As The Raid
gets set for its home video release, we’re bringing you the full uncut chat with writer director Gareth Evans
from earlier in the year. It was recorded at the Merrion Hotel Dublin on the 25th of February 2012.CLICK: How are you getting on today?
GE: I came straight from Jakarta quite the trip. I’ve been awake since 5 this morning, couldn’t shake off the jetlagCLICK: Did you get up for a walk around?
GE: No I foolishly thought I should check my emails. Didn’t listen to the part of my brain that told me to go back to sleep and was up til 8 working!CLICK: It’s an obvious question – how the hell does a Welsh guy end up directing an Indonesian action film?
GE: I haven’t heard this question before either! I was based in the UK and trying to get in the industry but I didn’t really do enough to push myself…CLICK: You made Footsteps in 2006?
GE: Yea, it was very low budget and stuff. Me and my DoP financed that ourselves. We took a bank loan and just did it. But we didn’t push it enough; we didn’t use it the way we should have to get more work in the industry. And I was in that mindset at that time where I was working full time anyway and my job was steady income. My wife is Indonesian-Japanese and she ended up putting some calls in back home, got me a directing gig on a documentary back there. So that was six months doing this documentary about Silat [an Indonesian martial art] and that was what introduced me to it. And then I was out there for six months, I got to learn about the traditions, culture and what it was like to live and work there. And that really appealed to me and I also got to meet Iko, who became the actor in Merantau and The Raid as well. It was one of those things where just by doing that documentary it was like being paid to do that research and make a decision that would change where we live.CLICK: You said you found Iko – how?
GE: Basically he was a student of one of the masters we were following. The documentary was to follow five different masters from five different areas and it was more about the philosophy of Silat in everyday life. And Iko was one of the students when we were filming some practise sessions and he immediately stood out. It sounds like such a horrible cliché but every time we’d be filming them, we’d just be drawn to him. And I said to my wife ‘we’ve got to keep an eye on him because he has a good screen presence’. Silat was Iko’s hobby, he’d represented the country in demonstrations and stuff but his 9-5 was he was a delivery guy for a phone company. He’d never acted before but I told him I was going to come back to Indonesia and that we would make a film together. And he just thought I was full of shit! And then when we got back out and spoke to him, we got him to come work with us. And I don’t think he believed me until we were in pre-production on Merantau.CLICK: And did that documentary ever come out?
GE: It was for someone else. We completed our work on it but it was supposed to be part of a TV series. And the other episodes were never shot. We recently acquired the rights to it and we’re going to go back and do the sound mix and another colour grade on it and get it out.CLICK: You’re doing a Merantau special edition DVD – will it be a special feature?
GE: Yea, it won’t be on there. Because we want to sell the documentary so I’m not going to give it away! We might sell it to a TV network. The Merantau special edition is due out the same week as The Raid now. I just did a check on the final disks they sent me.CLICK: Your previous film, Footsteps, was more of a drama. Did you always want to make martial arts movies or did it just happen?!
GE: I’ve always loved martial arts films – Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li. But I never thought I’d be making them. It sounds weird to say that I’m a Welsh guy living in Indonesia and making martial arts movies. To me, inside, it doesn’t feel weird – because it’s just been a natural progression day by day and project by project. But if I take a step back, it’s fucking bizarre! It’s such a strange thing. But for me it’s like I don’t know, I grew up watching them and I was obsessed with martial arts cinema but never thought I’d make those films. Because white guys didn’t really make martial arts films!CLICK: When I read the press notes about The Raid – from a Welsh guy with little experience - it sounds like it’s going to be a disaster!
GE: I know what you mean!CLICK: Was it very stressful to come onto your second movie and get so much attention?
GE: I think that stress is going to be on the next film and not this one. On this one, it was just kind of go for broke. We did Merantau and it did ok. But the landscape of film financing in Indonesia had changed so much. All of a sudden we were going back to investors and there was no more money for film. People had lost confidence in film there and it was very hard to find the money for The Raid. So we were looking to finance something else first which was a bigger budget. The Raid was our plan b. For The Raid it was just kind of like – as much as we love Merantau and we’ve very proud of it – let’s just cut to the chase and just do something that’s full on action. We don’t have to introduce Silat or the culture, just go straight into the action really.CLICK: Merantau feels much more like a normal martial arts movie, like something from a different decade.
GE: People commented on some of the things in Merantau being a bit soft and we reacted to that very strongly! There’d be certain times when we were designing the choreography and these little extra turns of the knife. If I was in a bad mood maybe one day in pre-production and they’d say – we should stab this guy in the knee. Then I’d go ‘stab him and then twist it so his knee comes out!’ so they can’t say The Raid was too nice!CLICK: For me at least, Merantau felt like a little bit Ong Bak.
GE: Yea sure. I guess it’s a little bit unfortunate but we couldn’t really avoid the comparison. And it was born out of the real tradition. It’s about young boys leaving their home town to make a home for themselves in the big city. And I totally get the Ong Bak comparison but for me it was more like something like… Big Boss, the Bruce Lee film. Because that’s the same thing – he goes off to Thailand. Story wise it’s been done a million times before but we wanted to bring something uniquely Indonesian to it, with the Silat martial art.CLICK: Is the ending of Merantau supposed to be harrowing?
GE: Well yea! It was one of those things… I knew from the moment I started writing it that he was going to die. I knew it. I love the whole tragic hero type movies in the 80s, like Andy Lau when he dies and becomes so sad and shit! And I wanted to do that, to have a real emotional element to it as well. And I knew I could rely on the actress who played the mother. Because she’s just a brilliant actress anyway with this emotional weight and she can carry that off. But then it’s supposed to be upsetting but at the same time a little bit uplifting. There’s a smile on her face before we fade out. It’s not enough to make you feel good but to make you feel like it’s ok.CLICK: Let’s get to the Raid!
GE: Yes!CLICK: One thing I noticed was the gunplay, which was something I really enjoyed but was kind of unexpected. Did you have any specific inspiration for that?
GE: For sure yea. I mean John Woo and Sam Peckinpah were my huge influences on that. We had a little bit of gunplay in Merantau but it was very basic. But in this one I wanted it to be more inventive and we were so restricted in Merantau because I didn’t know what we could and couldn’t do in CG. And all of a sudden we had this flexibility because we were able to completely run around with those guns. We didn’t have the budget to use real blank firing guns. So we used airsoft, like gas blowback, BB guns. Once we had those mechanics we just shot everything with that.CLICK: So everything, like muzzle flares, etc are all CG?
GE: Everything. Especially when that guy gets shot in the face, it was all CG!CLICK: You also have proper set pieces and some great slow motion. When you write the script, do you see those moments?
GE: The gunplay stuff, it was very detailed in the script. When it comes to the martial arts stuff, I don’t script so much. I’ll give general information. For the martial arts sequences, when Iko’s carrying his friend on his shoulders and is carrying the knife and the stick, that’s what the script will read. I’ll write things like, as he’s fighting, the other guy’s body moves so he has to move to keep his balance. So then that becomes an element of the choreography. And then where does he lose the knife or the stick, how aggressive or violent then fight is. That’s what we script. But the movements we don’t put in.CLICK: Well you weren’t an action director until you decided you were! What does it take to be an action director?
GE: For me it’s a strange thing because we’re completely in our infancy. We’re inexperienced and learn as we go along. One of the things we try to do, especially with the martial arts, is that we do a lot of preparation. We do a lot of things that kind of act like our safety net. Because we don’t have big budgets, our production time is so limited, we can’t reshoot anything. So basically what happens is that I’ll spend 3 months with the guys and plan out all the fight sequences – just me, Iko and Yayan [Ruhian – who plays Mad Dog]. With just a handycam and crash mats, we design and shoot all of the fight scenes. We’d shoot a video storyboard and at the end we have a template for every fight scene in the film. So every crew member knows what the content of each shot it. And then we figure out makeup and continuity and everything. So we have those edits to match to on location and we already know if it’s going to work. But for the gunplay stuff was a little bit more nerve wracking as I decided not to storyboard it. We’d give the guys a sequence of moves to do and I’d have the actors do these long takes. We’d do the whole sequence giving the guys directions and I’ll just give certain shots to the cameramen. And because I edit myself I can tell where the in and out points will be and we’ll piece it together afterwards!CLICK: It’s extremely violent, almost ridiculously so at times. You mentioned that you did that almost on purpose?
GE: Yea for sure. One of the things… I'm not a fan of, this sounds like a strange thing to say. I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence and what I feel we do in The Raid – I call them sucker punch moments. And while what happens is extremely violent, we don’t well on it for too long. With the exception of two moments, we don’t hold on the shot. Like when the guy gets shot in the face, we cut. We have these moments where you get a gut reaction from the audience and then move on.CLICK: Do you enjoy the reaction from the audience at those moments?
