Born in Victoria, British Columbia, James “Bam-Bam” Bamford has enjoyed an over 20-year career as a stunt performer, stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, and now, director. From the X-Files, to X-Men, from Jeremiah to Stargate SG-1, and now the CW’s Arrow, James Bamford has had a prolific, successful, and fun career.
“I’d intended on becoming a stuntman from a very early age,” Bamford tells me, “but at some point I pivoted, and planned to become an actor, as I didn’t know how to go about facilitating a stunt career.” Thus, Bamford became involved in his local theatre group, and continued to train, every single day. “I also possessed a keen interest in psychology and criminology, and enrolled into university to expand my knowledge in those interests,” he continues.
It was then that he was offered a job as a corrections officer, which he worked as until his stunt career took off. “While working as a corrections officer, a friend from childhood, who used to train at the same karate dojo as I did, and became a stuntman himself, gave my sensei and I a call looking for a stunt double for a 6-foot tall, 170-pound actor.” Together, the three crafted a video containing multiple scenarios demonstrating Bamford’s skill and technique as a martial artist. They had three hours of footage, which they then condensed to three minutes.
“We sent the footage to the stunt coordinator of the television series, who later called to inform me that I had earned the part as the lead stunt double,” Bamford recalls. “After that first job, I made many connections, and was able to get myself more and more work, including one of my oldest and more favorite jobs as Mulder’s stunt double on X-Files.”
While shooting a film in Cuba, Bamford received a call from his colleague JJ Makaro, describing a character who was an expert in all international forms of martial arts as well as parkour. “He asked me if such a project would interest me, and I jumped on without hesitation,” Bamford says.
The show in question was the CW’s Arrow, starring Stephen Amell as the titular DC superhero. “Immediately upon my return from Cuba, I began to train Stephen in fight-for-film basics, as well as choreographing the first fight sequence which you see in the pilot of Arrow.” Since then, it’s been Bamford’s responsibility, his pleasure, in fact, to train Amell. “Right off the bat, Stephen told me, ‘I’ve never punched anybody in my life.’ – he’d had no prior martial arts, boxing, or any hand-to-hand combat training or experience. What he did have, however, was a natural athletic ability, and an all-in, positive attitude.”
Bamford started Amell off with techniques from Filipino martial arts called Arnis, (also known as Kali and Eskrima). This is a style that emphasizes weapon-based fighting, with sticks, knives, and clubs. Arnis’s origin can be traced back to native fighting techniques used during conflicts in Pre-Hispanic Filipino tribes. Since then, the fighting style has been seen from the Philippine Revolution, to the Philippine-American War, to World War II and beyond.
Bamford presents his reasoning for the use of this style with Stephen: “I wanted to get his timing up; one of the things I don’t like about combat on television is that they use old-school, John Wayne-style timing – whereas I like to introduce half beat style timing.”
For these reasons, Bamford immersed Stephen in this style, particularly with handwork, stick work, hand-versus-knife, knife-versus-knife, and more. However, he avoided kicking, as “…it takes years and years and tons of stretching and conditioning to be able to teach someone how to kick, let along an actor in a two week period.”
During his time as a stunt and fight coordinator on Arrow, Bamford specifically highlights his learning in regards to camera work, and using movement to enhance the action. Additionally, he holds folks such as Glen Winter in a high regard, who’s helped teach him these things.
With regards to camera work, Bamford says, “I like to demonstrate how a fight or sequence should be shot to an oncoming director by shooting a pre-visualization of each major sequence in that particular directors’ episode. I shoot our fight rehearsals, and in cooperation with my assistant Curtis, we edit the footage into a well-timed, organized sequence.”
Some of the most impressive, difficult stunt scenes are single shot sequences. These are uncut stunt sequences that follow a scene. Rather than cutting from one character, or one scene, to another, these sequences simply follow the flow of the scene. As such, they’re incredibly difficult to shoot, but yield impressive results. One such example of a single shot sequence is in Netflix’s Daredevil, season 1 episode 2, in the hallway. You can read my interview with Daredevil’s stunt double, Chris Brewster, HERE.
“When you require multiple events to occur in a one take sequence and multiple departments are involved in chewing these events, it becomes a very difficult dance of intense cooperation, and allows for a large margin of error on each take,” Bamford explains. “On one take only, one thing could go wrong and ruin the entire sequence. You have to restart each time. On the last major one take fight sequence I shot for Arrow, we had to keep re-setting for a total of 16 takes.”
Bamford, as well as stars Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Katie Cassidy, and more, are quite active on social media, and run their accounts themselves (meaning it’s mostly them posting, and not PR people). Bamford has facilitated good relations with fans since his days on Stargate, where he met quite a few exceptionally nice folks online.
“It’s amazing to hear the fan reaction to what we do on screen,” he says. “Coming from a theatre background and having an audience is the only way of describing a similar experience of immediate feedback. Of course, not everyone will share positive feedback; it’s impossible to make everyone happy.” Instead, he continues, he strives to make himself happy with the results on screen, and feels as though he’s done his job correctly if he’s achieved that. “I am my own worst critic and hold myself to quite a high standard. Social media is an incredibly fun way of seeing these fan reactions, and I enjoy conversing with people on a daily basis, because I enjoy people. Human beings are the most interesting and complex beings on our planet.”
Recently, Bamford made his directorial debut on Arrow, where he directed Arrow’s seventh episode of its fourth season (known as episode 407 “Brotherhood”). Bamford had long been itching to sit in the director’s chair, and mentioned to showrunners Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg relatively early on that he was interested in directing an episode of Arrow. Towards the end of season 2, Bamford flew to Los Angeles to meet with executive producer Greg Berlanti to present him with the idea. Berlanti was thrilled, and suggested that Bamford shadow some of the show’s current directors to learn the craft.
It comes as no surprise that episode 407 was action packed, and contained a thrilling, 52-second long one-shot stunt scene. Clearly, this episode was well received enough, as Bamford was asked to, and is currently, directing episode 414, which will air in a few weeks time. To keep up with James “Bam-Bam” Bamford’s antics, be sure to follow him on Twitter @JamesBamford.