Gareth Evans is a name that we all need to keep a very watchful eye on as The Raid blasted onto the big screen this week and made a quite a stir as it did so.
It has won over critics and audiences all over the world and it is one of the best action movies of hit the big screen in many a year.
At a special preview screening of the movie Evans talked about the movie, his time in Indonesia and working with lead actor Iko Uwais.
- How does a guy who is living and working in Swansea end up making a kick ass Indonesian movie?
My wife is Indonesian/Japanese and what happened is I was working in Swansea making these videos and she knew that I always wanted to have a career in film but I never pushed myself enough to get noticed in the UK, it was all my own fault really as I didn’t put myself out there.
And she could see that I was doing less and less of what I actually wanted to do and so she put in some calls to some contacts that she had in Indonesia to get me to do this documentary, and the documentary was about Pencak Silat (the marital art used in The Raid).
This was a type of martial art that I had never seen before and it put me in contact with a choreography team that I could use in the first film Merantau and, more importantly, I met Iko Uwais.
- You have mentioned the documentary that you went to shoot in Indonesia so did you complete that?
It was suppose to be a five episode series and I did the first episode of that which was about Silat. But just before we finished it the funding fell through for the rest of the series and it never got finished.
However very recently we got the rights back and we own that now and once I get back from the UK we are going to start doing the sound mixing and the final colour grade so hopefully this year we will be putting that documentary out. It’s very different from this though (laughs).
- You are quite known for your action movies but have you ever considered tackling any other movie genres?
I am looking, at some point, to explore different genres - my work in Indonesia is much more martial arts based and I do feel that everything that I do there will be the next Iko project that I do. But I am looking to do projects outside of Indonesia and bounce back and forth between the two places.
If I could pick any genre that I could do then I would love to do a Western more than everything, throughout my childhood me and my dad would always watch a bunch of movies but the film that we always returned to was The Wild Bunch so if I could do something that would fit that mould then that would be great.
- Do you have a dream cast?
Most of my dream cast are dead now. I am more of a fan of people who have faces that look like they have lived a life rather than those who have spent most of the time putting moisturiser cream on - we need some craggy old faces.
- I read that there is a sequel in the pipeline and the first thing that I thought when the movie finished was ‘I have to see more of that’ so what is the development on the sequel? And what can we expect from it?
I am finishing the script next, I have been promising this to producers in the U.S. and producers in Indonesia and I keep saying ‘it will be done next week’ but I have been saying that since September.
We are going to start shooting in January and the story is going to carry on from where this left off, we are not going to follow the same format of setting it all in one location we are going to expand the world more.
So some of the characters that are briefly hinted at or only have small scenes they get expanded a lot more now and we are taking the fight out onto the streets so it is going to get a lot bigger.
The hardest set piece, the sequel is going to be much bigger, is we are going to have Iko take on four guys inside a car - he is going to be kicking people out of windows and smashing the car into other cars - once we have figured out how to do that without killing anyone then we can start production. - Are you worried that there will be a Hollywood remake of this?
There is going to be a Hollywood remake of this and I am going to be the executive producer of that Hollywood remake, I am involved in a small capacity I have a say in some of the creative decisions but I am not going to direct.
- Who will direct?
We don’t yet as we are working on that at the moment but we might be making an announcement in the next couple of months maybe.
The good thing about the remake is that it will be an Americanised version with a mostly American cast but they still want to retain the Silat feeling of it so Iko and Yayan Ruhian, who were the choreographers on this movie, are going to work on some of the choreography for the remake.
For us as a company obviously we have a commercial goal to make movies that make money but our mission statement is to promote Silat and to have Silat in a big Hollywood production is great.
- Technology wise you shot this digitally so how important is that in the production process and how quickly are you able to shoot and how do you go about it?
We shot everything in HD and we shot the movie with a Panasonic AF-100 and it’s the like a small DSR cameras but it is the video version but we could stick 35mm lenses on there and you could externally record the footage so we could manipulate the colour a lot more.
We shoot in HD because I edit on location all the time so all of the fight scenes and the action sequences when we have a break I will go to the laptop and start cutting to make sure that the scene works - we don’t have a big budget for the movie so that means I can’t go back to the location two or three days later to re-shoot something I have to be right there on that day and know what I need.
So while I am editing those fight scenes I can see if a cut is not quite flowing right and we can go back in there and shoot more shots and fix it.
For the fight scenes we did so many takes to get each shot if we were to use film we would waste so much stock so at least with HD it is just hard drive space and it doesn’t cost as much.
When we do the fight scenes every shot we usually don’t get in anything less than ten to thirty takes, the most is about forty takes; and something that takes forty takes those takes from twenty to thirty five are some of the most patience testing takes you will ever have in your life.
When you are directing it it’s hard to bitch because if it’s forty takes then thirty nine times those guys have been punching themselves for real for no reason so it’s hard for me to say ‘punch him right’ because they have already been taking the pain and the hits of it.
- How did you get the money together to make the movie and how did you then get the distribution because, as you said, it’s a low budget Indonesian movie but it is now playing all over the world?
We did a film called Merantau first, we finished that in 2009, and after that we wanted to do a different movie first called Berandal, it was much bigger movie with a much bigger scope.
We spent about a year and a half trying to get the finance in place for that and we met a lot of investors and got led along by a lot of them until a year and a half later we were no closer to getting that budget.
So after a year and a half I was like ’I need a second film’ and Iko needed a second film as well and so we decided to do a smaller film and something that we could afford.
We knew that we could put a certain amount of money in ourselves, we put in about half, and then we just needed to find an investor to put up the other half.
It was weird because we had spent a year and a half of meeting investors every week and every month and just being told no no no no no and as soon as we switched and went for The Raid, which was a plan B project at the time, we had one meeting in one afternoon and the guy said yes.
- Why do you think he went for it?
I don’t know (laughs). We just pitched it to him and he seemed excited about it. The thing is he was a private investor and he give us total creative control so he didn’t want to have any say in the story or the production it was basically ‘you go off and make the film’ so that was a lot of faith and a lot of trust.
We paid him back last week so he is probably very happy. We had a very strong domestic performance in Indonesia so we broke even about three weeks ago.
- Do you have a favourite scene in the movie?
I have been asked this a couple of times and I always change my mind so this time I think this time I am going to say the stick and the knife fight in the corridor because that is the scene that seems to be the one that gets people responding the fastest. It was also a fun shoot to do as well.
There is one guy in that scene, one of the fighters, and we thought we had thought of everything but one of the fighters was really short sighted and he couldn’t see without his glasses and we had to take the off for the purpose of the fight scene.
So just before the shot Iko is taking care of this other guy and he is supposed to attack him from behind I was waiting at the monitor and I could see him in the corner of the frame and he puts his hand on Iko’s shoulder and he is like ’one, two, three’ and counting his steps - I had no idea at the time.
So every time we did a take he would be like ‘one, two three’ and then grabs hold of him, he was that short sighted he couldn’t even see him from that distance.
The most challenging scene for me to shoot was the one where they had to drop through the whole in the floor and there is a shoot-out in the room below.
The scene itself wasn’t difficult so difficult and it wasn’t a question of the shots or the action it was more the location as we needed to build a two storey set. The studio was in Jakarta and the two studios that were big enough for us to build that structure were both booked out and so we decided to do that inside a badminton court in the middle of nowhere but it had a tin roof and the temperature went up to forty four degrees.
We had twenty air con units around but it didn’t matter how much cold air we pumped in there it didn’t change anything so the guys with the SWAT team jackets and the guns and the helmets they were almost passing out.
We shifted to night shoots hoping that the temperature would drop just a couple of degrees but it was just torture.
- What do you think of any comparison between Iko and Tony Jaa? And who would win in a fight?
Tony Jaa would beat the shit out of Iko (laughs). Yes of course there are comparisons because they are both South East Asian new action stars and new marital art disciplines.
Tony Jaa is an incredible martial artist but he is also an incredible acrobat and he does a lot of flips, and summersaults and twists what we have tried to focus on more with our choreography is more fighting style that is grounded in reality.
We knew when we were coming into this that there would be comparisons between action films in Indonesia and then Hong Kong and Thailand as these are the two main territories for martial arts cinema and I didn’t want to produce a movie that was imitating Hong Kong or imitating Thailand, if we try to do that then we would fall flat on our arse.
