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Alexandra Shipman

Sandra aka Bam Bam has been fighting since the age of 32, remains undefeated and recently won an International title. Despite her achievements, it is still extremely difficult for her to compete in the sport she loves. This documentary will show the determination it takes to be a boxer, how brutally beautiful the sport can be and how you can do whatever you want, no matter what age you are.

Hi Alex, it's great to have the chance to talk with you again, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

I’m doing very well thanks, managing to keep busy which is good. Thank you for having me back! 


Since the start of lockdowns what has been the most surprising thing you've discovered about yourself and have you taken on any new hobbies or interests?

For me, I definitely rediscovered interests that I used to be dedicated to in my teen years. I was a dancer so started taking some online classes again and I was obsessed with animation so I started learning to do that! I think the main thing I learned is I had become so technically minded over the past few years, always thinking about cameras and data rates, it was nice to do something that was purely creative again. 


The last time we spoke was during the 2016 BFI Future Film Festival where you presented a short doc about your mum, what was that experience like for you and would it be something you would recommend of their emerging filmmakers to take part in?

The experience of being part of the BFI Future Film Festival is still one of the highlights of my career. There is a lovely sense of family between everyone selected and the excitement of everyone attending is amazing. It’s was a really great chance to talk to other emerging filmmakers about your ideas and I don’t think I would have had the confidence to make the feature without the reaction and support I got from that festival, highly recommend it! 


How much has your background as a behind the scenes documentary filmmaker having worked on Star Wars Ep. 9, Fantastic Beasts 3 and the new Flash movie helped you on your new feature documentary Bam Bam?

It’s interesting as there are a lot of things that I learned from working on those movies that helped with Bam Bam the feature but for the most part, I would say making Bam Bam helped me more when I was working on those films. What I learned about how to shoot, edit and constructive a narrative when making Bam Bam were always at the back of my mind when I was shooting behind the scenes. I always try and approach them like I am making a documentary and I don’t think I would have known how to do that without Bam Bam.


Had you always intended to turn your short into a feature?

I didn’t make the short with the intention of making a feature. The idea of making in your one crew when I attended the festivals the short for in to. Everyone still had so many questions about my mum and her life that I thought, there is a genuine interest in this story and so many things about her I thought the world should hear! So that’s when I decided to make the feature. I love documentaries that are following something happening in real-time, instead of looking back at the events that had already happened. My mum was coming close to the end of her career (so she says, she still brings up trying to get another fight) so even if I didn’t feel 100% ready to make my first feature I just thought, what’s the worst that could happen and just started to make it.

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Because of the Covid situation what have been the challenges you have faced making your feature?

Most of the film was finished pre-lockdown, it was just graphics, credits and some grading to be finished during the lockdown. It did put a little bit on a damper on our publicity plans we were hoping to tour around with the film in boxing clubs and I was going to go to lots of events to talk about it but all that got cancelled and then no one new what was happening with festivals so that’s why we started all that this year. I think the thing that will really play into our favour is the film is very uplifting and it has humour, I feel in these hard times people need documentaries that are happy when the world is all doom and gloom. 


As a documentary filmmaker, how do you balance being objective with the story you are telling when the focus is on your mother?

It was difficult, I just tried to present everything as fact as best as I could, I see it as a character piece more than something about the bigger picture, so everything is from my mums perspective, which means some stuff is presented as an opinion more than fact but for the most part we present the facts of what has happened to her in her career and let the audience decide their opinion. There is a part where my questioning made my dad cry and I was like I can’t cut yet because this is the good stuff but I also don’t like seeing my dad cry!

I think the thing that helped the most though is my voice is not present at all, I didn’t want it to feel like a video diary or Louis Theroux style where I’m walking around asking questions. I think if you watched the documentary you wouldn’t know that the boxer's daughter made it until at least halfway through, maybe even until the credits! That was important to me, the film was about my mum, not about a daughter making a film about their mum.


How did this new feature come about and how different was your approach to this compared to your short?

I talked about it loads with people and created a bunch of pitch documents but in the end, I went to a friend that I had worked with when I was a runner, he is a producer and asked for advice on getting funding and he said he would fund it, so we got a very small budget in place, plus a few of my own pennies. 

The approach was very different, as the short was just about past experiences, I really wanted to film my mum training for a fight and then film the whole fight night to get a sense of what it is really like. There was plenty of points when it seemed like the fight wasn’t going to happen, so we did a linear edit of the whole film which I just wasn’t liking. Luckily the fight finally happened and I thought it would be really interesting to play with jumping back and forth in time, using moments in the lead to this fight to show similarities to her past fights, so a lot of it was finding stuff in the edit. We did plan and storyboarded some cinematic boxing style promo that’s pop up in key moments of the film, so it was very much a mixture of planning and fixing it in post! 

Filming the fight was very strange though, it was the first time I saw my mum fight in person, I think in some ways it was good I had the camera team organise to take my mind off what was actually happening but there were moments where I was like “that’s my mum getting violently hit right now” haha

"That’s what’s so interesting about documentaries is everyone has an interesting story, you just have to talk to people and you will find something there."


Did you have any apprehensions about revisiting this story?

I weirdly didn’t have any apprehensions about the story, I knew there was so much great content there and it was actually a really great opportunity for me to learn more about my parents. I think the thing I was apprehensive about what just a lot of the technical requirements for a feature, we didn’t have the budget for good hard drives, laptops to edit on, access to good cameras all the time. It was also my first feature and I just didn’t really know what I was doing half the time when it came to organising it as I was the producer as well haha but I had the most dedicated crew, people I could tell were passionate about the project, they really helped me pull everything together and can not thank them enough. 


Do you think you will continue to make documentary films that have personal narratives?

If my career has taught me anything so far it is that my work always turns out better if I am passionate about the story I am telling. I would like to try and make a documentary that I don’t have a personal link to at some point in my career, just for that challenge, but at the moment the documentaries I have lined up all have a personal connection to me, and it is definitely a more cathartic experience when they do. 


Is there any advice you would offer a filmmaker wanting to get into a documentary film?

It’s the old cliche but you just gotta go out there and shoot stuff, don’t even worry about narrative, just ask a friend if you can follow them for the day because even if you don’t want to be a camera operator and just a director, just shooting random stuff and stringing it into a little film is a great way of seeing how images and edits can tell a story. That’s what’s so interesting about documentaries is everyone has an interesting story, you just have to talk to people and you will find something there. 

Also, something that really helps me constructive a narrative and flesh out an idea is just to talk to people about it, see what excites people about the idea, what they want to know more about etc. It’s can feel stressful staring at a blank piece of paper trying to make a pitch or write a script but just chatting to people can help you formulate the idea better in your head, making that writing it down a step-less daunting.


And finally, what do you want people to take away from Bam Bam?

I think the main thing I want people to take away from the film is that it’s never too late to find your passions, I hope it inspires people to try that one thing they always wanted to do. But most of all I just want them to think my mum is pretty cool!

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