EXPLOSIONS, high speed car chases, machine guns and more explosions! Polis Evo has been making waves at the local box office but its success didn’t come easy. We sat down with director Ghaz Abu Bakar in order to find out more about his experience in the making of 2015’s biggest box office hit.
MAKING an action-packed film is not easy.
Challenges include executing action sequences and battling weather conditions. Or in Polis Evo’s case, Terengganu weather.
“The film is about 80 per cent action sequences, and these had to be shot in numerous angles for the sake of fast-paced editing purposes,” Ghaz Abu Bakar began.
“At the same time — we shot the film in September last year — we were battling with the monsoon season in Terengganu.”
The weather, according to Ghaz, was erratic.
The sun came and went. It would suddenly rain cats and dogs. Ghaz and his crew would wait for bad weather conditions to pass in order to finish scenes on location.
The toughest Polis Evo scenes to shoot were the finale, which took the crew about ten days to shoot, and the frantic car-chases.
“We didn’t have the facility whereby we can preview the action while it was ongoing,” Ghaz explained.
“I had to wait at the director’s stand, and the stuntman will return to show me the footage for approval. If I wasn’t satisfied, I would just jump on the 4×4 truck to follow the shoot under the hot sun,” Ghaz explained.
Bringing The Action To Life
Polis Evo’s explosion scenes required detailed pre-planning, and making things tougher was the fact that most of these were done in one takes.
There was once scene in the film in which police forces raided a drug ring, and Ghaz informed us that his steady-cam operator had actually travelled with the camera outside the van, right until the inside of the kelong. He wanted the moment to be shot in a long take, but the footage was unfortunately cut during post-production.
“We planned it very well,” he sighed.
“We rehearsed it numerous times until we got it right and then we rolled. After that, when everything was ready, we blew up the kelong. And that was the last take for the kelong because we cannot afford to build another if tak jadi.”
Another single take was requred in the finale, during the blowing up of a ship. Ghaz told us that during the entire 10-day shoot, the sun was in a good mood and they shot like “nobody’s business”.
However, when it came to shooting that final shot of the ship exploding, the weather took a turn for the worst.
“We had only one take and two angles only – one top angle and another wide shot. Until that particular point of time before we started rolling for that ship explosion, I could see the dark clouds coming.”
Ghaz proceeds, “The moment the ship blew up, the thunderstorm came. So we had no choice but to wrap up. The explosion tak jadi sangat but we touched up a bit in post-production to give it more impact.”
Yes, guys. All the explosions, bullets, and stunts are real. The best part? Polis Evo is a 100-percent local production, so everything you saw on screen was done by our local stuntmen.
“I am quite proud with our practical effect, rather than relying on CGI. CGI was used just for enhancement like bullet holes and removing the rig from our stuntmen’s bodies, but the fire and everything else are real,” said Ghaz.
It’s All About Getting The Right People
When the script was written by Joel Soh, Kyle Gounting, Anwari Ashraf, and Adib Zaini, they already had Zizan Razak in mind because of his Terangganu origins (he could speak the dialect). On the other hand, the casting of Shaheizy Sam was a matter decided upon by the studio, which gained Ghaz’s approval.
“At first they wanted Sam but at the very last minute, Sam was admitted to the hospital with dengue,” Ghaz told us.
“So we were looking for alternatives. They started to name stars like Aaron Aziz and Zul Ariffin. I was like fingers-crossed, no. I was lucky that Sam said that he could do it.”
For the villains, Ghaz handpicked Ayie Husairi to play the head of the villain, Izrail. After watching Ayie in Bunohan, Ghaz saw the potential of him playing the bad guy, and since then have always wanted him to be part of his film. Ghaz insisted to the studio that he wanted Ayie but was rejected initially because of Ayie’s height.
“When I first met him, his appearance is totally different from his character in Bunohan. I thought he looked good in Bunohan. He looked big. But when I saw him, he is so small. When Izrail stood between his right hand and left hand men, Jimbo (Pablo Amirul) and Jemang (Azliyuszaini), he appeared extra short. That’s why most shots with him inside were of low angles to cheat on his height,” laughed Ghaz.
As a director who emphasises characterisation, Ghaz paid extra attention to the three villains of Polis Evo — focus was on how they articulated and delivered their dialogues. His intention was to present a Malaysian villain to audiences everywhere and make it clear that these are the rogues of Terengganu, Malaysia.
He explained that the buddy cop approach has appeared before in films such as Rush Hour, The Other Guys, and Bad Boys. He believes that the villains in Polis Evo made the film stand out from the rest.
When asked how he was offered the director’s seat, Ghaz confessed that it was due his pretty extensive CV.
“I think Joel saw my potential of doing Polis Evo as a popcorn movie but at the same time carry its characters and comedy. My portfolio includes Hantu Kapcai which was a comedy with a bit of action. And Tokan was mix of a drama and action. I have always emphasised character-driven films.”
We couldn’t help but wonder if Ghaz felt the pressure to perform after the box-office success of Polis Evo.
“Of course, I can’t lie,” he confessed.
From reading people’s comments on the film’s trailer on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, to words from movie critics and the cinephiles, Ghaz knows that he’s currently in the spotlight.
“This scares me in a way of how can I do something different but at the same time satisfy these people. But I think I can pull it off. I think I can create something. It’s just that I want to move on from the Polis Evo phenomena. I want to do something different but still apply the formulas I used in Polis Evo.”
Naturally, our next logical question was to find out what sort of film would Ghaz Abu Bakar make assuming he had all the resources.
“To be honest, I love revenge films. Something like I Saw The Devil, Kill Bill, and Drive. I like wit and also the rage from the character. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
At the moment, there’s nothing in the pipeline although he is trying to develop an idea for a future feature.
“I arrived here from Kedah, where I was this morning,” he informed us.
“While I was on the plane flying back to KL, I listed down ten ideas that I have always wanted to do and they are of different genres. So I’m in the midst of applying for grant and I would choose one of these ideas. It will be another adventure and friendship themed story.”
True-Blue Filmmaker At Heart
When Ghaz is not dedicating his time to making feature films, he is making music videos.
“That’s my cari makan. Also, it’s a form of me expressing my creativity. That’s where I get my creative freedom, in a way I don’t get kacau from big studios. Normally, artists would love to hear my ideas and translate them into visuals. So music video is the space where I always berkarya.”
Starting off in the music video business, Ghaz’s venture into the filmmaking world was by chance. When he enrolled to study Film and Animation in Multimedia University (MMU), it was during the 1997 economic crisis.
“I was a banker and I didn’t know what to do,” recalled Ghaz.
“I was 24 years old but I loved watching movies. When I saw an advertisement calling for people to apply, so I thought why not, just give it a try. That was my turning point in life.”
In his final year project, Ghaz presented a music video for Anuar Zain and was graded an ‘A’. He then showed his work to Anuar who liked it and offered Ghaz the chance to do the music video for him.
“That was how it all started. I knew I wanted to follow the footsteps of filmmakers like Mark Romanek, Francis Lawrence, and Tarsem Singh. All of them started their careers by making music videos and eventually made feature films.”
Ghaz worked his way up until he was finally spotted by Yusry KRU who offered him his first feature film, Hantu Kapcai.
“The reason why I accepted it was because if I wanted to do a rempit movie, I wanted to make it eye-catching instead of dumb and ridiculous,” he noted.
“At the same time, I wanted to exercise and sharpen my skills on field as well as making a brand of my name for the mass.”
Ghaz revealed to us that he is just waiting for the right time to make his dream film. Meanwhile, it’s important for him to get his name recognised and for audience to appreciate his work.
For Ghaz, it’s all about building the trust in his audience. When the time comes that he releases his film — which may or may not be heavy — viewers will still flock to the cinemas and enjoy it.
As a person who frequently goes out of his comfort zone, Ghaz doesn’t want to be only doing rempit and popcorn films. He looks forward to experimenting with new approaches in order to grow as an artist. He hopes to one day apply Zack Snyder’s visual style in his own films.
“The director that I want to be one day is Clint Eastwood or Ridley Scott. Age is just a number for them as they are still crafting excellent films.”