So I was like ’lets try and look for something that would make ours feels a little bit unique and a little bit different to what has been done’ so we had set rules that we wouldn’t break; so we tried not to break the laws of physics so with the exception of one of two wire shots we tried not to use wires.
Also when the fight started it didn’t end until the person was done and down on the ground, so for the final six minute fight we just kept going and going and going until the guy is on the floor with his neck missing.
Also we don’t do acrobatics so we don’t do triple twists and then a kick and the reason is because we wanted people to feel like they are watching a real fight and the minute you do a triple twist and a kick you are marvelling at the acrobatics and not the choreography.
- The Raid is the first Indonesian movie to be released in the United States so what does the Indonesian film industry make of that?
It’s been pretty crazy. It was the first to get a day cinemas release as we came out in Indonesia on March 23rd and then we came out in the US and Australia at the same time.
And the response has been good and people have been proud of it in a way, we were invited to an appreciation award for the film.
Indonesian cinema has been in a slump for the last two or three years with tickets sales because there have been a lot of films that have deserved to have a good box office and they for some reason they haven’t so we were very lucky that people came out to support this.
- So how did you get into film?
I went to the University of Glamorgan and I did a media technology course and I thought that that would be filmmaking and radio and television but when I took it there was one course in film and one course in television and the rest was computer programming and software design, a little different to what I was expecting.
But I had access to the cameras and the editing suites so every time I had an assignment I would twist it into based project so I could practice those sorts of things. Then I would borrow the cameras and make short films at the weekends.
But then I did scriptwriting course and that was the thing that really taught me a lot as before then I thought that I knew how to write and I found out that I had no idea at all.
I learnt to take a step back and approach a script from a more visual angle because I use to dive in and write reams and reams of dialogue and my lecturer would say ‘this is a visual medium you need to tell the story visually first and only have your characters speak when they need to speak’. So that was the learning curve I went on.
- So how do you go about writing the fight scenes from a script perspective do you go into great detail?
For the script we don’t go into huge detail instead I set the scene for example when Iko is carrying the cop on his shoulder and he is carrying the stick and the knife the script will say Rama has the injured cop on his shoulder with a stick in one hand and a knife in the other and people are coming at him from every angle.
The guys can then take that and work out the choreography blow by blow, hit by hit and block by block. But if I write every hit I am the only one who is going to understand it - I can write ‘he swings with the right hook then block then kick and punch’ I can seen it perfectly but the person reading it sees it completely differently.
If I do write it down hit by hit then I am taking away the job of the choreographers so I just give them a sense of location, props and opponents and then we workshops he fight scenes together.
So we will spend three months, myself, Iko and Yayan, with crash mats and a handycam and we work out every single fight scene from beginning to end and we also figure out the shot lists - we do a video storyboard and we shoot it like it’s the real thing and we have every edit and every shot pre-designed.
We can the use that as a template so we can show that to every department so they can get an idea of what is required from make-up to lighting to cinematography.
- I was wondering if the scene where they announce that the SWAT team is out on the floor was a reference to The Warriors?
Absolutely. We did a couple of visual links to different things and The Warriors is in there with the microphone which was a nod to the DJ shot in The Warriors. There is a scene when Iko is running down the corridor away from the machete guy and he starts tugging at the locked door the shot pushing in on him we call the Sam Raimi shot.
And then while he is pulling on the door we were like ‘right we a The Shining shot’ so we went underneath and pointed up at the door. But we also referenced different film styles and different marital artists; Jackie Chan for example always has this thing of having some vulnerability in his character and that is what we relate to him and we like the fact that he is not a killing machine and he has moments of weakness.
So the moment when Iko come back in the window after the machete gang fight and he is walking down that corridor if anyone come and attacks him he is dead and that is where the film would end for him - so we put that vulnerability in there.
We also did a riff on Bruce Lee and in Enter The Dragon there is bit where he jumps up and cracks someone’s rib cage and that act is so sadistic and violent that you see this look of anguish on Bruce Lee’s face where he knows he has let the rage take over and he has become the monster he was trying to kill and there is regret on his face.
We did that a little bit where Iko pulls the guy onto the doorframe and we focus on Iko reaction as he sees this kid dying in front of him and that realisation that what he has done is pretty f***ed up.
