Episode 61: Lightsaber Twirling with Jill Bearup

Episode 61: Lightsaber Twirling with Jill Bearup

You can also support the show at Patreon.com/TheSwordGuy Patrons get access to the episode transcriptions as they are produced, the opportunity to suggest questions for upcoming guests, and even some outtakes from the interviews. Join us!

Jill Bearup is a stage combatant, YouTuber and a lightsaber twirler. I first came across her work through her YouTube channel critiquing swordfights in TV and movies, which is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRrvZqCL1YsqRA8IpXrhYQQ. Jill loves pretending to fight people on stage and screen and her videos cover how a good fight can add to the story being told, and also, in case you need it, how to sword fight in a dress.

You can find her online at www.patreon.dot.com/JillBearup and her website is www.jillbearup.com.

In our conversation we talk a lot about Star Wars and lightsabers. The lightsabers Jill has are from Saberzone www.saberzonecosplay.com.

To watch the Kylo Ren and Rey Throne Room fight with all that random twirling from the Red Guards, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4cugJ7JzvM

We don’t just talk about Star Wars, we discuss other swordfights on the big and small screen. This is a favourite of ours; the final duel in Rob Roy, with Liam Neeson and Tim Roth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERmM5l2ceoY. It’s not all good though, we also talk about the sword fighting in Game of Thrones.

You might be interested in Jill’s YouTube channel for hair tutorials, where she recreates hair styles from film, including Princess Leia’s braids: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSCElWJIZPQnf4_ZuGpI8RA


GW:  I'm here today with Jill Bearup, stage combatant, YouTuber and a lightsaber twirler. I first came across her work through her YouTube channel critiquing swordfights in TV and movies. You can search for Jill Bearup on YouTube and you'll find it straight away and you can find her online at www.patreon.dot.com/JillBearup. So, thanks for joining us.


JB: Thank you. It's pronounced Patreon, by the way.


GW:  I'll pronounce however I like, as I’ve got one too. I have heard it every which way. And honestly, as long as people go there and sign up. I don't care.


JB:  As long as you can spell it right, it's fine. I pronounced it Patreon for like three years. And then I went to Videocon where the guy who started it was there and I was like, Oh yes, it's so wonderful. And then I heard him actually pronounce the word and I went, oh, and I've been pronouncing it wrong all this time.


GW:  But he's American. He cannot be relied upon to pronounce anything correctly, even his own company. So, I wouldn’t be inclined to take that too seriously. OK, so whereabouts in the world are you?


JB:  I am in England, though, as you may well be able to tell from my accent, I'm not from here originally. I grew up in Northern Ireland, but nowadays I live in Kent.


GW:  Ah, very nice. For those not familiar with English geography, that’s sort of start at London and go bottom right.


JB: Yeah.


GW: OK, so how did you get into swords and stage combat? Tell us the story.


JB:  Well swords, I've kind of always been into because there is a certain kind of small child, I think it's most small children to be honest, who is really into Robin Hood and swashbuckling and sword fighting and all that kind of thing. I didn't get into stage combat until I was thirty two, or was it thirty three? I don't remember. Thirty three maybe. So what happened was we moved house a lot in my 20s, I got married when I was twenty three and we moved around a lot for my husband's job and from the ages of like 18 to 29 or something like that, 30, maybe I had 13 addresses in 13 years at one point. So we got to Kent where we were going to be staying for a while. And I was like, I have no friends and I'm sad. And my husband said, well, maybe you should think of something fun to do. And I was like, I literally have no idea. So we went to the cinema to see The Last Jedi, as you do. And I saw it and I watched the throne room scene where Kylo Ren and Rey have this massive group battle with their lightsabers and all of these guys in red outfits and things are on fire. And it's amazing. And I was like, yes, OK. There has to be a place you can learn to do that, not learn to sword fight because I’d done sport fencing at university for a little while. And I was like, that's really fun. But I mean, specifically where you can learn to pretend to hit people with lightsabers. This has to be a thing. So I Googled it. And it turns out there is an intensive stage combat course which is held in Kent, like the back end, the very southeast corner of the southeast corner of England every year. And I was like, I'm going to go to that. And I did. And it was like, this is actually the most fun ever. And so I have continued doing it ever since. And I made YouTube videos. I've been making YouTube videos since 2011. But eventually, after about 18 months of doing stage combat, my friend said, look, you go on and on about this stuff. Why don't you just make videos about it as well? And I did. And it turns out people like those, so worked out pretty well.


