We recently had the satisfaction of talking to Gareth Evans while he was out in Indonesia, deep into the editing process for his highly anticipated sequel The Raid 2: Berandal, following on two hours after the events of the sleeper hit The Raid: Redemption. It’s great to see a director exceed out of nowhere and gain a status after his action packed adventure in a claustrophobic apartment building. What’s even greater is that it came from talent rather than connections. Gareth Evans was a Welshman with no industry connections that studied what he loved, noticing what it was that made him love certain films then pursuing his findings into making his own features. Below we got to chat to all about his future project The Raid 2: Berandal quite extensively, Breaking Bad and what could possibly be next.
As a Welshman I can’t help but be inspired by you. It’s great to know a director that went out and made themselves successful. Were you ever worried about your career in the industry?
Thank you very much! [laughs] Yeah, to a certain degree. When I talk about my experience in the UK film industry I tend to blame myself for it really. To be honest, I always wanted to do films but didn’t really do enough myself to get in the industry. I did low budget independent stuff, short films, a low budget feature myself, but I never really pushed enough. I settled into my regular job and I never really got out of that, I never pushed enough. It wasn’t really until I got called out to do the documentary out here in Indonesia that I really opened up the door for what I wanted to be doing.
You’ve been working hard on The Raid 2 now on a long, long, long shoot. Over a 100 days wasn’t it?
[Laughs] Yeah! Way too fucking long. We wrapped on that about a month and a half, maybe two months ago, I can’t even remember. We’ve been working on the post-production since then. We’re nearing that stage to move forward with the rest of the post-production now.
How relieving is it to be getting close to the finish line?
I think it’s something like January we’re expected to finish it. There’s still a lot of work to do but I’m almost at that point where my – ’cause I edit my films as well – responsibility is overseeing other people like the sound, the music, the VFX. That will then let me have my normal life back again. [laughs]
How’s the editing going? Do you ever get a bit of a break or is it working non-stop to get it out?
[Laughing] Umm… Weird you should say this. Literally today is a break. Yesterday I started at about 11am and I finished and slept at about 9am today. It’s been a little crazy really for the last two or three weeks because we’re getting closer to deadlines on it. It’s been hectic but good so far! Fingers crossed it’ll all turn out all right in the end.
Then the only free time I’ve taken up! Apologies.
[Laughing] All of my free time is this basically… It’s a weird thing, when it comes to editing because I really enjoy the process. For me it’s like I want to be close to the edit. I always want to be able to jump in and do whatever I want. A lot of my free time I usually spend it watching a documentary or a TV show or something like that. I never watch feature films when I’m editing because I find it too distracting and I can’t focus on them. I just tend to watch TV shows or documentaries to get my head out of it for a while and then jump back in and start working again.
How are you fairing with Breaking Bad? That’s a pretty intense watch.
Oh my god! I’ll be honest, everything up until this new section of the season, I’d only watched it in bulk. I’d watch an entire season after it had aired.
Yeah, same here.
This one I can’t do that because of Twitter and the internet has become a minefield now. There’s too many spoilers around. So as soon as it goes up on UK Netflix I’m watching it straight away then.
That’s exactly what I do. On a Monday morning the first thing I do is open my laptop. I don’t even open Twitter or anything.
[Laughs] Is there anything worse though than when you open it up and it hasn’t gone online yet?! With me as well, you guys get the benefit to watch it as soon as you guys wake up but for me, we’re 6 hours ahead so I wake up and ignore the world for about 6 to 7 hours until it actually comes online.
That must be horrible. Do people ever tweet you spoilers?
I used to write up and say “Looking forward to the next Breaking Bad” but now I don’t do that because people – not intentionally – spoilt it but they’ll tweet a cryptic message or something but it ruins the enjoyment then because you’re always watching to figure out what element that will be. You try to figure it out in your head instead of watching it. I stay away from Twitter now until I’ve seen an episode and then I jump in!
Sorry, I went off-topic there ha. You do these intense action sequences and film them over days and days, does it get difficult or is it great to watch?
