Indy film: Local filmmakers recreate ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ — scene by scene

Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2015

(STORY UPDATE): On Friday, organizers at Northampton Community Television postponed the screening, originally scheduled for Monday at Forbes Library in Northampton, of “The Crowdsourced Cinema Project.” The program involves some 40 teams of filmmakers who recreated scenes from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” NCTV director Al Williams wrote in an email to the Gazette that he anticipates the showing will be sometime in October; a date will be announced later.

Sometimes, it takes a village to make a movie.

Take, for example, “The Crowdsourced Cinema Project,” sponsored by Northampton Community Television, in which teams from across New England have recreated scenes from the film “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” The bits of movie magic will eventually be strung together in a shot-for-shot recreation of Steven Spielberg’s 1981 blockbuster.

Earlier in the summer, organizers posted a call to members of the community on NCTV’s Facebook page, looking for teams to take part in the project. Participants were assigned a scene and told they could recreate it in whatever medium or style they wanted, including puppetry, animation, stop-motion or live-action. The only guideline was that each team had to stick to the original scene’s timing and script. Beyond that, they were given complete artistic license. Filmmakers had access to NCTV equipment and could use its editing software, as well.

“People seem pretty excited about the project,” said NCTV director, Al Williams. “But we’ve never done it before, so we’re excited too.” The project is in keeping with NCTV’s goal of involving the community in the process of creating local television. Recently, Williams says, he and his staff had been toying with ideas of how to do that when the “Lost Ark” one gelled, largely as a result of a couple of factors.

First, the staff came across an online project from 2010 called “Star Wars Uncut,” in which Brooklyn-based web developer Casey Pugh created 15-second scenes from the film “Star Wars: A New Hope” using actors, artists and animators, then stitched them together into the full-length film.

“It was a bit of a fad online,” Williams said.

Then, into the mix came a showing in June of “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” part of a summer series of movies NCTV shows, in partnership with the Forbes Library, the Northampton Arts Council and the Academy of Music, that was so popular that nearly 300 people showed up.

So, with the success of “Star Wars Uncut” in mind, and the apparent local fan base for “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” Williams and his staff decided to assemble teams of people from the area to recreate three-minute scenes.

From the get-go, organizers made it clear they intended the project to be a fun way to introduce people to videography. The staff even filmed its own trailer for the project in front of a green screen, using kitschy backgrounds and acting, and uploaded it to the organization’s website,

The range of teams participating in the project — both geographically and in terms of previous filmmaking experience — is broad. Williams said when the organization was accepting groups to film their respective scenes, they did not have enough from the area to assemble the entire movie, so he reached out to teams from as far as Middlebury, Vermont, to take part.

With a full roster, consisting of more than 40 teams, enough to recreate the entire film, the NCTV staff sent out emails June 24, outlining each group’s assignment. Other than the occasional check-in to gauge the teams’ progress, participants were left to their own devices to film their respective parts.

On a wing and a prayer

On July 21, a handful of teenagers from Whole Children — an organization in Hadley dedicated to educating children, teenagers and adults with disabilities — assembled at the Northampton Airport to film their scene.

Inside the airport’s air-conditioned front office, where the students from Whole Children met, Matt Meers — an instructor for Whole Children’s theater program — explained his rules for navigating the group of students across the airfield.

The task for Meers — who co-founded Smoke and Meers Productions, an Easthampton-based production company that specializes in theatrical productions and deejay services — would be to direct the students as they recreated the scene in which Indiana Jones, standing on the wing of an airplane, fights off Nazi strongmen.

Maggie Rice, a director for Whole Children, says organizers decided to film with a team from Whole Children because it would provide a fun opportunity for the students and staff.

“This is something that involves them in the community,” Rice said. “They are part of this thing that everyone in the area is doing.” Rice says she hopes that being involved in “The Crowdsourced Cinema Project” also will expose the larger community to the work that these students do every day.

“Our mission is to help people with disabilities find their rightful place in the community and this is a good way to do it,” Rice said. “This is more showing the community what we do. This is showing the community, don’t rule them out.”

Meers arrived at the airport an hour before the group from Whole Children, followed by a communications manager Valle Dwight and Courtney Dunham, a former communication intern who now works at the organization’s front desk.

The trio laid out sand-colored blankets on the asphalt alongside an aircraft hangar and began to construct a “temple wall” for the scene. They stacked cardboard boxes bearing the logos of recyclable plastic cups and Asher’s Candy Company, fitting red, yellow, green and blue cardboard building-blocks into the empty spaces between boxes.

Dwight worked out the logistics of coordinating the group, eventually deciding it would be best to shoot the scene outside of its chronological order to accommodate the time restraints of the students who would act as extras and miscellaneous Nazi guards.

Dunham, who would film the scene using a Canon DSLR mounted on a tripod, composed the shots, using Meers as a stand-in for the students who would arrive later.

As filming got underway, Japanese beetles jumped from the uncut grass alongside the tarmac. At noon, the sun began to burn away the cumulous clouds remaining from the previous night’s rain. An orange windsock hung mostly limp on its pole, signifying only a light breeze and a calmness to the air, despite the occasional roar of a small airplane, operated by campers from the nearby Summer Aviation Seminar.

Brian Melanson, a teacher at Whole Children, sat in a lawn chair outside an aircraft hangar. He held a bottle of red PowerAde Zero that he planned to use as a stand-in for a bottle of brandy featured in the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” scene.

Dunham focused the camera on him while Meers gave the “action” command to signal the start of filming.

“Let us toast our success in the desert,” Melanson said, with the camera rolling, reciting his lines from the script.

Dwight’s son Aiden O’Donoghue, 19, playing a Nazi, walked into the frame to Melanson’s right.

