EXCLUSIVE: Napoleon Dynamite producer Jeremy Coon has optioned Raiders!, the Alan Eisenstock book that tells how two Mississippi kids set out to remake Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The pals started at 11 and finished when they turned 18, and in that time managed to re-stage every scene, shot and stunt in their backyards and basements. They first shot on Betamax and then on VHS when the former became obsolete. The kid filmmakers, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, met in elementary school and are now in their early 40s. They will produce with Coon two projects and their life rights are part of the package. First, Coon intends to direct a documentary as he works to set up a narrative feature, which is essentially a movie about the making of a movie that is a remake of another movie.
When Coon first saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation at a film festival, it was during a period when all of the optimism and wide-eyed wonder that went into making the gem Napoleon Dynamite had been replaced by depression and cynicism. Coon and his cohorts were forced to sue Fox after feeling shortchanged by the proceeds of their $400,000 budget film that grossed nearly $50 million worldwide and made a lot more than that on video and ancillaries. The suit is still going on.
“I thought the movie was an urban myth but when I saw it, from a filmmaker perspective it was more inspiring than any movie I’d ever seen,” Coon told me. “These kids had done something ridiculous and impossible and the last time I had the experience of a movie being made because it was sheer fun was when I’d seen Kill Bill. I went in feeling cynical but there was no cynicism in these kids. They did the movie because they loved it. It had its premiere and then sat on a shelf.”
That is because you can’t make a shot-by-shot remake of a seminal blockbuster film without permission and rights. Coon admits it is very possible that he will need the cooperation of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in order to be able to do his movies. Spielberg told the youngsters he’d seen and loved what they did; they haven’t gotten any feedback from Lucas. Their ordeal spanned from 1981-89, when they’d film each summer and try their best not to get killed.
“They shot the Nepal bar scene in Eric’s basement and lit the whole thing on fire,” Coon said. “His mom saw what they’d done and she was not having any more of that. They had to get an adult, an extra in the original George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead who was less responsible than they were. The scene that got me most was this; one of the kids learned everything about special effects and did a mold face on Eric so they could recreate Bellog’s face as it melts after he opens the Ark. They did it with plaster, they put the ball in Eric’s mouth so he would appear to be screaming. Five minutes in, Eric starts sweating, and he can’t hear or speak. They used construction plaster, which gets hot when it hardens. And they couldn’t break the mold. His mother comes down to see them trying to cut through it with a hacksaw. The hospital finally got it off with a cast saw, carefully working around his head with this little circular saw to free him. The plaster ripped out the eyebrows and every eyelash on this poor kid. He had to pencil on some eyebrows to go back to school. Some of it is just charming. Their first Marion, a blonde, moved to Alaska and all her scenes had to be reshot; they had no monkey to replace the one that gave the Nazi salute and ate the bad date, so they used Chris’s dog. They tied a spring to his paw so he would salute. If you took the first 20 minutes of the movie Super 8, and played it as comedy, that’s how I see this,” Coon said.
The book was published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. The whole package was repped by Wendy Sherman Associates.
Here’s a trailer that gives a better idea of the possibilities here: