day was so bad that it melted the plastic insulation off the the wires running along the ceiling beams exposing bare copper wire years later, the house could have gone up like that through an electrical short again, so so very lucky. So So yeah, that was probably that more than anything I went is not the closest I came to death, but it is probably the most. Which brings me to my next question.
Alex Ferrari 26:38
sponsz Indy is known for stunts. It's considered one of the greatest movies of what they did is legendary. They did a whole movie behind the scenes of it all that guy, the truck scene and the boulder scene. And I actually went to Disney MGM Studios in Florida, where they have the indie adventure. And I was called up to be one of the participants. I was lucky. I was when I went to college, and I got called up and I was part of the behind the scenes of all that was the most exciting. And I was like one of the Yeah, one of the villagers or whatever I was. And there was you see everything for hours. And it was it was it was so awesome. That sounds great. So you have all of this the stance, how do you approach some of the greatest stunts in movie history when you're 1213 1415? Well, that
Eric Zala 27:34
depends on Yeah, when you're 12 you know, like, as I said, just well Okay, it's time to drag behind the truck. So Alright, let's drag behind the truck. We Chris when he did that stunt elbow pads and knee pads underneath, safety first safety first. But, and actually going underneath and leaping off of moving vehicles driven by kids who may or may not have had their driver's permit at the time. big contrast with later which, you know, are you know, in doing the airplane scene, the only the main most top budget item was hiring a pyrotechnic expert so it would be safe we told her wives you know, Alright, we're gonna do this right $25,000 for make sure that that is done right. It was like
Alex Ferrari 28:33
it was a big it's a big explosion raise Yeah, Kickstarter. Yeah, it's a big explosion and stuff. So yeah, I mean, I get that Yeah.
Eric Zala 28:39
But so you know what could go wrong? And of course if seeing the documentary, you know, that best laid plans but but you know, I I would, it's something that you know, back then. We did our best to be careful. But I can't believe on how lucky we were you know, we built a we had this The truck was this abandoned truck and we built all these safety things on to it like jutting from the the front of the hood was this big wooden scoop that would catch Indy when he's thrown through the the sergeant which we used, right of course, it's still not probably as safe as it could be. But we tried and, and nobody actually was actually hurt. Amazingly, during the entire seven years. We had some close calls. Ironically, Chris was Indiana Jones did his own stunts as noted I was the director and played belt but I was the one who kept getting hurt the close to my arm at one point. I nearly got burnt up hair cinch and of course the the plaster event which you know from the documentary
Alex Ferrari 30:00
Can you tell people about the cluster event?
Eric Zala 30:02
Sure, sure. How? So? My character of course is Belloc and of course everyone knows that the end of Raiders no spoiler real spoilers here yeah
Alex Ferrari 30:13
like at this point if you don't know what Raiders that's that's not awesome it's not on us. Exactly.
