Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Of all the interviews I did at Sundance, it was Gareth Evans that I was most amped up to talk to. The premiere screening was the night before the chat and as the credits rolled I was dumbfounded. There were whole sections that blew my mind and it was the first time in a long while where I was asking myself “how did they do that?”
So that was pretty much my whole approach to this interview with THE RAID 2: BERANDAL director Gareth Evans. “How you make moooooovie?”
And he doesn't disappoint. He tells a story about getting a one-take shot during a big car chase sequence that kind of blew my mind. We also talk about his influences, the importance of beating up your lead and the medical emergency that stopped the premiere screening.
In fact, that's where we begin the conversation, so let's get going, shall we? (Be warned, we do talk about some specific action moments, nothing that would ruin the plot, but might lessen the impact of a couple action scenes.)
Quint: Congratulations on the premiere last night. I have to say that the biggest testament to the movie was that it could survive an interruption halfway through. You have to know that the movie worked when the medical emergency that stopped it halfway through didn't kill the enthusiasm of the audience.
Gareth Evans: Yeah. I was nervous as shit when that happened. I felt sorry for the guy. I hate that kind of situation, I don't like the publicity factor of that because the guy was sick. The festival guys came up and said “What do you want to do?” I said, “Fuck it, stop the film. Just stop it. The guy's more important than the film playing.” I was glad that he was alright in the end and that everything was fine.
Quint: I've seen a moment like that, be it an audience problem or a technical problem, really deflate the room, but it didn't do that last night...
Gareth Evans: We've lost that excuse now. With DCP's it's always perfect!
Quint: It was great that they were able to jump back to the beginning of the scene immediately. Anyway, I was legitimately stunned by the end of the movie.
Gareth Evans: Oh, thank you.
Quint: The first thing I want to talk about is the car chase sequence because I am absolutely baffled by it. I don't even know how you even start to plan that sequence let alone execute it.
Gareth Evans: Okay. The goal was to try different things in this one because we had already proven ourselves with martial arts in the last one. We did a lot of gunplay in the last one, so we wanted to do some gunplay, but not too much. I was interested to try out a car chase. What do I like about car chases? What's interesting and what can we afford to do as well? We didn't have much of a budget. We had maybe seven cars we could use, so if they got fucked we were done.
I started looking at different things and started thinking “Maybe we focus less on the actual carnage of the crashes and add different elements that maybe we haven't seen before. What happens to the person inside of the car?” That was the key to me. The first crash, the top shot, where we see the guy crash through the windscreen... that doesn't happen often. Not in one shot. You usually get the impact and then see the impact of him coming out of the windscreen. If we do it all one shot we sell the idea of “Oh shit, this really happened.” So it was all about finding those gonzo moments.
Quint: One thing that really impressed me was that you weren't afraid to find the line of ridiculousness and go past it. For instance, the motorcycle guy... not only do you have the unloading of a full clip point blank into helmet you also have him brutally run over!
Gareth Evans: He just fell badly! (laughs) If he had just fallen to the side he'd be okay.
Quint: Yeah, he only had, like, 500 bullets in his face. He would have been alright.
Gareth Evans: That one... I was looking for (moments) where I could reference the first movie a little bit. When Joe (Taslim) pulled the guy over and did the triple tap into his head, I thought “We gotta beat that.” Same with the guy having his head smashed against the tiles. Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian) doing that with the wall and scrape down was like an alternative version of that. That motorbike one felt right for that moment. Also, I'm a big, big fan of Dobermann, the Jan Kounen film. That was a huge influence on me for the car chase stuff, like when the guy is hanging off the side of the car. I had a blast doing that.
I knew I wanted to do a fight inside the car, to make it a tight, claustrophobic space and then at the same time within that scene allow us to drift out into a wide open space, so we're constantly closing in and widening out.
Quint: Spielberg did a similar thing in his War of the Worlds, but he's Steven Spielberg and he has the full weight of the studio behind him and the best visual effects team in the world at his disposal. There's one shot in this sequence where you're in one car, the camera pulls out and join the following car and it appears to be one continuous take.
Gareth Evans: It's real. We did that for real.
Quint: Jesus Christ, how!?!
Gareth Evans: We couldn't figure out how to do it convincingly with effects. We were really worried about doing that shot in the greenscreen studio and it looking fake because there are too many elements you'd have to add to it and we didn't have that kind of manpower for it. “What if we use flatbeds?” “We'll still have to use CG, what if it doesn't work?” Me and my DP were talking and we said, “Let's just do it for real. Let's try it and see if it works.”
We had a camera car running alongside the main car. Once we matched a controlled speed my DoP would push the camera inside through the window. He'd shout action and Iko would kick the guy over into the backseat and we'd pull out, whip (to the other car) and then that car would speed off away from us. We'd slow down a little bit, allow the other car to come up, and when it comes up what you don't see is that there was another DoP (in the car) waiting. As soon as it comes through, he grabs the camera, controls it, and we let go and drift away.
Quint: The second DoP was inside the second car?
Gareth Evans: He was inside the car. We fake the reaction to the gunshot and the window breaking and we whip out through the window. What you don't see is an assistant lying down on a flat platform on the other side of the car. When the camera comes out through that window he's there to give some support and hold it, to keep the camera safe. We couldn't do it with a rig because it was too big. We had to do it all handheld, but we didn't even have decent handles on the camera!
My nerves were shredded. It was a Red Cam and we only had two. I was like, “Please don't drop it, please don't drop it, please don't drop it.” The guys felt stoked once we got it. Once we had that shot we were like “Fuck yeah, we did it!” It was a nice feeling onset.
Quint: How many takes was that shot?
