James Cullen Bressack gets the band back together in ‘Fortress’ 

Director James Cullen Bressack behind the scenes image. Photo courtesy of Randi Lamehy.
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

When we last spoke with James Cullen Bressack, he was celebrating the premiere of Survive the Game, which also stars Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray, and now he’s getting the band back together for the visually stunning action cyber-thriller, Fortress.

Bruce Willis (Pulp Fiction) plays Robert, a retired CIA agent living at a secret resort in the woods. One day, his estranged son drives to the camp for a visit — but he’s followed by Robert’s old nemesis, Balzary (Chad Michael Murray, “One Tree Hill”). As the site is besieged by Balzary’s attack squad, father and son retreat to a high-tech bunker. But are its steel walls and advanced weapons powerful enough to match Balzary’s bloodthirsty plans for revenge?

Check out my interview with James!

First off, I loved Fortress, it is visually stunning. How did you approach the visuals of this film?

James: So I mean, I know this is gonna sound really weird, but I wanted this movie to be really big and the way I thought of it was like Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams. I wanted the camera to always be moving. And I started to think like, ‘Okay, well, if it’s upstairs, like before they’re downstairs in the fortress, all of the stuff in the jungle and upstairs is like Jurassic Park, but without the dinosaurs. And then everything below ground is like a spaceship, kinda like Star Trek.’ That’s the vibe I was going for.

Same with your transitions, my favorite was when they were looking through the security camera, and then just it transitioned into real time, so good.

James: Yeah, that was fun. That was something that my editor and I came up with, and I thought it was really cool.

Kelly Greyson as Kate
and Jesse Metcalfe as Paul in the action film,
FORTRESS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionssgate
And the location was beautiful. Where was this filmed?

James: I filmed the whole movie in Puerto Rico and we shot in a very expansive part of the jungle. My first AD wanted to shoot in one area of the jungle but I was like, no, every couple of scenes I want to change where we were to make the jungle seem so vast and gigantic.

There’s a really strong father son theme throughout. What was it like juxtaposing that with all of the action?

James: I think at the heart of the entire film, that father son theme is what propels the movie and it’s what makes you interested. So, juxtaposing that against the action definitely felt natural for me. I mean, you’re experiencing the movie as if you are Jesse Metcalfe’s character. Is your father telling the truth? Is your father a liar? You’re figuring out all this stuff as he figures it out. We’re kind of going through the emotional rollercoaster of this fish out of water, learning these things about his father that he thought he knew. And I definitely think that the audience takes that journey with Jesse.

And Jesse even looks like he could be Bruce’s real life son.

James: Yeah, I thought it was pretty good casting.

What was it like working with Bruce and Jesse to create that bond with them?

James: Bruce and Jesse had worked together before on a movie called Hard Kill, so they already had a connection. Bruce and I had already worked together as well, so I thought it kind of just flowed pretty easily in that sense, because there was a familiarity between everybody.

Chad Michael Murray’s performance in this movie was so good! 

James: Chad is so much fun to work with. I love that guy, he’s awesome. His character in this is so different from his character in Survive the Game. In Survive the Game, he was the hero. This time, he’s something different. I’m excited for people to meet Frederick Balzary. He’s very crazy and intense and I think a lot of fun.

Chad Michael Murray as Balzary and Bruce Willis as Robert in the action film, FORTRESS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
What was it like with the three of you kind of reuniting for Fortress?

James: Yeah, it was great. We knew we were coming back to do this movie together while we were filming Survive the Game. When we were wrapping that, we were like, ‘see ya in a couple months.’ It was definitely cool. It was like getting the band back together.

Are there plans for the three of you to reunite again for something in the future?

James: Who knows? No plans yet, but you never know. I’d definitely be open to it. It’s a lot of fun working with Chad and Bruce.

In addition to the acting, the characterization in this movie was so great. And the dialogue was just so funny. What is it like making a very humorous action thriller?

James: I definitely wanted to have humor there. I’m a firm believer that action movies should be fun, they’re pure entertainment. So I tried to have serious stuff but also some comedy in there as well. Whereas, Survive the Game was almost mostly comedy, I feel like this has kind of a more even balance.

And one of the breakouts was Michael Sirow’s Ken Blaine. I was not expecting that at all.

James: Yeah, he’s so much fun in the movie, I mean, he cracks me up at all times in that movie. It’s just a ridiculous and fun character. Especially when he’s listening to that song, when he picks them up. He’s a lot of fun. Michael was great to work with and it was really interesting as well because we had him play literally the opposite character from what he played in Survive the Game. He was the bad guy.

Last time we spoke, for Survive the Game, you mentioned that you put yourself into your movies as kind of like a Hitchcock thing. Did you do that with this one?

James: Yes, I am in this movie. I’m in the car that picks up Frederick Balzary. I turn around and offer him a water bottle. I said, `would you like water?’ and he’s like, ‘just drive.’ That’s where I am in the movie. And I thought that was pretty funny because anybody who knows me knows that I really never drive. I think I’ve put like 2000 miles on my car in like six years. I get anxiety when driving so I thought it was hilarious that I was somebody’s driver in a movie. Anybody who knows me well would see that as unrealistic. Why would he be the driver?

Bruce Willis as Robert
in the action film, FORTRESS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionssgate
There’s going to be a Fortress 2, are you involved with that film?

James: No, I have no involvement with Fortress 2. But I hear it’s cool. I was working on finishing up post and finishing Fortress 1, so the schedule for it just didn’t allow there to be the same director across both of them. So, I’m in the same boat as everybody. I’m excited to find out what happens… I hear that there’s going to be a Fortress 3 as well, but only the first two have shot. I have no clue what happens in the third one or the second one.

So when you came on to Fortress, did you know that there were going to be more? 

James: Yes. So there was a lot of pressure in that sense because I wanted to establish the world of Fortress. I wanted to establish the entire environment because I knew it was going to take place in the similar locations that I had established, with the characters, so I really wanted to expand and do it big because I felt like I had the pressure of, not only that this movie has to be fun, but it has to be like, three movies worth fun.

What else are you working on?

James: So the next movie I have is with the same company, and with LionsGate, Grindstone and an EFO and it’s called Hot Seat. It stars Mel Gibson, Kevin Dillon and Shannen Doherty. We are in post right now, but sometime next year, people will see this movie. I’m excited for people to check it out. It’s gonna be a fun one.

Is there anything else that you’d like to say about Fortress?

James: I’m just really hoping that people enjoy it and they watch it and get involved in the mystery. I think it’s a wild ride. It is definitely a different tone than Survive the Game and I’m hoping people enjoy this one.

Jesse Metcalfe as Paul
and Chad Michael Murray as Balzary
in the action film, FORTRESS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Fortress will be available in select theaters and on demand December 17 and then on DVD and Blu-ray December 21.