Eric Zala 30:18
Well, my character doesn't melt my my character blows up. So we're going to do the three imploding, exploding and melting heads the same way that Spielberg and makeup man chris wallace did it. Make a gelatin mold of the actors plaster molded the actress head, fill it with gelatin painted flesh colored and when it comes time to shoot it, get a heat gun which is like a super hairdryer, turn it on, melt in the case of tote or in my case, blow it up. That's the plan. I volunteer to go first. So Jason has done research on how to make a plaster mold. So we're on the back porch of my mom's house in Mississippi, Chris Jason and I and my little brother Kurt, mix up this concoction. I've got a a shower cap on my head to cut straw stuffed up my nose and a pair wedged in my mouth so I can breathe and hold the screaming position. You know because of course screaming for the requisite 20 minutes it's going to take two for the plaster to harden. World disappears from you as they lop it on my head and a cool it dries and all of a sudden I feel this tremendous building heat. Almost like someone stuck my head in the oven. So j come to find out made a small air is supposed to get dental plaster instead of plaster. Industrial PLAs
Alex Ferrari 31:52
Eric Zala 31:54
yeah, to speed the drawing. So it felt like my head was being baked. A guy's told me he was too hot to touch at the time. It's like, must have been nice to choose. But you know, but I felt like alright, pain is temporary film is forever. It's insanity of filmmakers. It cools and, you know, three inches thick. It's hard as concrete it's ready to pry off my face. So the guys reach around to pry the husk off my head. And all of a sudden I'm in this excruciating pain around my eyes and eyelids. Turns out Jason made a second mistake that day you always want to put Vaseline on her eyelashes and eyebrows. Jay didn't do that in mind were embedded in the plaster and they were not coming out for anything. Compounding this AI problem I have no way of telling Chris or Jason any of this you know just what Eric what's wrong. I make a motion and you know do this I you know I think it's Chris and they figure it out. So they get this hammer and chisel alright Eric leaned back on managed to and yeah. managed to break a hole in and not drive the screwdriver into my eye socket and into my brain. Thanks Jesus Christ. I know. cool air rushes in at that point around my nose. I know I'm not gonna suffocate but it's still not coming off. So I make a motion to for a patent paper and I write hospital. And so they call 911 my mom's in the front of the house. She has no idea any of this is going on. But she sees the squad car pulling into the driveway. I hear this cup damn boy. What do you got on your head? I feel my help myself being helped in the backseat of my mom's car and driven a distance to the emergency room where they they take this salt that they used to bus casts off
Alex Ferrari 33:57
Eric Zala 33:59
take all of it off except for a little area around my eyes and for that surgeon comes in and takes a scalpel and saws away at the infinitesimally small space which my eyelids and eyebrows and I had no eyelashes half one eyebrow and was missing the other and, you know, borrowed my mom's eyebrow pencil fill it in. Before returning to high school. They've grown back now.
Alex Ferrari 34:25
Obviously obviously. They look fantastic, sir. They look fantastic. They look fantastic. Now, I as I'm hearing this story. I've said this many times. What we have is a disease. filmmaking is a disease. It is an absolute disease. It is something that once you get bitten by that bug, it is yours for life. You can't get rid of it. There's no vaccination for it. It can go dormant for decades, decades, but it will always rear its ugly head at one ugly or beautiful head depending how you look at it. Sure, but that is in Saying, and I'm thinking of like self like, and I'm thinking in the back of my head, like, Where are their parents? And then I'm thinking to myself, my parents would have done the exact same. It was a different time. It's a different time. It's just, they would be like, Oh, yeah, the kids are out there like me, we used to, like, go in the morning, we leave all day. And then when the lights came on off the headlight, or that the street lights went on, got to be back in the house. And that was it. There's no cell phones. There's no way if you had no idea where your child was, I can't even comprehend that with my kids.
Eric Zala 35:37
Exactly. I'm a parent now myself, right. And I mom set the bar high that way. But how do you recreate that I struggle now? Because I want that same freedom that same glorious freedom that you it's easy to wax nostalgic and poetic about it because yeah, it's I'm so grateful for it sounds like you were too. Oh, it was it was a wonderful,
Alex Ferrari 35:59
