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Indiana Jones Fan Spotlight: Brandon

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The lifelong Indy fan has found inspiration as an actor, filmmaker, and theme park designer.

As audiences around the world experience Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny for the first time, is talking to fans of the archaeologist about how his adventures have inspired them. Over 40 years since the character first appeared on the big screen, the Indy fandom comprises multiple generations of people from all walks of life.

Every fan has their own story about discovering Indiana Jones. Florida native Brandon Kleyla’s first impression didn’t come from a movie, but rather from a theme park attraction. Growing up near Walt Disney World has its perks, and it was 1989 when a six-year-old Kleyla and his father visited the brand-new Disney MGM Hollywood Studios Park. Lucasfilm had partnered with Disney to open a unique stage show attraction, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

“I had not seen the films, but I vividly remember going and sitting down at the stunt show,” Kleyla tells “I assume I made it through the first scene because it’s not crazy loud or anything, but I remember losing my mind and crying and screaming because it became really noisy with guns and everything! I remember my dad carrying me up to the back of the theater, and he said, ‘We got to go home and watch the movies.’ So we watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom and then went to see The Last Crusade in theaters.”

Kleyla was a fan already before setting out to see Crusade. Before the trip to the movie theater, his parents took him to a local Wal-Mart to cobble together the rough components of a costume. “Looking back, the hat wasn’t even a fedora,” he says, “but it was a big floppy brown hat! I had a brown belt for a whip and then some khakis, and a little brown jacket. I thought it was great. I can shut my eyes and remember going into the theater wearing that first Indy costume. There was a massive cardboard standee of The Last Crusade teaser poster. Being six, it felt like it was 20-feet tall.”

It was the start of Kleya’s lifelong adventure. In addition to viewing the films and making visits back to the Epic Stunt Spectacular, he became an active toy collector. “Those were the days when Tomart’s action figure magazine was the only way you knew about old toys,” Kleyla explains. “I found out that Kenner did a line for Raiders and there were others for Temple. This was in Daytona Beach, Florida, not Los Angeles or some booming metropolis. I was this kid going through the phone book, calling antique stores and asking, ‘Hey, do you have any Indiana Jones toys?’

“Most of them didn’t have a clue what I was talking about,” he continues. “But then I called one, and the guy said, ‘Yeah I think I do.’ So I grabbed my dad and said, ‘We got to go.’ The store had this one action figure, and it was Indy! It was opened and everything, but I must’ve looked at it like it was a gold brick the size of a Buick. I asked, ‘How much?’ He kind of looked at me and my dad and said, ‘One dollar.’ And of course, I looked at my dad and said, ‘Can I have a dollar?’ I still have that figure from when I was six years old.”

Kleyla’s love for Indy even found its way into his education. When The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones arrived on television in 1992, the home-schooled youngster had the perfect inspiration for his history assignments. “Young Indy was a big deal,” Kleyla says. “That was history class. It worked exactly the way that George Lucas wanted it to work, teaching kids about historic figures and everything. We’d sit down and watch every week, and I’d do a little paper on it.”

As he approached adulthood, Kleyla had become an actor in film and television, something that was very much inspired by his Indy passion. “There are a handful of movies – and Indy is high on the list – where you watch them and go, ‘Well I want do that,’” he says. “Whether it’s in front or behind of the camera, you want to be a part of it. Thankfully, my grandfather was an entertainer. He’d been a high school bandleader for his career. So he encouraged me to be in plays and act and follow a creative path. Growing up, my dream might have been to be in the stunt show. I loved performing. So many people have a movie that inspires them like that.”

Continuing to act, Kleyla became interested in making films himself. He eventually moved to southern California where he gained more experience around the industry, and spent time working at a certain theme park. “I honestly became bored one day and said, ‘I’ve never worked at Disneyland before, that’d be fun,’” he explains. “I went over to their little casting office and said I’d like to work at the Jungle Cruise.”

He was quickly told that new hires don’t get to choose their work assignment. “I told them I understood, but I lived two and a half hours away, and if I was going to drive that far, it’d be best to do something where I really bring something to the table. The guy called me back in and asked, ‘Why do you want to work here?’ He turned his computer around to show my IMDB page! He had caught me! [Laughs.] But that was the point, I wanted to do something, and acting is what I could do. I could tell jokes on the Jungle Cruise. But then, of course, once you work in Adventureland, you get to work on the Indiana Jones Adventure.”

