I make no apologies for the unabashed man-love that I have for THE RAID: REDEMPTION, superfluous title and all. I think it's one of the finest action movies I've ever seen, and I stand by that. And, for those who were wondering why the additional REDEMPTION tag, it's pretty simple - the rights to the original title here in the States are being held by someone else, and so Sony added to the title for release. No biggie, and no big conspiracy. It's still a great movie.
At SXSW, I saw the movie again and loved it even more the second time - that Paramount crowd went nuts during a certain fight towards the end of the movie - and the next morning I hoofed it over to Sixth Street to sit down with director Gareth Evans, and Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda and composer Joe Trapanese, who did the movie's phenomenal score. True, THE RAID: REDEMPTION had a score before Shinoda and Trapanese stepped in, but it's such a great score, full of tension and build, that I can't imagine how the original one could be better.
In the interview we talk about THE RAID: REDEMPTION, the first time Gareth saw HARD BOILED, Mike Shinoda working with Michael Bay, and the tremendous work all three do in this terrific movie. Thanks so much to Gareth Evans, Mike Shinoda, Joe Trapanese, Sony Pictures Classics, and Jennifer Bedwell for making this interview happen.
Nordling: How did ya’ll feel about that screening last night?
Joe Trapanese: That was insane. It was a crazy, crazy screening last night.
Mike Shinoda: Yeah, really exciting.
Nordling: Screenings at the Paramount are a lot of fun and just watching that crowd react, because I had seen it before, but I had to go again, because… I’m not going to lie, I have no bias in this at all… Actually, I am completely biased in this. I loved the movie. I adored it. I wanted to ask you, Gareth, really quick, one of the key aspects of action filmmaking to me is geography in a room like when you are shooting. How did that go about like in the seventh floor hallway scene? Is that really meticulously plotted out or is that something that’s kind of on the fly to be spontaneous.
Gareth Evans: Yeah, that was all kind of in the early designs, that idea of… There’s no real reason why Iko [Uwais] needs to ask that guy what room he is staying at when they are at the outside other than for it to tie up later on when they would go to a room, because we had to know… he had to know where he was going in order to have a safe house, like a safe room. So yeah, it is kind of all planned out and figured out ahead of time. Here’s a bit of tiny little trivia, but when we designed the corridors, because we did it all in the studio, it was all a studio set, and so all of those corridors - there’s a reason why we put… All of the numbers on the doors are written in chalk, so that when we needed to go up a floor we would just wipe them off.
GE: So it was like “It’s 403. It’s 703,” It’s just very quick and easy to do that.
Nordling: That works.
GE: But yeah, geography is really important for me - not just in terms of like things like that when it has to do with plot, but to do with the choreography too.
Nordling: I mean it’s just amazing to me how a lot of American film has gotten so away from that. I remember seeing DIE HARD and DIE HARD has an extreme sense of action geography and so it’s when you see a room you instantly know where you’re at, the audience knows where they are at, and…
GE: Even when he’s in the ventilation shaft you know what’s going on and where he is.
Nordling: Right, and the same thing with THE RAID where you know instantly… People see on the doors, “Okay, well he’s on the 7th. The bad guys are on the 15th. We know how far he has got to go to get to where he’s got to be.” That’s kind of important. How do you feel about modern action films, especially American modern action films - is there a need to get back to basics?
GE: I think what has happened is there’s a point now where there’s more sophistication in terms of plotting for a lot of them, but for me when I look for influence for like ideas and scenes and things that we can do, I’m still looking back at the 80’s and 90’s Hong Kong action cinema. I’m still watching Peckinpah and John Woo, you know, the golden era with those films. For me, even though it classifies as a western purely, THE WILD BUNCH is still probably the best action film ever made. There’s a sense of clarity to it and like I was saying last night in the Q&A, I don’t feel like I’m that skilled as an editor yet, like when I’m using Final Cut Pro there’s probably like a hundred different things that I could do with Final Cut Pro that I just don’t know about, because I have a very basic approach, straight cut, straight cut.
Nordling: I wouldn’t say that. The way the film is set up, again with the geography, when you do cut to something everybody knows instantly where you were at and where they are at now, so I wouldn’t say that. I think you did a really good job with the editing.
GE: What I meant by that is kind of like I don’t know how to do all of the sort of flashy stuff. I don’t know how to do flashy editing like these cool whip transitions and stuff like that, so I tend to take my influence from Peckinpah, from John Woo, where everything is in camera, and it’s shot by shot.