I love the time that I grew up. And I love the I mean, the 80s always hold a very special time in my life. Because that's when you know, I was when I discovered movies. And it was just a very unique time and life. kind of the way like Tarantino looks at the late 60s and 70s. I look at the 80s because I just I love all about the movies. And now I get to talk to filmmakers of that time, which is like you just geek out about Sure. What was it? What was it like, you know, writing this movie? I guess I have to ask you, man, what was it like? Like, tell me the whole story. I'm assuming you met him? Did you meet him in amblin? And universe race? So the whole story like when you did you take the golf cart up? Or did you part like, I want the we want to hear the journal live through it. So. So we
Eric Zala 36:50
after getting the letter, which my wife photographed me in various stages of opening, you know, thinking, My God, it can't possibly get any better than this. Spielberg like it's, you know, what we this film that we did? Unbelievable. Jump to about a year later. Chris and I are in Los Angeles, we're in town, the vanity fair articles just come out. And we actually have an agent who gives us a call and says, Hey, Spielberg wants to meet you tomorrow at noon at amblin on the universal lot and what? It's almost too much, but can you imagine so? So the next day, of course, we're there. And we drive up and first on the universal lot. And then back to amblin. And you know, the big gates part we drive through to this compound sort of set and sort of kind of Santa Fe se in architecture, you know it Yeah. And I say to the receptionist, the most absurd words I've ever uttered my life. Hi, we're here to see Mr. Steven Spielberg and have it not be a joke. But you can wait over there so so we, we sit, they assure us and we walk up through a courtyard upstairs to wait in a conference room. And we're jumping our fingers on the conference room table, Chris, Jason, I waiting, seeing these honorary degrees on the wall for Spielberg and also in behind the door approaching we hear that familiar voice you've seen in the making Raiders Lost Ark, you know that voice? It's the man himself. And door flings open Hey, boys, and inbox, Steven Spielberg, the man himself, as he calls us boys. I remember. We're like 30 something at this point. But we're the, your your voice, your voice certainly feeling like it? Absolutely. So we sit and I'm sitting, uh, you know, Spielberg, Chris, me, Jason, and, and talking. We talked about 45 minutes about movies about Raiders. about life. He He gave us really great advice. He, you know, he said, pick a great story and tell it really well. That was I mean, it's, it's simple, but back to basics. That's, that's that and he talked about what he was doing Raiders had lots of questions, one of which was, you know, the box that had just come out. And I was hoping that certain deleted scenes that I'd read about and you know, in what research we could do, as you know, back in the day, and I knew that they were you know, nd tied to the periscope shop selling getting shot by the German soldier. And I i lament that you know, one wish could have seen this and he said, Well, I've got those the outtakes on a tape in my office. Do you want to see like you Yeah. So five minutes later sitting on a couch in Spielberg's office, watching the outtakes from Raiders and Temple of Doom with a sense that we're seeing something that only the crew had seen. It was the most surreal, amazing thing. After that, he even granted our requests for a photo. And then we, we stumbled out into the sunlight. What just happened? I'll never forget that day.
Alex Ferrari 40:30
I'm sure. Like, it's it's kind of like, I always tell people, you know, it's Spielberg is like our Steven, this is like, he lives on Mount Hollywood. He is one of the gods. He's Zeus, if you will, and we're just mortals. And then every once in a while he comes down and he's like, come visit, or, or he'll touch you and go, you shall direct. Or you shall right. And he has that power to do that. And, you know, I've been blessed to talk to so many amazing filmmakers on my show. I'm never, it never surprises me the amount of people he has touched behind the scenes, people who have no direct public relationship with him out front, but that he's like, yeah, you know, I was Stephens, the one who got me that meeting with Clint. And then that's how I got my first writing job. And then fast forward later, I won the Oscar, like things like that. And you're just like, it's amazing. And it's, I hear his name again, and again and again. And he's one of the most from my understanding the most giving people in the business and one of the most generous people in the business. He helped so many careers and continues up so many careers, get off the ground. It is remarkable. And it doesn't surprise me at all, he would do something like he's as busy as is
Eric Zala 41:54
certainly fortunate. And you're right. I mean, being a movie lover as I am, of course, I've read about all my heroes, and Spielberg proves nice guys don't finish last, you know, the, he's a good person, you know, and like you said, the impact of of his touching people, inspiring people taking the time to write he didn't still blows my mind that he sent Chris Jason I those letters, and, and others too. I feel I love many directors, but I feel like he's our greatest living director right now. And that's saying a lot.
