When it comes to The Raid: Redemption, I have to assume you’ve heard the hype, seen the trailers, read the reviews, and have a pretty firm set of expectations about what you’re going to see. All that’s left for me to do is hand you this link to the list of dates and places, look you firmly in the eye — lips pressed tight — and quietly nod. You know what to do.
Until you’re able (or already have and want to dig deeper) I’d like to present my chat with director Gareth Evans, in which we discuss exactly how he sculpted the kinetic-yet-clear camerawork, dealt with size-shifting sets, and how he handles the hype and pressure of starting a blossoming career. I’m happy with the discussion, brief as it was, and I hope you enjoyed too. If you feel this blows or that I, like, totally suck ass at this, then check out Joshua’s interview and perhaps that will suit you.
Thanks for reading guys!
Renn: You’ve spoken before about the challenge of directing a film in a language that’s not your own, with the overarching theme seeming to be a need for trust in your collaborators. Was that at all a humbling directorial experience?
Gareth: Yeah, moreso on the first film when we did Merantau, that was the biggest moment like that. With Merantau I didn’t have any Indonesian skills at all, and so I was really relying on the people around me a lot more. On The Raid I’d actually picked up a little bit of Indonesian at that point so when it came to it I understood the majority of what people were saying, and my Indonesian skills are at the place where if I have context, I can usually understand about 75-80% of what’s going on. So I came to The Raid with a much more informed approach then.
Renn: In terms of the photography of the film and the clarity of the action- these days everything is built on long-lensed coverage that’s strung together in the edit, whereas The Raid has a similar immediacy but is never difficult to follow. How did you direct that in the moment, day-to-day?
Gareth: Well we do a lot of pre-design on the film. What we do is we spend about three months creating fight choreography in great detail, and then because I spend such a long time with the guys designing the choreography, I know the movement inside-out then. I understand what’s going on in every movement. And then because I spend so much time with them I feel an obligation to make sure the cinematography reflects what they’ve put into the choreography, and so every shot has to be designed in such a way that it shows off that piece of choreography the best way it can. That kind of dictates the way that we shoot it then, so we actually in that first three months we work on the design of the fight scenes but then we do a shot-for-shot video storyboard. Which is every shot and every edit that ends up in the final film. The video storyboards tend to be about 95% the same as what we have in the final version of the film.
It’s pretty detailed and like you said with a lot of films these days with a lot of long lenses and just cut really fast so you don’t see any detail… we’re kind of the opposite of that, every shot is like a jigsaw piece. We never really shoot anything for coverage only. Every shot has a specific reason and purpose for why we’re using it.
Renn: So when you’re on set with such a detailed and structured plan, how often and what is it like when saw an opportunity for something different or perhaps the set turned out differently than you’d anticipated? Did that ever challenge you?
Gareth: Uh, haha, occasionally yes, once or twice we had- you know the room with the shootout and the hole-drop? So we built that set and we filmed in there and we got as far as the refrigerator exploding and all of sudden we had to come back and shoot the rest of that scene, the aftermath of the explosion when everything goes gray and dusty and grim. Our shooting schedule meant that we had to come back and do that another time, and so we were shooting that scene maybe three or four weeks later.
When we finally got back in there the guys in the art department had rebuilt the set, but something felt weird, something felt wrong. Basically… we were reusing the wood- every time we built a set we had to reuse the wood because we didn’t have the budget to build new sets out of new wood. So I said, “something feels different, something is wrong with this room,” and it finally clicked and dawned on me that we were reusing this wood all this time and had run out of spare wood, so it turned out in the aftermath of that explosion the room ended up being something like 2 meters more narrow. So when everything was put back in there it ended up feeling like this really small room, and it bugged the hell out of me so much. But yeah, you had to kind of re-figure out everyone’s body position and the continuity of it so we could shoot it and it still makes sense and have them avoid this big blasted doorway.
So yeah, little thing like that crept in along the way, but when we came to the action choreography, some of the stuff was so specific that it demanded set designs as well. So the atrium when they’re in an open-space balcony indoors, that was something we designed in the choreography of the film and demanded for it, but we couldn’t find a real location. There’s no such building like that in Indonesia at all, and so that then meant we had to build a studio set. So there was some moments when the choreography informed the studio design, and sometimes we had to adapt to fit the set.
Renn: What are your tastes like outside of action? What are the slow-burn dramas or measured-paced films you happen to like?
Gareth: Um, I absolutely love There Will Be Blood. I think Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best filmmakers we’ve ever had. So definitely There Will Be Blood and Magnolia would be in my top 3, so I’m kind of blown away by him as a filmmaker. I love French movies a lot- Amelie is a beautiful film. Have you seen a film called 3 Iron? It’s a Korean movie and for me it’s probably one of the best romance movies you could ever see where the two people don’t talk to each other.
Renn: I’m not familiar with it, but that sounds great.
Gareth: It’s a very unusual movie, it’s very sort of slow paced, but it’s just beautiful. It’s so sumptuously shot, it’s an incredible film. So yeah, like in terms of the films that I make, I make action movie right now, but the films I consume are pretty wide and I like to take a little bit of influence from everything I see.
Renn: So to talk a little bit around the film, you’ve spoken about being pretty connected in terms of twitter and keeping up online. What has that been like with the film receiving such a enthusiastic response from the very start?
