James Bamford is looking for a fight today on the Stargate Atlantis set. It’s OK, though, seeing that he is the show’s stunt coordinator. When it comes to one of our heroes duking it out with a bad guy, a Wraith jumping from a dizzying height, or even a guest-star taking a fall, Bamford, or “Bam Bam,” is responsible for making sure everyone knows what he or she is doing and, above all, is safe while doing it. His season five on-set “duties” began in earnest with Broken Ties, in which Ronon Dex once again goes up against his former Satedan friend Tyre, played by Mark Dacascos.
“First off, Mark Dacascos is just a master and a true martial artist,” says Bamford. “He’s not an actor who learned how to fight, but rather a fighter who learned how to act, and is a treat to work with. Having him perform my choreography is truly an honor. I began really early choreographing this particular fight in Broken Ties, and it went on for so long that they [the producers and director] actually cut out almost half of it. The episode itself was over time-wise, which is why we had to edit down the sequence. However, what’s cool is when the season five DVD comes out, you’ll see the entire fight as a special feature. Ivon Bartok [DVD special features producer] followed us around with a camera in the early choreography stages and came to all the rehearsals, so you’ll get to watch a really progressive version of the rehearsal process. And think the fight on the DVD will be my original full-length version, which I’m excited about.
“Insofar as the actual choreography, the first challenge was designing a new sword for the Tyre character,” continues the stunt coordinator. “Every martial artist prefers different things about his weapons so I spoke a couple of times with Mark over the phone about dimensions, handle, grip and whatnot for his sword. In the end, he said, ‘Go ahead with whatever you think will work for me, Bam Bam. I trust your opinion.’ So I played around with different swords, and James Robbins [Atlantis production designer] did the conceptual drawing for it. Our model shop then built the actual weapon, and between all of us we came up with a nice, light and yet dangerous looking blade.
“From there, I had to get a stunt double for Mark, who was still down in Los Angeles, and I stepped in as Jason Momoa’s [Ronon Dex] double. Usually what I try to do is figure out the beginning of the fight or how to get into it, and then from there the brain just flows and things unfold organically. Jason wanted to show a growing and then explosion of anger or betrayal at one point in the fight, so I left one section where he could have his own personal stamp. We worked with Jason for a few days, and then Mark flew into town and we started to teach him his side of the fight. We taught him away from Jason, and vice versa. Throughout the rehearsal process, Mark was like, ‘Thank you so much for this wonderful fight.’ He was very complimentary from beginning to end, and when he and Jason finally came together to do the fight they were absolutely perfect. They jumped right into it and it was something to see, that’s for sure.”
In the season five Atlantis episode Tracker, Ronon and Dr. McKay (David Hewlett) must match wits with Kiryk, a Runner who has abducted Dr. Keller (Jewel Staite) while on an off-world mission. Once again, the stunt coordinator had the opportunity to work with a professional who was well-versed in the art of stunt fighting.
“We had Mike Dopud playing a character named Kiryk, and in addition to being an actor, Mike has worked as a stunt guy as well,” explains Bamford. “His character and Jason’s had two on-screen fights, but I didn’t have access to Jason – he was out of town and not available for rehearsals. I had to put everything together with Jason in mind but not physically there, so I rehearsed with Mike and he did quite well. When we subsequently started plugging Jason into the rehearsals it was just minutes here and there on-set. He didn’t even see one of the fights until the day he got to set, so I had to teach it to him bit by bit as we were shooting. As usual, Jason picked up the choreography very quickly. I showed it to him and the camera was literally rolling five minutes later.
After their six-week-long summer 2008 hiatus, Bamford was back on-set with the Atlantis cast and crew to start work on The Prodigal, an action-packed episode with some intense fights involving the half-human, half-Wraith Michael (Connor Trinneer). “We shot our first big fight sequence on our second day back from hiatus,” recalls Bamford. “So everyone had been traveling about and had to return to work and try to remember some fight choreography.
“I had rehearsed the fight sequences and put the footage on an instructional DVD that I gave to Jason and Connor. Yes, they had that to study, but even though you might have something in your head, it doesn’t give you the actual rehearsal time needed to build true muscle memory. So the actors had very little time to practice and sort of had to go off their memory of the DVD. It’s like learning Kung Fu from a book, which is very difficult unless you’re a master. So the hiatus ate into most of our rehearsal time, but, once again, the actors pulled things off and there are some amazing fights in this episode.
“Following The Prodigal, we went into Remnants, which features a well-known character [Acastas Kolya, portrayed by Robert Davi] that you’ll recognize. At the moment [mid-August 2008] we’re filming Infection as well as prepping for Identity and Vegas. James Robbins, Rob Cooper [Atlantis co-creator/executive producer] and John Smith [executive producer] are actually in Las Vegas doing location scouts for certain scenes. Part of Vegas is set in the desert and there’s some driving involved along with plenty of stunts. Then after that is the season [and series] finale Enemy at the Gate, which should be a lot of fun to do.”
While working on Atlantis, Bamford was asked by writer/director Robert C. Cooper to also serve as fight coordinator for the first made-for-DVD Stargate SG-1 feature film The Ark of Truth. “Ark was a great opportunity for me because I got to work with Robert Cooper, which I love,” says the stunt coordinator. “He writes for himself to direct, and he writes things a little bigger because he knows exactly what he wants to see, so we get to do things on a grander scale for Rob.
“I think we had three days scheduled to do the main fight involving Ben Browder [Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell], which is way over and above what we usually get. I mean, we usually get four to six hours to do a fight, so three days was fantastic. Because SG-1 is such a well-oiled machine, we managed to get it done in a day-and-a-half, which was terrific. I had previously worked with Rob on [the season three Atlantis episode] Doppelganger, which had a large fight sequence. He enjoyed the choreography that I’d brought to Atlantis and wanted to extend that type of feel and look onto Ark of Truth. Needless to say I had a blast.”
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Tags: Ark of Truth, Ben Browder, Connor Trinneer, Entertainment, James Bamford, James Robbins, Jason Momoa, Jewel Staite, John Smith, Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell, Mark Dacascos, Mike Dopud, Robert C. Cooper, Robert Davi, Ronon Dex, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1