Alex Ferrari 42:31
Yeah. He's just, I don't think there's ever been any, any filmmaker in the history of our business that has done what he's done. You could I mean, there's other great artists. There's other great filmmakers Scorsese and Kubrick and lower Sala and a million other amazing and living to like Nolan and Fincher and and you know, and all these Coen Brothers, I mean, it just the list goes on. There's no lack of amazing filmmakers. But the bill the his ability to not only change film history multiple times, multiple times, he changed it film history from, from Jaws, creating the blockbuster to close encounters to Raiders, then to et. And then I, you know, I had the pleasure of having Jim Hart on who wrote hook. And I remember in 91, I was working at the video store was in high school and the rumors of like, oh, ESP ever flashed up, you know, he hasn't had a hit in a while. And, you know, he's not, he's not what it was before. I think it's over for Steven. And I remember that, that Neil and the media, people would share that chatter. And I'm like, it's no, it's Steven Spielberg no kind of man. And I love how I love hope. By the way, it's just absolutely adore hook. But it wasn't as successful as they all wanted it to be. Then it comes out two years later, and has the biggest movie of all time, and wins every single Oscar with Schindler's List and Jurassic Park. And, and you just India cements himself as like, Jeff. Oh, and also changes cinema forever with Jurassic Park. Right? Because it's, it brings in digital filmmaking, which now is just filmmaking. Oh, and also made a black and white movie about the Holocaust that also was very successful. Financially, like it's
Eric Zala 44:20
insanity what he did, right, right. You shouldn't be able to do that. And yet he pulled it off in one year, in one year release. Yeah. And I can't imagine what it would be like to shoot Schindler's List while editing Jurassic Park, can you
Alex Ferrari 44:35
with the visual effects with visual effects that have never been created before?
Eric Zala 44:39
Right, right. It's like, I mean, I'm a Kubrick fan. I love how he had special lenses created for shots. Oh, yeah. You know, there's so many other things. But, you know, but Spielberg, like you said before he pioneered CGI, which of course is now the thing. Of course, jaws was original blockbuster. Right. It's he and I are going back and repeating repeat viewing movies. It's can't underestimate the impact of that. So I can't I can't believe that we, while I wish that he were directing Indy five, James Mangold, you know, he's an awesome director we're in, we're in good hands. But I'm I count myself lucky. We've got another indie film coming out, and there's Spielberg films coming out still that West,
Alex Ferrari 45:35
West, West Side Story coming out this this this fall. And if there's anyone who could tackle what side story, it's Spielberg, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, like, how do you remake West Side Story, but it's Steven Spielberg, you do whatever. You know, it's just, there's very few filmmakers out there that you could just trust that whatever they're going to do, is going to be at a level that I mean, and his movies have changed a lot since the 80s. Because he's matured as a filmmaker. So he's, you know, now we get a much more mature Steven, as opposed to him being whimsical and the Poltergeist and that's sure your voice has matured without question, but that's why I love the writer play Ready Player One, it was kind of like a heart back to that, which was
Eric Zala 46:24
yes, I know what you mean. It is, it is a I had did have that effect. He I remember, you know, being asked about Spielberg, and I think I can most amount by saying it's it's amazing thing to meet your childhood hero. But it's, it's also great to discover that you chosen your heroes. Well, you know,
Alex Ferrari 46:52
and can you imagine for Steven, every day of his life, he does what he did for you guys, with somebody, whether it be a crew member that he's working with a collaborator, someone on the street, every day of his life, he's meeting someone who he is like that his world has changed somebody else's, like he made the tea. That was the very first time I ever thought of being a filmmaker. Before I even I even knew what a filmmaker was. I saw et I walked out and I wrote my first screenplay, which was about five sentences long as it was basically a boy befriends an alien. And that was the end of my story. But it was the film inspired you, but it was the first time that thought ever crossed my mind. And, and he's done that for millions 10s of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people around the world. I mean, he is, you know, it's a love fest right now with Steve in it, but it's true and he deserved and not only the movies he's directed, but the movies he's produced Back to the Future and all these in the shows he's done it there's just nobody ever. I mean, I can't I can't pinpoint any director in history director, producer in history, who's had the impact on the world as much as Steven Spielberg. I really I'm with you. The you could
Eric Zala 48:14
Yeah, it's a it's a tough one. I mean, and Lucas Of course. Well, obviously, he is, you know, the brain that invented Star Wars and Indiana Jones amazing too. And and I think maybe that alchemy of Lucas and Spielberg coming together that perfect thing, those two bearded men on the beach that day, you know,
Alex Ferrari 48:35
