Director James Cullen Bressack discusses his new Lionsgate feature film Survive The Game, starring Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray.
Survive The Game will be available in Select Theaters and on Apple TV from October 8, 2021. The film will also release on Blu-ray and DVD from October 12, 2021.
Read on below for our interview with director James Cullen Bressack all about the film, his own background/beginnings and more. Alternatively, check out the audio version on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel, linked below.
Welcome James and thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.
James Cullen Bressack (JCB): Conor, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. And thank you for your interest in the movie and watching it.
We’ll be discussing your new directorial feature Survive The Game. However, before getting into that directly, could you tell us how you developed an interest in directing and who/what inspired you to pursue it professionally?
JCB: At a very young age, I really loved movies. I was the kid who was like a walking IMDB, thought it would be fun to know… say, “Hey, who’s in this movie?” I’d be like, “Oh, this guy!” Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was memorized in this head. I was raised by two showbusiness veterans – my Dad was a 3-time Emmy Award-winning writer (Gordon Bressack), who passed a couple of years ago. He was one of the head writers of Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon, The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo. My Mom (Ellen Gerstell) did voice acting.
I kind of grew up around it and my passion for film came from my Dad. He’d show me movies, pause the movie and ask me questions about it all the time. Why is the camera doing this? From there, I really started to fall in love with the process of making movies and storytelling. It became something that I absorbed and wanted to do. I remember in middle school, my teachers would give me a book report. I would make a short film about why I didn’t want to do the book report.
How would you describe the plot of Survive The Game, for anyone who may be unfamiliar?
JCB: I would say the plot of Survive The Game is… Chad Michael Murray’s character falls asleep, he wakes up and an entire action movie is on his front lawn. Good guys, bad guys, Bruce WIllis. Everybody’s there, just trying to wreck stuff, kill each other, get out of this alive. Chad has to navigate this action movie from out of nowhere. It’s nonstop action. Literally, when I say it arrives on his front lawn, it actually goes beyond the front lawn and onto his doorstep. People are just fighting in the middle of his house. It’s good guys vs bad guys, a lot of fun.
When approaching Survive The Game, were there any particular film influences that helped to inform your directing style?
JCB: I think there’s a lot of inspiration throughout the whole movie. I was inspired by the movies I grew up on, the action movies I saw as a kid like all the stuff Joel Silver was putting together, the 80s. The good tough guy movies from the 80s were a lot of fun but didn’t take themselves too seriously. Stuff like Demolition Man, Cobra. The Schwarzenegger movies as well. In my mind, the movie harks back to all of that stuff. I sprinkled in a little bit of Elmore Leonard with the dialogue and tried to have a lot of fun with this movie.
The cast is led by film veteran Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray, who people may recognise from One Tree Hill or Riverdale. From your perspective, was there any pressure in working with such well-known actors?
JCB: Bruce and I had a good relationship from the jump when I met him. Bruce was really easy to work with, he brings a lot of magic to the screen. He has some adlibs in the movie that were not scripted, he throws into the movie stuff that really lights up the screen and brings that Bruce Willis charm. The looks he gives, it’s just Bruce.
Chad and I hit it off immediately. He and I started talking very early on before we started filming. Chad became a very good friend of mine and I think he’s an unbelievably talented human being. Beyond that, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. One of the kindest human beings there is.
In Survive The Game, Bruce Willis plays a cop – an area very familiar to him after Die Hard. How conscious were you in differentiating this character and John McClane, despite them sharing a profession?
JCB: I think he does a lot of different stuff in this movie than he does there. Some of the dialogue does become a little John McClane-y just inherently because Bruce is saying it. That’s the issue with making movies like this. No matter what, they’re always going to compare him to John McClane. For me, he’s always going to be Hartigan from Sin City, because that was my jam. That was my favourite Bruce movie. I’m not really too concerned with what other people are doing when it comes to stuff like that. I’m just trying to make what’s best for my movie. If it makes people think of John McClane, great. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. To me, I did what was the most possible fun for the film I was making.
If you could go back to the start of shooting and give that James some advice about what’s to come on this film, what would you tell him?
JCB: I would say, “It’s really hot outside, drink some more water!” I had a blast making the movie, man. I think we got really lucky. We had an amazing cast and crew, it was just an awesome experience. I really, really enjoyed it. I hope people can see that there was a lot of love put into this movie.
In your opinion, what’s one thing more people should be aware of before committing to pursuing directing as a career, or entering the entertainment industry as a whole?
JCB: Ultimately, I think the goals shouldn’t outweigh the want to do the art. You know what I mean? For me, as a filmmaker, the first and most important thing is the audience and people watching it. I try to make stuff that I think I would’ve found fun when I used to watch movies as a kid. I’m making stuff for teenage me. I’m hoping it reaches out to people. When I got super into movies in my teen years, that’s the stuff that would really resonate with people. I’m a film fan first and foremost. I feel like for me, it’s not about the money, it’s not about this.
I make movies because of not only a hunger to tell stories, I just enjoy the process in general. I feel like I have a responsibility to my audience to put my all into anything that I do. If I’m onboard something, I pour everything I have into it. I’d rather die of dehydration out there making it than be at home going like, “Oh man! I didn’t try hard enough and that’s why people don’t like it.” In my mind, I’d rather fail upwards – fail a little better each time than just give up.
Professionally or personally, what do you hope to accomplish in the near future?
JCB: I try not to focus on stuff like that. I’ve been very blessed in my career to work as much as I have. I hope to just continue working. I’ve been very fortunate that people believed in me and what I’m able to do. Hopefully, they continue to and hopefully, the people that watch my movies enjoy them. I hope I continue to make stuff a little better each time.
Where can people catch Survive The Game once it’s out?
JCB: You can catch Survive The Game anywhere on VOD and Blu-Ray on October 12th. It’s limited in theaters on the 8th, here in the US.
Thanks again for taking the time, James. Take care and stay safe!
JCB: Thank you so much for talking to me. You rock man, thank you so much.