GW:  Excellent, so have you ever actually worked as a stage combat person or is that just a hobby?


JB:  No, it's just a hobby. So to be an instructor, you have to do a lot more work than I have done. I have done it. I am nine tenths of an actor combatant, which is to say, when you learn stage combat formally as a kind of drama thing, you can get qualifications at standard, intermediate, advanced level or what are called specialisation. If you get ten of those at any one level, you are an actor combatant, standard, intermediate, advanced, whatever. And then after that, you can do training to become a fight choreographer and things like that. But I am nine tenths of an actor combatant because I was like, I'm going to do it in 2020. You know what happened in 2020.


GW:  Nothing happened in 2020.


JB:  Absolutely naff all happened in 2020. I did get to one course in 2020 at the end of 2020, we all had to take lateral flow tests and say that we had self isolated and we didn't have any symptoms and all that kind of thing, but we got there. So I'm going to Kent again this year to take three more exams and hopefully pass at least one of them to be an actor combatant.


GW:  OK, you probably aren’t aware of this, but one of the early guests on this podcast, a guy called Airrion Scott, his first introduction to sword fighting at all was the Saber Legion, where people get together and whack each other with lightsabers. Have you tried that?


JB:  No, I haven't. Occasionally I used to try and fight my husband. But the problem with it is basically I am not really ideal for sword fighting, but ideal for stage combat, because I'm very good at following instructions. But I'm quite slow and short.




JB:  And they're quite heavy and so I have to get him really fast, otherwise he's not getting got at all. Basically, I went to a convention in Lithuania 2019 or 2018 I think. And after I'd given my talk, they had HEMA people, they're doing demonstrations. They were like, you want a go? I’m like, yes I want a go. But very quickly I found out that it's really fun and very painful because it doesn't matter how much padding they give you, someone will get you in the bit that isn't padded. So I didn't have any thigh padding and I got hit so hard there with one of the swords that I had a bruise, which was like… I'm trying to think of an appropriate sort of size comparison, like about the size of three smartphones together, like just all across my leg.


GW:  Can I just say that that is representative of a certain elements within historical European martial arts. But it's not how beginners to our art are normally treated.


JB:  Well, I mean, I don't think they did it on purpose.


GW:  Well, that's the thing. But you should only ever hit somebody like that on purpose. You should never do it by accident. I mean, being a thug is one thing. Being incompetent is another. We strive for competence and we strive to keep the thugs out altogether so the competent ones can play without bashing each other too hard. But for that to happen by accident suggests that the person you were with was really not behaving themselves properly because they were going faster and harder than they were actually able to control.


JB:  Well, to be fair, I don't think he really knew much about HEMA either.


GW:  Right. Yes. So one has to wonder what the organisers were thinking, letting that sort of thing go ahead.


JB:  Just letting randoms off the street go at each other. It was a great time. I did it, and then I thought that was really fun. But also, I really need to be fitter in order to do HEMA. To do stage combat, the fitter you are, the easier it is. But if you get too tired, you can't do the choreography properly and so you have to stop. Whereas I think they gave me like a cavalry sabre or something, within about a minute and a half, I was like, this is so heavy that I can't keep my arm up, which is also not a problem in stage combat, because basically a lot of the time it's epée blades on a different hilt. So it's like we want it to look like X, give it the X hilt and then stick an epée blade on it just because those are less likely to cause anybody damage. And they are cheap.


GW:  Yeah, back in the early 90s when I was starting the historical martial arts thing and the closest we could get to rapiers was state combat rapiers, which had that epée blade which is completely useless for doing actual rapier because it's too short and too light. And then we took these stage combat blades and we found these Mensur blades in Germany, which are for doing the German fraternity head splitting open duelling.


JB:  Oh, yeah.