I mean, and Lucas is at a whole nother conversation but George I mean, Star Wars has impacted so many people but he did it with basically one or two or three things where Spielberg it's just all the time with so many different films so many different stories so many different genres and and television and movies and also how many other filmmakers he helped push out there just this nobody like him ever
Eric Zala 49:01
even my in my own journeys the people that I've crossed paths with along the way who are like have a share that that love. They've shown me a letter with that that stationery that I recognized was Steven Spielberg Ross is like, he inspired me to he wrote me too. So I actually independently so it's it's amazing. So fully deserving of all the commercial and creative success. He's
Alex Ferrari 49:31
had a member that Amen. Now, one thing I wanted to talk to you about was the documentary and now that you know you, it seems like you have a very film entrepreneurial approach to selling the documentary and the movie and all this kind of stuff, which is unusual for a fan film. fan films generally don't have the freedom to do things like this you'd like because they're afraid and there's been stories about it and all that kind of stuff especially I think that starts Trek movie raised like a million dollars. And at that point, Paramount was like, oh, okay, guys, let's calm the hell down. Right. But you've gotten, you've gotten kind of a pass, whether it be unofficial or official, you got to pass, but I do as far as copyright and all that kind of stuff. But I do think that, you know, you're definitely not taking anybody away from Steven Spielberg or or paramount. At that point, you have anything you're helping, but how did you approach the whole, you know, entrepreneurial aspect of things, because you selling different products? And you've got a book? Can you get this in that?
Eric Zala 50:37
Well, it wasn't like, like, the success of the film itself, we never could have imagined that. And that's something that is only a fairly recent development, obviously, back when we were 12, we certainly weren't thinking about copyright. And we had no no greater ambition than to just finish it,
Alex Ferrari 51:00
and show it to your friends enough goal. And just to show it to your friends and family, basically, exactly. You know, when
Eric Zala 51:06
25 years after we finished, we and we decided, you know, there were approached, you know, to have a book about our story we said yes, you know, and and it's a warts and all, you know, we didn't weren't interested in a fluff piece. So we wanted, we open up to the author, Alan nice and stock, he did a amazing job. That and people tracking us down and inviting us to screen around the world, from Sydney, Australia, to Sitka Alaska. We, Chris and I toured for about 13 years, if you can imagine screening of hundreds of screenings, just because we're working on a screenplay at the time, but it was really inspiring to see, you know, the the folks but we weren't selling it. Then we documented rolls around, we do the airplane scene, we raise $50,000 on Kickstarter, to complete the airplane scene because you know, alright, well, we don't have the excuse of being kids, where we got to deliver was was kind of my ethos, ethos was always have it be as cool as we can, can get it. So we completed and we make good on Kickstarter and send out 1000s of copies. And after that, you know, to in an effort to pay down the $17,000 that I personally put into the airplane scene. We started we began a website in order to keep in touch with folks after that. And folks kept saying you to get a love to get a copy. So we made it available on the website. And yeah, I think we seem to be operating operating under the good graces of Lucasfilm and Spielberg and all who has Spielberg termed it are very loving and detailed tributes. I think if I had to surmise, while there's never been a formal conversation about it, I think, I think perhaps they recognize that if anything, we help put money in the coffers of the copyrights holders, if anything. Back when we toured video stores would rent out all copies of Raiders for weeks before and after I'm told. And when we're in Omaha, Nebraska, actually during the Raiders tour, where there's this spectacular lobby display, recreation of the Emperor's chair and the Death Star and, and also without official approval, and the manager told me a story. Someone from Lucasfilm came out to check it out and said, Alright, good job. You're good. Interestingly, the concern me, okay, if you're going, you know, if you're going to do an Amash to our copyright, benefit, good, do it well, and the fact that maybe we worked so hard, and and perhaps it's good, and hopefully Does, does, right, but I'd like to think that that may play into the fact that they've allowed us to continue as we have. Yeah, well, I
Alex Ferrari 54:31
mean, it's through markable and you get it that's the one thing we didn't talk about, you guys went back and finish this thing. And you raised like you spent close to 100,000 or something like that on it, too. I mean, how was that going back and with Chris because I know you guys had a falling out. And you know, and you know, I understand that completely because I had similar issues early on in my career with a good friend and, and, you know, you learn as you get older, like it's ego wars, this or that, and whatever. But how was that like getting back together and then like, Hey, we're gonna make we're gonna shoot this scene.