Nordling: Yeah, but that actually works too. I think another thing is that editing has gotten so hyper now that it’s not even coherent anymore and to have a shot, just let it happen instead of wanting to cut, so I think that’s great. I think your editing was fine, no problems. I wanted to ask a little bit about Iko. How did that go about?
GE: So I was hired to work on a documentary out in Indonesia, and that was about Silat, the martial art, and we were filming five different masters in five different areas of Indonesia. And one of them was in Jakarta and that master, one of his students was Iko. Iko at that time was a delivery guy for a phone company, so he’d be taking documents back and forth and Silat was something he did on weekends and also he had some kind of… He represented Indonesia internationally in Silat, but that was it. It was like his thing, his hobby, and his life. So when I saw him practicing I was like “Oh shit, this guy can do something. He’s got a screen presence about him.” And my wife was the producer at the time on that documentary and so I was like, “We’ve got to get in touch with this guy. We’ve got to take him and make films with him.” So yeah, that was kind of the starting point then, and we’ve grown together since then.
Nordling: He’s really great. I think he has a really great sense of heart in his performance as well as just kicking ass all over the place. I’d like to talk to you guys too about the score. It’s wonderful. I love, and I don’t want to spoil anything for the people who haven’t seen it, but one particular fight scene I think everybody knows… the one that everybody stood up and clapped for at the end, but the amping up of the tension. I want to talk about that, because the score played a lot of part in that. When that scene came across your monitor, what came to your mind?
MS: Do you mean towards the end?
Nordling: The Mad Dog fight.
MS: I believe that was one of the first scenes that we really tried to knock out, because it set the bar. To me, I know it wasn’t the first big one that I approached, but…
JT: But it definitely was something we were thinking about for a long time.
MS: Yeah, I wanted to make sure to hit a few scenes that were big ones to really get a sense of where we were going, get a sense of the tone of the film. I mean, we had made some decisions early on that set the tone. For example, we decided to not use any electric guitars, to try to keep the distorted elements basically sample based, and try to hand craft them to give the film its own sound, and then use that palette of sounds that we made all over the place. In fact, some of the characters in the film, rather than being represented by a theme, a bunch of notes played on whatever instrument you choose at the time, they are represented with just one sound. You literally press a button and there it is. So once we had all of that stuff kind of behind us and we had a sense of that, I remember at a certain point going, “Okay, I’m ready to do that, to jump into that scene and really see how far we can take it, because it’s going to set the highest bar in the movie as far as intensity.” What I found as we got through it is not only did it “go to 11,” but after that, at the end of that scene you also have to have a sense of heart. You can’t just end on, “It’s badass.” From there it has to kind of tweak into a hero’s moment…
JT: It had to go back down a little bit, exactly.
MS: That was, I think, what really made it special for us, because we both had to work together to make that happen. It was definitely like the collaboration was strong at that point on the creation end.
Nordling: I think the score is fantastic and it does build tension really well, especially like you were saying with the one note for each character. I got that. I could tell that one…
MS: I was actually worried at a certain point that we were being too… You said like John Carpenter stuff, that we had gone too much in like a thriller horror kind of direction. I was listening to it and there’s all this dissonant screeching and humming and long drawn out notes. I’m sitting there thinking, “Number one, this is going to give people an absolute stomach ache. And number two, is it just too much? Are people going to be just worn out?”
Nordling: I think it’s great, because the tonal sounds of the film make you think that anybody is coming around the corner at any time. You never know. I think that’s appropriate for the movie.
MS: That’s where we decided to stick with it, because when you do think about it the entire movie these guys are just watching their backs and there are very few moments of rest.
Nordling: It was a great score. Gareth, I had one question in mind that I wanted to ask you, because I wanted to see what you thought. When I wrote my review of the film, I said there are three movies that you seem to reference… well two and this. It’s DIE HARD, HARD BOILED, and THE RAID: REDEMPTION. I think they are all together. I want to know what it was like to see HARD BOILED for the first time.