It’s a mixture of it. It’s one of those things, when we design them you go into the shoot you always know the execution is going to be hard. There’s not really a shot in the fight sequences that we don’t get in anything under 8 or 9 takes. It’s very rare to get single take good shots on those fight sequences. Every shot is an effort, every other shot is another challenge and another uphill struggle but when you get it and you drop it in – I edit on set a lot so, on location, I do a lot of the editing of the fight scenes so we know if we’ve got it or not. It works as a morale booster, not just for myself, but for the crew as well. We put in such ridiculously long hours and to be done with a scene and at the end of the day to be able to show everyone what they’ve worked all day for and to see it flow and to see it working, that boosts morale a huge amount. It’s this weird process. I think that’s the whole thing of filmmaking anyway. The actual execution is such a torture. You go through so many horrible little emotions, everything is heightened. Then all of a sudden you’re done with it, you have it, it’s all in your hard drive ready to edit; now that we’re nearing the end of post-pro, I have this weird, perverse reason to want to go right back in and shoot something else now. You hate it when it’s happening and then suddenly, once you’re done with it, you want to do it again. I guess you’ve got to really love it to do it.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot on the film?
Car chase. Without a doubt. [laughs] I don’t even have to fucking think about it. We had two really tough scenes. We have a huge prison riot and the location for that meant we had to travel about 12 hours by bus to get there. It was this huge, I think it was sort of like a Dutch fort that was in the middle of this place called Gombong in Indonesia, and what we decided – [laughs] I decided, probably in my stupidity – was to have the prison courtyard caked in mud and with like heavy rain at the start of the scene and to have them fight in this wet mud. The thing that’s difficult about that is the mud is slippery as hell and then the more water we put on it each day, the more mud we had to add on there, it became like soup. It was so hard to move around in there. It’s not just the fighters moving around, I like to make my camera run around and move around in those fight scenes so it became very, very difficult and it was a tough shoot, that was a really tough shoot.
The car chase was probably the hardest because with that we were dealing with elements that we’d never done before. At least with the prison riot it was fighting, which we’ve done for two movies already, but the car chase was a new element for us. We brought in a Hong Kong stunt team, Bruce Law Stunts, he was just amazing. Such a talent, such skill. We learnt a lot from him on how to execute these scenes. We don’t have the budget to do anything like The Fast and the Furious, we can’t just crush 17 cars with a tank, we don’t have that spectacle. We started to look at different ways we could do a car chase and different ways we could present it on our budget level but still be exciting. Instead of focusing purely on the mechanics of the car, whenever we do these little stunts or cars, we focus on the person inside. Hopefully a slightly different take on it. Yeah, should be fun.
Sounds good. Do the cast now hate you for what you’ve put them through?
[Laughs] I don’t know if they hated me but I know I wasn’t flavour of the month for all of the shoot. [Laughs] Once again, if you can show them what the end product will be like then it becomes worth the discomfort of the shoot. Everyone’s uncomfortable, everyone’s equally taxed and stressed out by it but when the end result works for you, you’ll push that little bit harder for that.
How do you go about filming the fight scenes for maximum impact so the audiences feel the hits?
For that, when we do the punches to the body or throws we tend to do those for real. We give them body protectors so it takes the edge off the blow but we always do body hits for real. Anything to the face or the head we always have to cheat that – for obvious reasons. When you’re doing take after take after take, you start entering dangerous territory if you start doing real kicks to the face or real punches to the face and do 5 or 6 takes of that, the inevitable happens, concussion sets in. We always find a way to cheat that, whether it’s with blocking or a new technique in order to do it but we always try to find a way to keep our fighters safe. Obviously people are going to get hurt but we try to keep them out of harm’s reach as much as possible if we can help it. When it comes to figuring out what to do for the audience, I guess in a way it’s strange. In The Raid, a lot of people tended to respond to these key moments. I tend to treat the fight scenes as a way you’d construct a joke: you build up but you’ve got to have a really good punch line at the end of it. For the action sequences, that’s what we reach for, that really good punch line. Every action sequence should have 6 or 7 really good punch lines within it. One key image or one key moment where the audience can gasp or react or laugh or shout out in horror or something. There’s got to be those punch lines in there so that way you can keep playing around with the dynamics of the scene; it’s building up and it comes back down again and it builds up again and comes back down again. Otherwise it’s just flat and you may as well be watching two people flinging arms about.