GW:  And they work better, but they aren't tapered properly for a rapier, but better than what we had before. And it took nearly a decade, I think, before we started getting decent quality practise swords available. So, yeah, I'm well familiar with the epée blade on a rapier hilt which balances all wrong, but it's relatively safe and you can whack them together and they don’t break because they are made to high technical standards. Speaking of high technical standards, you have an MSc in engineering. That is pretty unusual for YouTube is talking about stage combat.


JB:  It is pretty unusual for there to be YouTubers talking about stage combat. But I take your point. Yeah. So well, I originally intended to be an engineer. I liked science a lot at school and I did maths and physics and English literature at A level. And then I went, what should I do at university? Engineering. I like making stuff, that sounds like fun. So I did yeah, I did a four year. So I have a bachelor's degree in engineering, in mechanical engineering. And then for the master's year, they were like, if you want to do a masters in mechanical engineering, how do you feel about fluid mechanics? And by this point, I enjoyed the degree, but having done some work experience, I was like, I don't really want to be an engineer, I don't think. And so I went, I hate fluid mechanics. I hate it with a fiery, fiery passion. It's just there's so much maths. There's a lot of maths I can cope with. And this is, you know, so I did a bunch of like other engineering related things and came out with a master's degree in sort of engineering.


GW:  But not fluid mechanics.


JB:  Not fluid mechanics. Don't ask me about fluid mechanics.


GW:  Well, my next question was all about fluid mechanics. But seeing as you asked nicely, I'll cut it for you.


JB:  That's very kind of you.


GW:  So you're not working as an engineer at the moment?


JB:  No. I have never worked as an engineer, actually. When I graduated, I wanted to be a vicar and so I ended up doing a bunch of work in churches. In the Church of England, you go through the process and then you go to something called a Bishop's Advisory Panel, which is a panel that advises the bishop, not a bunch of bishops that advise each other, you know, could be either. And they said, well, it may be that you should be in the ministry, but we don't think that's right now. And I was like, OK, well, this this particular road has closed off and now every other possible one is open, but I don't really know what to do. And oh, great. It was 2010. And we're in the middle of a recession and I don't have any engineering experience. So I ended up being a nanny and a tutor. So I tutored in English and science for a while and then we moved around a bunch of places. So I ended up making YouTube videos because I was like, I'm not really feeling very creatively fulfilled and I have free time, so I'm going to do that.


GW:  And on your YouTube, I think the YouTube video of yours that I first saw was your Princess Bride.


JB:  Yeah, that's a lot of people's introduction. It's either that or how to fight in a dress.


GW:  Well, I'm pretty familiar with The Princess Bride. I know absolutely nothing about fighting in a dress. So why don't you tell us how to do that? Well, first off, you put on a dress, I assume.


JB:  Yes. So the video that I'm scripting and shooting at the moment is called How to do a Sword Fight in a Wedding Dress, but a couple of years ago, I saw this little post on Tumblr, which was about how to how to gird up your loins in a ball gown so that you can fight in it. And I looked at this illustration and I thought, I wonder if that would actually work. And so I got my camera out and I put on my prom dress from 2004 and I had to go. And then I made a video which was like, you're supposed to basically you gather up your skirts and you tuck them between your legs and then you try and tie them at the front. Normally you don't have enough fabric to do that. So you can just, like, tuck it into a belt or whatever. But, yeah, I made a whole video about it, which, as it turned out, people quite liked. And then when I made it into a short, so basically I just zoomed in so it was in vertical format. YouTube, in its infinite wisdom, decided that 3.3 million people needed to see that. OK, here you go. Thanks, YouTube. I appreciate that.


GW:  So the thing about fighting in a dress is you pick up the hems and tuck them in your belt so you don't have all that cloth flapping around your feet.


JB:  Basically. There are other ways to do it. But that was the way that was on the illustration. And so that was the way that we experimented with.


GW:  OK, so what other ways are there to do it?


JB:  So I think it's called curtling, but I might have just made that up. Basically, if you have a belt and you have a big poofy skirt, you just lift the skirt up to knee length and tuck all of the sort of excess into the belt. And so now you're wearing a sort of very bulky looking knee-length skirt. But if you have a big, quite solid hoop under your dress, then you've actually got, as long as you don't have lots of under layers underneath that, then basically you're just wearing like a plastic cage. And the fabric is over that. And so now no one can see your legs, but you can move them in any direction you want to. As long as you don't have a train, you need to tuck the train up at the back because otherwise you'd fall over it. But you can advance and retreat and lunge and traverse and whatever it is you need to do, provided that the dress isn't actually trailing on the ground and provided that's been pushed out of the way by the hoop.