GE: Oh fuck. (Laughs) I still remember the day I say HARD BOILED, and this wasn’t like in a theater. I didn’t get to see it in the cinema first; it was like a dubbed VHS rental that came out. This is the nerdy part of my life and the nerdy part of this story. I remember being so pissed because my friend rented it out before me, because I had seen clips of HARD BOILED on MTV and I just remember being blown away, because I had never seen anything like that before. I think HARD BOILED was actually my first John Woo movie ever that I had seen, and when it came out on video on rental then, me and my friend were just hungry to see it. We had to see it. When I rented it, my dad… My dad was a computer teacher, but he would always screen films first in case it was too violent, or in case there was like sadistic violence. He didn’t have a problem with like playful violence, but sadistic stuff he had a problem with. So when it came to HARD BOILED I remember we rented it out and it was like I was bringing it back home, because I got home from school like one hour before he got back from his school as a teacher, and I remember just putting the video tape in and just watching the first 50 minutes of the film and it reached up to as far as the warehouse fight, the shootout; that moment when they are pointing the guns at each other and then I had to switch it off. I just remember thinking, “ I have to see the rest of this,” but I had to rewind it quickly and put it back in the case and pretend like I hadn’t watched it. Then my dad would watch it at night and he would say, “If it’s okay, you can watch it tomorrow.” I just remember that was like the longest wait to get to see that film, but it was phenomenal. It was such a great movie, and it’s been such a big part of my movie going life. I bought every video tape of it I could find, every DVD, I’ve double dipped and tripled dipped enough on the DVD. I bought the Blu-Ray, even though the Blu-Ray is not quite great.
JT: Let’s not get into that. (Laughs)
GE: But yeah…
Nordling: Maybe they’ll say, “Well we need to amp this up now.”
GE: I’d love there to be a definitive release of that film.
Nordling: Well I mean Criterion had it on DVD, and then it went out of print and sky rocketed to a thousand bucks on Ebay. What’s the movie that did it for you, where as a filmmaker you said, “This is what I want to do with my life.”
GE: It’s a weird thing. I mean ever since I was a kid me and my friends would play in our back garden as if we were remaking films, so I guess it’s always been there like we would play around and do Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee remakes in our back garden, like beating each other up and stuff and looking like idiots. I think the film that when I watched it in the cinema where I was like, “I want to make films” was probably BOOGIE NIGHTS I think.
GE: The thing I loved about BOOGIE NIGHTS was when I sat down in that cinema and watched it, that first hour is playful and fun and you get into it. You get this almost part atmosphere with it where you are into it and you are enjoying it. Then it takes a fucking nose dive and it goes so serious. It’s like, “Oh, shit” and everyone kind of sat up in their seats. It’s a two and a half hour film and everyone in the audience… It was the scene when Alfred Molina is the drug dealer and he’s got this kid throwing fire crackers in the corner of the room. It was the most tense experience I had had watching a movie.
Nordling: I remember that. I feel the same way.
GE: And having a film like that, which had all of these jokey elements to it, managing to feel like there was so much heart in there, and fucking around with your emotions and making you feel afraid and tense, to have that happen in the cinema theater and to know like two and a half hours before that film started I was just joking around with my friends in the car on the way to the cinema, and then for that two and a half hours your emotions just go all over the place. To feel that experience in a cinema, that made me think, “I want to do film. I want to be able to make other people have that same kind of experience.”
Nordling: That’s really great. I love BOOGIE NIGHTS. Let me ask you all about inspiration on the score. You were saying John Carpenter kind of came into it a lot. What were some other films that might have inspired you for the score? Did you just say, “I want to push all of that aside and focus on the film?”
MS: Gareth talks about how when we had our first conversation about the film, I told him that I wanted to approach it with a more traditional approach; I wanted it to be a real score, maybe not what people would expect. They might expect me to just contribute songs and then they get chopped up and put all over the place, but I don’t think it really occurred to me that the latter was even an option. I guess some people do that, but I would not be comfortable coming into this situation if I didn’t feel like I was really playing a role and doing something… giving it 100% and doing something that was really coming from me.
MS: You know, being an active part of the thing. So yeah, going into it, it was all about… I think we drew inspiration from all over the place. It was sometimes a movie, sometimes albums, and sometimes you just create until you fall into the thing that you know works. I think for me, whenever I’m writing something, I think the best stuff comes from that last version where you’re really not looking at anything else, you just kind of… it’s almost like you know the answer is out there in the ether and you just want to focus hard enough to pull it down. My best songs and some of the cues from this film came from that kind of thinking.
JT: I think kind of the two best things that happened that weren’t really planned were that Mike and I, while we might not be as well versed as Gareth with the range of cinema that he knows, we all kind of grew up watching those old school American action movies, those kind of low brow ridiculous action movies. But the other interesting thing that happened for us is that between the time that we signed on to do the film and between then and when we got the locked picture, Mike was on the road and I was out of town for a brief second, but we both had our laptops and were kind of messing around with ideas and sounds, but we weren’t working to picture. What’s cool about that is you are no longer being held to the picture, you’re kind of being held to the echo of the picture in your head. So you’ve kind of boiled it down, and it’s an interesting way of boiling something down to its simplest elements, like, “What do you remember?” You are remembering the magic of the film, which is one reason why sometimes I don’t watch films from my childhood, because if I see them now the magic kind of goes away. So we kind of had just a pure magic of the visceral reaction we had to Gareth’s shooting style to the fight scenes, and we kind of messed with sounds and ideas and did some demos and once we came back and saw the film, we kind of had… Once we established the color palette, then we could just run with it.
