Interviewing James Bomalick (Action Director)

Nothing short of technical resources and awesome imagination is Action Director and Special Effects Master James Bomalick, one of the most prolific and versatile professionals in Hollywood, who also made his mark, all the way across the ocean, in Bollywood.

With a staggering filmography of blockbusters, his professional curriculum in Special Effects and Stunt work includes credits from sagas as:

The Avengers, Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones together with other global hits such as Hitman: Agent 47, Live Free or Die Hard, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Babel, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Supremacy, Starsky & Hutch, Minority Report, Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Swordfish, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Bad Boys II amongst many others, as well as the episode ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ from the worldwide TV series phenomenon Game of Thrones.

A master of special effects, with a broad knowledge on a range of techniques, from stunts to pyrotechnics, from mechanical to electrical and explosive systems, from story-boarding to complex fighting choreographies, James Bomalick is simply superb in combining both the left and right sides of his brain.

His impressive creative application of hard boiled science and maths make of him one of the most admired and sought-after all-round professionals of the action genre. I was thrilled to interview this heavy-weight of the crew ‘behind the camera’, those artists and technicians that make the impossible, possible.

It’s thanks to artists, technicians and directors such as him, who design and handle high-risk systems, substances and danger-prone situations, that we can witness the creation and destruction cycles as though we were living through them, without having to leave the comfort of our sofa or movie theatre seat.

SRM: James, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this interview, especially because you are filming at the moment.

Mastering stunts and simulating tension-high scenarios are activities that especially boys are very inclined towards, from a pretty young age, but obviously it’s only through perseverance and a quick brain that they can be turned into a professional career. At what moment did you realise that you had what it takes to pursue this direction?

JAMES BOMALICK: Thank you for asking me for this interview, it is my pleasure to take time to respond to these questions.

In the beginning I did not plan on a career in the film industry. Along the way I acquired a skill set through other professions that applied quite well to action movies. I had previously been a competitive athlete for many years and had been both a professional motorcycle racer as well as car racer. I also had skills in fabrication, both machining and welding, as I built and maintained all of my race vehicles. All of these skills meant I was able to build things to use in specific ways. So, I had the opportunity to begin working in Special Effects and Stunts.

The main objective here was to be able to create whatever it took to realize a certain vision or look the the Director had. With my skill set I was able work out the mechanics and physical requirements for action sequences, both Special Effects and Stunts. I had the ability to visualize and then create what I saw in my head. That’s how I ended up doing this. 

SRM: In order to handle many of the special effects of your fields of expertise with a maximum of safety whilst being inventive and creative, technicians needs to be backed up by a fair amount of knowledge in areas such as physics and maths. Did you like these subjects at school or, in your opinion, could they be made a little more attractive to children, when being taught in an academic environment?

JAMES BOMALICK: I loved physics and geometry and math in general when I was in school. I loved figuring out how things worked, which meant knowing the physical and mechanical properties that made them function. Early on I understood the application of physics and math to the real world, I was totally amazed with Leonardo Da Vinci, he saw all the applications of physics to invent many machines. I had teachers who were able to interest me through the application of the sciences to car racing, bicycles, cannons, airplanes, all of these things. I think in school, teachers should stress the real world environment uses of these sciences. They govern our physical world every day. In my opinion this would make it more interesting to learn these subjects.

SRM: Is CGI taking over the physical special effects? What type of sequences will always benefit more from traditional technics vs. emerging computerised effects?

JAMES BOMALICK: In my humble opinion CGI will never take over physical Special Effects. They may augment and otherwise add to a special effect but the physics of the action still need to take place. An example of this is in the need for elements to be filmed for CGI to function. The sequences that will always benefit more from traditional Special Effects and Stunts are real world action films, “Bourne” type films or “Ronin” type films. Something in the genre of the original “French Connection” type film.

The computerized effects are used extensively in otherworldly environments, magical universes or large robotic characters. These, though still require extensive physical Special Effects and Stunts.

SRM: As an Action Director, what is the sequence you are most proud of?

 I think the motorcycle chase in “Blue” with all of its crashes, and chases on trains is one I am most proud of.  There was a huge amount of real time Special Effects and Stunts to achieve this sequence.  

SRM: You were, in fact, the Action Director for ‘Blue’, one, if not the most, successful action films of Bollywood, which apart from great actors totally committed to doing their own stunts, also counted with the guest appearance of Kylie Minogue. How did you get involved in this project?

I became involved with Blue with a phone call from the Director, Anthony D’Souza. I had worked on several projects that he felt would bring something to this movie, and we started a dialog. After a short while, I became associated with the project, trying to bring Anthony’s script into life, action wise. It was a new area, Bollywood, for me, and I found the challenge exciting. But, as film is a global business, I loved bringing nonstop Hollywood action to a foreign market. And, when I was studying up on Indian film, I found how large the industry is there, and that this was a great chance to have fun.

SRM: What was the most enjoyable change, and the most challenging, of the ‘Blue’ project in comparison to Hollywood films?

JAMES BOMALICK: The biggest difference in working on this film from a Hollywood film was in learning the different ways of creating a film from and with a crew from Bollywood. It was a very changing experience; creating action on locations as different as under the sea in the Bahamas and the auto-routes in Thailand, all with a new crew and a new style of accomplishing the work.

The challenge was similar to all of the Hollywood films in that we had all of the same logistic and location issues of foreign countries. Just, somehow, there was a very exciting feeling to working with this very International crew, and creating some of the most difficult action seen on film; this was done real, not C.G., so it took a lot of planning and execution. Overall, I would say the most enjoyable change was the fact that Anthony, the director, wanted as much done in camera and for real as possible. That for me made my eyes light up, because it made for some great occurrences, even better than scripted.

SRM: What activity requires the most complex preparations in terms of design and logistics: pyrotechnics/explosions, vehicle racing or weapons/fight sequences?

JAMES BOMALICK: Well, all three require their own types of design and logistics. Pyrotechnics requires a great deal of preparation, permitting, set and area control as well as timing. Vehicle chases require choreographing the cars movements, speed control and vary accurate timing. The additional difficulty is the set, because of the large areas required for chase sequences.

Weapons and fight sequences require a great deal of rehearsal and training prior to their execution on film, with a very specific shot list. All three are very complex in their own way.

SRM: What saga, from the ones you’ve worked on, would you say that will continue working with a majority of physical special effects?

JAMES BOMALICK: Any movie requiring car chases, explosions, aerial work, or large atmospheric effects like rain, waves etc. will always use physical Special Effects. The look is better, more visceral, more real.

SRM: How long, approximately, can it take to design the choreography and camera angles for a martial arts fight scene of 2 minutes? And a car racing sequence of the same duration?

JAMES BOMALICK: An involved fight scene that takes two minutes on screen can take weeks of rehearsal and story boarding for camera angles as well as at least a week of filming. All of this in order to have a sequence that tells a story from the angles and camera positions capturing the action. A car sequence of two minutes can take months of car preparation and testing as well as working out the shot lists and camera angles. The filming of this sequence for two minutes of film can take more than a week. 

SRM: What movie or saga, of any time, would you have loved to work on?

JAMES BOMALICK: Wow, there are so many of these, all for different reasons. “Bullet” and “French Connection” because of the car chases, “Apocalypse Now” for the huge scale of the battle scenes and difficulty of the filming locations.

SRM: What’s the first piece of advice that you’d give to any action enthusiast, wanting to pursue a career in the area of stunts? And what about women as stunt professionals… Do they have, nowadays, the same opportunities to work in this area or is this still a body of male predominance?

JAMES BOMALICK: Learn a variety of skills; gymnastics, driving, martial arts. Being at the top of one of these skills, i.e. a championship racer or medal winning martial artist, can be an entrance to doing Stunt work with these specialties. As you begin to work more, your other talents can then be utilized. But in reality it comes down to who you know and the connections you can make in the industry. And this applies to women as well, because a great many actresses work in action films and require female stunt performers. There is a large amount of opportunities for women, though not as many as the men due to the nature of the scripts written. There are just more men in fights and crashing cars than women in films….

SRM: James, what can you tell us about the projects you are currently working on?

JAMES BOMALICK: I can’t really talk about the films I am currently involved in due to confidentiality, but the titles are Alice Through the Looking Glass and Beauty and The Beast .

SRM: Your ultimate dream as an Action Director? What type of movie plays in your mind which you just have to make into reality at some point?

JAMES BOMALICK: My goal is to always work in real time and to do the action in camera as much as safety permits. For a car chase to make it as real and physical as possible. I would love to bring to the screen what I see when I am reading an incredible action novel, the grit, the realism, the intensity. I don’t have a type of movie in my mind. What I see is types of characters in a variety of situations that are gritty responses to real world situations, that require a fight, or a chase, or where the result of one of these situations is an explosion. I have sequences in my head that would be really intense, but they are not any specific type of film.

SRM: Again, thank you very much James, it’s been a blast – pun intended 😀


James Bomalick * Actiontek Website >
James Bomalick at IMDb >