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Keeping it raw and real

The year 2019 started with a bang as URI: The Surgical Strike blazed onto the big screen to give us a high-impact experience. Bhakti Mehta spoke to action director, Stefan Richter as he shared what went into pulling off what certainly felt like an off-screen surgical strike

On The Brief

It started with a last-minute Skype meeting. I had heard that the actual action director was no longer available and that the production was under pressure. I was expecting a very nervous director for our online meeting, but that was not the case. When we started the meeting, I saw a calm and friendly Aditya Dhar on my screen. He greeted me, asked how I was and then with a smile, got to the point and told me that we had a lot to catch up on, so let’s not waste time!

Aditya first told me all about the true background of the story and answered every one of my questions, down to the last detail. He said in the action sequences, the audience had to feel the pressure that these men were exposed to, they must feel as if they were crawling with the soldiers in the mud and dust of the battlefield, and a deadly atmosphere in which shrapnel and bullets fly about their heads.

He told me, let’s keep the action as raw and realistic as possible, and never neglect emotions. Every second had to show how dangerous the situation was and what these men were doing for their country. After all the detailed instructions and clear presentation of my director, I was able to imagine where the journey would go and I knew that it would not be easy but it would be very special.

On The Preparation

First, we had to bring all the extras, stuntmen and soldiers under our control, bring everyone to listen and to make sure everyone understood. We used laser pointers to show which groups should be doing what, when and in which position. For every single actor, extra and soldier, I had to give a different task. And just because we’ve worked with real explosions and bullet effects, surrounded by gasoline-filled plastic bags, hundreds of metres of wiring had been installed. We had to be sure that everyone understood everything and knew where to be and definitely where not to be. There was huge pressure for all involved departments and a lot of responsibility for many people.

I work with a software with which I can animate the movements of people and cameras. This helps everyone to understand at first glance what exactly happens and it prevents misinterpretation. Another important thing was to never get tired to repeatedly double check and triple check everything in each department before every take.

On The Challenges

Language barriers, high temperatures, heavy rainfall that almost washed away our film set, heavy thunderstorms, lightning that made us evacuate the forest, were all huge challenges. All this took a lot of time that we did not have, to begin with. Then, working at night and starting the prep in the daytime was also a task. With very little sleep, day by day, one gets tired and exhausted. Only a highly motivated crew can handle this. But we all took care of each other and when we felt it would be too dangerous to work, we stopped.

On The Director

Aditya is a very focused director. He is a real motivator who knows a hundred per cent what he wants and he never gives up, no matter how hopeless things may seem. He is a lovable person, someone you do not want to disappoint! He is quiet with his arms crossed behind his back as he stands next to you in the rain, smiling and saying it will stop. But we also had some difficult debates. But he listens and he does not always have to be right. Our discussions were always creative and solution-oriented. We never heard a bad word from him or had to fight a big ego!

On The Response

We got so many positive reactions for the action sequences in the movie that it left me speechless and of course very proud! We did everything right!

Future Projects

Very soon after the release of URI, my phone was already ringing and the first requests for new movies came to me, all with a similar background and because of my work in URI. What exactly, I cannot reveal yet.

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