MS: I feel like that’s something I might be interested in putting into anything I work on in the future, because in hindsight it was really useful. I feel like people’s memory isn’t so great. You don’t get the highest amount of detail, so once you boil it down, I find that you can get into the essence of a thing and we’ve done that on… I mean that’s kind of how we arrived, when my band mates and I were working on the TRANSFORMERS franchise, like the second movie… having nothing to do with their movie, but having to do with our single. Michael Bay had shown us a number of… He showed us a good fifty minutes of the film unfinished, where all the robots looked like they were made of Legos at that point and the story, well there was no story at that point…
MS: At that point! I mean it was 50 minutes of a movie! You can insert your own joke there.
Nordling: I can’t describe the look on your face when you said that.
MS: Insert your own joke. It’s not my joke to make. We left, and I know we wrote the lyrics to that song, “New Divide” about the movie, but we left it and it’s like this abstract idea, and then inherently in the process like I’m writing a song, so I’m putting my own personal experience in there, and making it about both things at the same time and so that’s… I think as far as approach that’s a great… I feel that that helped us in this case to get to that point, besides I was actually in Indonesia. (Laughs) Like we were touring in Southeast Asia, so I’m sitting there thinking, “Wow, he shot the movie here.”
GE: One of the things that I feel like about the score as well is like I know we talked about the influences of the Carpenter movies and all of these old movies. What I love about it is that it’s not… The work you have done is not done in a retro tongue-in-cheek way. It feels completely genuine. It’s taking those elements but bringing them into the now and that’s what I really like about it. It just works so well like hand in hand, you know? In the same way like some people kind of make a comment about THE RAID being kind of like a grindhouse movie, but we made it straight. We shot it straight. We didn’t do anything like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we fucked around like this?”
Nordling: Yeah, I mean the humor in the film, and there is humor in the film, it comes from the character interaction. It’s not trying to be tricky. It’s straight forward.
GE: Exactly, yeah. I guess that’s what I loved about the score as well.
MS: It is funny how the movie is not ironic, and it’s also at the same time not taking itself too seriously. It’s this weird balance.
Nordling: It’s exactly like Hong Kong films and a lot of John Woo films. People say, “Well, it’s over-the-top emotionally.” No, actually I don’t feel that way. I mean watching HARD BOILED you feel like those characters are transforming in their emotion. It doesn’t feel like it’s being jokey. It feels like they are feeling it, so the emotion and intensity is over-the-top, because they are feeling over-the-top.
GE: It’s like they are ordinary people who are in extraordinary circumstances and once you throw people in that, emotions can go all over the place and they can go off the chart as well.
Nordling: This movie is going to blow you up man, I’m telling you. What do you think is going to happen… I know you’re working on the sequel and that’s probably going to be bigger in scale.
Nordling: I don’t want to ask too many plot details, but obviously the relationship between the brothers is probably going to be played out a little.
GE: A little bit, yeah.
Nordling: Okay, I’m done.
GE: (Laughs) Me and John chatted about this last night.
Nordling: The interesting aspect about THE RAID, I didn’t know this and if I’m wrong, refute me, but 1.1 million?
GE: Yeah, the budget for that was 1.1.
Nordling: It doesn’t look it, dude.
GE: That includes our release as well.
Nordling: It doesn’t look it, dude.
GE: Production was about 800 or 850.
Nordling: If it comes that you do make a Hollywood film in the states, how do you think it’s going to affect you as a filmmaker?