GW:  Wow. So actually crinolines are quite practical.


JB:  Yeah, I think so. But then they're ballgowns you're supposed to be able to waltz in them and so you have to be able to move.


GW:  Good point, I hadn't thought of that. OK, well, you learnt it here first. Crinolines are surprisingly practical for swordfighting. OK, so, everybody loves the Princess Bride, and, you know, it's one of those absolute classics, possibly the best swordfight ever filmed, but leaving the Princess Bride aside, do you do you have a favourite swordfight?


JB:  I mean, it is one of them. So the sort of go tos are, I love The Princess Bride because it's amazing. They all tend to be Bob Anderson, to be honest, because I like the ones in Empire Strikes Back. I like Elena and Zorro in the mask of Zorro with Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas. It's just beautiful. I like Jack versus Will in the blacksmith’s shop in Pirates of the Caribbean. And even though it's technically very bad, I really love the throne room fight in The Last Jedi. And I love to say that because it makes people so angry.


GW: Why?


JB: Well, first of all, a lot of people really dislike The Last Jedi as a movie, which is fine. It's a movie. You can like it or dislike it. It’s your opinion and you are entitled to it. But because they hate the movie so much, they also don't like the fight. Although I had a few people say I like the fight, but I didn't like the rest of the movie very much. And I was like, well, that's fair. The way they put it together and I basically did a whole episode on why doesn't look as polished as it could have. The way they put it together was they did lots of long takes. They basically didn't have any stunt performer stand ins for Adam Driver or for Daisy Ridley. I think I saw like one shot, which was a stunt woman for Daisy Ridley, and I couldn't find any which were a stunt man for Adam Driver. And then they did loads of these long takes with eight guys fighting, these two people in the middle, stuff is on fire. Stuff is really on fire. The outfits the Red Guards are in, the helmets, they can't really see. This is kind of the perfect storm of, oh, no. And so you've got your guys twirling to nowhere and you've got your bits where you have to VFX out knives and you've got lots of things which are kind of technically improvable if you want to put it like that. But because my background is in stage combat, I can see all of the things about it which you could try and fix or improve. But the most important thing for me in a movie swordfight is how does it make you feel? What does it do with the story? What does it tell you about the characters? How does it drive the plot forward? And I remember the first time I saw it in the cinema and it took me right back to being eight years old and watching Empire Strikes Back and being like, this is the most amazing thing ever. The feeling that it gives me is really good, even if technically speaking, it could be improved.


GW:  OK, so they had an enormous budget and plenty of time, plenty of money. And because The Force Awakens had made loads of money so they were willing to chuck loads of money to this film. Why do you think they let the technical level of that fight slip?


JB:  I don't know. When you're creating a fight, whether it's for theatre or for film, you always have to trade off what it is that you want. And I think that it's difficult to say. Basically, I think they were wildly overambitious.


GW:  OK.


JB:  Because it's one thing to say we're going to have this fight, we're going to spend X number of months training our actors to do it. Great. I mean, you have the time, you have the money, that's fine. But then when you add into that, we're going to add a really complicated set, which is also an extremely uncomfortable environment to work in because parts of it are on fire. So it's very hot. You then add in that you've got eight people against two people.


GW: That’s hard to choreograph.


JB: It gets just exponentially harder every extra person you add. If it had been me, I'd have been like six opponents maximum. And we're going to dispatch at least two of them as quickly as possible.


GW:  I've choreographed a six person stage combat thing for the opening of the Mask of Zorro in Edinburgh when it opened 1999 or whenever it was. We put on this show a few minutes before the movie began and it had me, I was Zorro, my companion, Susan, there was the captain of the guards and then there were two other guards. So that was five of us. And really quickly we got it down to two people. And the guards, we did the classic thing where I'm standing in between them and they lunge at each other and I roll out and they stab each other over the top of me. Every single time in rehearsal, my hat had fallen off, my cloak went over my head, my bullwhip got wrapped around my clothes or whatever. But on the night, it just went perfectly. But yeah, we didn't want lots and lots of things happening all the time. It was just too complicated. So we thought, OK, let's kill everybody off quickly. So the two guards were killed off quickly. Susan was injured and out of the fight and then it was just me and the captain of the guards. And we fought. The whole thing went really well. Trying to get eight on two is just a nightmare.


