If you haven’t read my five-star review of The Raid: Redemption, let me just say: it’s one of the best action movies that I’ve seen in years. While the film itself is an entertaining experience, the story of how The Raid came to be is pretty intriguing in and of itself.
That story begins with a virtually unknown director named Gareth Evans, a trip to Indonesia that became a life-changing experience, and some truly great innovative action filmmaking born out of working with a bare-bones budget. Best of all: the story has a happy ending in the form of a truly fantastic – arguably classic – action/horror film (more on that genre combo later).
We sat down with Evans during the press day for The Raid: Redemption, to pick the director’s brain about how he went about creating such an awesome and unique action movie experience, how he made so much from so little, and what his (much brighter) future holds – specifically in regards to the recently-announced sequel to The Raid (tentatively titled “Berandal“):
Screen Rant: Tell us what your intention was when you went in to put this project together.
Gareth Evans: Well I came to it on the back of making a film out in Indonesia called ‘Merantau.’ After that I kind of wanted to do a different film – I wanted to do a bigger-budget film – but the climate in Indonesia for film financing was really bad. So we spent about a year and a half trying to get the money up, but we couldn’t get it, it was just impossible. So ‘The Raid’ ended up becoming the ‘Plan B’ project – it was the backup thing. And it was something we knew we had to design on a budget, where we could afford to do it, and so that kind of formed into ‘let’s shoot it all in one building.’
Once I knew I wanted to do it all in one building, I started to take a look at sort of my favorite types of that movie – like ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Assault on Precinct 13′ – to see what I could kinda borrow from those movie and those genres, and see how the stories were structured, and figure out that idea of going from one big set piece and…what were the stepping stones then to go back up to the next fight scene. And yeah… just consuming enough films like that where I’d get to sort of understand the formula for what makes those work and what makes them not work. That was kind of the general inception of it.
SR: Looking over your filmography I notice you’ve worked with The Raid stars Iko Uwais (who plays the hero, “Rama”) and Yayan Ruhian (the villain “Mad Dog”) both on your previous film, Merantau and this film – and I think you’re planning to work with them on the sequel, Berandal (which means “Thug” or “Delinquent” in Indonesian, according to Evans). I also know they did the fight choreography for this film, which is pretty amazing. Can you talk about your working relationship with those guys?
GE: Yeah, this is our second film working together ['Merantau' was the first] and ‘Berandal’ will be the third, and it’s just one of those things where we’ve gelled now – we’ve found a groove in terms of how we work together – we’ve figured out a way of presenting things that’s exciting to put on film. The way we approach it is like this: I’ll do the writing first, and I’ll usually work on the treatment so I know what the scenes are going to be, and know what the set pieces need to be, and the tone of them.
So I’ll come to [Iko and Yayan] and we’ll have three months where it’s just me, Iko and Yayan in like a room full of crash mats with a Handycam. And then I’ll say to them, ‘Okay, so this is the first scene,’ and I’ll detail the scene. Now, in the script I won’t put down details like punches and kicks or none of that, it’s just about setting the tone and the atmosphere. So I’ll kind of say to them, “Alright, you’re in a corridor, you got a stick in one hand, a knife in the other, you’ve got a partner on your shoulder, he can’t stand by himself so he needs you to stand up. And then you come under attack from people who come out of all the doorways – from the front, from behind, from the side, left and right – and every time an attack comes you have to shift his body out of the way to protect him. But at the same time, his balance is going to be off, he can’t stand, so you’ve got to keep him up on his feet.” So that kind of informs that the choreography is a little bit more complex, there are more elements to it, and then I say “Okay, so go ahead and fight your way out of the situation.”
So they’ll start to figure out what movements they can do – like how to turn his body so [his partner] can stay against his back… they’ll come up with like the blocks, the hits, the kicks, the throws, the locks and everything else, and they’ll present to me all these different elements and then I’ll help them kind of like shape a structure to the fight scenes. So I’ll be like, “This will really be great if we did this later on in the fight – it’s too good for right now, let’s do that later on.” And then we find these different ways to create a flow to the fight, so it keeps going up and down, up and down. After that, once we’ve kind of locked the design, we’ll shoot to video storyboard. So I’ll get a Handycam and we’ll film every single shot of that fight, and we’ll work out and figure out the design and the storyboard for the cinematography – but we do it all with a Handycam – I can’t draw for s!#t, so it’s much easier with a camera. So then we’ll just shoot and shoot and shoot, and edit and edit and edit, until we feel that every shot is the best representative of that choreography. So it’s the choreography that dictates the shot.
A big problem with a lot of films is that they shoot for coverage only – so it will be wide, then over-the-shoulder, then close-ups, and then they’ll cut it and post and figure out how the fight works then. But I feel kind of like every shot has to be a jigsaw piece, and so then everything is super important, and you get a full awareness of the direction of the choreography – where the punches are coming from, where they land – and also spatial awareness, so we keep wide enough so we can see the geography of the room as well.
Following up on that, one thing I noticed was the sophistication of the camerawork in the film. These are well-choreographed scenes, but it’s almost like the camera is part of the actual choreography. Can you talk about what that was like to execute during the actual production process?
That pre-viz video storyboard, we use that as a template, so that everyone knows exactly what the shot is. So we’re shooting to get THAT SHOT. So when it comes to the production stages, we’ll have the laptop open with that edit already on there in Final Cut, and then, as we tick-off each shot, it comes in and we load it in, drop it in. So then we slowly see the scene start to come to life and come together – we can see that it’ll be the production version shot, and then the pre-production version shot – so you can kind of see the flow of the edit, like this (makes wave motion with his hand): production, pre-production, production, pre-production.
Usually it’s about 90 – 95% the same, but the reason why we do this video storyboard is because it’s like a safety net for us. If something goes wrong in production, and we’re editing it on location – if we see that one of the cuts doesn’t go together, it just bumps the whole time – then we’re still on location, so we can go in that room again and film something else; we can just get another shot in order to fix it. And so it means we cut down costs then, because we don’t have to pay for that location another day – we just go back in and get two, maybe three shots, and then the scene works. It was born out of necessity at first, but it’s become my kind of approach to it now. It’s my theory on how we can do action scenes now.
(Having seen the results, we are of the opinion that not only will Evans’ approach to action continue to be successful – it could very well influence the entire genre.)
NEXT PAGE: Horror movies, Flying Machetes, and Sequel talk…