Eric Zala 55:06
You know, documentary guys, they decided to do a documentary and and we Chris resurrected the idea of doing the airplane scene. We were asked in Q and A's when we're touring before, hey, you know, we used to joke Hey, we should do this right and get the, the cast back together and do this. You think anybody notice the age difference? Hahaha. But I dismissed the idea because I didn't want people to think, Okay, well, you know, people don't know I'm an award winning filmmaker apart from Raiders. We do this airplane scene. All people are gonna think is is that we can do is do Raiders. And then of course, Jason, in the documentary, of course, put articulate, you know, my worst fear exactly, but, but for that reason, I said no, initially, and my wife reminded me at the time, back when we were kids, we weren't really concerned with what the world thought, you know, we just did this for ourselves because we needed to do it and that was enough and good things come from that when you operate from a place of passion and, and so I said, Alright, yeah, let's do it. And I can't do you know, anything half assed so we're decided no, no cardboard plane shot on VHS weren't going to be cutesy. Same ethos, as before, raise $50,000 and reenact the cast. And everyone says, yes, even Angela, who's are married, she's living in Minnesota now. And Kurt, my little brother reprises his role of gobbler and, and I wound up getting up, I'm working full time in Las Vegas at this time, and sure, it would have been makes sense to shoot a desert airfield in the desert, but we wanted to be true kind of to the spirit. So we decided to shoot it back in Mississippi, where we shot this back in the day as kids logistically challenging since I live in Vegas and get up at 330 in the morning to get in some time each day to to work on it. Chris flies down and we're doing logistics early morning phone calls, and the process it is, in some ways, it is similar and different. The nice thing now, back when we were kids, you know, I was like painting hieroglyphics on my mom's basement wall on Friday nights, while my peers were having keggers you know, thinking my loser. But now as kit has adults, we've got the entire town has kind of come out to support free hotel room, you know, free food people donating to become part of the story. It's it's overwhelming. So we have more resource and support than we ever had before. But Gone are the days of Endless Summer, right? I've got I've got five days during the slowest time and bracketed by two weekends, nine days to do 128 shots. All right, and it's an immovable thing. So that is that was different and presented a new challenge counterbalancing the greater resources higher pressure, less time lot more at stake. And yet we we did manage to finish one thing that didn't change his throughout his you know, that we talked about Battle of a spirit, you know, is really what it comes down to. And at the heart of that is that inner voice that of doubt that says, You know what? You're never gonna finish or it's not gonna be good, right? Right. Right right. flame is gonna be rusted away in the mud pit. We'll call it Zales folly, you know, for generations to come around your hometown. What if you fail, that that always was a consistent and you just have to keep on pushing that aside. That's kind of my takeaway from doing it, then. And now.
Alex Ferrari 59:28
What is the biggest lesson you learned during this whole thing? Then? This whole journey from 12 to now, you've gone through all of this experience is a very unique experience. Not many other filmmakers have ever had this. Actually, no other filmmakers have ever has ever had this. So you have this this wonderful journey, which is full of pains and ups and downs and excitement and fault pitfalls. And all this comes very much like an Indiana Jones film. What was the biggest thing you learned?