“When we are far from here,” O’Donoghue replied, leaning closer to Melanson’s shoulder.

Film extras AJ Strack, his sister Laura Strack and Matt Boynton followed their rehearsed paths across the frame, emulating a busy desert scene. Meers gave the command to bring the actors back into place and another take followed.

Melanson, who had been speaking using his natural accent, attempted a German one.

“Let us toast our zuczess in zee desert,” he said, drawing laughter from the other members of the cast and crew.

“That sounds more French,” Melanson said.

“Kind of a Gaston thing,” Meers joked, referring to a character from Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.” As giggles subsided, Melanson decided to drop the fake accent, if only to focus the cast and speed up the process of filming.

Aiming to add elements of realism to the scene, Whole Children obtained permission from an airport employee to use a decommissioned plane in the field to film the famous scene in which Jones fights the villainous Nazi’s while navigating a moving plane on the runway.

Meers and Dwight had constructed a black swastika printed on computer paper, held together with scotch tape and blue construction paper backing for structural integrity. They taped it on the side of the plane’s tail before the filming, ripping it in the process.

Meers constructed the symbol backwards, explaining that “people in theater think its bad luck to have the real thing.”

The principal cast gathered around the plane as 18-year-old Cade Holden of Northampton, in his role as Indiana Jones, stood on the left wing.

Holden kicked toward the plane’s cockpit, stopping a few inches short of Melanson’s face. With the camera angled to obscure the distance between the actors, it will look onscreen as though the foot connected. Melanson fell to the ground and turned to his side, grabbing a wrench — which was actually a piece of cardboard with foil and lines drawn with a Sharpie marker — and staggered back to his feet.

Melanson swung the wrench toward Holden, but Holden ducked away and grabbed Melanson’s arm below the wrist, causing him to drop the wrench.

“You punch toward his face,” Meers directed.

“And then I fall to the ground,” Melanson continued.

“Yeah, you do a lot of falling down,” Meers said, garnering another round of laughs from the crew.

With Holden’s hand on Melanson’s shoulder, he punched toward Melanson’s arm, but from a profile, it looked as though Melanson had been hit in the stomach and then again in the face before recoiling to the ground. After a few takes, the choreography was seamless, and from the view of the camera, every blow connected with its target. Even with a virtually non-existent budget, the cast and crew from Whole Children managed to film the scene.

Three sisters

Also onboard for the filming are three sisters from Northampton — Molly Ronan, 20, Maeve Ronan, 18, and Maura Ronan, 16, who operate a YouTube channel called “3videosisters,” with some 1,000 subscribers.

The Ronan sisters were tasked with recreating the opening moments of the movie, in which Indiana Jones maneuvers his way through an ancient temple, snaking his way around traps on his quest for a golden idol

They filmed their scene July 3, with Molly Ronan manning the camera to film her sisters, at a playground, using monkey bars and a climbing wall as their set. Maura Ronan plays Indiana Jones, while Maeve Ronan plays the part of Satipo, Jones’ companion.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to make it look like Indiana Jones exactly,” Molly Ronan said. “So we took the fun, silly route. All of our props are playground, kid oriented, and we basically just used stuff we had around the house.”

Ronan says the sisters saw the project as a way to gain more experience with filming and acting, and they hope to apply that experience to the other videos for their YouTube channel.

“We are three sisters who did it all ourselves,” Ronan said. “We have no training in video production or editing. We’ve taught ourselves everything.”

Picking up the pieces

Just like big Hollywood production companies, filmmakers on “The Crowdsourced Cinema Project” had to be ready to navigate problems that invariably arose. The group assembled by Paradise City Press media producer Alicia Ralph, had extravagant plans for its scene, but it all fell through at the last minute.

Ralph, who produces news stories for Paradise City Press, the citizen journalism project associated with NCTV, said she is a longtime fan of NCTV’s projects.

“I encourage people to tune in,” Ralph said in a recent phone interview. “There’s so much going on there that it’s really interesting. Whatever sorts of interests you have, you have a way of expressing it through NCTV.”

Ralph’s group was assigned the scene from the beginning of “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” when Indian Jones is confronted by two Army intelligence experts who tell him that Nazis are searching for his mentor, Abner Ravenwood. Ralph enlisted the help of fellow NCTV contributor and science fiction writer Terrence Smith to play Indiana Jones, and David Giese of Piece by Piece Deconstruction in Amherst to act the part of a composite character based on the two intelligence experts.

The group planned to film in a conference room at Northampton City Hall, but, Ralph said, due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts, the team ultimately settled on using Ralph’s living room as an ersatz college lecture hall.

“You get to recreate the scene over and over, in your mind, which is easy to do,” Ralph said. “So I envisioned the scene with every kind of community group that I could imagine. And then, of course, none of that happened.”

Even though there were mix-ups, Ralph said, she views the project as ultimately successful.

“It just can’t fail, because the idea is that everybody who throws some scene together is going to have fun watching it.” Ralph said. “Hopefully, anybody in the area who watches it is going to recognize scenes, or at least people. Or anybody who is a big fan of the movie will get jokes that we stuck in there.”

In the community-based spirit of NCTV, Williams says, he hopes the project will get greater number of people from the area involved in the work the group does.

“There’s a fear people have about getting involved with projects like this because they think, ‘Maybe I can’t produce content that’s good 
enough,’ ” Williams said. “Part of this project is that we’re trying to reach out to people and say, ‘It really doesn’t matter. If you can conceptualize it, we’ll help you create it.’ ”

Scenes were due to be completed by last week. NCTV staff will stitch the scenes together into a full-length film, which will be shown on the lawn of Forbes Library in Northampton Monday at 7:30 p.m. The rain date is Sept. 9. The screening is free.


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