Please help me welcome Alan Eisenstock, author of RAIDERS! THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE! (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, November 13, 2012)
Alan Eisenstock is the author of In Stitches (with Dr. Anthony Youn), Barack Like Me, (with David Alan Grier) Cancer on $5 a Day (with Robert Schimmel), Just a Guy (with Bill Engvall), The Kindergarten Wars, The Holy Thief (with Rabbi Mark Borovitz,) Ten on Sunday, Sports Talk, and Inside the Meat Grinder. RAIDERS! is his tenth book.
“An amazing, one-of-a-kind book about a triumphant, one-of-a-kind film production.” — Booklist (starred review)
RAIDERS! THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE chronicles the history, making, and success of Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation, a film by then-teenage filmmakers Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala (who I interviewed last week here at the blog). RAIDERS! – which reads like a fast-paced novel – tells the story of two kids’ impossible dream coming true against all odds – and despite their sometimes hilarious misadventures, like “accidentally” setting Eric on fire.
I’m delighted that Alan agreed to an interview here on the blog. And so, with no further ado, on with the questions:
1. What attracted you to the RAIDERS! story, and how did you become associated with the project?
A couple years ago, the guys contacted me through their then agent about doing their book. I read the article in Vanity Fair and I was gone. I’m not a Raiders fanatic in any sense but I could relate to their determination to make this movie, no matter what. “Determination” is the wrong word. The correct word is obsession. I can be a little obsessive myself when it comes to writing my books so I knew what was driving them.
I also related to two themes in the telling of their story that have always attracted me. First, I was drawn to their friendship. I don’t know many people who have remained best friends today with their best friends since elementary school.
And I was intrigued by these questions: what if the best thing you do occurs when you’re seventeen? What if you peak in high school? How do you continue to live your life? In the case of Chris and Eric, they received first recognition and then acclaim 29 years after they finished their film. The film not only changed their lives, it resurrected and saved their friendship.
2. You’ve written several biographies and “as-told-to” books. How did writing RAIDERS! differ from those books?
It’s all about voice. I write as-told-to books in the voice of the person who is supposedly telling his or her life story. These books are always written in first person. I wrote RAIDERS! in my voice, in what I would call a close third-person narrative. I wanted the reader to feel as if he or she were standing alongside the guys through every moment of their making of the movie, of living their lives! It’s more than being a fly on the wall. I want the reader to be there, every step of the way.
3. How did you select your interview subjects for the book?
Because of time constraints I couldn’t interview everyone who passed through the guys’ lives or was involved in the making of their movie. I did interview the people I thought were the most central to the story, in particular both moms and Jayson. To me, the most important interview subjects were Chris and Eric.
4. What do you enjoy most about writing biography? What do you find most challenging?
I’m driven by a good, true story. I firmly believe in the expression: “You can’t make this stuff up.” I always find the best stories and the best characters exist in real life. I love trying to make nonfiction as involving a reading experience as fiction.
Writing the truth well is the biggest challenge. Ultimately, I consider myself a storyteller, not a stenographer.
5. RAIDERS! contains a great deal of dialogue. How did you record and recreate those conversations for the book?
I was lucky because Eric and Chris are both incredibly aware of how to tell a story and what works dramatically. To that end, when they would recount a story, they would provide a huge amount of color and detail, including dialogue. They would act out stories from their lives.
In addition, I watched all of the outtakes from the movie, more than once. Often after Eric would yell, “Cut,” the camera would keep rolling and the kids would continue talking. I was able to pull actual dialogue right from the outtakes. Sometimes this was a happy set. As time went on, and Eric and Chris got older, the set wasn’t so happy and the dialogue got darker.
6. Can you tell us a little about the process of working with Chris and Eric?
Simply, they were the best subjects ever. They were the most cooperative, the most open, the most collaborative, and most important, the most fearless. To paraphrase my favorite line from National Lampoon’s Animal House, “They screwed up. They trusted me.”
They also were instantly available whenever I had a question and would respond by doing frequent “writing assignments” when I needed details of how they pulled off a certain stunt, such as building the boulder.
I’m humbled that the book has received wonderful early reviews, but honestly, without the commitment they made, the book would be nothing.
7. Do you have another project in the works? What are you working on now?
I’ve just completed an as-told-to book with comedian George Lopez that’s coming out next Father’s Day and I’ve begun a very emotional book called THE HAND-OFF with nationally syndicated sports talk radio host JT the Brick. It’s about his life and his relationship with his former boss and close friend Andrew Ashwood, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.
8. Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
We’re all going to Austin, where the movie was discovered, for a screening and book signing, Dec. 7.
More details: Sunday, December 7, 7-9:15pm: Book Signing & Screening (afterparty at 9:15pm to follow) Where it all began Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – 1120 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (512) 476-1320 http://drafthouse.com/austin/south_lamar
And now, the speed round:
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE…
– Socks or no socks?
Full disclosure: I’m a sock freak. I collect them. I like all kinds, especially those with colorful and crazy patterns. I have socks with tools, cartoon characters… okay, I should shut up now.
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Dogs. My dog Snickers is my constant companion. Crazy Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation factoid: Chris’s dog, who appeared in the film in the role of the Nazi monkey, was also named Snickers! Chris nearly croaked when he met my Snickers for the first time.
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Italian, hands down, especially pizza. You know that thing about socks? I’m the same way about pizza. I guess I can be slightly obsessive… slightly…
HUGE thanks to Alan for joining me today. To add a personal note: I’m halfway through RAIDERS! and it’s impossible to put down. I’ve had to keep reminding myself that it’s not a novel – RAIDERS! is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. I’ll be posting a review when I finish reading.
Want to see more? Click here for the awesome trailer!