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…
Did any of the cameramen get a camera kicked or punched into their face while filming?
You’re the first person to ask that! Everyone asks about the stuntmen – you’re the first to ask about the safety of the cameramen! [Director of Photography Matt Flannery] got hit in the face with a machete! (Laughs) Luckily he didn’t get hurt. And it was amazing how [the machete] made it through! Matt’s holding on to the camera – it’s on a Fig Rig so [the camera] is in a steering wheel – and the camera is pretty bulky, so it takes up a lot of that space [in the wheel]. And as he was filming, one of the guys was swinging a machete at Iko and Iko blocked it, and it just went ‘phoom!’ out of his hands, and it spun, and it went through the gap – there’s a small gap [in the rig] – and it went through the gap and hit Matt. He was okay – the camera was luckily okay as well.
(Incidentally, while watching the crazy action scenes in the film, “How did the cameraman NOT get hit in the face?” was pretty much the only question I kept asking myself.)
One thing I noticed about The Raid is that there are elements of the horror genre woven into it, which makes it that much more tense and exciting to watch. Was that a conscious choice, to borrow from that genre?
I realized early on in the writing of it that the concept of it was like survival horror – so I knew it had a survival horror feel to it. Once that clicked, I was like “Okay, well I can introduce different genres into this.” And I kind of wanted to play around a little bit with the expectation, because it’ll be billed as a ‘martial arts film,’ but I wanted to put things in there you don’t usually get in martial arts films.
One of those things was horror: tension, claustrophobia – playing around with all of my fears – and putting things in there that you don’t usually see in these films.
Like some very Monster-esque characters.
Yes, and it was all horror: Like that scene of tapping the machete against the tiles, it’s a horror film thing. You know, it’s the idea of like the Boogeyman is coming to get you, or you’re being hunted or stuff like that. It just so happens that the action discipline is martial arts-based.
Since the film debuted on the festival circuit, and people have responded so favorably to it, it’s gotten a sort of makeover – such as the new soundtrack by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. Can you talk about the response since it’s gained so much attention?
The response to the film at [the Toronto Film Festival] kind of set everything alight, and it went nuts after that. The last five or six months have been crazy, really; it’s been pretty overwhelming, pretty humbling, too. It’s meant that we can go back and do that other film now, that bigger-budget film (the sequel ‘Berandal’). I mean we can get the budget for it in place now, and we’re in a very good position where like in January (2013) I can start shooting on that. So the sequel’s gonna go ahead.
Yeah, it’s just blown us away; when we were making ['The Raid'] we were in a totally different head space from where we are now. When we were making it, you know, it was a backup project; it was a film that cost less than our first movie ['Merantau'] – it was a step back, almost. Our ambition was to move forward, and kind of push and make it the best we could – but, you know, we really, really, had to change the way we worked on that film, and we had to scrimp and save everything. We pushed every penny of the production budget into it. So yeah, it just feels like the biggest relief possible to kind of have the reaction we’ve had, and it’s just been overwhelming.
Looking at your own biography – you’re Welsh. How did you get into the Indonesian film industry and what kind of impact has the success of this film had on that industry?
The local fans are great – they’ve taken to it in a big way! I was in Wales all of my life until I was twenty-seven – my wife is Indonesian/Japanese – and she put in a call because I hadn’t done enough in the UK to get myself noticed in the industry; my fault, I just didn’t push enough, or do enough to get my face known. So my wife put in a call and got me work doing a documentary out there [in Indonesia], and that documentary was about Silat martial arts.
Through the course of those six months I was able to sort of learn about the culture, the tradition, the marital arts discipline, and meet Iko as well. And everything I did in that documentary was like being given these different elements and tools for me to go ahead and make a film out there. That kind of chance didn’t come along often, so it was a no-brainer to say “I’m going to move out there and try it.”And yeah, I just feel very grateful that the industry has accepted me out there – which is so great to have that – nobody thinks I’m f!@#king around with their culture too much. I’m happy because that country has given me my career, really, and I’m happy to keep making films out there as long as possible.
Is your wife now looking at you waiting to be praised – I know it’s what my wife would do in a similar situation…
(Laughs) She’s my boss. She owns the company. So it’s kind of like anything I accomplish, she’s like ‘Okay, next film.’
[WARNING!!!! SPOILERS BELOW!!!]
One thing you did – in the midst of all this epic action – is manage to create a larger mythos for this world and these characters – specifically where things ended off with Rama (Iko Uwais) and his brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah). They kind of have a Batman/Joker thing going on, where they’re kind of now the antithesis of one another (super cop and criminal mastermind, respectively). Will that be a central focus of the sequel, Berandal?
We touch on it. We develop a little bit more with the brothers again. I think that my approach on that – that each [brother] has a ‘uniform that fits’ – if this was like a typical movie, [Andi] would’ve gone home with Rama and had dinner with dad and it would be a whole big happy family and that’s where you’d end the film. But I wanted it to be the reality that this guy [Andi] is happy where he is, and he’s good at what he does, and his life is what it is now – and has been for six years. Just because of one day’s events he’s not going to turn around and say “Okay, I’m going to be a good guy now and come home with you.”
Especially since he’s now at the top of a criminal empire.
Exactly! He’s inheriting it now! So that’s where we pick up from, the fact that [Andi] has inherited this sort of new crime syndicate. So yeah, it’s going to be fun.
The Raid: Redemption is now showing in limited release around the U.S. Go HERE to find out if/when the film is expanding to an area near you.