‘Fortress’ director says film’s father-son theme personal to him [Exclusive]

James Cullen Bressack, the director of the forthcoming Bruce Willis action flick Fortress, gave We Got This Covered an exclusive interview.

James Cullen Bressack, the director of the forthcoming Bruce Willis action flick Fortress, gave We Got This Covered an exclusive interview, from which we’ve been releasing a whole series of articles from our conversation this week.

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Now, we’re breaking down the upcoming movie with Bressack, covering everything from what films inspired the upcoming action title being released later this month, to how he resonated with the father-son story that is at the story’s core.

Earlier this week, we gave you our initial exclusive first look behind the scenes of the movie, with Bressack explaining what it was like working with a legendary action star like Bruce Willis. This is actually the second film Bressack has directed with Willis, with the first being Survive the Game, which was released a couple of months back. In terms of how the pair worked together this time around, Bressack said the working relationship has only improved from one film to the next. The director said he prefers to work with the same talent on screen again and again, whenever possible, in order to not have to “re-learn” the person’s style.

Bressack said he and Willis have so much camaraderie nowadays that the pair routinely cracked jokes with each other on set.

Overall, Bressack expressed his excitement for Bruce Willis fans to “see what he does” in the movie, since “Bruce is like one of the main characters in this, he’s throughout the entire film. And he has like some really substantial scenes in the film,” unlike other more recent outings for the actor where he is relegated to just a minor role.

Willis does kick a lot of butt in the movie, but the main thrust of the story, from a script penned by Alan Horsnail, revolves around a father and son reconnecting and that son discovering a shared interest his father had. We asked Bressack if there was any aspect of the story that was personal to him, to which he replied that, “it’s probably what really resonated with me about the movie.”

Bressack went on to explain that his own father passed away just a couple of years ago, “which is surreal to say in and of itself.”

“I think I gravitate to stories about fathers and sons, you know, because I had a really special relationship with my dad,” Bressack said, adding that he believes he’s able to communicate his emotional connection to that theme to his actors.”

“It’s something that I connect with and have first hand experience with.”

Bressack’s father was Gordon Bressack, an multiple Emmy award-winning writer for shows like Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Tiny Toon Adventures. In fact, Bressack’s mother is also no stranger to Hollywood as she is the voice actor Ellen Gerstell.

Bressack said his father even helped him develop the directing bug, with the Writers Guild of America Award-winning writer asking his young son to break down things in terms of filmmaking language while watching movies.

“I was like four years old, my dad told me I was going to be a director. And, you know, he would sit me down all the time and show me movies when I was a kid and he would like pause the movie and ask me questions about like, why, what the character’s motivation was in the scene, or like why is the camera moving that way?”

Bressack wholeheartedly credits his father for helping nourish his love of writing and storytelling.

“He was definitely, I’d say, my biggest cheerleader and supporter in my career ’til the day he died.”

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

The film has impressive-looking on-location action scenes in a jungle area outside the titular secretive facility, which were filmed in real parts of the jungle in Puerto Rico.

“We shot in a real rainforest and I have the mosquito bites to prove it!” Bressack said.

We asked what the director’s action movie inspirations were for those scenes and others.

Chief among them, surprisingly enough, is Jurassic Park — particularly for the jungle parts — Bressack said.

“As weird as this sounds, I was very heavily influenced by the idea of Jurassic Park for all of the jungle stuff,” the director said with a laugh.

“And then obviously, like, you know, there’s influences of like Rambo and then there’s stuff that’s non-jungle-y but just ’cause of the fog, there’s stuff like Gangs of New York that I was influenced by. And there’s just a lot of stuff in general like that. But, you know, I just wanted to make the world feel big, expansive, and real, but also magical.”

When Bressack says “magical,” he clarified he doesn’t mean it in the sense of “actual magic” — the film is a fairly grounded action thriller — but “magic in the sense of like, wow, like this is something that, like is not something we would normally see. Like, this is untapped land.”

Bressack went on to say that he “made sure we were moving around to different parts of the jungle” as well, in order to vary the kinds of shots in the movie.

“I wanted to be everywhere in that jungle to just kind of make this feel, like so big and expansive.”

When asked whether it was hectic to make two films with Bruce Willis seemingly back-to-back, with both Survive the Game and Fortress releasing in the same year, Bressack said that despite having release dates in close proximity, it was actually more manageable than you would think due to the filming being sufficiently spread out.

“I shot [Survive the Game]. And then I came back to LA and posted it. And then I went back out there and shot Fortress. So like there were a few months in between them.”

Fortress, whose “story by” credit was credited to actor Emile Hirsch and the film’s producer, Randall Emmett, concluded on a bit of a cliffhanger. We won’t get into spoilers here, but this made us curious if there was an idea for Fortress 2 floating around on a script somewhere. To our surprise, Bressack explained that the sequel has already been filmed, but that he doesn’t know much about it because he didn’t direct it.

“It’s coming. And I hear it’s fun. But yeah, no I did not…I haven’t seen it and I did not direct it,” he said.

Fortress 2, directed by Josh Sternfeld and written once again by Alan Horsnail, is set to star Bruce Willis and many of the main players from the first film. No release date has yet been set.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves — Fortress will available in a limited theatrical release and on video on Demand on Dec. 17.

Note: This is the fourth and final article in a series from our interview with James Cullen Bressack; check our site for the three previous articles.

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Danny Peterson
Danny Peterson covers entertainment news for WGTC and has previously enjoyed writing about housing, homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic, historic 2020 Oregon wildfires, and racial justice protests. Originally from Juneau, Alaska, Danny received his Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Master's in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Oregon. He has written for The Portland Observer, worked as a digital enterprise reporter at KOIN 6 News, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary 'Escape from Eagle Creek.'