Eric Zala 59:58
If I had to distill it down to one thing, in two words always finish. Always finished. There were so many times, especially as kids were sorely tempted to give up on the project on each other. You just have to hold on and push through when it's not fun when it's not. You know, for me what that wasn't the issue but but there were other things. There's always those challenges. Push through that and finish. And like I said, we almost didn't finish over a editing room mute editing room Mutiny on how much work to give the sound at the end. But if we had not finished, we wouldn't be talking right now, would we? I wouldn't have that wonderful letter from my childhood hero up on my wall, I wouldn't have had this amazing journey. It just be a box of videotapes in somebody's basement. And that'd be the saddest thing of all. So, always finish, you know, despite it's painful, even though you may not want to do it in the moment anymore. The act of Completion is is valuable in measurably for, I think for many things. So that's the one bit of advice that young, I give young filmmakers when they asked me after screening, so I always finish.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
And I think to add upon that is also always start. Because a lot of people don't even start they don't even get out the gate. So it's actually start and then when you start finish, no matter what initiative,
Eric Zala 1:01:39
and follow through. Yep. Yeah, it's the yin and the yang that you have to have to, to make it a to make it birth.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:48
And what is your three of your favorite films of all time?
Eric Zala 1:01:52
Alex Ferrari 1:01:54
I can I assume one of the title of one of them.
Eric Zala 1:01:59
You know, everyone assumes Raiders is my favorite film, but it's kind of transcended that by now.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:03
worse and worse for you. Yeah, I mean, other than Spielberg and and Michael Kohn and whoever. I don't know if we edited the engine. Lucas, I think you're pretty. You're in in the DNA of that film.
Eric Zala 1:02:17
Oh, I can try filmmakers or movies. That's up to us.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:23
Yeah, movies, try three, three movies. And then if you want to three movies and three filmmakers, so that covers your basis?
Eric Zala 1:02:28
I'll try movies. Peter, we're movie witness with Harrison Ford. Oh, I love that. It remains. It remains just just perfect. Miller's Crossing by the Coen brothers. Yes. The Shining by Stanley Kubrick.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:59
Not a bad Not a bad trilogy. Not Not a bad trilogy. Not a bad trilogy. Right now, but what can I say? Well, I mean, I mean, the shining? I mean, what like don't get me getting started on Kubrick. Are you kidding me? I'll just talk for hours and hours about that. Now, where can people find you and find out more about the movie, get the movie, get the book, get everything you offer?
Eric Zala 1:03:22
So the Raiders kids.com is the website that we that one can acquire a copy of a blu ray or DVD of the fan film itself. A lot of folks have asked after seeing the documentary How can I see the fan film The documentary, by the way, screening on Hulu currently, and also canopy for those in at some public libraries and universities. But full disclosure I'm told after seeing you know the documentary you want to see the fan film so yeah, the Raiders kids.com you can get the fan film The documentary. Also, even Allen's fine book, which goes into really tells the story in much greater depth than the documentary does. Although the documentary guys did a great job. And even the storyboard book, those six two storyboards that I did by memory genius. I published that as a reward to Kickstarter backers and now I've got it available on the store. Includes photographs of my eyelashes and eyebrows coming out of like hairbrush bristles out of plaster the police report of kids get his face stuck in plaster christianize correspondence through the years you know, over the seven summers and of course, the behind the scenes on how we did made a giant jackal statue of an old hot water heater or how we did the the special Special Effects. That's awesome. Oh, anyway, yeah, that's, that's up on the website.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:05
Eric man, I, first of all, I want to thank you for being on the show and telling your story. But I just gotta say, thank you for making this. It is a part of my childhood and you did something that so many of us wanted to do. But you guys are crazy enough to do it. And insane enough to do it in in a very insane way on top of it's not like you shot for 30 days straight and finished it up. No, no. took us years. Yeah, exactly. But it does show it's an example of passion and love of movies and and i think in the world that we live in today, so many times filmmakers get so caught up in, in, you know what's going to make me the next big thing or what's going to get the attention of this guy or that that agent and things. And you guys came at this from such a passionate place where I think in today's cinema, there's a lot of lack of passion going on. So I appreciate you man. I hope this story inspires a lot of filmmakers out there not to go do a shot by shot creation of Raiders of Lost Art, but to go out and make the film that they want it to like like Mr. Spielberg said, find a good story and tell it well. So my friend, thank you so much. I appreciate you.
Eric Zala 1:06:15
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- Eric Zala – IMDB
- Eric Zala – Linkedin
- Raiders Kids – Website
- The Raider! The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Made – Amazon