by Erica Corbin 07 October, 2021
Bruce Willis, Chad Michael Murray and Swen Temmel headline the new action flick Survive the Game from director James Cullen Bressack.
When police officer David (Willis) is shot during a drug bust, his partner Cal (Temmel) is in hot pursuit of the gang members responsible. He follows them to a nearby farmhouse where they’ve taken refuge. But what should be a straightforward arrest soon turns into all-out war as the gangsters call for reinforcements. Luckily for the good guys, the home is still occupied. Eric (Murray), a grieving veteran who has recently lost his wife and child in a car accident, refuses to leave his property undefended and instead teams up with Cal, and later, David, to take on the drug dealers.
While the characters might be an unlikely trio on-screen, Willis, Temmel and Murray seem to have a lot in common off of it – at least in terms of projects. For instance, Temmel worked with Willis in multiple recent action-thrillers, such as Midnight in the Switchgrass, Hard Kill and Breach. In the last year or so, Murray and Temmel worked with writer and director Daniel Farrands on separate biopics about serial killers Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos (respectively). And Murray and Willis will be starring in another Cullen Bressack vehicle, The Fortress, which is part of a planned trilogy. Phew!
To learn more about Survive the Game and its action stars, ScreenPicks spoke with Cullen Bressack about his time directing the feature.
ScreenPicks: What drew you to this project?
Cullen Bressack: I was super excited to make a throwback 90s action movie like I grew up watching. So l was like, “Man, this is super cool. It's like nonstop action. It's got a lot of laughs. This is fun; this is funny.” You know, getting the script that has the part where the goon doesn't have his gun before going into the barn and all that dialogue – I was like, “I’ve got to make this!”
ScreenPicks: How long did the movie take to make?
Cullen Bressack: Once I got involved, from the start of shooting to finishing post-production was six months. … We shot at a fast and furious pace. We had to work really fast especially because of Covid, but I think, you know, I had a cast and crew that worked well above and beyond, and I think how fast we had to move is not reflected in the film.
ScreenPicks: And where did you film?
Cullen Bressack: We shot in Puerto Rico, beautiful Puerto Rico!
ScreenPicks: You talked about COVID-19. What were some of the unique challenges of shooting a movie during the pandemic?
Cullen Bressack: I mean, every movie is difficult, but specifically, this movie for me was a little bit more difficult just because everything moves much slower in COVID; we had to be tested every two days, everybody was wearing a mask, we had to be separated. One thing I learned is I have to be really expressive with my eyes if my actors can't see my face. I have to be expressive with my eyes and with my voice when I'm talking to people because if I'm just talking like, “Yeah, no, so you do this,” and you can't see my face, it might seem like I'm, you know, bored or tired or upset. So, because of the mask, I had to be overly expressive with my voice and my eyes.
ScreenPicks: It’s a little bit like communicating via text or something. You lose all the tone and don't know what the person is saying.
Cullen Bressack: Yes, which sucks because I’m like the worst texter!
ScreenPicks: So, who of the cast came on board first?
Cullen Bressack: Bruce Willis was attached first and then Chad [Michael Murray] came in second. Then after that, I think the rest of the cast filled in.
ScreenPicks: And how was it working with Bruce Willis, being such a veteran actor?
Cullen Bressack: I think Bruce was wonderful to work with. He’s super talented, and I really enjoyed collaborating with him. He’s a lot of fun.
ScreenPicks: You must have built a great rapport because you have “The Fortress” coming out with both Chad Michael Murray and Bruce Willis again.
Cullen Bressack: Yeah, I think they did a great job in “The Fortress” as well. It was awesome collaborating with them. We did these two movies back-to-back and had a lot of fun working with them. Also, “The Fortress” was shot in Puerto Rico as well.
ScreenPicks: In the film, Murray and Temmel have a sort of begrudging buddy dynamic. How did they work together and was there that friendship off-screen?
Cullen Bressack: Yeah, they got along really well. They’re two of the nicest human beings. I think they definitely had a buddy-buddy thing going on off-camera and I think that translated well for the screen.
ScreenPicks: Earlier you talked about the incident where the goon doesn’t have his gun. How was it walking the line between action and humor?
Cullen Bressack: It was a lot of fun. You know, we had a lot of like silly moments in it, but it doesn't detract from how crazy and action-packed the movie is.
ScreenPicks: And in terms of action, did anyone have to do any gun training or stunt coordination? Or did they bring experience?
Cullen Bressack: Well, Bruce [Willis] has obviously … he’s definitely fired a gun many, many times! [Laughs] But believe it or not, Donna D’Errico had like full-on gun training and all this stuff. She’s a badass and she did her own stunts in that barn fight. She’s a total badass, super cool lady and she kicked ass in the movie.
ScreenPicks: Lastly, you talked about 90s action movies earlier. When filming all the action, was it ever just surreal to hear Bruce Willis, John McClane himself, spout off one-liners and shoot a gun and stuff?
Cullen Bressack: Yeah, little kid in me was giving adult me a high-five, for sure!
Survive the Game is available in select theaters, on Apple TV and everywhere you rent movies on Oct. 8, 2021. It is available on Blu-ray and DVD on Oct. 12.