JB:  You can do it, but if somebody said to me, OK, I want to fight and there are going to be eight guys versus our two heroes, I'd be like, great, can I have the stunt people now? Just because every extra person makes it so much more complicated. So then you have eight guys versus two people, which is already very complicated. And then you add in the fact that the stunt performers, who are the ones you are relying on to sell it because your actors are great, but they're not, you know,


GW:  Highly trained stunt people.


JB:  Yeah, training them for X number of months is not the same. They can't see what they're doing very well. And then you're going to compound this problem by making everything as long a take as possible. And so the opening shot is just thematically amazing, because you have two characters who have till this point been enemies turning their backs on each other and drawing their swords so they can defeat the people who are coming to kill them. It's like I see what you're trying to do with all of this chaos around them. And in the middle, you have the two characters, and that's wonderful. But that's like 30 plus moves in a single shot, which lasts about 10 seconds. And it's just absolute chaos.


GW:  Which actually isn't necessarily that unrealistic because you would expect a certain degree of chaos.


JB:  Probably not so much random twirling though.


GW:  Well, OK. I think I know what you mean by random twirling, but just to make sure, what do you mean by that?


JB:  Well, by which I mean all of the red guard rush in at the same time, but several of them stop on the way to twirl dramatically. They're not near anybody. It's just that they're running too fast. And so they're like, yes, well, we'll just do a dramatic flourish. Yeah, I see what you did there. And that is a function of having eight people against two. But I feel like we could have cut this down a little bit and made it simpler.


GW:  You know, I haven't watched that one for a little while. And it is one of my daughter's favourites. I have two daughters and the younger one is quite into the whole Star Wars thing. And she particularly likes Rey. We actually we watched The Rise of Skywalker recently. My kids aren't really into swords, but seeing one of my children go, wow, so cool and pick up a stick and start treating it like it was a lightsaber, that's like, maybe there's hope, maybe they will eventually take up the art. Lightsabers are a really good gateway drug.


JB:  Yeah, very much so. I have an Anakin’s lightsaber. We also have Luke's green lightsaber.


GW:  That's my favourite. That's my favourite one, because Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars film I ever saw and I saw it in the cinema at that moment on that on Jabba's barge, where Luke does that kind of flippy thing and catches his lightsaber and starts slaughtering everyone. I think that's probably the moment when I was just fixated on swords.


JB:  Fair. So we have those and we also have two kind of aluminium stunt lightsabers. And yeah, my little one is very into it because the stunt lightsabers come with, you can change the colour and there's like a 20 colour LED. And now, today, it’s going to be purple and this one I think we’ll have yellow, daddy come fight me! Mummy, I want to play fighting.


GW:  How old's this one?


JB: Five.


GW: That’s a good age. So they must be enormous on her.


JB:  Yeah.


GW:  So I'm not familiar with the stunt lightsabers.


JB:  Basically it just means everything is kind of integral to it and the blade is fixed so you can't remove the blade. It's like a single machined piece with all of the stuff inside and you plug in the little thing at the bottom to charge it and you can't remove the blade. So it's basically meant to be reasonably affordable and also very tough so that you can whack it against a lot of things.


GW:  Where do I get one of these?


JB:  I got mine from Saberzone, I think it's called


GW:  Saberzone, OK.


JB:  They also have child sized ones, which I also considered, if only because it means I'm likely to get rapped on the knuckles less.


GW:  Yes, there's nothing like the enthusiasm of a kid coming at you with a lightsaber to teach you to protect your hands.


JB: Indeed.


GW: Yeah. Fantastic. I need to go shopping clearly because my daughter actually said, you know, she would quite like to have, but she's not quite sure which lightsaber she wants. But she's thinking probably Leia’s from Rise of Skywalker.


JB:  That's fair.


