Published on February 11th, 2013 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: James Bamford of Arrow
Vancouver’s James Bamford has an extensive history in stunt work, having worked as a stunt coordinator and performer on a wide range of film and television projects like Final Destination, Eragon, The X-Files and Stargate Atlantis to name a few.
James is currently the fight choreographer and coordinator on the CW series, Arrow, which has recently been renewed for its second season. He spoke with us about his life in stunt work.
What are the keys to a perfect stunt?
A great script. Prep time. Creativity. Talent. Toughness. A budget… and in some rare cases, a little luck.
Tell us about Arrow and your involvement in it.
Arrow is an adaptation of the DC Comics character, Green Arrow. In our version, he is quite a bit darker/grittier than the original comic, quite similar to The Dark Knight/Batman character. My involvement consists of membership on a complete team of the stunt department. I personally choreograph, and oversee all of the combat/fight action on the show, including training of the actor(s) and other utility stunt coordinator duties. We have a stunt coordinator, in addition to myself heading up our team, Mr. JJ Makaro.
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had from doing a stunt?
The worst immediate injury consisted of tearing my lat muscle in half during a highfall (the landing). But I have accumulated damage to both my hips throughout the years requiring a double hip replacement surgery. I’m bionic from the waist down.
How do you mentally and physically prepare for a stunt?
Mentally, I go into a bit of a calmed zen state of meditation immediately before the camera rolls. Physically as a performer, I attempt to make it to some form of physical training as many times a week as possible. It’s important to keep sharp at all times when being a regular performer of stunts. Losing your edge is not an option.
What advice do you give to actors when you are training them for a stunt?
To be honest with me regarding ability, previous injuries incurred, and to listen when instructed to “stand down” during the performance of any given stunt on set, letting a double take their place.
How has recent film technology like CGI and 3D affected modern stunts?
It has enhanced what was already a beautiful creative process. One can’t replace the other, as a good coordinator knows. Working together with the VFX department only serves to ensure a seamless blend of live action and FX magic.
What made you want to get involved in the stunt side of the industry?
Early on, I was influenced by Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. There was really no other path for me.
What is a typical day like for you on set?
Does typical exist on set for a stuntman?
What’s the most surprising thing about stunt work?
The average person has no idea how much the stunt performer actually is subjected to on a regular basis. In conversations with extras, or other civilians they assume that everything is just “cool” and “fun” and therefore won’t hurt…. How wrong they are. This career is not for just anyone. There is a small section of the population who can handle it, and they are proud of the job for that reason.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing stunts for a living?
Many times I’ve just told them, “Don’t bother, unless you want to limp permanently by the time you are 35”. If they are still around 5 years later wanting the job, then they are worth giving a shot.
Are there any differences between doing stunts for film vs TV?
Time. We have far less time to prep and shoot on a TV series as compared to a feature film.
What stunts are you most proud of?
I don’t have the room here to go on, but there have been too many times in my career where I’ve walked away at the end of the day saying to myself, “Today I can die happy.”
At what point in the filming process do you need to replace an actor with a stunt performer?
When the risk to the actor’s safety becomes more than the stunt coordinator, insurance company, production, and in some cases the actor is comfortable with.
Are there any books that you would recommend about stunts?
The Stuntman by Yakima Canutt and The Fall Guy by Chuck Roberson.
What is the casting process like for stunt performers as far as physical resemblance to the actor vs the requirements for a specific stunt?
That is the stunt coordinator’s skill set to determine. There should be a balance of the correct physical look and skill set.
What upcoming projects do you have that we should be aware of?
I’m currently on the TV series, Arrow full-time and that is where I plan to stay for the near future or until season 10 comes around… if and when that does.