Q&A with James Bomalick: Action Director for Blue (2009)

James Bomalick is a prolific Action Director whose filmography includes Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), Live Free or Die Hard, aka Die Hard 4 (2007), and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor aka The Mummy 3 (2008). He is also the Action Director for one of the most awaited Hindi films of 2009 in Blue. Directed by Anthony D'Souza, Blue stars Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar, Zayed Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Lara Dutta.

I'm privileged to have met with James, who was kind in previewing some of the very fantastic and awe-inspiring behind-the-scenes footage of the quality action sequences that went into the making of this film. Blue will certainly set a new benchmark for Hindi movies to follow. I must add that it will also have one of the most contagious soundtracks (A. R. Rahman) of the year. Enjoy this Q&A, and please join me in thanking James for taking time out of his extremely hectic schedule to answer my questions and share his remarkable insight.

1. What motivated you to take up a career as action director? What's most exciting about it?
There was no conscious decision to action direct. Rather, it was an outgrowth of designing, creating, fabricating all of the pieces and parts to make an action sequence. After many years dealing with the choreography and the mechanics, it was only natural to place cameras for the best shots, to make it as exciting as possible. It was the next progression of development. The most exciting part of all of this is seeing the completion of complicated sequences on film, from all the different angles. Many times I have thought things up, prepared long and hard, and then had that moment when it was done, saying, "Wow, we really did that!!!" That is the most rewarding part.

2. How did movies influence your life as a child?
Movies didn’t really influence me as a child, they only corroborated what I was doing. I was a wild kid on my bicycle, jumping ramps, and riding motorcycles in the desert. As I saw things in movies, I would get ideas for more crazy stuff to try. As I got older, I was a total adrenaline junkie; surfing, motorcycles, skydiving, scuba diving, martial arts, anything physical and dangerous. So, it was a way of seeing on film the things I thought were normal.

3. Which was the first action film you recall having seen?
The first action films I remember were the James Bond movies, with Sean Connery; also the westerns with John Wayne. One had cars, etc., and the other had shootouts, horses. Both were amazing, but I truly fell in love with the mechanics and adventure of Bond films. I have seen them all, not just once, but too many times to count. Besides films, I was a voracious reader of all action books. Well, any books. I loved the connection in the stories, and have read the books that movies were made from.

4. Books and treasure hunts go hand in hand! How did you come to direct action for Blue?
I came to direct the action on Blue when the director Anthony D'Souza called me on the phone and asked if I was interested. He wanted real action, not Computer Graphics, and we would do as much as we could on camera. Well, that was right in my ballpark, so we talked. I went to Mumbai, and we went to work. Anthony was the driving force for realism, and it was my area of expertise, so it was a perfect fit.

5. Is this your first Hindi/Indian film project?
This is my first Hindi film, and I hope for many more to come, if all is willing.

6. I don't doubt it! Three things in Blue every Hindi film fan must be excited about, in addition to the cast and music?
The cast and music are both great, and a great reason to see this film. In addition, there are incredible underwater sequences with 40 sharks, and a radical train chase, and for that matter, a lot of chases that will really be like a roller coaster ride.

7. We've read about it being filmed in the Bahamas. Any more locations we should be on the lookout for?
Not only did we film underwater in the Bahamas for months, in and around a real sunken ship at over 80 feet below the sea, with real sharks, and real explosions, but we were in Thailand with street chases as well as train chases. Also, the footage of the water scenes in the islands of Thailand is very amazing.

8. You filmed with several sharks, which I think is unreal. How was that experience? How did the actors react to being in their proximity?
The sharks were very real, and not trained. They live their lives around this wreck. So, every day it was: go to work, swim through the sharks, and film. For me, it was the greatest. You had to be careful and observe some basic rules, but it was an adrenaline rush. The actors took it all in stride, and Akshay was very cool with the sharks. It was great to see how all actors appreciated the nature and the environment, as well as the sharks place in it.

9. There's a significant fan following in the Bollywood blogosphere for each of the lead actors of the film. Anything you'd like to share with us on your interactions with them?
Working with the stars of this movie was amazing. Until then, I had not had a grasp of their status worldwide; but, I did a lot of homework to educate myself, and watched a lot of films with these same stars. I had many long converstions with Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar, and Zayed Khan about a variety of topics, not just the films. In this way, we developed a trust and connection that made it all work.

10. What are the first words that come to mind when I say the following names. Any specific memories that stand out?

Sanjay Dutt: Heart of a lion. He is truly a great man, and I enjoy the time I spend with him.

Katrina Kaif: I didn’t have a great deal of interaction with Katrina, but see her glamor and appeal.