GW:  Yeah, because it's really cool and it's a cool sword. OK, so he's going to Saberzone and start buying lightsabers. It's going to get expensive. How much are they, more or less?


JB:  I am not sure. I think that the children's ones are under a hundred pounds. But I got a deal on mine and so I think it was also under 100 pounds.


GW:  Wow, OK compared to a proper sword, that’s pretty cheap.


JB:  They were like, we're having a sale. And I was like, yes!


GW:  And the blades of these polycarbonate tubes? Very exciting. OK, so Star Wars aside, people keep asking me, are there any good, from a historical martial arts perspective, good screen fights and my general answer is yes, with smallsword and sabre. No, with rapier or longsword. Because they never do historical fencing with rapiers or longswords, as far as I can tell, on screen. I think I'm coming at it from a slightly different angle. So, if you wanted to highlight the pinnacle of the stage combatant's craft, where would you point people?


JB:  Um. Probably it kind of depends. Things with Errol Flynn in generally because I mean it's named, sort of waving your sword about in a generally martial, but mostly just flashy fashion is called Flynning for a reason, just because it looks really impressive. And it's very flashy and cool and it makes six year olds want to pick up sticks. I think for storytelling, my first stage combat teacher, when we asked him about his favourite swordfight, he always said the one at the end of Rob Roy with Liam Neeson.


GW:  That is really good. And Tim Roth, isn’t it?


JB:  Yes, it tells the story so well and it tells us a mini story inside the fight. And you continue to have the characters reinforce the story right up to the end. And so that's a pretty good one from a storytelling perspective. And it's not particularly unrealistic either, which is nice.


GW:  I haven't seen it for a while, but I don't recall any sort of stupid bits where impossible things occur, like even the bit of the end, I shan't spoil it for people who haven't seen it. They need to go find it on YouTube or something and watch. Or you just buy the DVD if people buy DVDs anymore and watch that final fight and the thing at the end actually would work. How can I do this without spoiling it, you know what I mean though? People would look at that who don't know swords and go no, that would never work. But actually people who do know swords would go, I've actually done stuff like that and it's fine. Even with sharp swords, it works just fine. In fact, it actually works better in real life than it does in the movie. You’re less likely to cut yourself. But yes. OK, that's a good choice. OK, now a bit of a segue. You have a separate channel for hair care. Now all I can see at the moment is, you're wearing these great big headphones like me and one wouldn't know. But you have like a tutorial on creating Princess Leia’s laced braids, for instance. And when my kids come home from school and I tell them what I did today, I will be pointing them both to that channel of yours, because I think that find that more interesting that the swords. So what made you decide to do a hair care channel?


JB:  That was mostly because I had a whole bunch of hair tutorials, which I'd done before. I just did a series of them because I felt like it. I have a lot of hair. So then I thought maybe I should show them all on a separate channel instead, because then if you're looking for a Princess Leia hair tutorial, then you can search for it and you can find it on the separate place as opposed to come to my channel and you go, is this about swords or hair or I'm a little confused. Which is why I haven't really put anything else on it recently because I've just been making other stuff, but I have really large quantities of hair and I like to do stuff with it, and so I was like, well, I'll just do some Star Wars hair tutorials because I think I have roughly enough hair for that now. Why not? When I did sort of straight media analysis videos, I did a series which talked about each of the Star Wars, like the prequels and then the original trilogy. And for each one of them, I did a hairstyle for the video that was from the movie. Unfortunately, most of them were the kind where the back of your head is really fancy. So it'd be like I spent 10 minutes putting this hairstyle together and none of you can see it. So I'm going to turn it around so you could see it now. OK, on with the video.


GW:  Have you done Emilia Clark's character in Game of Thrones? She has amazing hair braids and things, because for the Dothraki, your braids are there to symbolise victories. And so every season her hair gets more complicatedly braidy.


JB:  I don't think I've done any of those, I have watched a few, but I've never watched Game of Thrones. It is one of those things where people are like, really? Also I watched one episode of The Witcher and went, wow, the fights in this are amazing. But also no, let's just not.


GW:  I enjoyed Game of Thrones, up until the last season, which was terrible. But The Witcher I had the same thing. I watched it and thought, this is beautifully produced. The fight was pretty good. The monsters were really well done. But it just didn't work for me at all. I guess I just didn't care about any of the characters at the end of it.


