A Smash And Grab Raid

Wednesday, August 22 2012
A Smash And Grab Raid

Some time ago, a film-loving pal of ours sent us a trailer, for a film from Asia that seemed to defy description. We didn’t know what it was called – we couldn’t make out the title – but it looked pretty darned exciting. There were guns, explosions and action aplenty. “This,” we thought, “is something we can’t wait to see.” More than a year down the line, The Raid, the Indonesian film helmed by a Welsh director, one of the year’s best, and most-talked about, actioners, is finally due to arrive on Blu-ray and DVD, courtesy of Momentum Pictures. So how did The Raid come from nowhere and earn more than £1 million at UK cinemas, becoming, along the way, the year’s hippest action flick?

Some had cottoned on to the film before it became a phenomenon. “I watched Gareth Evans’ first film Footsteps in 2007 which is completely different to Merantau or The Raid but which, showed great promise,” says film writer, connoisseur and, with The Raygun contributor Alex Kidd, one half of The Duke Mitchell Film Club, Evrim Ersoy. “Then in early 2009, I started hearing of an Indonesian, martial arts flick called Merantau which piqued my interest.

“Within six months,” he continues, “I tracked down an English subtitled copy, had watched it and immediately knew he’d be someone to watch for. Then when The Raid

was announced late 2010/early 2011, I started following the process closely.

“To be honest, the first people to push Gareth and the ‘silat’ films were Twitch and Fantastic Fest. All the Merantau news came through them in 2009 and it was their partnership with Gareth in producing the film that pushed

The Raid to being such a huge hit – that and the bone-breaking fighting of course.

“I can’t claim I was anymore ahead than most people – it’s just that I follow south east Asian news very closely so was probably aware of Evans, [star Iko] Uwais and their work, just ahead of the curve.”

Another early proponent of The Raid was former trade press editor and long-time friend of The Raygun, Toby Weidmann.

“I have a big passion for Asian cinema and the martial arts-action genre, and it was through being a member of several dedicated forums that I was first made aware of The Raid,” he explains. “During one particular thread about the merits of Gareth Evans’ first martial arts film, Merantau, and its young star Iko Uwais, one member piped up that they knew the director and had seen some early footage from their next collaboration. The member reckoned the fight action was 10 times better than Merantau and when the film hit it was going to blow everyone’s minds.

“Naturally, I took this with a pinch of salt – the ravings of a mate of the director/fan boy – but some months later the same member posted some footage from the film and I began to get excited. This must have been an early sales showreel – it was only a couple of minutes long, poor quality and in its original language, but the action on show was indeed mind-blowing.”

Weidmann continues: “Then it played Toronto and all the reviews were amazing. I was hopeful but not completely convinced it would get UK distribution, so I was very happy when I heard Momentum had picked it up as I knew they’d give it the release it deserved. Then there was a tortuously long wait for release, months and months went by, before finally it hit cinemas. I’ve seen it three times now (even paid twice!) and rate it as one of the best films of the year to date. I can’t wait for the Blu-ray release, and roll on the sequel.”

Meanwhile, the film’s word of mouth was spreading to distributors. Momentum’s head of acquisitions Robert Walak explains: “The Raid was an acquisitions team effort. Henry and Laura saw footage in Cannes 2011 at the Celluloid Nightmares office. They were both incredibly excited and urged me to go see. They felt it stood out and had a point of difference from all the other Asian and martial arts titles they had screened. I went to see it and was blown away buy how kinetic, violent and fun it looked… and directed by a Welshman so there was a different angle. We did the deal then and there.”

Signed, sealed and delivered, Momentum set about building the buzz and anticipation for the film. Speaking to The Raygun in March, Momentum’s Adam Eldrett said: “We took the film the Jameson Dublin International film festival where it walked away with not just the critics best film award but crucially and, unsurprisingly to me, the audience award as well.”

As he noted at the time: “I think it is probably the coolest film we have ever released, the audience reactions are over and beyond anything I have ever seen before. I have had more fun watching the audience at the last few screenings, people just go crazy for the high concept action that takes place in the film.”

