How Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais make a movie like The Raid

We talked to the The Raid’s director Gareth Evans and its star Iko Uwais in Glasgow the day after it closed the hugely popular FrightFest strand of the Glasgow Film Festival, attracting a fantastic reception throughout.

Already heavily hyped thanks to other festival appearances and compared to the likes of Die Hard, in the movie Iko stars as a member of an Indonesian SWAT team who find themselves trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster, and have to try and fight their way out.

As you might expect, there’s a variety of amazing sequences throughout the movie. When asked about The Raid’s choreography, Welsh director Gareth told us: “The first three months of every project – this is before pre-production, even – it’s just me, Iko and Yayan [Ruhian], the guy who plays Mad Dog in the film.

“The three of us get together in a room. I’ll have a handicam, and then I’ll give them a rundown of every scene, every fight scene in the film.

“So they’ll the props, the opponents, the location, the skillset of the fighters – are they really good or are they disposable? – what the weapons are being used and what’s the tone of the fight as well, how are aggressive is it?

“Once they have all of that background detail, and those little bullet points along the way – ‘you lose your weapon here, you pick up the guy here’, that kind of thing – they then fill in the gaps. They come together with the design, with the individual movements, like the elbows and the kicks and the blocks and the punches.

“They’ll present all of those to me, and then we’ll work together to figure out the structure for it, so we have these moments where the fight scene rises and then drops, rises and then drops. It keeps a dynamic movement to the fight scene.”

He continued: “We take a flat shot of that entire fight then, and we have that as our reference point. We shoot again using a handicam, but we shoot the entire thing shot for shot, and we actually make it exactly as it would be in the final film.

“We know every edit decision, we know every angle, we know every camera movement. Then once we have that in place we use that as a template, so at the end of three months those video storyboards for every fight scene in the film.”

(Warning: the trailer contains graphic scenes of violence)

Gareth added: “When it comes to production, we use that as our template, so we’re sat there in production, the laptop is there, with the scene loaded in. Every time we shoot that shot we drop it in and replace it on the timeline.

“We can see then if it works, because we’re watching the guys in the office, fight fight fight fight fight – then that one shot where it’s the real location, and then does it cut smooth, in and out?

“Gradually we end up replacing them all. Each shot becomes like a jigsaw piece, so it has to be perfect on the in and out point.

“The benefit of this is that it’s like a safety net for us, because we can take that process, and if we know it’s wrong we’re still on location, so then we’re like ‘okay, we need this shot, we need to fix it’. We’re still on location, we’re still on set, it doesn’t cost us an extra day, it doesn’t cost us anything extra except for one more shot or something. It saves us money then, and it’s more economical for us.”

Gareth then explained how he’d never attempted to do anything with martial arts before moving to Indonesia, though he was obsessed with them in his childhood.

He had drifted away from watching them “until Ong Bak came out. When Ong Bak came out it was like a revolution again for martial arts films.

“I think my approach really, my taste is more geared up towards those 80s and early 90s martial arts films, so the way I shoot, the way I edit, it’s not flashy. I’m not technical enough to be flashy as an editor, you see; when I’m doing it I keep it straightforward and I prefer it to be more of the classical-style cutting and presenting the action.”

Gareth added of the film’s star: “In terms of Iko’s performance, he’s really, really starting to raise his game now from the first film [ that they did together, 2009’s Merantau]. Because in the first film all of us on the cast and the crew, it was our first time doing a film like that.

“We’d never touched martial arts before as a film, so we were learning as we were going along. We made mistakes along the way, and there were some things that were really good, but I feel like his performance has developed so much from that first film now. The way that he handles the fight sequences especially is so much more complex, and there’s so much more detail in the choreography.”

So does Iko find it harder acting in dramatic scenes – given that he had never appeared onscreen before Gareth discovered him while shooting a documentary about the Indonesian martial art silat – that doing those fight sequences?

Gareth translated his response for us: “What he’s basically saying is that when he prepares for the action scenes, like him and Yayan, the other choreographer, they prepare for it. They have to do lots of stretching exercises and warm-up sessions before we start fighting, to get that adrenaline going, to get ready for that fight, to focus on each movement and everything they have to do in the fight sequences.

“For the drama he almost has to build up his adrenaline even more, and relies on Yayan and also myself to get himself prepared for it. He finds the drama much more difficult than any of the fighting, because for the drama it requires a different process and mindscape for it.

“So he actually gets more nervous doing drama than for the fighting – because the fighting’s second-nature for him.”

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