FILMS, FAMILY AND SUCCESS: A Word With Actor And Stuntman, SHAWN BERNAL


This interview was a long, long, LONG time coming!...

Actor and stuntman Shawn Bernal is one of three people I posted about last year ahead of what would have hopefully been an earlier interview at the time. Unfortunately due to Bernal's career obligations, we never got around to it, although I have been able to keep up with the team's activities as much as possible just as Film Combat Syndicate was starting out.

So far, it's been a fun journey watching Bernal at work over at LBP Stunts Chicago. Nowadays, many of the team members, including stuntman, independent filmmaker and LBP orginal, Emmanuel Manzanares have found themselves immersed in their careers as Hollywood stuntmen. Still, at the end of the day, Bernal's love and appreciation for the independent film community he has been a part of for close to seven years now, has never waned.

Point in fact, the slowly growing momentum for the independent action genre has taken his community only a bit more closer to the recognition it is seeking, as long as the work remains constant. It's at a snails' pace, of course, but for him, it is worth it. It is a field he fervently supports to this day in any capacity while he continues to excel in his busy career as a martial artist, professional entertainer, and aspiring filmmaker in his own right.

It was recently that Bernal finally found the time to express some of these points on his own behalf and much more, in this, today's long-awaited interview. To note, a few of these questions needed some updating, but I sincerely hope you will enjoy our Q&A discussion nonetheless.

Film Combat Syndicate: What made you want to become a stunt performer?
Shawn Bernal: To make it plain and simple, I have always loved martial arts. To perform martial arts stunts on screen was an unrealistic dream of mine to my family in a conservative Filipino household. So it was all about education, career, and money. After finishing school and working in an office as a career, I made my family happy by achieving that. Now that that’s done, I felt it was time to make myself happy by doing what I loved doing.
FCSyndicate: Did you have any martial arts training or screen time prior to joining LBP?
SB: I have been studying martial arts since age 6. I studied traditional Karate and Tae Kwon Do during my childhood and teenage years. When I moved away to college, I started training in Kung Fu until I became a Sifu. I dabbled a little bit in Eskrima, Wing Chun, Boxing, and Extreme Martial Arts. 
I was featured in a few student films, but I didn’t have any official stunt training that helped me grow until meeting LBP.
FCSyndicate: Who were some of your idols growing up?
SB: Christopher Reeve in his years as Superman, Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san from The Karate Kid, Ernie Reyes Jr., Mark Dacascos, He-Man, Thunder Cats, MMPR, and TMNT.
FCSyndicate: How did you get involved with LBP Stunts Chicago?
SB: Back in the early 2000s, I became a huge fan of Zero Gravity and The Stunt People; Those two groups were the pioneers of indie-action. Both of their sites have forums where you talk about martial arts, action films, and filmmaking. When I was in The Stunt People forum one day in 2007, I noticed that one of the members with the screen name, “Spidermexican” was from Chicago. I discovered “Spidermexican”'s name to be Emmanuel Manzanares, who was the head of a local group called Lazy Brown Productions at the time. Since I grew up in the countryside of Illinois, I was far from being a city kid and I was slightly afraid to go to the city on my own for a while to meet up with Emmanuel.  When I finally manned up, I took a train, met up with Emmanuel and his group for the first time, and we filmed this: 
I can easily say that I had a blast filming this because it was probably the first time getting together with a group of people that had the same interests as me. So I not only found a stunt group to work with, I also found a new family.
FCSyndicate: How has your own martial arts training benefited you? Physically, spiritually, etc.
SB: My martial arts’ training has always kept me with a healthy body, discipline, and a good mindset. I have applied all aspects of it to my life and that is why I am where I am today.
FCSyndicate: Does your wife, Pamela, do any screenfighting herself?
SB: No. But we talk about doing a fight together one day for fun on day. ;)
FCSyndicate: When it comes to performing in action movies, how do you prepare for a role? Do you put acting first or do you consider it secondary?
SB: Acting always comes first to me in every scene. After all, the goal is create a vision of reality through a camera right?  If you don’t act the part, you are just doing moves, and the vision is gone. 
When it comes to training, I try to keep active all the time. Besides training with LBP, I have concentrated on Western Boxing lately. I still love/respect Kung Fu and other stylized arts, but the reality is that I won’t always be working on movies that allow me to move like that.  In this industry, it is always good to be versatile.
FCSyndicate: One of the most notable projects you worked on was Dogfight. What was that experience like?
SB: Dogfight was great learning experience. Nate Hitpas was one of our newer members at the time and needed a project like this to push himself on his performance. And, since Jessie Bayani had not worked with us for a while, Emmanuel felt it was time to bring him back in the game. 
Dogfight was slightly our version of the fight finale from The Raid between Mad Dog and the brothers. Since I am far from being a Silat expert, Emmanuel applied more of my kungfu background. You definitely see a lot of Raid influence for sure, but it also mixes a lot of styles including Flash Point and Wheels on Meals. DogFight was by far the hardest I had work on any LBP project. I still have some flaws in the project itself, but I was very happy with it in the end. And I am very happy to see that others liked it too.
FCSyndicate: One of the bigger, more ambitious projects you worked on earlier with LBP was the unfinished, yet excellent indie noir action thriller, Those Who Go To Hell. How did that project get put together, initially?
SB: Initially, it was a short web series created by Emmanuel. Overtime, the project became a lot bigger than we could handle when it came to budgets, locations, scheduling, etc. Even though the project was never finished; it helped our team grow due to much trial and error and amazing collaborations with other stunt teams including The Stunt People.
FCSyndicate: Would you guys ever reboot Those Who Go To Hell? I personally love the title and what the footage had to offer as a potential film, and plus the epic kung fu fight between your character and that of LBP fellow Keith Min is something I think would have really driven the selling point of the film.
SB: To be honest, we probably won’t ever reboot it.  Keith and I will have our fight one day.
FCSyndicate: If there is one film from the 80's or 90’s you could see yourselves rebooting over at LBP, what would it be and why?
SB: Unfortunately for this question, I have to say that I’m not a fan of remakes. If anything, it may be cool to see a new vision of The Warriors. You can see a little bit of an influence in the Korean Action Film, City of Violence, but I would love to see an entire movie based on several different gangs with colorful personalities going to war. Imagine all the gangs having their own fight styles. That would be a fight coordinator’s dream!!
FCSyndicate: What are some of your favorite action movies to date?
SB: There’s too many to choose from, but I’ll give it a shot. 
Hollywood: Commando, First Blood, Die Hard, Enter the Dragon, Terminator 2, Aliens, Superman II, The Rocky films, Taken 
Asia: Drunken Master II, The Killer, SPL, Flash Point, The Man from Nowhere
FCSyndicate: What was it like working on Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice?
SB: I honestly didn’t get to do anything too crazy for Man of Steel. It was mainly a lot of running and falling in the scene where Metropolis is attacked. It was just an honor to just work on a film based on my #1 hero and working for Damon Caro (300, Watchmen) with his amazing stunt team that included Ryan Watson, Guillermo Grispo, Tim Rigby, Paul Darnell, Matthew Rugetti, and Samantha Jo.  
The team did not find me until the end of the production of Man of Steel, but they kept me in mind when the production of Dawn of Justice started; I cannot disclose anything about film, but it was an amazing experience and I got to work with many performers that inspired me to work in this industry. So I am forever grateful for the experience.
FCSyndicate: You also worked on the film, Divergent. Did you get to do any scenes with J.J. Perry?
SB: The film is stunt coordinated by Garrett Warren (Mortal Kombat: Legacy) and J.J. Perry was the assigned fight coordinator for the project. I was fortunate enough to do a few small sequences with J.J., but only a small snippet of a sequence made it to the silver screen, which is still fine. In this industry, stunts are lucky to even make it into the final cut of a movie.  
I had been following J.J.’s work as a fight coordinator since Undisputed II and it was an absolute honor to have been given the opportunity to work with him. Hopefully it will not be the last.
FCSyndicate: One other film you worked on that has some pretty high expectations is Dennis Ruel's impending directorial debut, Unlucky Stars. Can you share a little bit about your character and the film?
SB: I can’t give too much detail on my character other than I was the guy hired to finish a job. The movie is done filming, and it will definitely revive the spirit and fanfare of 80's Hong Kong action. The release date is still TBD.
FCSyndicate: What is it like working with one of the best action directors of your field, Vlad Rimburg?
SB: Vlad is an awesome guy with an amazing vision. I have experienced problems with many directors that don’t know what they want and they are terrible with communication when they finally figure it out. Vlad flew to Chicago and stayed with me for 4 or 5 days to film “Yo Soy Un Hombre Loco.”  The project itself went very smooth - we only needed one day of rehearsal for the house fight and the rest was done on the fly because the guy is just that good. I questioned him once when he called me up telling me he wanted me to play a villain that dances in 'Loco'... I will never question him again.

