'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans on That 'Redemption' Subtitle, Re-Scoring the Film, and Setting Up His First Series (Q&A)
After knocking out audiences in Toronto, Sundance and Austin, Evans defends the changes made to his action opus between its festival run and release in theaters nationwide.
Prior to the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, the few people who knew Gareth Evans' name were aware of him at best as one of the dozens of directors worldwide trying to make their mark on the action subgenre. His first two films, Footsteps and Merantau, won him critical acclaim, but at the box office failed to fight their way into a crowded market of action movies. But as soon as The Raid knocked out critics and festivalgoers in Toronto last September, Evans became a talent to watch, and following celebrated screenings at Sundance and South by Southwest, what might have just been his latest effort got turned into a burgeoning movie franchise audiences worldwide are now awaiting.
Nevertheless, the film underwent several changes since those early screenings: its title became The Raid: Redemption, after a rights dispute prevented them from preserving the simplicity of The Raid, and its score was re-composed by Linkin Park musician Mike Shinoda and TRON: Legacy orchestrator Joe Trapanese in order to reflect distributor Sony Classics’ larger commercial ambitions. After the film screened at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival, Evans spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the experience of making the film, and then the process of giving it a make-over as it arrives in theaters around the globe.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was your original idea for the film, and how tough was it to balance actual storytelling with the intensity of the action?
Gareth Evans: We wanted the film to work more than as just an action movie. I’ve watched so many martial arts films since I was a kid and what tends to happen is I'll watch it once from beginning to end entirely, and then I'm hitting the fast forward button, skipping chapters to get to the fight scenes. I didn't want people to kind of do that with The Raid --I wanted enough meat on the bones of it so that whenever they watch it, that they actually want to rewatch the entire film and not just skip to the fights. So it was a way to give it the forward momentum, but at the same time these cool little sort of tension-building moments in between the set pieces that really feel like you naturally progress from one fight scene to the next.
THR: How much of the fight sequences do you come up with yourself, and how much do you leave to the choreographers?
Evans: I tend to work quite closely with my guys. I'll sit in with them and give them a sense of the location, the props, the opponents, like the situation and the psychology of the choreography and then we'll work out the fight together. So they would go off and fill in the blanks, but then they would present it to me as a series of moves. And then I would sit in with them and we would figure the structure -- where that movement should be, [and] the full design of it. But the more violent stuff tends to come from me, because clearly I'm the psychopath of the group.
THR: What prompted the decision to enlist Joe Trapanese and Mike Shinoda to compose a new score for it?
Evans: The decision to do the re-score [happened] way before we'd even finished shooting. We sold rights to Sony back when I was still filming it [and] at the time [they] approached the idea, "we might want to do a re-score, would you be up for it?" They hadn't even heard the original version, so this was a business decision that was made way, way, way back, it wasn't that evil corporation thing. So we sent that footage out and Mike responded to it in a big way; for me, it's like, how often am I going to get an opportunity where I can have two completely different musicians, Joe and Mike, do an interpretation of my film? It doesn't happen that often.
THR: The score is really terrific.
Evans: Yeah, they've done such great work on it. I know that there will be negative [reactions] from the fan community -- they want the original title, original cut, the original audio and stuff like that. But the work that Mike and Joe have done is fucking great. And not to be diplomatic, but I love both scores equally; there are certain tracks that I feel Mike and Joe nailed, and there are certain tracks that my guys really nailed as well. In the perfect world I'd be able to use both of them.
THR: How did you initially feel about the idea of renaming the film, and then how did you work that into what the continuing saga would be?
Evans: Well, in terms of the addition of Redemption to the title, it was something we toyed with because none of us really liked the idea of calling it just The Raid Part Two, but we just wanted to have some way of connecting it to the previous movies. We didn't really have a plan to do that for the first film, we just wanted to call it The Raid, and both [we] and Sony were adamant. But we couldn't get clearance to use that title for the US, and we tried everything; we held back a lot of promotional material because we had to wait until we could get clearance for the title. And we fought and fought and fought, but in the end there was no way we could get clearance on just The Raid. And when you consider the fact that since Toronto it had been five months worth of raising awareness about the film and about it being called The Raid, we didn't want to do a full change of the title. So we decided, okay, we're going to have to add this subtitle to the film in order to still have it as The Raid. It was one of those things where you look for a part of that film that we can use, and at least it was thematically correct. But I understand the online response because I had a shit ton of emails saying "don't let them do it, don't let them change it!" like it was an evil studio thing, but I knew the truth of it -- it was out of our control, and it was out of their control. And it's what, five seconds on the title card in the beginning of the film and there's five seconds at the end, it doesn't change the film. So hopefully people can kind of get over it and be okay with it.
THR: This movie exploded out of Toronto in 2011. Given the more understated success of your previous films, what were your expectations with it commercially?
Evans: When we were doing the post-production on it we were like one week away from Toronto, and so I was so wrapped up into it and so into the process at that point that all I could see were the problems in the film. Me and my producer were really pessimistic, so when everything kicked off in Toronto, it just blew our minds. It kind of overwhelmed and humbled us so much, so ever since then it's been one event after another and trying to keep our feet on the ground and trying to kind of still hold on to that list of things that we feel are wrong with the film so that we don't make the same mistakes in the second one.