Gareth: That kind of blew us away, we were caught by surprise by the way the film’s been received, to be honest. When we made the film, me and my producer we felt a little pessimistic about it because we were on such a tight schedule and such a tight deadline that when we finally did our check print, we were so close to the film –we’d been working on it for like 20 hours a day for like 7, 10, 15 days at that point in the post-lab– that by the time we got to check the print before Toronto, we were pessimistic. We really didn’t feel like it was that great, we were looking at all the little technical faults and looking at the little bit in the corner of the frame where the picture broke up, you know, that kind of thing. We were hopeful there’d be at least one or two decent reviews we could use for a poster quote, and so yeah, since then the response we’ve had has just knocked us off our feet. We’ve been surprised by it and very very humbled by it. We’re very very happy with the response.
Renn: With you being connected online and seeing the smaller, individual response that you might not have seen 10 years ago, what has that been like- the individual fan connections vs. the major reviews?
Gareth: It’s like this- every review whether it’s positive or negative is important because you learn from it. Whenever you read something it’s great to get praise and it’s also great to get complete criticism, but usually there’s one common thread in every review that’s like the common element people will highlight, and that common thread is what you want to keep an eye out for in the next film, and try and fix that for the next movie.
But in terms of personal responses- when we screen this film and people come up afterwards, when they say the things they say, it’s very humbling, it’s very nice to see. I come from this- this is my second movie in Indonesia now, and I feel the idea of me doing this as a career is still very very new to me and a transition for me right now. I mean I have like five copies of Ichi The Killer at home because there was never a definitive one, and so I come to it from a fanboy background, I understand the responses of people so yeah, I get really touched when guys that I’ve spoken to on forum or people I’ve spoken to on Twitter say how much they loved the film. It means a lot, sometimes it means more than a review, ya know?
Renn: So if you were to have made a film where the reaction was not so strong, was less positive in this day of twitter and everything, how do you feel you would compartmentalize and process that? Do you let in a lot of that criticism or plug away…?
Gareth: Well, I mean, we had that. We had that on Merantau on some extent, we had a lot of good reviews on our first film, good feedback on Merantau, but we also had a ton of negative reviews and complaints as well. I think the same will probably happen for The Raid as well. We happen to have a very good momentum right now, but there are going to be people that don’t like it. It’s not really something for everyone in the world. I made a pretty aggressive action film and some people are not going to like it, some people are not going to dig it and I think that’s part and parcel of making films.
I think when I made my very first low low-budget independent film those kind of comments hurt a lot more, but now you learn to deal with them and it’s like this- there will be times that people say very nice things about the film, there will be times when people are very critical of it and everyone is entitled to their opinion, everyone is entitled to say whatever they want about the film. What I take away from it is I got to sit in on those screenings in Toronto and I got to sit in at that Midnight madness screening where it was like the best reaction I’ve ever had to a film, and likewise further that extended when we did the screening in Indonesia, we had such a great response from the audience there — and SXSW — and those months will stay with me, forever. For me you’ve got to have thick skin to make a film and release it to the world, you’ve got to be willing to take the hits as much as you can with the successes and stuff. So yeah, whatever happens happens and as long as you’re proud of the film, at the end of the day that’s all that counts.
Renn: So I’ve seen that you’ve got yours sequel in motion and you’ve got your idea for a film beyond that, but with the response to The Raid it’s clear and inevitable that your name is going to be on every short-list in Hollywood for genre and action films. Do you foresee any point where you would take, say, an Expendables 3 or an action movie reboot or some kind of comic book movie- would you ever dive face-first into the machine?
Gareth: Right now, that’s not really a priority for me. I do want to do something in the US at some point, maybe after the sequel to The Raid, but I’m not really looking to be plugged into a franchise at this point right now. I don’t want it to be one of those things where my first film outside of Indonesia becomes a thing where I lose my identity as a filmmaker, I want it to be something that still feels personal to me and still feels like it’s a part of my body of work. So whoever I work with in the US, my producer in whatever capacity that is, I want them to want the film that I’m going to make. I want them to believe in the vision I have for it, and not just sort of, “oh there’s a bit of hype about the last one you made, let’s just get him in to do this.” I don’t want to be offered just any action film because I’ve done action before, you know? So I’m being a little cautious right now with the work I approach in the US, in the UK, but I am looking to develop and do something out there at some point.
Renn: How conscious are you of “building a body of work” and possibly diversifying your efforts at some point? Is that something you think about?
Gareth: Yeah absolutely, at the moment my career in Indonesia is more focused on martial-arts action films, but I’d love to stretch out and try a couple other genres as well. For me, when I look at people I respect and admire, I look at filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah and John Woo. Especially with how Peckinpah with The Wild Bunch- he had these action set pieces but they were character-driven, they had a meaning behind them that was much more than just the spectacle of it. I’d love to do something in that mode, I’d love to be able to push my career in that path and try different genres. I’d love to try and make a western at some point, I’d like to do something outside of martial arts and the English language would help as well! I’m a big fan of different kinds of films, so if I could do a kids film one day, I’d love to that as well. When I watch cinema I watch everything, I want to see everything, and so I’d love to have a shot at trying to make a little bit of everything at some point.
Remember, you can find where and when The Raid is nearest you right here. I suggest you do so and make this movie happen for yourself.