Akshay Kumar: Very professional, cool, and soft spoken. He has a great work ethic.

Zayed Khan: A lot of fun, and an adrenaline junkie like me. He was very enthusiastic.

A. R. Rahman: I met him before we started filming, and he seemed to have a lot of involvement and artistic direction when discussing this film with the Director Anthony D'Souza.

Lara Dutta: Amazing, intelligent and beautiful. Also, hard-working, learning to swim so very well.

11. The casting for Blue seems to be spot on. Sanjay, Akshay and Zayed are seasoned performers in action-oriented films. Did any of the actors surprise you with their involvement in stunts?
As action director I was heavily involved with the male lead actors. Sanjay dove very well, and was a good sport with the very demanding underwater fight sequences. Think of all that gear, underwater, trying to make hard, quick fight moves. Utterly exhausting.

Akshay was very cool, working smoothly underwater, through all of the takes we needed. He seemed to enjoy the water. And, Zayed was great, though he surprised me with his desire to jump off of a 30 ft tall balcony onto a car. When he told me he wanted to do this, I was quite shocked. In Hollywood, this is unheard of. All of the actors have done their own stunts, and it amazed me that this was a Hindi industry standard. Though it put a lot of pressure on me, as I had to be extra careful and plan extra well. They were totally amazing.

12. The background score and soundtrack, combined with the action sequences, promise a treat. It seems a lot of filmmakers pay relatively little attention to music before or during filmmaking. Do you think the presence of playback singing and songs in Hindi films are a complement or a deterrent to the films?
I appreciate the formula of Hindi film. In this culture the music and dance are a vital part of life, so the film must reflect that. Only through this can you convey all of the ranges of emotion and drama, as well as excitement. The public is attuned to this and expects it to be in their comfort zone. The music was so important for this film that it began at the first planning stages, before filming even started.

13. One action film everyone must see.
I am such a critic. I watch *all* action films, and take bits and pieces from each. I love fights from some, car chases from others, explosions from yet others. I think all action films have some parts that are great, even if the entire movie may not work. Bruce Lee movies, Grand Prix, Bourne Supremacy, Ronin, old James Bond, all are soooo fun!

14. Agreed. Which is/are your favorite Hindi movie(s)?
Again, I have no one favorite. I have watched several dozen Hindi films; I like Sanjay's fight sequences and also his singing. I liked a variety of Akshay films. I think Amitabh Bachan is quite distinguished in many of his roles. I truly enjoyed Shah Rukh Khan films as well. I think the films all bring something to the table, I like parts of all.

15. True. Some of Sanjay's fight sequences are quite memorable, indeed. How would you rate your experience on the sets of the Hindi film?
It is very similar to Hollywood. Though, some departments have a lot more people, it is more or less the same. So, for me it was fairly easy and comfortable to get into a groove. All in all, it was a great experience. I had filmed in Goa previously on Bourne, so I was exposed to it before. Here it was a fully international crew working in some very remote locations. The crew worked very hard, and I was very greatful for all of their effort.

16. Would you do it again?
Do it again? I would love to. In fact, I am now working on another Hollywood film, and I am missing the color and flavor…the vibe…of working on a feature like Blue. I would love to do it again.

17. There seems to be an unprecedented level of interest in Bollywood following the tremendous success of Slumdog Millionaire (2008). As an industry insider, do you sense around you the same level of interest in Bollywood?
For years there has been an interest in Bollywood, even prior to Slumdog. I was involved with this project 2 years ago in its infant stages, and have seen the interest grow. All of the Hollywood studios have affiliates in India now, and the interest keeps building.

18. What's one lesson Bollywood could learn from Hollywood?
I would say that there is only one main area that significantly differs between the two; that is a result of schedules and talent availability. Usually a Hollywood film , especially a big action film, has everything planned and rehearsed for a long time prior to shooting. Then it is all shot in one long go, not broken into schedule. I understand the difference, but in action it can be difficult to work around this preperation and rehearsal time. I understand how it is done in Bollywood, and why, but it can be difficult especially for action.

19. And vice versa?
Hollywood could benefit from some of the looseness, the color, the happy sudden occurrences that make a more spontaneous performance. It is this vibe, this life, that lends a realism to things that can be lacking in Hollywood.

20. When is Blue expected to release? Will Los Angeles see a premiere?
I have been told that Blue is to be released during August, on a long weekend, but I can’t be held to that. There will be several large premieres, that I was told by the production house.