FCSyndicate: What are some hopes you share for independent action cinema?
SB: I hope to one day produce my own feature as Eric Jacobus and Dennis Ruel have done. I give them both props for doing it as it is a very difficult task.
FCSyndicate: In a word, how would you best illustrate your experience with LBP Stunts Chicago all these years?
SB: Success! Every single member worked on Divergent and now they are all eligible to work professionally in the stunt industry. I am very proud of all of them.
FCSyndicate: What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way?
SB: Being too much of a perfectionist can be a bad thing.  It may lead you to never finishing a project at all.  Also, when it comes to this industry, never get overexcited about anything until it actually happens. Otherwise, it will leave you to be very disappointed. And lastly, when something appears to be unsafe, don’t be afraid to question it.
FCSyndicate: Who do you look forward to working with in the near or not too distant future?
SB: It would be an honor to work with any of the HK greats like Jackie, Jet, or Donnie. In terms of Hollywood coordinators, I would love to work for Jeff Imada and Olivier Schnieder.
FCSyndicate: If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
SB: It may sound cliché, but if I could meet anyone, it would be Bruce Lee because he is the pioneer that started it all. If he were alive to today, I would at least like to thank him for opening up so many doors in this industry.
FCSyndicate: Would you like to make an FCSyndicate Shoutout to anyone?
SB: I would like to thank everyone who has helped me over the years including Emmanuel and LBP Stunts Chicago; All the amazing indie stunt teams from all over the world. Whether I have met them in person or not, I’m sure one way or another, they have inspired me; and all the coordinators that have hired me since 2008.
As a noteworthy mention, Bernal is only the second person I have interviewed from LBP Stunts Chicago as I also had the opportunity to chat with fellow performer, stuntman and kung fu instructor Keith Min. It's one of my first interviews for Film Combat Syndicate, and if you missed it, feel free to CLICK HERE and check it out for yourself.

In the meantime, I personally thank Shawn Bernal for taking the time to talk with Film Combat Syndicate and share his story. Granted, this was also an opportunity for me to share a few of the other aforementioned shortfilms they have become known for within the last several years when my site did not exist. If you are new to LBP Stunts Chicago, I sincerely hope that this interview gives you just the treat I hoped for it to be, especially if you love martial arts action cinema.

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