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Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Year: 2016
Production Co: Jeremy Coon Productions
Director: Jeremy Coon/Tim Skousen
Producer: Jeremy Coon/Tim Skousen
Writer: Jeremy Coon/Tim Skousen
Cast: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala

Troops, the short film made in 1997 by Kevin Rubio that showed the fate of Owen and Beru Lars on Tatooine in a parody of the American reality show COPS, is widely credited as kick starting the fan film movement.

As a subset of the community that loved movies, fan films like Troops couldn't have come along at a better time. The means to share and distribute such fandom was kicking into high gear in the Web 1.0 age, and the love of movies was no longer something that existed in isolation, millions of kids the world over poring over Starlog or Famous Monsters thinking they were the only ones while their parents rolled their eyes and told them to study.

The widespread acceptance of cinema love and fandom has now become such a strong and widespread cultural force it's long since taken over the movie industry itself. Today movie geeks who live and breathe the art form like Guillermo Del Toro, JJ Abrams, Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright hold the reigns in Hollywood instead of the professional class of producers and directors who did in the pre-web era.

But Troops wasn't the first fan film. When Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos saw Raiders of the Lost Ark along with millions of teenagers in 1981 and subsequently bonded over the comic book adaptation, the Mississippi 12 year olds set about remaking the entire film shot for shot on an analogue camcorder.

It took them eight years and a host of inventive moviemaking trickery of the sort available to children with limited resources, and by the time the Raiders of the Lost Ark adaptation was shown in 1989, the pair had fallen out over a girl and didn't even talk any more, just wanting the whole thing to be over with.

In a parallel universe, Zala and Strompolos' efforts might have been lost to history. But in the same way the craze for late night horror movies on TV resurrected Ed Wood's name in the 1960s, the story of their film was rediscovered, and in a world where the shareability of movie geekdom has become almost as important as the content of the movies themselves, Zala and Strompolos have become the latest poster children for the movement.

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made has two converging stories to tell. One is of the two guys – now fully functioning adults in their 40s – reminiscing about their adventures and a bit of their lives since (it's kind of shocking to hear Stompolos talk so unashamedly about how he later moved to LA and became a meth addict).

The other story is the guys' efforts to complete the movie by staging the final shot they never had the money or wherewithal to do – the Well of Souls escape scene where Indy and Marion flee to the out-of-control warplane with the iconic fight against Pat Roach's muscled Nazi officer and the explosive climax.

It's a classic tale of indie filmmaking on a shoestring – everybody working for free, money running out, the weather seeming to have it in for them and Chris' boss threatening to fire him if he doesn't come back to work.

The story of the final shot gives Raiders! a fun extra dimension when it could all have just been a bunch of talking heads remembering the past. It's not at all funny, but it's quite ironic when the full-of-himself pyrotechnician approaches the plane when the explosives haven't gone off properly and – after lecturing everyone in a holier-than-thou manner about how careful to be working with explosives – the whole things blows up in his face, knocking him out cold.

Like Edmund Halley (who died just months before seeing his prediction come true about the comet named after him returning), Ed Wood didn't live long enough to experience the groundswell of love and appreciation for what he did, goodwill that rewards the simple act of loving and making movies no matter what the quality.

Zala and Strompolos were born at a time when they got to receive such affection, and with the love of movies long since having come out of hiding, Raiders! is a story perfectly of (and in) its time.

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