Gareth Evans: I'm thinking it was 6 or 7 takes.
Quint: That's insane. See, that's the kind of thing you don't really see in big studio action movies. I don't know if it's laziness or a lack of vision or just a difference in safety rules, but as much as I'd love to see you tackle a huge budget I am hesitant to see you enter the US studio system. There seems to be so much more red tape outside of Indonesia, for better or worse.
Gareth Evans: I think we'd have to find an alternative way to do what we do. We'd just have to find another way to execute the shots we needed to get. I don't think I'd be interested in the big, big, big crazy budgeted stuff out here, to be honest. I'd rather stick to the middle-range to lower end budgets...
Quint: You say that now, but wait until they offer you Spider-Man!
Gareth Evans: Yeah, still. How am I going to do a PG-13 film? I don't even know how the fuck I can do that yet. That's not a criticism of it, it's more a case of I don't know how to do that yet. My filter isn't quite there yet and it doesn't suit my way of shooting action, either. When we design it the whole purpose it show the action, to show the connection of ever hit or kick or block. You can't do that in PG-13. When somebody gets hit it's usually in a chaotic close up and you don't get to see the impact fully. You get to feel it with the sound effect, but you don't get to see it. I don't like doing that. It's kind of a cheat.
Quint: In both Raid films, as well as Merantau, you also show us the results of that violence. You expose the brutality of these fights. In the first Raid you had the Mad Dog fight and in this film there's the kitchen fight. There's so much great drama in the kitchen scene here and weirdly I like both characters in the fight. That fight itself is almost a movie within the movie, there's drama, a give and take, throughout the sequence.
Gareth Evans: Thank you. What I wanted to do was build up certain expectations. When we reach the big glass smashing moment in the wine enclosure... when he gets kicked through it, any other movie that's the end of the fight, but to me that's not satisfying enough, so we move into the knife fight section.
The idea was to keep building and building and building, make the choreography less complex and then turn into this frenzy by the end of it so they are literally just hacking at each other.
Quint: Have you ever seen William Friedkin's THE HUNTED?
Gareth Evans: I haven't yet, no. I need to see that.
Quint: It's the only other movie I can think of that has realistically shown two people knife-fighting.
Gareth Evans: Wow, I'll have to check that out.
Quint: And it's especially weird in that movie because the two people in that movie are Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro. The message is that no matter how great of a bladesman you are, you don't ever enter a knife fight without being cut. There's no such thing as a clean fight. The good guy gets fucked up. That's something that came across big time in that fight between Rama and The Assassin.
Gareth Evans: Thank you. That's really important to me. I hate it when a guy is just a killing machine, when there's no pain and no suffering for that guy. For me it loses a connection with the audience. You need to see a guy vulnerable, you need to see that he is beatable.
Quint: That's John McClane in Die Hard. Every single thing he does takes something from him, so when he does outlandish shit, like when jumps off the top of an exploding roof, you buy it.
Gareth Evans: I agree. I think it's important. It's one of the things that I used to love about Jackie Chan. He would take a hit every now and then. He would never have a perfect block. He'd always get bashed around and beaten down, so the moment he would turn a fight around was a cool moment. You support him more, you're by his side more.
Quint: So the movie comes out in March...
Gareth Evans: Yes, March 28th. We're going to release it in the US and also in Indonesia at the same time. There's a couple of territories putting it out the 28th of March and we're still waiting on a few more to clue in on when they're going to put it out. I'm hopeful we can get quite a lot of territories out on the same day.
Quint: It's Sony Pictures Classics in the US, right?
Gareth Evans: Yes.
Quint: Are they pushing it out pretty big?
Gareth Evans: I think it's going to be similarly structured to the first one. Limited at first and then roll it out more and more each week.
Quint: If my Twitter feed is any sort of barometer, there's a huge hunger for this film.
Gareth Evans: Fantastic. I was fuckin' terrified last night. I had no idea what it was going to play like. We only finished that version of it on Sunday, so there was that whole anticipation for it. Monday was horrible... just the waiting and the anticipation building. We went to see Killers at the midnight Monday and all I kept thinking was “Tomorrow we'll have finished our screening by now... I wonder what it's going to be like, what the reaction is going to be like.” Yesterday was a bit overwhelming to be honest. None of us expected this.
Quint: Well, now we've all overhyped it, so enjoy the buzz while you can!
Gareth Evans: I'm ready for that, to be honest. I knew going in that this film would be divisive. I knew some people would really like it a lot and some people would really hate it. I'm expecting there to be some not-so-positive reviews.
Quint: That's always a danger when you're not just copying the formula of what came before. When I reviewed it, I talked about movies like Gremlins 2 and Temple of Doom that each tried to do something different with their sequels and were more or less punished for it.
Gareth Evans: I thought that was important for this. Like you say, if it's the same as the first film what's the fucking point? Go watch the first film again. If you're going to retread over the same ideas, concepts and tone... it's pointless. Whether it works or not, we just wanted to make sure we did something that was true to what we wanted to do and was in that same kind of creative space that we had on that first movie.
Quint: Well, you pulled it off. I think the movie's pretty fuckin' rad.
Gareth Evans: Thank you!
As I stood up to leave Evans looked a little shocked. “The intervew is over already?” I laughed and said “We've been talking for 17 minutes, dude.” He was taken aback by that and said it didn't feel like we were talking that long, which is just about the best compliment an interviewer can get.
I hope the chat read as quick as it obviously felt to both parties involved. I'm stoked to see this movie again with my friends and family. March 28th can't get here soon enough.
That's one Sundance interview done and a whole lot more to go. Stay tuned as these chats trickle out over the coming weeks!