One of those attending screenings was film blogger and writer Stuart Barr, who contributes to the likes of ScreenJabber, FrightFest.co.uk, and Chris and Phil Present websites. “I think Momentum did an excellent job with The Raid,” he notes, “making an effort to have a lot of advance screenings, and getting online writers in to see the film rather than just the usual multimedia and NPS.

“It helps that The Raid is kinda unspoilable too. They nurtured the buzz carefully, and The Raid seems to have been more of a hit here than in the US where Sony didn’t run the same campaign. They also did well getting the film shown in Dublin and Glasgow film fests (Glasgow as part of Frightfest) generating lots more online buzz on Facebook and Twitter.”

As well as screenings, Evans and star Uwais arrived in the UK carrying out interviews and attending a sold out Q&A at the Prince Charles Cinema.

With the buzz becoming a roar, Momentum stuck its neck out. Again, speaking in March, Eldrett said: “It has been a long time now since anyone truly got behind a foreign language theatrical release of this genre and we are very lucky to be working on it, we hope to fully break the film out to a mainstream audience.”

Speaking a few months later, after its wide opening, critical success and £1 million box office breaking theatrical performance, Eldrett stated that Momentum’s belief had paid off: “The buzz around the office as we approached theatrical release was a very special thing to be a part of and I was delighted to be able to work with our theatrical team on materials that will now suit our home entertainment release perfectly.”

There was an almost audible sigh of relief that the independent’s audacious plan had paid off. “I cannot stress enough how ambitious it was to put The Raid out on so many screens, in actual fact it was the widest opening foreign language film in the UK – ever,” Eldrett said.

“After breaking through the magic £1million box office mark, we are confident that both the awareness and love for this film are there, after all you cannot really argue with quotes containing the words – Hard Boiled, Die Hard and The Raid… we are in pretty good company.”

The company’s seasoned theatrical head of sales Hamish Moseley concurred. He spoke about the 18 certificate, the fact it was an Indonesian film, elements that some would have found to be “insurmountable barriers”. But, as he noted: “I would say that the performance is simply incomparable in terms of other similar foreign language releases. We set out to convey to audiences everywhere that The Raid is quite simply one of the greatest action films ever made and I think we’ve achieved that.”

The fact that Eldrett and the home entertainment team at Momentum had been so involved from an early stage, joining in with the same evangelical zeal, has made preparations for its release so much easier come the September home entertainment bow.

Familiarity with the artwork meant that the company could concentrate on getting the special packaging right, rather than fiddling with elements of the key art. And it’s worked (see here for more…).

In terms of marketing its helped too.

As Eldrett explains: “It is an important part of our strategy to carry on with the same bold and confident approach, it is likely we will see two more Raid movies in the coming years and so to be able to lay some groundwork ahead of the franchise is really important.

“We have a national event sized campaign in place for The Raid, across TV, Print and Online. Our Total Fan Hub is continually pulling the fans in and the reactions to our exclusives SKUs has been superb. We also have some great activity occurring in Forbidden Planet through September, I urge you to get down there and make a purchase, it is worth it for the Raid Artwork led carrier bag.”

While the marketing is important, and Momentum’s role is undeniable, it is still all about the film itself.

For The Raygun, seasoned veterans that we are, the film reminded us of one or two occasions. The first was Tartan’s Hamish McAlpine eulogising about Hard Boiled some 20 years ago and strong-arming us into viewing the film. The second was the excitement of Medusa and its team, who said they couldn’t tell us about the film they’d just signed and, within five minutes, were showing off the trailer, such was their enthusiasm (that film was Ong-bak).

“Ultimately though,” concludes Stuart Barr, “the film is sensational, and the quality of the movie makes everything so much easier.

We’ll leave the last word to Momentum’s Eldrett, one of the zealots who insisted we get to a screening of The Raid ahead of its release so we could see what all the fuss was about.

“In my opinion, if this film does not excite you…I am not sure you are alive.”

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