21. Sounds great, I'll hope to see it Day 1! Again, thank you so very much for sharing your remarkable insight. I'll say it again, I'm awed by all you and your crew do for the sake of film and its audience. Many salutations, and I cannot wait to see Blue. Any closing comments?
I would like to thank my friend and the Director Anthony D'Souza for placing his faith in my abilities to bring his vision to reality in terms of action. He was instrumental in his support to me. I would also like to thank the production house Shree Ashtivinayak for their support and for allowing us to be so creative on such a big scale. Without their support, this film would not have been made. The action is all real in camera, so it was logistically very difficult. But, in the end, it was a great opportunity, and again, I thank them.

Picture sources:
Stunt/Action crew images copyright James Bomalick, ActionTek LLC.
Actors' images courtesy this MSN India link.

Please note that copyright for this Q&A is owned by James Bomalick and theBollywoodFan.com, and that the content of this post may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of the author.


Bhargav Saikia said...

Thanks for sharing the interview.

Looking at Bomalick's filmography, Blue should be an interesting action flick! But I do hope that the film's budget is decent enough for the action sequences to actually look good.

Huge expectations from Rahman! I suppose Blue will be a welcome change for him. He hasn't scored music for many action films.

Darshit said...

Maha Exclusive !!!
Gr8 post, loved insightful talk. Did u got to listen to any of the fab ARR tracks? I m jealous ;)

One thing disapointed though, is 'Jaws + DeepBlueSea' lookalike poster. Still I think its a temporary one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you James! I've loved each of the Hollywood movies mentioned here for their special effects/action, and I can't wait to Blue!

And well done, TBF! Thank you for sharing such wonderful 411. Much appreciated.

Filmi Girl said...

Cool interview!! I'm very excited to see Blue and it looks like I'll have some cool action scenes to look forward to!

I like how he mentions that the actors did their own stunts. I love that about Akshay films, in particular. He's like Jackie Chan in that way.

I'm going to link to this in my news tomorrow!

memsaab said...

Very nice interview! :-) Talk to you soon!

bollywooddeewana said...

Wow a lot seems to have gone into making this flick, i hope they'll be rewarded for their efforts with the box office takings, this film had BETTER NOT FLOP

theBollywoodFan said...

Bhargav: From what's out there in the Indian media about it, Blue seems to be the most expensive Hindi film ever made. Regardless, I don't think the budget would be an issue.

Rahman's background score for an action flick is something I'm definitely looking forward to. The one for Ghajini (but that was more streetfighter action, although there were a couple of chases...that 'Run, run' theme is great) was, in my opinion, one of the more underappreciated components of the film.

Darshit: Thanks, and yes, the songs will rock! And there will definitely be more posters upcoming. I'm loving the theme (calls for a Lego creation, perhaps...anyone interested?). Treasure hunts and the seas are my kind of film :) Plus...Katrina! And Lara!

Anonymous: You're very welcome! It was a great first Q&A, one much fun compiling as well. A big thank you to James B., of course, for making it possible.

theBollywoodFan said...

Filmi Girl! I agree with you on Akshay. (On an unrelated note...have you seen Deedar (1992)? I remember liking it when it released.) He's always been a great action hero. And you'd better believe I was referring to the 'Akshay No. 1 Ladies Fan Club' when I mentioned 'fan following' above :)

The action scenes here will be a *lot* of fun, and I'm really looking forward to checking them out on the big screen. Bollywood finally seems to be growing up in this genre!

Memsaab: Thank you. Will do!

BollywoodDeewana: I'm confident all that hard work will be rewarded. And I think it'll be timed right, too. There's so much to look forward to!

Darshit said...

Yes ! Go Lego Boy !

Pitu said...

Wonderful job, TBF!

Diwali said...

Very interesting interview, many thanks. Would you allow me to add the link of this blog post to my fan-site www.sanjay-dutt.info? I also would love to translate it for the Bollywood fans here in Germany as not all of them understand English perfectly.

All the best, Diwali from Germany

JJC said...

awesome.those are some good questions you asked

sunil said...

Honestly totally uninterested in this movie. :-p

Both my wife and I absolutely loved the stylish action in Mission Istanbul and look at how big a flop that was!

But anyway, just wanted to ask you Aamir fan, in Taare Zameen Par, did he or you guys (as in fan guys) come up with a justification for showing the other teachers as buffoons? Asking because, despite my misgiving on that score, REAL teachers actually appreciated the movie. :-p

theBollywoodFan said...

Darshit: Great! Be on the lookout, then. It'll probably be a while, but I have a closet full of Lego to re-build and share =)

Pitu and JJC: Thanks for reading. :)

Diwali in Germany! Huge Sanjay Dutt fan! Absolutely, please feel free to link to this page from your blog. In fact, thank *you* for that.

Also, would it be possible for you to send me the translation, or post a comment here with your translation?

theBollywoodFan said...