GE: I’ll have a bigger budget, I hope. (Laughs)
Nordling: At the same time, when you have a film like THE RAID or even a film like EL MARIACHI where you only have two bucks to rub together to do the shot, it makes you become more…
GE: True. I wouldn’t want to… All jokes aside, making a film costs more money here than it does in Indonesia. We could stretch that money a lot more in Indonesia, but the one thing I’ve always said is that right now there’s a lot of buzz about the film, and a lot of hype about the film, and so therefore a few people kind of called and said they want me to work on this or this, but I want it to be because they want my version of the film. I don’t want it to be because my name has gotten some kind of attachment to it now. That’s kind of why… I really want to do the sequel first, because it was a project that I tried to get off the ground about three years ago for like a year and a half, and couldn’t get it made, and so that’s been an itch I haven’t been able to scratch yet. Now that that that opportunity presents itself, I’m like, “I’m making that film.” So that’s my next thing. I’m going to go back to Indonesia and do that. Then after that I want to do something like US based maybe in the UK, but again it’s got to be the right film. It’s got to be something that I believe in 100%, because if I’m doing something out here or in the UK that means I’m probably going to spend about three or four months without seeing my family, without seeing my little girl, so if I’m going to spend that long shooting something, then I want to be really fucking proud of it by the time it comes out. I don’t want it to be something that I hated that I had to be second-guessed and questioned throughout. So I’m being a little, hopefully not too overcautious, but a little bit careful about what decision I make next then.
Nordling: That makes sense. I don’t know if American stuntmen are going to let you beat them up like they do over in Indonesia.
MS: Clearly you won’t have the kind of hours you had.
GE: Yeah, the hours would be different. There would be more days.
Nordling: How have you felt about the response so far? With the score as well? The score is fantastic and I want it right now.
JT: I think it’s been overwhelming to all of us. Just to kind of take off on what Gareth was saying, we all went into this film for what I feel is the right reason, we saw a really cool film and we all said, “I want to be involved with this. I don’t care that it’s a low budget. I don’t care that it’s in a foreign language. This is awesome.” So when you get to, here we are in Austin, TX talking about the film and we’ve screened it so many times and we were at Sundance, you know it’s very humbling to know that because the film is made from the heart, that it’s become so infectious to people who have kind of caught on to that. It’s made for the right reasons.
MS: And for me, like I’ve seen the hype thing come and go a lot and it’s like you can’t get too invested in it. It’s not predictable. It’s not something you can manufacture. I was talking to the people from Sony the other day about this, they were saying it’s so magical when it happens, because you can try. You can pump money into something. You can have a great story or a great spin and jam it out there… This is what he was saying, but at the end of the day people make it happen, like if they like it and they talk, it goes. If they just kind of moderately… if it’s in a lukewarm medium area then it doesn’t. This movie has that. It has that excitement, that electricity that people can’t wait for their friends to see it. They can’t wait to talk about how crazy this scene and that scene was.
Nordling: I am dying to screen this in Houston. I’m dying, because I could fill that theater up in a heartbeat.
MS: But even my friends who aren’t big action movie fans who have seen this loved it. I mean they called me up the next day and said, “That was so fucking cool.” You don’t get that very often.
Nordling: How about you, Gareth?
GE: It’s one of those things, the whole situation like since Toronto, which is when we first screened it, up until now has just been just an overwhelming experience. Me and my producer finished it one week before the screening in Toronto and we were pessimistic about it. All we could see was like, say you’re looking at the screen, instead of watching the dialog between the two guys we would be like, “Ah shit, there’s picture break up here!” “The pixels are all fucked, what’s wrong?” That kind of thing, and so we were so deep into it, that we couldn’t really appreciate what it was and even now I can watch it, and even like last night’s screening - like I’ll sit in on those screenings and it’s great to get all of those reactions. It’s like the best feeling in the world when people go for it, but then you look for those moments where there’s no reaction and then you’re like, “Okay, well that doesn’t work.” There are certain things which don’t work across the board on every single screening.
Nordling: I don’t think it’s that they are not reacting, it’s a very intense moment in the film and I think they are like… It’s hard to see from the audience.
GE: Yeah, it’s different. There are certain things which I kind of put in there to get a reaction that didn’t and those are the things where it’s like, “Okay” and I have to figure out why. It’s a learning thing for me then to say, “All right, on the next movie we are not going to do that again. These are the things that worked in our movie. Let’s keep doing those,” but I think to kind of cover it all, it’s been an incredible response and every one is so happy and excited about the way that it’s being critically received and how the festival audiences have responded. Now I’ve just got to make my investor happy and get a good box office.
Nordling: I think you’re going to be fine on that. I think THE RAID has a potential not just to do really well at the box office, but to change action cinema in America. I hope that that really happens.
GE: Wow. Thank you so much.
Nordling: It’s great. It was a great film and I feel honored to be here. Thank you very much.
GE: Thank you very much, that’s such a nice thing. Thank you.
MS: Thank you.
JT: Thank you very much.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington DC today, and everywhere next weekend. You can get the awesome soundtrack at www.theraidsoundtrack.com. I can't wait to see this again.