“To ride an Indy ride of that caliber – not just seeing a show but to ride a ride was amazing,” Kleyla continues. “As a cast member it was really fun just to hang out in there and be a part of that world. Walking through the ride was quite an experience. It’s a massive environment, which you don’t realize as much from inside the vehicle.”

Soon after his Disneyland experience, Kleyla became inspired to start a new filmmaking project: a documentary about Indiana Jones fans. “It was a fun time in documentaries,” he explains. “For whatever reason, everybody was making fan documentaries. There were ones about Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and I just thought, ‘Let’s do Indy!’ The new movie [Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull] was filming and stuff was going on. We went for it. We tried to get people from the movies to talk to us, and lots of fans in general. We’d get them together and have them tell us their stories and how they became a fan and how it inspired them.”

With the help of friends, even his parents, Kleyla directed Indyfans and the Quest for Fortune and Glory, a feature-length exploration of Indy fan culture with glimpses behind the scenes of the franchise (among the interviewees was original stunt performer and coordinator Vic Armstrong, whom Kleyla met by coincidence at the golf club where the young filmmaker was then working). The film debuted in 2008 and was a selection at that year’s Newport Beach Film Festival.

“For me, making the documentary is really how I met people and I’ve stayed connected with them throughout the years,” Kleyla says. “It’s a close-knit group, and everyone has their stories of how the movies have affected them. As we show in the documentary, people have become archaeologists because of it, or filmmakers, and all sorts of things. It’s spanned so many generations now that it’s got its feet firmly planted.”

While filming Indyfans interviews at San Diego Comic-Con, one of the participants who shared his thoughts on the franchise was none other than Disney Legend and Imagineer Tony Baxter. Among creating numerous classics, it was Baxter who first brought George Lucas into the Disney family and ultimately brought the Indiana Jones Adventure to life. “As a kid, you might think that these magical places just appear,” Kleyla says. “You don’t realize that people spend years of their lives to make these things.”

Thanks to Kleyla and Baxter’s mutual love of Indy, it soon led to another chapter in the former’s career. Kleyla joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 2008 in a variety of part time roles including stage manager and lighting before landing as a set decorator. His first, self-assigned project once he became a full-time Imagineer was to photo-document the props and sets of the Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney World, the very attraction that had kicked off his journey as an Indy fan. “Getting to work with Tony was an amazing experience,” he comments, “but at the end of the day, we still geek out over Indy stuff like young kids.”

Ever since, Kleyla’s path has taken him on many different adventures. Among his credits after nearly a decade at Imagineering was as a set decorator, show writer, and field art director for Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (a project that definitely benefited from his love of Indy). He worked on the development of the Walt Disney Family Museum, even Lucasfilm and National Geographic’s Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit. For the last five years, he’s taken his theme park skills to Universal as an art director.

Decades since they first started, Kleyla and his father continue to hunt for Indy collectibles. “We share the thrill of the hunt together,” he notes. “I’ve never really done it alone. We’ve always looked for Indy stuff together. Even now, he lives on the other side of town from me, and I’ll send him pictures and we’ll find things.” It was only fitting that when Kleyla had the opportunity to attend the Hollywood premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, he brought his father along with him (and yes, he brought that very first action figure with him too).

“My dad and I took the subway in, and we came right up the escalator to where all of the fans were gathering,” says Kleyla. “There were all of these people wearing fedoras and you think, ‘Oh, my people!’ And many of them I’ve known from the Indyfans days 15 years ago. I haven’t seen lots of them in years, and we picked right up like we see each other every day.”

“It was like the closing chapter of 34 years in my life, especially with my dad there with me,” he concludes. “And then of course, you have all these people going by – Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John-Rhys-Davies. Having grown up with these people on your bedroom wall, it almost crosses over into family. They don’t feel like celebrities. They’re people who have been in your life as a fan, and you feel like you’ve known them forever. It’s a bizarre thing, but it’s true. It’s an interesting effect that movies have on people.”

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