Brian Skiba on his action thriller ‘Pursuit’

John Cusack as John Calloway in the thriller film, PURSUIT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Writer/Director Brian Skiba brings us an epic action thriller with his new film, Pursuit.

John Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank) and Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) star in this action-thriller about a tough cop’s hunt for an even tougher criminal. Calloway (Hirsch), a ruthless hacker, is desperate to find his wife – who’s been kidnapped by a drug cartel – when he crosses paths with Detective Breslin. But after Calloway escapes police custody, Breslin joins forces with a no-nonsense female cop to reclaim his prisoner. But is Calloway’s crime-boss father (Cusack) somehow involved in this explosive situation?

Check out my interview with Brian!

In addition to being the director, you were one of the writers. How did the collaboration with the other two writers came to be? 

Brian: Sure. So the story was a brainchild of Andrew Stevens, a producer and actor in the film. Andrew had done the Walking Tall stories, and so he went to Dawn and Alan Bursteen and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to do another Walking Tall-esque show.’ And so they brought in Ben Fiore and they wrote the first draft. At the time, I was working with Andrew on a few other projects and he came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this show. I like to bring on as a director. Here’s where we’re at with a first draft. We’d like you to go in and do a director’s polish.’ And it ended up being a fairly significant rewrite, enough to give me writer’s credit. And once that was done, that’s kind of where the script landed until the actors came in. And once the actors came in, especially John (Cusack), he and I kind of got it to its final draft. 

Jake Manley as Mike Breslin and Elizabeth Ludlow as Zoe Carter in the thriller film, PURSUIT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
The fight scenes were so cool! What inspired how you shot them?

Brian: I love 80s and 90s action. I love action on the screen. I love shooting it and I feel like the more you can do in camera, the better, especially with action films. Everything’s practical, the explosions, the gunfire, you know, I had one of the best special effects guys in the business and  an award winning stunt team. My stunt team, they’re off the Mandalorian, they’re off Spider Man… these guys, their resumes are huge! When we started designing the fights and the action, I had these fantastic talents to pull from and so I would go and walk up to a guy, and say, ‘This is what we’re gonna do.’ Then we talk it through and they just bring it to a whole different level. And then to have Frank (Ceglia), the special effects guy, there to be like, ‘Hey, Frank, we want to do this,’ and he would just rig it up and do it. It was really nice. It’s almost like, you know, the doors were opening we’re able to do a lot of what we wanted as long as it fit within the time allotted.

What was it like working with the cast? 

Brian: John is an artist, and he and I hit it off. He is very, very meticulous about his character, the lines and what they mean, and it was great to work with somebody that actually thrives on telling a great story. And then Emile’s just a fantastic character actor. He came in and he and I talked about this character and we developed Rick and made him multifaceted. And Emile came up with the voice and was like, ‘hey, here it is,’ and  pitched it to me and it was just like, ‘yeah, man!’ And then we got Bill Katt, who’s a longtime friend of mine, and he’s another phenomenal actor. Jake Manley is up and coming and I was very fortunate to get him on board and this.

And then Elizabeth Ludlow, she was one that came to us. We were looking for that role, and three days before we started shooting, we’re getting a little nervous and she had just wrapped on Peacemaker and her people called her and said, ‘you got to go do this show,’ and so they put her on an airplane from Canada to Arkansas. She came right off Peacemaker into our show and it was one of the best castings we’ve ever made on that film because she is just a powerhouse. I mean, just phenomenal. She’s got such a future ahead of her.

We also had Graham Patrick Martin. I had to get him on the phone with me, because when they first came to me saying he wanted to play this bad guy, I was like, ‘That’s not who I remember Graham playing on Two Men and a Baby.’ He started pitching me this character and by the end of the phone call, I was 100% convinced and he was right because the character he brings us in that show is fantastic and just so layered and so corrupt and you almost love hating him. I was very fortunate to end up with this cast of great people. I’ve got football player, David Irving, and, you know, Andrew Stevens, even though he produced it, he’s like, ‘hey, if you want me somewhere…’ and I was like, ‘yeah!’ So, we made him one of our bad guys. Again, Andrew’s a legacy and I was very fortunate because having a great cast helps tell the story a lot easier.

Jake Manley as Mike Breslin and Elizabeth Ludlow as Zoe Carter in the thriller film, PURSUIT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
What would you say was your favorite part of this entire process?

Brian: I love filmmaking, I love every aspect. I mean, it’s a hard thing to do and it can be soul crushing at times, and then there’s times where it’s like, you put yourself out there and you think you’re gonna get the job and you just don’t and the reason why you don’t get it just doesn’t make any sense. And that’s sort of the same for actors. And directing is the same, you sometimes say, ‘man, I’ve put all this time into it and this guy he’s done he’s done it for 3 days and got lucky.’ There’s points where it gets a little tough but as long as you love the process, every day is a great day and that’s really it. I mean, yeah, there are days where I get down and then I start editing and I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. I love putting stories on the screen with music and great performances and the way it makes you feel and my favorite part is, well, unfortunately we’re not doing it a lot right now, but it was sitting there at the premieres and just listening and watching the audience’s reactions to everything.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about Pursuit?

Brian: It’s definitely a labor of love. I mean, we spent six weeks in Arkansas, in the hottest, stickiest season with all the bugs. I mean, everything you could imagine that would happen in the heat of Arkansas did. It really is a labor of love. And ultimately, I feel like this is one of those movies that a lot of people can identify with some character in this movie and really cheer for and root for even though they might be the bad guy. I feel like liking those anti-heroes is okay. I hope people walk away with something.

Emile Hirsch as Rock Calloway in the thriller film, PURSUIT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Pursuit releases on-demand and in theaters on February 18.