GE: I love it! But the thing is, even that throat slitting. When you really look at it, there’s no detail. It’s more the idea of it than anything else. It’s a wide shot from profile. We were shooting a close up at one point and I thought at the ‘nah fuck this, its bullshit, it’s too aggressive.’ We showed a little bit of restraint. So even then there’s this element of not being too explicit with it. But when were in screenings, when we hear people react to things – the violence or the stunts or unexpected things – I love that reaction. It’s the best feeling because it’s something we’ve come up with that we’ve managed to execute in the shoot and then people respond to it.CLICK: Do you think about ratings? What are ratings like in Indonesian?
GE: Yea, that’s a tricky one, yea. When it comes to censorship we do worry because to a certain point we just made the film we wanted to make and we hope it goes through ok. But we don’t want it to be cut to the point where it makes no sense anymore or when the audience gets taken out by the edits.CLICK: You think it will pass there uncut?
GE: Eh, no! It’ll get cut we’re just waiting to see what happens.CLICK: The level of violence and the way it was cut made it seem like it was always intended for an international audience – would that be accurate?
GE: Nowadays the world is so small you can’t really make film for your local audience. And it’s got through in the US. I don’t know what the UK rating will be like.CLICK: I’m guessing 18s
GE: Oh 18s for sure! But I just hope there’s no sticking point. Fingers crossed!CLICK: And there’s no nudity.
GE: Yea!CLICK: Obviously you wanted an international audience and it worked – it was picked up by Sony, even before the film was finished. Was that exciting?
GE: Yea. Well what happened was we were shooting and our sales agent and exec producers are US based and they wanted to take some footage to the film market in Cannes to get it on people’s radar, just to get some notice. And we’d sell it later at Toronto. And because we were just two months into the shoot, I was editing the action scenes as we shot them. And they said to us, can you get us two scenes with some music and Foley effects. And we gave them two completed scenes and three with no sound at all. And they started playing them to people at the film market – again just to raise awareness. But then from Sony was there and just took to it. They wanted to take it and that was it. And then we started selling territories at Cannes. I was shooting the scene where the boss was shooting the five guys in his office and I could feel my phone vibrating. So I said cut and checked my phone and was getting messages from Twitch film or whatever saying ‘we just sold the US’. And I just wanted it to shut up because I still had a film to make! But it was great feeling because we were two months into the shoot with a couple of weeks left to go and to be able to tell my crew that, at that point, just boosted their morale. We had really long hours but it made it feel worthwhile.CLICK: And the only change internationally is the new score from Mike Shinoda [Linkin Park]?
GE: Yea it’s just the music that’s changed, I think you guys saw the original score.CLICK: And you’ve heard the new version?
GE: Yea, it’s great. Here’s one of the things. I’m very lucky because I actually love both versions of the score. Not just in a diplomatic way because I thought the original score was just fantastic but both scores work really well with the film. It’s strange because there are some parts where I prefer one or the other.CLICK: Does it change the feel of the film at all?
GE: Not really. It’s kind of… there are one or two scenes where there’s a slightly different tone but both work. I had just come off finishing the first version and then the US soundtrack was starting. And they wanted to talk to me about it but I didn’t want to just give them the same notes. So I got them to go off and do whatever they wanted and I’d give them notes later. But when I spoke to Mike and Joe [Trapanese ] about it, they were talking about the music and their approach and Mike was desperate to do something that would feel like a real film score. Everything he said just filled me with more confidence.CLICK: And it was recently renamed The Raid: Redemption for the States?
GE: Yea. It’s part of franchising it in the US. In Indonesia it’ll still be called The Raid. It’s to become a collective there.CLICK: So that’s looking at future sequels?
GE: I guess so, yea. It’s all a bit up in the air for me at the moment. We wanted something that had some connection to the storyline.CLICK: There’s also an English language remake on the way in 2014 – are you involved with that?
GE: I’m involved as an executive producer and the guys Iko and Yayan will be doing the choreography. So that’s really cool because they have respect for the original and what made it stand out with the Silat. I didn’t want to be involved in a directorial sense but I’m really keen to see what a fresh pair of eyes can do with it - there are certain things I really wanted to do with the film but I couldn’t because of the budget and I can’t wait to see what they do.CLICK: You edited the film as well – does that mean you also worked on the trailer?