JB:  For me, I don't watch TV to get depressed.


GW:  Yeah, fair enough.


JB:  This is just unrelentingly grim, isn't it? OK, well, no, I'm OK. Thanks. I'm just going to go over here and watch something else.


GW:  I found the same thing. Particularly during these pandemic times, is that my tolerance for the unrelentingly grim has just disappeared. I started reading this absolutely brilliant book called The Mars Room, I think it was. And it was like America. This black woman has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for something that she almost certainly didn't do. And it's all just unrelentingly grim and blah. And I got about ten pages in. I thought, I just can't cope with this. So it's on the shelf to read in happier times, and I went and got a book that I knew would deliver an absolute feel good hit, one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and I read that instead, and I felt much better immediately. OK, so leaving aside The Witcher, leaving aside Game of Thrones, OK, with Game of Thrones I have to say a couple of things. Firstly, you're not missing anything when it comes to the fights. The sword fight in Game of Thrones are unremittingly terrible. People who are supposedly famously good sword people are just absurdly rubbish at swinging swords around. It does not make sense. So I think you are safe missing Game of Thrones, but is there any other series where we should be looking out for good swordfights in?


JB:  Nothing else really springs to mind at the moment, I don't think. I don't watch a lot of series because that implies like a level of time commitment that I usually don't have. I think the last series I watched the whole way through had no swords in it at all. Well, no, that's not true. I watched the Mandalorian. I watched the Mandalorian. And the Mandalorian is really interesting to me. Not really because of the fights particularly, but just because of the way that people react to it, because I liked it and I was like, this is great. I'm enjoying this. This is nice. I will watch the next season when it comes out. Wonderful. But the level of love that people have for it and everybody, it doesn't matter what you thought about the prequel. It doesn't matter if you like the prequels, it doesn't matter if you like the sequels. It doesn't matter what any of those other things. Everyone seems to enjoy the Mandalorian. And I'm like, that is really fascinating. I don't quite know why, but I’m here for it, I'm not quite sure why.


GW:  OK, I have a theory. Basically, the original Star Wars movie is fundamentally a Western. And so the original DNA is like a Western movie. And the Mandalorian is a pure “stranger comes to town” Western. It has this kind of flawless connection with the source of the origin story and origin source of the whole Star Wars project, and it doesn't have any of that kind of crappy distractions that you get in the first three movies, episodes one to three. It doesn't have the hokeyness of the four or five and six. And it doesn't have any of the odd lack of plotting in the last three. I mean, the plot holes in the last three movies, you could drive trucks through all of them. But Mandalorian is much more tightly plotted, is it has its gaps and whatever. But all of the crap is stripped away and it's just the pure Western and to my mind, it's great TV. Like Rogue One. Probably the best of the new Star Wars movies, as a movie. But to me, it didn't deliver the Star Wars hit at all because there were no lightsabers. There were no Jedis and no lightsabers. And to me, Star Wars is all about Jedis and lightsabers. And so the Mandalorian, to me, it wasn't really Star Wars, but it was a great kind of sci fi Western that happened to be set in a universe where a lightsaber might show up any minute, which kept me paying attention just in case a lightsaber showed up.


JB:  I felt kind of the same about Rogue One, I know some people who were like, yes, it was the Star Wars experience for me again. I was like, really? I didn't get that at all. But I think that was also kind of because I watched it and I was like, see, but I don't go to the cinema to be depressed either. This is not going to end well and I'm going to be sad. There are enough depressing things in the world. And so I watched it and I was like that was that was a decent movie. It was a well-made movie. I'm glad I saw it. I have no particular desire to watch it again, though.


GW:  Yeah. I mean, I've seen it once and I recognise it's a very well made movie and it's higher quality than most of the rest in terms of script and plotting or whatever. But yeah, not a Star Wars movie for me. OK, now I have a couple of questions that I tend to include interviews with. And the first is, what is the best idea you haven’t acted on?


