With over 25 years in the film industry, James Bamford has many stories to tell. This week he sat down with the folks on the Scene n Nerd podcast and discussed his childhood, how that led him to a career in film/TV and his role as Producer/Director on Arrow and what that entails on a daily basis. I’ll review the interview in three parts.
Adopted from birth and raised as an only child, James said he watched a lot of television and films with his parents and the shows that captured his attention were action shows like The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman and Asian martial arts films (he watched Jackie Chan films in Chinese long before he was known to US audiences).
He asked his father if he could perform feats like the Six Million Dollar Man and his father explained that stunt performers performed the action for actors such as Lee Majors. In addition, watching the film, Hooper (Burt Reynolds) James shared
“the stuntman became unveiled to me and the whole stunt industry, and Wonder Woman we watched with Lynda Carter and I became quite curious, well she must have a stunt double”
James set out to find out everything he could about stunt performers, searching for magazine articles on stunt doubles and a developing a fascination with the live stunt show at Universal Studios.
James didn’t start studying martial arts as a young boy to become a stunt performer but it certainly put him on the path acquiring skills that would eventually be required by the Stunt Co-ordinator on Cobra. When the co-ordinator approached the dojo looking for a young martial artist, James filmed three hours of action for an audition, that was edited into a few minutes of VHS tape and after a subsequent in-person audition, got his first stunt role doubling Michael Dudikoff the next day.
James shared his first on-set experience
“I was literally thrown into the mix…. I was asked to choreograph the fight on my first day on set. The fight, of which my character was the central combatant. Luckily we had done a lot of live stunt shows in my karate for the local fair, so that sort of thing was second nature at that point.”
The influence of Asian martial arts films taught James the importance of timing in fight sequences. He explained in his early years doubling he was told to slow down to stunt speed and not karate speed. When asked what this meant he explained:
“Bruce Lee was told to slow down his movements because the film stock couldn’t capture certain movements if he moved too fast. At that time that wasn’t me, I’m definitely not comparing myself to Bruce Lee……
But the techniques and the style of the stunt fighting on set back then were different. They were based more on what was done in the cowboy movies, more John Wayne and so the timing was more one beat timing. So one punch.. One block… One punch… One fall…. I wasn’t taught to fight like that in martial arts. I was taught to beat my opponent to the punch ba-ba-ba.”
When choreographing fight scenes, James uses faster timing that he grew up performing in martial arts and watching in Hong Kong films. Now, faster fights are popular in North America, such as the Mortal Kombat Legacy fight James performed:
James worked on many films and television shows as a stunt performer, fight choreographer and stunt co-ordinator including The X-Files, Stargate Atlantis & Universe, Arrow, Eragon, Blade:Trinity, Halo: Forward Unto Dawn and Mortal Kombat Legacy.
In the next installment, James chats about his latest role as a Producer/Director on Arrow. To listen to the full interview: