James Cullen Bressack on his throwback action film ‘Survive the Game’

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

James Cullen Bressack gives us a throwback action crime thriller with a fresh take on a typical Bruce Willis character in Survive the Game.

Synopsis: A Man’s life on his farm is interrupted when a cop and a pair of dangerous criminals show up. When cop David (Bruce Willis) is injured in a drug bust gone wrong, his partner, Cal (Swen Temmel), pursues the two criminals who shot him to a remote farm owned by troubled vet Eric (Chad Michael Murray). As Cal and Eric plot their defence, more of the gang arrives — along with a wounded David — and, outnumbered, the three heroes must use stealth, smarts, and marksmanship to take down the drug-dealing mob…

Check out my interview with James!

First off, how did you come to direct this film?

James: It’s a very boring answer but I was hired to direct the film. I met with Tim Sullivan at EFO, he thought I was right for the project and he introduced me to Randall Emmett and George Furla. I told them my ideas for the movie and they were all for it and they went fast and furious and I was on a plane a few days later… I’m very grateful. Tim and Randall and George gave me a huge opportunity and I’m very grateful.

Since we’re still in COVID times, when did you shoot this film?

James: March of this year, like March or April, so we filmed it right smack dab in the middle of COVID. There were definitely challenges. We had to get tested every two days and wear masks at all times. It slows down film production, so it has challenges because movies have to move so quickly. COVID definitely has changed the way we make movies.

When they brought you in to talk about your ideas for the film, did you know that you were going to be shooting during COVID?

James: Yeah, I did.

Did you have to modify some of your ideas because of that or did they still give you free rein with things?

James: I got to keep the same ideas that I wanted. We just had to listen to the COVID safety officers on set and what they recommended.

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
According to your IMDb page, a lot of your films are set in this action thriller universe. What is it about these genres that you really like?

James: I started off in horror and I feel like I did everything I could, I made the types of horror movies that I wanted to make. I made horror movies for like 10 years. And now I’m making action movies. I grew up on action movies and horror movies so I feel like I’m making the action movies that I grew up on as a kid. And so I’m excited that I get to share the stuff that I was super into like Demolition Man and Cobra, and the movies of Joel Silver, Exit Wounds, and there’s Lethal Weapon. That’s the type of action that I loved as a kid. That’s exciting for me.

Did you use any of those films as inspiration for shooting this one?

James: 100% This movie is, as much as possible, I tried to make it a throwback 90s movie. This movie is supposed to feel like it could have easily been released in the 90s.

And with this film you have two really big powerhouses. You have Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray. Did you have any say in their casting?

James: I was very grateful that when I was brought on board, Bruce was already attached and then came Chad, who I was very excited to work with, I think he’s super talented. Bruce and Chad were so great to work with. I’ve done two movies with them. Super nice people. I enjoyed every minute of working with both of them.

One thing that I thought was particularly interesting about this movie is that Bruce isn’t the guy that comes in and he saves the day, it’s not his typical role. Chad almost takes over that role for him. What was it like working with them like this?

James: Yeah, it’s almost like a passing of the baton. I get what you’re saying. Chad is an action star, he does a great job in this movie and did a great job in Fortress, which is the second movie I do with him. I can’t say more things about Chad being super talented. I think with Bruce, people are gonna be surprised. Bruce still does the things you would want Bruce to do, like he’s giving brilliant one liners, he’s talking shit, he keeps going, he’s gonna kill everybody, he’s still a badass. I think Bruce had a lot of fun in this movie.

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
And you also have an acting role in the film, who do you play?

James: I play the weatherman, it’s the first scene in Chad’s house. There’s a little TV that’s playing a weather report. I was so bad that I muted myself. I’m there on the TV, but I don’t say anything. You see my mouth moving but I’m not talking because I was like, ‘oh man, pull that voice out! That guy’s annoying!’

You also play roles in your other films, too. Do you like putting yourself in your films?

James: I like to put myself in every movie that I do. I’ve been in every movie I’ve directed except Hate Crime. And that was just because it didn’t make sense to put myself in it. I like it because I feel like it’s kind of like that Hitchcock thing like, ‘hey, if people look through my movies, it’s fun for them to see me.’ The people that care and have watched my stuff, maybe like six of them, but those six people really enjoy seeing me pop up. One of them is my mom.

Throughout this whole process, there are a ton of action scenes, a ton of gunfights, and just really awesome stuff. Do you have a favorite scene?

James: Yeah, I’d say my two favorite scenes are the kitchen fight scene and the barn fight scene. Those are a lot of fun. The movie’s non-stop action. I don’t think people realize that this is, from start to finish, there’s not a lot of talking, it’s just like every two minutes some crazy thing is going on.

Right, and that’s part of what makes them awesome! They’re so fast paced and it’s just a lot to look at. Were there any scenes that posed a challenge?

James: I think movie making in general is challenging, but I was very blessed to have a wonderful cast and crew that gave the film they’re all and I think we overcame all the challenges.

So, what’s up next for you? 

James: Fortress is coming out next. I’m super proud of that movie. You know, I probably shouldn’t be saying it’s an interview about Survive The Game, but I think that Fortress is my best work, but I’m also the type where I made that one more recently than Survive The Game, so whatever the last thing I made is my best thing. I feel like I’m always growing and evolving as a filmmaker. You have to fall in love with what you’re doing, so I’m in love with the movie that I just made because I’ve been obsessed with it for months now, finishing it. But I have a couple things on the horizon. Nothing to announce yet, but I think everybody’s gonna see a couple more movies coming out pretty soon.

Before I let you go, is there anything else that you would like to add about Survive the Game?

James: I hope everybody checks it out. It is a wild ride, nonstop action, explosions, car chases, fighting, people jumping out of buildings, like this movie is a throwback 90s action movie if I’ve ever seen one. So, I hope people get that joy and don’t take it too seriously and just have fun. Grab some popcorn and watch this movie.

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Lionsgate will release the crime-thriller Survive the Game in select theaters, on Apple TV and everywhere you rent movies on October 8th! Available on Blu-ray and DVD on October 12th!