Sunil: I haven't seen Mission Istanbul, so can't really speak to the action there. I do most certainly prefer the cast of this film more, and the music to this will be way better. So I guess I'm looking forward to a much better timed product. Time will tell. Any movie with a treasure hunt, though...seriously...should be fun.

As for Aamir in Taare Zameen Par. I'm probably intentionally being flippant about it here, but Aamir was a teacher too, after all, which might be why real teachers like the film :)

In all seriousness, I think the essence of it was to encourage breaking out of group think mode. Academia in India seems to have been having a major issue dealing with children with learning disabilities (among others). From the chairperson of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (who is featured very prominently along with medical professionals, in an hour-long segment in the T-Series Taare Zameen Par DVD release in India), we learn of the research that went behind the film and its subjects, a lot of which is fact-based. We also learn that the movie was first named 'High Jump' and not TZP, only adding to the universality of the message to fight against group think no matter what the sphere of operations.

I didn't think the other teachers were shown as buffoons, though. They appeared just strictly operational. Believers in everything being black and white with no shades of gray. :( There must've been other teachers in the schools Ishaan attended, who would've helped him just the same. The poor kid just didn't have the good fortune of being in their classes until the art class came along!

So what did you think of the movie overall? A lot of the complaints against it seem to be targeted at Aamir, which I find baseless, given the primary target audience of the film includes rural India, which urban India should've figured out by now =) I think it's fair to give him a chance to defend his work. If only everyone listened to the Director's Commentary on the DVD!

Diwali said...

@bollywoodfan: Thanks. Here's the link:

I'll return to you when the translation is done.

Diwali said...

Okay, here is the German translation of your Q&A with James Bomalick:

German Translationhttp://sanjudiwali.blogspot.com/2009/05/interview-mit-james-bomalick-action.html

(Don't know which way the link will work better...)

Once again many thanks! :-)

sunil said...

Was bit busy. :)

So what did you think of the movie overall? Watching this movie was the very last thing I did in the year 2007 and year 2007 ended on a high note for me, so draw your own conclusions!

More than with Aamir (who can make a movie like Earth and be ridiculed for doing something so beautiful), I was very happy and proud of our audience for so wholeheartedly accepting such a totally uncommericial film - no heroine, no romance, no fights, and that is just for starters.

And that is precisely why I didn't like the buffoon teachers. In a movie where Aamir was appealing to our higher senses, where he was trusting us as an audience, it really saddened me to see him cheapen it by adding stock commercial comedy elements like the buffoon teachers.
They appeared just strictly operational. The lady Bombay teachers were drawn very well, but - in my opinion of course - the male teachers in Boarding school very literally caricatures as shown in the climatic song. :) The movie still worked for me, but I was worried that real teachers may not like the unnecessarily mean-spirited jibe at them. Or that "ordinary" members of the audience would get a chance to dismiss the message of the movie due to this unrealistic touch. That they still liked the movie is too cool. :)

Shahid said...

Hey hey hey,remember me.?

Well i don really care ab8 this movie,itz the soundtrack m waiting fr,after delhi - 6 this is gonna b Rahman's second outing dis yr,i hope he gets it well.!~ :)

shell said...

Great interview! I didn't really know much about this movie, and was just recently thinking, as I was watching the Hollywood movie 'Wanted' that it would be nice to see a well-directed Hindi action. AR is my musical hero, so I can not wait to hear what he comes up with for this!

theBollywoodFan said...

All: Apologies for the delay in responding.

Diwali: Thank you so much for providing the link to this post, and for translating the interview in German!!!

Sunil: That's great to know about 2007 ending on a high note for you! I agree on being proud of the audience for accepting TZP. It needed an Aamir to take the film to that level; the film was a risky project given the theme. I understand better your viewpoint on the teachers, and agree for the most part. Except that I'm still not sure those teachers were completely unrealistic. :)

Shahid: Of course I remember you! I'm quite sure Rahman's music will be well received (that's *always* a safe bet, LOL). I also think the film will do well -- as I said above, I can't wait to see it on the big screen.

shell: Thank you! Thanks also for your visit. So would you recommend one see 'Wanted'? I just finally saw 007: Quantum of Solace a few days ago and rather liked it. Blue at least gives us something to look forward to. I think by Bollywood standards, it'll be best in class. And AR's music, we can always count on!

shell said...

'Wanted' felt kind of like a breath of fresh air to me (in and amongst the hordes of bollywood movies) simply for the fact that I thought the action was top notch. It's pretty bloody at times, but really great action sequences especially towards the end. Story was okay.

theBollywoodFan said...

Thanks for the info, Shell. I'll try to check it out sometime!