- You mentioned earlier that there will be an American remake but this movie has already been released there and it’s doing incredibly well there so how do you feel about it already being taken over by America? Should they not just enjoy this movie for what it is instead of making an American remake?
I think that audiences have been given that chance already as it has been released and they marketed it well and it has had a good theatrical run, Sony Pictures Classics did a really good job of the release out there, so people have had a chance to see the original.
When it comes to the remake when it is announced more and people talk about it and realise that the original is still available and they can get it on DVD or Blu-Ray. Before I started making film I as a bit of a fan boy and I would be like ’don’t remake this Asian movie’ but from a business side of things it has a lot of benefit for us too.
We got paid for that remake and that can go towards the budget of the second film that we want to do and it can raise awareness of the original and the sequel as well. So it’s one of these things where I hope to god it’s a success and the remake does really well but whether it succeeds or fails it will have a positive effect for us because people with know about the original and they will want to see it.
- When it comes to putting the music on the film how did you go about doing that?
When I write I always listen to music but I tend to stay away from anything with lyrics in it. And I always prefer a score in a movie instead of songs with lyrics in, in the closing credits it’s not a problem, but when the film is playing I do prefer a score.
The thing is with lyrics once you put a song in there if the lyrics are completely different from the film or a vague then they don’t fit but if the lyrics are written and designed to be part of the film then they just sound cheesy so there is never a right lyrical fit for a film for me. Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park did the music with Jo Trapanese who worked with Daft Punk on the Tron soundtrack.
We had an original Indonesian score but when we did that our aim wasn’t to do something incredibly Indonesian it was quite an electronic score.
The suggestion t use Mike Shinoda came from Sony when they picked up the movie and we were still in production at the time so it’s not like they heard the original soundtrack and didn’t like it and want to replace it it was just a marketing opportunity where they could tie it in with someone who is popular - otherwise it is an Indonesian language English subtitled marital arts movie with a director nobody knows and an actor know one knows.
The great thing for me was working with Mike and Joe they came from the right place and Mike was like ’I don’t want this to be a bunch of Linking Park song stuck on top of a film I want this to be a proper score’ and he would reference John Carpenter a lot.
And when he talked about bring Joe on board to help work on the film I was sold and I knew that it was going to be alright and that we were going to get something solid with this.
- Obviously this is an incredibly action fuelled movie so was filming every held up because of injuries to the cast?
We didn’t have the budget to allow us to be held up and if someone was injured we would have to find something else to shoot really quickly and do that instead. Iko was a nightmare on this shoo because when were doing the auditions for the fighters - they tend to fight with Iko and Yayan as a test - and most people when they came in and fight with Iko they do gentle punches because they don’t want to hurt him.
But the guy who plays the guy with the machete and the big bulging eyes he was a maniac, that’s why he got the job, but there was a moment he had to throw Iko over his shoulder and usually you would throw and let go so the other guy can control his fall but he held on and pulled him back in.
So what happened was when he came down he sort of went on his side and he popped his knee and this was three weeks before we were due to start shooting. So Iko couldn’t practice for two and a half weeks before the shoot and then he had chicken pox as well, the scene at the beginning where he is praying that should have been day one but it ended up being two months into the shoot because he just looked like human bubble wrap.
One of the first scenes that we did was in the corridor with the stick and the knife and on the second day his knee popped. So we had to hoot the Mad Dog and Jaka fight but them someone got injured doing that so we had to find something else to shoot so we had to keep juggling all these different schedules around.
- What are your foreign language skills like and how have you found filming in Indonesia?
I can speak Indonesian now, on the first film I couldn’t and I relied far too much on my assistant director and my producers.
But on this one I had learnt a lot more as I have spent so much time with Iko and Yayan and I have learnt from them and they have learnt from me.
- Have you any plans to ever shoot in 3D?
I hate 3D. I like IMAX but I can’t watch a 3D movie for more than forty minutes before I have to take the glasses off. Editing in 3D I could never ever do it.
I think it’s very restrictive and while the rigging is getting lighter and easier to use but I just have zero interest - if I had a choice I would never watch a movie in 3D again.
The Raid is out now. Read what we thought of the movie here
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw