Interview with Gareth Evans Director of THE RAID

The Raid has the distinction of being the first Indonesian film to ever screen at Midnight Madness, it also opens the programme. The film promises to deliver on the action as well as introduce the world to a new action star, his name Iko Uwais. I recently had the opportunity to talk with The Raid's director, Gareth Evans.

You were born and studied in Wales, I'm quite curious how you went from the United Kingdom to directing films in Indonesia. Could you tell me a bit about the journey?
After coming out of University I found myself stuck doing a 9-5 job in Wales for years. Shamefully my drive to go out there and make films was limited to just a few shorts (all of which are too terrible to share online) I would never begrudge the industry for lack of opportunities, cos I don't feel I did enough to find them myself. So around 5 years into my time at the company I had the urge to make a feature, I wrote Footsteps as something I could do on a limited budget (around $10,000) after trying and failing to get a business grant for the film I decided to just take out a personal loan and self-fund it and deal with the debt later. Thankfully my boss at the time was kind enough to let me take a month off to go ahead and make it, so repaying the budget was an affordable cost. The film didn't exactly set the world alight but it was a defining moment for me and I knew I had to pursue film more aggressively than I had before.
How that ended with me in Indonesia is surprisingly straight forward. My wife (who is now also my boss) is Indonesian and she had been pushing my name and the dvd of my film to anyone she knew back home. Luckily for me one of those people was Christine Hakim a hugely talented and respected actress and producer. She was putting together a series of documentaries to be made about different elements of Indonesian culture, each directed by an outsider. Due to my interest in martial arts cinema I was brought in to direct the episode on Pencak Silat. So I left the UK went to Indonesia to work on the documentary for 6 months and by the time I was done I found a love for living in Jakarta, an obsession with a martial art discipline I had never seen before, a ton of story ideas from the research I'd gathered and just to top it off --a leading man in Iko Uwais who I'd met as a student of one of the masters I'd been following.

2) I have been hearing that your lead actor Iko Uwais is one to watch and is poised to become the next big name in action. What makes him so spectacular? What sets him apart from other action stars?
Iko is like a little brother to me, so it's hard to answer this unbiased and I really hate to kiss his ass but I'd have to say that a large part of his success will come from his genuine likeability and the fact that he's quite a skilled actor not just a screen fighter. He's got a lot of work to do to reach the heights of his superiors, but so long as he continues to focus on each project with the same commitment and dedication that he has shown so far he'll get there soon enough. One of the things that we stole wholesale from Jackie Chan is that he's not afraid to incorporate a certain sense of vulnerability to his fight scenes. When we workshop the choreography we always look to include moments where we can see that the hero is in genuine danger, isn't always in control of the fight and could potentially lose. I feel audiences relate to "broken" heros much more than they do to undefeatable killing machines. On a personal level, why I like to work with Iko so much is that he's stayed a humble person throughout all of this. We've worked together now on a documentary and two feature films and even though he's gone from being an unknown driver for a phone company to a global martial arts star his personality hasn't changed. He hasn't let the fame side of the industry get the better of him. When you spend close to a year on a project, it helps a lot if the person you spend the most time with isn't a total dick. Luckily for Iko, I'm only a dick half the time.
3) How did you and Iko meet?
We met while I was shooting the documentary. He was a student of one of the masters we were following (Pak H. Achmad Bunawar from Silat Tiga Berantai) and during a practice session in pre-production we realised immediately that he had a certain aura about him. He stood out from the 20 or so students practicing with him, so I said to Maya that we should keep in touch with him and see if we could set up a film or a tv series to showcase his skills. What followed was a really badly shot and edited test fight (my first experience to shoot a fight scene) but one that showed Iko had potential. I told him at the time that I would come back to Jakarta one day and that I'd like to make a film with him in the lead. He presumed I was full of shit, but a few months later we came back told him to quit his job once his contract was up and we went ahead and made Merantau.

4) Who was your fight choreographer on the film? What styles of martial arts can we expect to see in THE RAID?

For The Raid the martial arts choreography was by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (also from Merantau - he played Eric). Meanwhile I oversaw the design adding some throws, increasing some of the aggression on the knife work and handling the stunt design and gunplay. Anyone who saw Merantau will hopefully recognise a similar signature in how we shoot our fight scenes with some long takes but we've also changed things up quite a bit to increase the pace of the action. The fighting style is a lot more brutal and direct in comparison. This is largely due to the change in psychology between the two protagonists. In Merantau, Iko's character was for the most part trying to avoid the fights, a simple flurry of light hits before making an attempt to escape. In The Raid however, the whole concept and situation makes it a kill or be killed environment. We couldn't get away with light hits and a push anymore--each attacker had to be left incapable of standing up again so its a lot of bone-breaking, knee-cap separating and head smashing.

On a technical level we continue to explore using silat in a practical way, you won't find any traditional posturing here, but a real life application of moves, locks and throws. Other than silat, the casting of Joe Taslim (a national Judo champion) as the leader of the swat team, Jaka, led to us incorporating some Judo techniques to give a different flavour to the action and give him an opportunity to shine also. Joe's got a huge amount of potential to break out as a big star, he has a huge screen presence and his dedication on and off camera has made it an absolute joy to work with him. But Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog for me owns the show, his fight scenes are savage with fast attacks, showing his ability to adapt mixing complex techniques with raw aggression. I can't wait to see how the audience reacts when his first fight plays out.

5) The Raid marks the first Indonesian film to screen at Midnight Madness, can you describe what the Indonesian film industry is like? What are some of the advantages and challenges to shooting in Indonesia?

I think it's much the same as any industry--lots of very talented filmmakers struggling to get budgets to make some really great films offset by some truly terrible films that get churned out by the studio system and flood the market. The advantages are many - we have some stunning unique locations here and a rich history that can be mined for some fascinating stories. Meanwhile I've been incredibly lucky to surround myself with a crew that absolutely will not stop until we are done with the shoot. We've had some pretty punishing hours to get this film wrapped, but they've supported me throughout and given everything. When it comes to challenges, being more specific to me in my field I'd say that when it comes to action, admittedly we're in our infancy our experiences are limited but we're growing with each film. With our films we're often designing stunts that are much larger in scope than is usually performed or practiced by local stunt teams. Much of their work comes from television with stunts limited due to budget, and then suddenly they're meeting us in pre-pro and I'm showing them crudely drawn storyboards of someone jumping out of a window, dropping two-storeys and bouncing off a concrete window ledge before landing safely into a steel balcony. Naturally it takes time to adjust and work out the logistics and how to execute the shots but we get there eventually.

6) The learning curve for directing action films is pretty steep, what films and filmmakers did you study to find your own style for shooting?

Ever since I was a kid my Dad pretty much shaped my film going experiences and introduced me to the whole spectrum of action cinema. He was the one who first showed me Seven Samurai and Ran, but then he also showed me The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Armour of God and Police Story. This is back in the days of VHS rentals and some of those films were hard to come by, especially in Wales. He really was a huge film buff, but never a film snob. If it kicked ass and was entertaining it was just as important as anything considered "critically acclaimed".

When it came time to design the action sequences for The Raid I knew we had to step up in terms of quality from Merantau, we had to show our growth from that film and prove ourselves. I've been lucky enough to build a friendship with Mike Leeder who gave me some of the most important constructive criticism that helped me find a better balance between my fondness for wide angle long takes while also maintaining the energy of both the scene and the performers. On Merantau I burnt everyone out--the shots were just too long and too frequent. For almost every shot in that final cut of the film you're seeing take number 20+ and by then everyone is wasted. So by planning those long shots a little better and not having quite so many of them this time round I was able to get a more focused performance from Iko and the fighters, with more accuracy and a higher energy. We don't undercrank in camera, we always shoot at 24fps so those hits have to come in fast and hard.
For influences I'd go back to my HKL DVD of The Young Master and see Jackie Chan's editing of Whang In-Sik's intro fight, Project A Part 2 meanwhile contains for me some of Jackie's finest work. Undisputed 3 (a criminally underrated action film) was also a major influence for it's fluid editing and camerawork. For the gunplay I borrowed heavily from John Woo and Sam Peckinpah in terms of style while looking to John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York and Walter Hill's The Warriors and Southern Comfort to try and get that feeling of an unrelenting, claustrophobic attack. Merantau was very serious and took a while to get going, but on this one I wanted to have fun with it and cut to the chase faster while playing around with our camerawork, editing and action design. Hopefully it provides enough thrills to keep the audience on edge throughout.

7) You directed a short entitled Samurai Monogatari filmed with actors speaking Japanese and all of your features have been made in Indonesia, even with the use of translators--conveying your ideas on set has to be sometimes difficult, is there a technique you have developed to overcome the language barrier?

In pre-production I always show my entire cast and crew some films so they get a sense of the style we're going for--I try to pick films that apply for each department whether its art, lighting, camerawork or performance. It's a helpful step and one that transcends language barriers to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength going in.

For both Merantau and The Raid I've been lucky enough to have a core team and dept heads that all speak fluent English. So many commercials are shot here with Australian directors that it seems quite common-place in the industry. On Merantau I was lazy and relied heavily on my team being able to speak English, but since then I've started to learn Indonesian from the crew and while they have mostly taught me ways to insult someone they've also helped me to communicate bi-lingually with the rest of the cast and crew. Learning the language has been hugely important, not just out of respect for the fact that I live and work in their country, but because it's become much easier now for me to judge whether or not the performance is there. I can direct the drama and dialogue with more confidence and know when something is off. On Merantau I'd be clutching to my English script and hover between it and the monitor like I was reading subtitles.
THE RAID screens at 11:59pm Thursday Sept, 8th at Ryerson and 12:15pm Saturday Sept. 10th at AMC 2

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read and great questions (and answers of course). Well done Robert. The last question had to have impressed him. I posted the Undisputed 3 quote on the Facebook Undisputed 3 page, and on my AMF FB page. tweeting it and putting it on my site. :D