GE: Yea not the international trailer but the Red Band one from a while back I cut that.CLICK: Is that fun?
GE: I’ll be honest, I hate cutting trailers. I really hate it because it’s harder to pinpoint the things that work in a trailer when you’ve worked so closely on the film. Back in Indonesia we’re a very small company so I had to cut the Red Band Trailer, the Theatrical trailer which is a little less violent, the TV spot and the TV ads as well. So its gets tiring after a while!CLICK: Maybe someone else will help now!
GE: Yea, I’ll talk to the wife about that – she’s the boss!CLICK: You’ve also been talking about a sequel and the possibility of a trilogy – is that something you’re working on now?
GE: Yea that’s going to be… [sirens outside the hotel] That’s quite apt actually! I’m going to be working on the sequel next. It follows almost immediately on from The Raid and we expand the world more. It won’t be contained in one building this time, I don’t want be tied to the same style just because it’s a sequel.CLICK: Die hard on a boat, Die hard on a plane…
GE: Yea exactly. So The Raid but on a bus! What we’re going to do is we’re taking it outside and we’re going to meet the people who we hinted at in the first movie. Who are the criminal elements behind the story. A much bigger scale.CLICK: You want to do car chases this time?
GE: Yes!CLICK: How then do you go bigger for the third film? In space?
GE: I don’t know yet – yea The Raid X, in space! I don’t know yet in terms of the third one, it’s so far off from now. I had the storyline for the sequel planned out. The third part I’ve got my initial launching point of it but not the full story.CLICK: And there’s no chance you’d tell me.
GE: No chance at all! Because I don’t really have it yet either but I don’t know fully yet. But the second one is going to be much bigger, that car chase is going to be the big set piece.CLICK: Inevitably, people will ask – would you like to make an English language movie?
GE: I’d love to make an English language movie, whether that’s in the UK or the US. I’d love to do something in the UK at some point because I want to come back. I’m probably going to stay in Indonesia. My plan is to do one project there and another somewhere else and keep jumping back and forth. Indonesia gave me my career and its where my home is and we’re comfortable there. So as long as I can keep living and working there, I’m happy.CLICK: But the trilogy will be shot and financed there?
GE: Part two yea, part three… still up for question. We’ll see what happens!CLICK: Are you still surprised by the success of the film?
GE: Yea… we have these little moments where we have a couple of minutes of downtime and it’s just so bizarre. You come to terms with it and then sometime amazing happens again. It’s continually overwhelming at the moment but in the best way possible.CLICK: It’s also bizarre because you’ve done so many film festivals but your movie hasn’t actually made any money yet!
GE: I know. Here’s the thing. Everyone’s happy I just have to make sure that I make my investors happy next. We release in Indonesia day and date in the US so hopefully we’ll have good news then!CLICK: Do you enjoy promoting the film?
GE: Yes I mean it’s fun. It’s bizarre, I really enjoy the Q&A’s. It’s such a good feeling to be able to share little bits of information with people. When they have questions about production or that, its fun to be able to share that stuff as well. It’s all new to us, it’s all still exciting.CLICK: What is your day to day at the moment – between films?
GE: Leading up to this trip, I had to prepare all the promo stuff for Indonesia – the TV ads and that. So that was taking up way too much time and obviously we’ve got the production blogs we’ve been putting up online. So that’s finishing up as well.CLICK: Do you edit them as well?
GE: I didn’t edit them but I had to do the timing for the English subtitles. So that’s almost done and we’re in a position now where I’m kind of looking forward to maybe sometimes in June I’m going to sleep and relax a little bit. I’ve already pencilled it in!CLICK: You’ve got releases in March, April and May don’t you?
GE: Yea… so then June I can relax.CLICK: Are you looking forward to the release in Indonesia?
GE: We’re really excited about that because we did two festival screenings in Indonesia to test the waters and see what the reaction would be like and we were really overwhelmed. So we have this feeling like maybe it will do well. The thing is box office takings for local films in Indonesia have been quite low for the last six or seven months now. So we’re hopeful now we can be a bit of a turnaround there.CLICK: Is this an unusual type of film for them locally?
GE: I think so yea. There hasn’t been a film like this for years. Even compared to Merantau – its more drama based with action in it. Whereas this is more full on, so hopefully it’ll be a good Friday night film.CLICK: And not too heavily cut!
GE: Yea! Fingers crossed yea, we’ll see how it goes!The Raid is coming to home video on the 21st of September. We’ll have a review up presently.
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