You’ve said before that you used to watch Tony Jaa and it’s said that he’s in the film now. What’s it like working with someone you’ve previously looked up to and then telling them what to do?
Nah, nah. I’ve not had the pleasure of working with him yet. I’d love to at some point but I haven’t had the pleasure of working with him yet. He’s a huge talent. Every now and then – not specifically from him – we get comments from people who are in the industry who have said stuff about The Raid and when it’s in a positive light, it’s such an overwhelming feeling. These guys are people we’ve looked up to and respected. To get that recognition in a way sometimes is incredible. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to work with him yet but, yeah, I’d love to at some point in my career.
The Raid: Redemption felt like a standalone feature. A really intense one. It’s relentless but in a good way. What can we expect from the sequel? Are you trying to top it?
No, my goal is not to do the same thing over and over. Just because it’s the sequel I didn’t want to recycle the same setup and same concept. I didn’t want to give the audience more of the same because if I’m doing that then you may as well watch the first one again. My goal was always to take it in a completely different direction, do something fresh and do something new with it. This one is a lot different. The structure of the film is much bigger this time, the scale is much larger, it’s backed up by a story that’s a lot more complex; there’s more human relationships in there as well as the visceral stuff with the action. It was working to find a balance between everything so it flows organically throughout the film. It’s a much bigger piece. We were not contained to one location this time. We’re actually taking the story out onto the streets this time, there are a lot of different places, a lot of different characters and a lot of different situations and environments that come into play. The story does pick up about two hours after the first one finished but then the difference is that the first one is all contained through one day whereas this one is through a period of 3 to 4 years. It’s a much more sprawling film in terms of story structure.
Was there originally a plan to extend the storyline?
Yeah, weirdly I knew what the sequel was before I did the first film. What the sequel is is a pre-existing script I had that I tried to get up off the ground straight after my first movie Merantau. When that didn’t work out and we couldn’t get the budget to work out, I started to look at different ideas that I could do with a lower level budget. The Raid was kind of like the Plan B. As I was developing The Raid I realised ‘You know what? This could work really nicely as a prequel to that prior script’. Then, after we finished shooting on The Raid, I went back to the Berandal script and started rewriting it and started to find ways to have it as a continuation of Iko’s character from the first film.
Is there a plan to make it a trilogy?
I have a concept in mind for a part 3 but it would be very controversial and I don’t know if it would work or not yet. I’ll be honest, I’m not looking to do that one any time soon. I’m more interested in developing different ideas first. The Raid has been really good to me and The Raid 2 is obviously something I’ve been passionate about for a long time since I’ve been wanting to make it for 3 or 4 years so it was inevitable. Once the first one was a success, the first thing I’m going to do is The Raid 2, I’m not going to do anything else. In terms of a third part, that would be something way further down the line. I’m not kind of interested in exploring that world just yet. I’ve got a few other things I want to do outside first.
How much bigger is the budget for The Raid 2?
It’s about three to four times the budget for this one but the first one was such a low budget anyway. Once you factor in the prison riot with all the extras and factor in the car chase and stuff like that… yeah, you can see where the money got spent. It was still a tight budget in comparison to if we had made it outside, in the US. I feel like we’ve done a lot with a little again. I’m really proud of my team and my crew because they worked really hard on the shoot too.
You’ve shown some footage at festivals as well. What’s the reaction been like?
Yeah we played it at FrightFest recently. It was a small clip to introduce one of the villains of the film, a character called Hammer Girl. The reaction was really good, it was very positive, very strong responses to it. It was interesting for me to be able to see something with an audience before I’ve even finished the edit. It was kind of cool to be able to sit there and watch it and be like ‘OK, this works, this doesn’t’ . When I do these things I’m constantly taking notes. I just want to make sure that no stone is left unturned and that. I want to feel like I’ve exhausted my options in the term of the edit before I’m ready to sign off on it. We played it recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was the 25th anniversary of the festival so they did a screening of the clip before one of the films that played at Midnight Madness, but I wasn’t there unfortunately, I couldn’t be there to hear the audience’s reaction but from all the accounts it’s seem to have gone down really well. I’m really happy and really excited to get the film done to unleash it on people and see how they react to it, how they respond.
Will the clip be shown online like the corridor scene was?
Unlikely as of yet. The first thing to come out will probably be a teaser trailer but I’m not sure when that’ll be. I’ll be cutting the teaser trailer myself so I’ve got to be finished cutting the film first so I can focus on that. The teaser will be the first thing we show and maybe down the line we’ll release that clip but I kind of want to hold it back for now. It was cool to show it to a few people here and there but it’s not finished yet, it’s not completely done. I’d rather get it all tidied up and finished and then do that kind of screening.
The Raid is getting an English remake too and you’re on as an executive producer. How’s the project currently going?
It’s still in development at the moment. They’re looking for a director now and looking at the casting. It’s on the move and that but it’s all early stages at the moment. I think there’ll be more news about it more towards either the end of this year or early next year. It’s exciting! It’s weird for me because obviously the first one is so close to me on terms of when I was making it so I have a certain degree of involvement in there but my focus has always been on the sequel instead. I’m overseeing little things here and there but I’m giving them free reign to see what they can go and come up with.
Is that flattering having them remake your film?
Yeah, very much so, hugely so! What can I say? For me, there’s only a benefit. If people love it then great, that’s a great thing because it helps boost the audience for whatever we do related to that universe. If people are watching it for the first time and have no idea about the original then suddenly I’ve got a new audience that might check out the original. The original will always exist, even if people remake it. It just helps me find a new audience for what I did two years ago. It’s kind of cool to have that happen. It’s very flattering.
I’m just curious, can you speak Welsh yourself?
Umm, a little bit, tamed bach. I should know a lot more than I do to be honest.
I wouldn’t worry about it, a lot of people don’t actually know Welsh. I was just curious if you’d ever considering doing a film in Welsh because the quality of Welsh films is… well there isn’t much.
I would love to come back and do something that is Welsh based, whether or not that would be Welsh language or not I don’t know but I’d love to come back and do something that was based in Wales. I have a concept in mind but it’s still in my brain at the moment. I have some ideas that could be done in Wales but yeah we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes in a couple of years time.
You’ve previously said you don’t think you’d be able to do a PG-13 superhero movie. Is this because you’ve been asked before?
[Laughs] No, no, not really. It’s one of those things that… when I said that, it wasn’t me shitting on the idea of a PG-13 film, it’s more like I don’t know if I have that skill set yet. I think it’s a very delicate thing to do. When we do our action we don’t hold back much, we just go with it and there’s no real limit to where we go with it. My whole thing with action is whatever we choreograph we show. We don’t hide anything. Once you enter the PG-13 territory there are certain things you cannot show. Certain impacts you do not show for the audience. It kind of goes against my instincts in terms of how I’d shoot and edit an action scene so I don’t know yet if I can do that but I just need to maybe find the right project, find the right opportunity to see if I can do that and go from there.
I’m assuming that after The Raid‘s success you’ve had a few studios phone you up. Is that a system you’d move into considering it’s such a unionised environment?
Yeah. I’m certainly interested in developing further and seeing what comes my way. I’ve had a few offers here and there. It’s unusual for me because The Raid happened two years ago now and thankfully I’m really grateful that the interest is still there from people and they want to see what I do next and that door is still open to it but Berandal was always the big passion project for me. It was always the one thing I really wanted to do so for me it was inevitable really that I was going to do that first before anything else. Maybe once that one’s done, I’m going to produce a film in Indonesia for a good friend of mine to make and then once that’s completed maybe I’ll try something outside of Indonesia to see where that goes and experience a different approach and see what the industry is like outside of here.
There have been rumours about you taking over the Breaking the Bank project that Darren Aronofsky left.
Yeah, there are a couple of projects that I’m connected to in some way and that’s definitely one of them. Right now it’s still all early stages; very, very early development stages. We’ll see how it goes from there. I don’t know exactly what the next one will be but we’re in talks for a couple of things…
That’s Gareth Evans, an inspiring Welsh director with great promise after two great action flicks introducing Iko Uwais to the world. You can check out V/H/S/2 in the UK from Monday onwards and The Raid 2: Berandal will be out sometime in 2014 but for now you can go out and get hit by the visceral worlds Evans has created with The Raid: Redemption and Merantau. We’ll leave you with a trailer for his most recent outing which is a segment in V/H/S/2 which he directed in collaboration with Timo Tjahjanto.