JB:  That is probably going to be video related, because I have lots of really good ideas for videos but that require other people. And so I really wanted to get half a dozen people together and put together, a good kind of, this is how you do a group fight and have it work well and tell a story. I'm like, that is a really good idea. And I think lots of people would like it. But also it's going to require so much organisation and also people being in the same place at the same time, which is has been tricky to arrange over the last 12 month period.


GW:  OK, so a video with basically teaching people how to put together a good one against many fight.


JB:  A little while ago, I had a Patreon goal and I got a friend of mine who is a fight choreographer, and I was like, come and be Petruchio and I will be Kate. And we will do a scene from The Taming of the Shrew, but with more violence in it, which was great. But it was by necessity, because I didn't have a lot of money or time or whatever, it was very small scale and now I have lots of subscribers on YouTube and sponsors and stuff. I could do this and have a budget of more than 300 pounds, which would be great.


GW:  Yeah, well, actually, I don't think you'd have a hard time getting volunteers together. People with swords and what have you, because there's loads of historical martial arts clubs around who might be willing to collaborate on something like that.


JB:  That's true, I mean, I tend to prefer to pay people anyway when I can, but I'm like, now, that's actually a possibility. So that's kind of cool.


GW:  So the patronage model is working for you?


JB:  Yeah, pretty well.


GW:  That's good to hear because I know some people for whom it works really well and others for whom it doesn't work so well. What do you think the key to success is?


JB:  I've had a Patreon since 2014, I think, and so it used to be just for the kind of regular media analysis videos that I made and it’s really, really personal connection driven because I used to have an audience of under 5000 subscribers and I still made about five hundred dollars a month on Patreon. Now, I have like five times that number of subscribers, but I make about twice that on Patreon, which is not bad at all. I'm very happy about it. But the deeper the connection that the audience has with you, the more likely they are to be like, take my money and do something cool with it, just because I want to see that. And so I think having an established audience before starting the Patreon helped because you have spent years with me at this point, or at least a couple of them. You know who I am. And it's what we do here. So it makes it easier. Also, honestly, I think when you're a little bit smaller, the relative proportion of people who give to you on Patreon, there is kind of sweet spot in there. I'm not sure where it is. I think I've blown past it. But again, not complaining. It's awesome. But when you're very, very small, you can still make decent money on Patreon because of that personal connection with your audience. If you're really big and you have a Patreon and then people might think, well, you already earn enough money anyway, you don’t need me anymore.


GW:  Yeah. You don't need my help. OK, interesting. All right, now my last question: somebody gives you a million quid to improve swordsmanship as represented on screen. How would you spend it?


JB:  I think probably I would start with sending everyone who is ever going to be involved in a longsword fight to some kind of intensive course where they learn about longsword specifically.


GW:  Longsword fights on screen are always shit.


JB:  Like the Game of Thrones thing, particularly. I haven't seen a lot of the fights from there, but I look at it and I haven't done a lot of longsword, though, when I did it, I was like, I like this much better than arming sword, this is great. Because I did an arming sword course, and I went in to work the next day with a wrist brace on because my wrist hurt so much. I was like, clearly this is a technique problem which I will have to work on. But also, ow. But then they give you a longsword and you get two hands. Yes, that is excellent. But they don't seem to they don't seem to know how to use having two hands to make it move. If you understand what I mean. OK, look, everybody likes giant two handed swords in their fantasy movies. Fantasy movies are great. Let's do that. So let's learn how to use them so that you can actually use the momentum of having two hands to be able to turn them rather than just bashing each other like it's a really big stick.


GW:  Right. OK, so you would spend the money sending anyone who's ever going to hold longsword on the screen to I guess people like me to teach about longsword. I think that's a brilliant use of the money.


JB:  Because it's one thing to be told how to use something or to be taught it in a week, but to actually practise it over a slightly longer period of time would I feel be helpful because I mean I passed my basic exams in 2018, and I still have the rehearsal footage and I'm like, oh baby Jill. It was a time. I was so tired and I'm holding it like it weighs so much because I was just completely out of it and now I'm like, yes, no, this is much easier, I know what I'm doing now. But more practise, more practise for everyone.


GW:  Honestly, I think that is a perfect place to conclude because, yes, more practise for everyone, I couldn’t agree more. Well, thank you very much for joining me today. It's been a delight.


JB:  Thank you. It's been great.

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