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