Written by Malin Evita
“She gave me sort of the subliminal confidence.”
Alex Shipman is a filmmaker, BFI Film Academy and NFTS Craft Skills Residential Alumni. While she usually works as a camera opp./self-shooter in behind the scenes documentaries for films such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Fantastic Beasts 3, and the upcoming The Flash, she recently wrapped up the finishing touches for her directorial feature debut: Bam Bam—a movie telling the story of fifty-year-old boxer Sandra Shipman.
There is a strange, beautiful connection between the mother and daughter’s profession. To start, Sandra met kickboxing after giving birth to her first and only child. An initial way to regain her body spiralled into a completely new lifestyle. Something that Alex would only ever know as normal. It wasn’t until she got older and people started having curious reactions to finding out what her mother did that she began noting down the questions they asked. Between the bullet points, the idea of a documentary was sown. And after nearly four and a half years of work, Sandra’s journey of resilience against the people who try to keep her out of the sport is ready to be told.
‘Bam Bam’ follows the story of a 50 year old female boxer, trying to obtain a license so she can finally stop fighting unlicensed. Sandra 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 get somewhere in the boxing world, how brutally beautiful the sport can be and how you can do whatever you want, no matter what age you are.
In the beginning stages of filming, nerves were high. Not only was the pressure of her debut on, but to poke and pry into the lives of someone so near and dear to her presented a unique set of obstacles—on both ends of the camera. How do you go from daughter to director, from mother to subject? “At home— well, I wasn’t living at their house, but I’d come over every now and then in the lead up to filming all the major interviews, and we would just sorta work the camera in,” Alex explains, “we would sit in the living room and have the camera really far away and chat and then I’d work into a closer and closer position.”
Easing into it created the necessary faux natural setting that documentaries require for the featured to be as real and raw as possible. “There were bits in the docs in which she’s very passionate about, and most of that stuff just rolled off. You would have never known that she was nervous at all,” Alex says. Those were the moments of intensity and emotions. Thrill. Rage. Sadness. The human in the ring.
“There’s a bit in the doc as well where my dad cries about something, and I was just there like [deep breaths] okay, hold, everything is fine!” She laughs in retrospect, “So that was all a bit strange! I found all of the interview process really weird.”
While Alex had known her mother to be a boxer for all of her life, she had never actually seen her fight in real life. And this, above the tears and rants, was, without doubt, the highlight of this experience. “That fight night… it was just amazing,” she says. With her largest crew ever, and after weeks of preparing cameras, floorplans, and fluorescent lights, it all came to life.
“There was only one point where like her opponent turned up and her opponent was, I think, like twenty-five, and my mum was almost fifty at the time. I saw her opponent, and I was like, oh, my God! That woman’s about to fight my mum! And she’s like really dench, very young. And that was the point where I was like, oh gosh, and then I just had to psyche myself like just ignore it, carry on! Oi, camera there, camera here. I’m a filmmaker – oops, we got a broken tripod. Let’s sort that out!”
The nearly half a decade long process behind Bam Bam has, unsurprisingly, changed a lot for Alex. Not only did she discover her niche interest (underdogs in sport), but it changed the way she viewed her mum and added a new layer of depth. “When I was a kid, you know, I was always like, oh she’s not very mumsy mum. And now I’m like, well, that’s like her biggest asset,” she smiles, “I didn’t realise how much of a role model she was for me growing up. I think she was subliminally a role model.”
“When I started in this industry, well, it wasn’t that long ago, but it was really male-orientated. And especially because I wanted to go into camera as well. But I never actually felt—I never actually realised that and I think that’s because I was always used to my mom going into places and her being the only female there,” she adds, “she gave me sort of the subliminal confidence.”
Keep up to date with when you can watch Bam Bam by following their socials, BamBamFilm on Instagram and Facebook and bambamfilm.com.
Listen to the full conversation about the importance of documentaries, the making behind this one, and most important lessons learned – out now on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.