Interview with James Cullen Bressack
James Cullen Bressack has made an impressive amount of films during his time in the horror industry. He made his first film at age 18 and is currently responsible for directing 30, writing 32 and producing 40 films. Recently, James and I spoke about his latest release Restoration which is premiering on VOD May 3.
I noticed that you and Mr. Ward have worked on quite a few things together recently. So, where did you guys meet? Was it on Blood Lake?
We actually met before Blood Lake. Zack and I randomly met at a sushi bar, believe it or not. He was making funny voices. He had just left an audition for, I believe it was Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and he was just making super silly voices. He was there with his girlfriend, sitting next to me at the sushi bar and growing up with a mom who's a voice actress and a dad who’s in cartoons, when I hear a funny voice, immediately I was like, “Ooh! Funny voices!” So, we started chatting and just became friends.
At a sushi bar?!
Yeah, well, I like sushi, so..
It’s very L.A.
So who’s idea was it for this particular film?
We wrote both Restoration and Bethany together, back to back. So, we bounced concepts off of each other. I think it’s a marriage of both of our ideas.
I did notice that he directed this and then it’s vice versa on Bethany. How did you guys decide that?
We shot them back to back and wrote them back to back and we decided who’s story would go with each person in the beginning. So, that way, whoever was going to direct the script, would have the most say over the script:he had the most say over Restoration. We wrote it together, but he had the most say, like, he was able to change things and do stuff because he was going to end up directing it. Whereas, for Bethany, I had more control over the script.
How do you think that presents itself in each film?
I think we have very different voices, but at the same time they blend together very well. So, I think stylistically, they’re very different films, but I think Zack did a great job with Restoration and I think it all comes down to style and taste. We have different ideas of what horror is and although we wrote them together and did a great job of writing them together, Restoration is more of a mystery whereas Bethany is more of a surrealistic horror film.
Restoration is definitely different from what I was used to from you, but at the same time, I knew that you were involved in it.
Yeah, I think it for sure has my voice in it, it just might not be the style towards if I was directing. That’s not to say I don’t like the story; it’s a wonderful story. I just, I like a more surreal, hardcore type movie when I’m directing, versus when I’m wiring and producing. I think Zack was the right person for this story for sure and he did wonders with it that I don’t think I would have been able to do.
But you came up with the core of the story together.
We’ve all kind of seen this story, so how did you try to make it different?
I think, you know, every story has been seen before so, ultimately, you always try to make it different and I think what we wound up with in Restoration is a real, human story about people and these are people that are really trying to do good. Although they’re confronted with really horrible odds, they’re really brought closer during the events of the film and I think the movie has a really strong third act that, I think, will surprise people.
Absolutely. So, was there ever a moment for you where it was really hard for you to keep your mouth shut over a decision Zack was making?
Well, that’s me as a producer, regardless. It has nothing to do with Zack or anything. I’ve come to realize that when I’m producing, I’ll help with preproduction and I’ll help with the day to day things on set, but I need to stay away from video village because I find myself, you know, I go into director mode and I need to back off and not do that. I find myself, many times, doing that kind of thing because I’m so used to being the director. I’ll be like, “Oh, why is that not done this way?” And a lot of it, is just you know, people have different tastes. It’s why every director is different and I don’t think my way is necessarily right and somebody else’s way is wrong; it’s just different. I think it’s really interesting to experience because I’m producing a couple other movies right now. I’m leaving to direct a movie in two days, but after that I’m taking more of a producing hat for the rest of the year. One of the things I’m having to weigh in my head when it comes down to casting or when it comes down to anything is, “Is this Director James or is this Producer James speaking?” Sometimes, I have to go, am I thinking like the producer who wants to give the best situation to the director or am I thinking like the director who creatively thinks this is the best decision? So, I have to support the director, which sometimes is very hard, especially coming from a director’s background, but I’m definitely learning to do it better.
I did notice that you’re producing more. This was a conscious decision?
Because it seemed like an interesting direction to take or you just kind of fell into doing it more?
I think I love making movies and I love telling stories and I love being around film, but I’m really trying to scale back to directing one movie a year. The past couple years, I think I went a little wild. I directed 11 feature films in 6 years, which is more than most people do in a very long time. So, I’m going to try to keep it to one a year and really just build up to bigger stuff. While I’m doing that, I want to focus on producing.
You’ve done a lot. You’ve done an excessive amount of work over the last few years, which is great, but you must be tired.
Yeah, definitely. If I’m a producer and I’m one of five or six producers, it’s not as crazy as directing, I’ll tell you that much. I think I definitely want to wear the producer’s hat more and also I want to support budding film makers. Zack Ward, this was his first time directing a feature. I knew he could do it and I knew he was going to do a great job and we had talked about doing some movies together and it seemed like the best thing to do and I think as somebody who started off very young myself and thrust myself into this and has done so much, I really notice and see other talent and want to harness it and help it along and I think producing enables me to do that.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been working with a lot of the same actors. You have Emily O’Brien in here who was also in Pernicious.
Well, I knew Emily was going to deliver for Zack. She did such a good job with me on Pernicious. She’s very easy to work with and would be great for Zack for this movie, so it was a no-brainer in casting her. I then cast her again, actually, in another movie I produced called Storefront. You know, I think she’s great. Emily O’Brien is such a talent.
I also have noticed that you seem to work well with child stars. Currently Zack Ward and I know that you’re personal friends with Ms. Doherty after working with her and it’s a little crazy that Jonathan Lipnicki is in one of your films.
haha..and believe it or not, I also worked with Haley Joel Osment.
Did you?! Do you think because you grew up around it (Hollywood) maybe you have a better way of understanding stuff that they understand that other people wouldn’t?
I think there’s that. It’s coupled with a lot of things I think. One, I think a lot of child stars, they’ve just been doing it so long and they’re so professional and talented. I think child stars get a bad rap because a lot of these people, Zack and Haley and Shannen, they’re on point 100% of the time. Like, they are professional, they know their shit and they’re really good because they’ve been doing it most of their lives. So, there’s that. I think they’re able to tap into so much more because they’ve done it for so long because they grew up in it. There’s also I think, for me, having started so young, I spent the better half of my career, fighting against people thinking that I was too young to do stuff and I think working with former child stars, they knew when they were younger that they were professionals, doing what they did and I think, you know, working with them, even though I’m young, they treat me as a professional because they’re like, “When I was younger, I was a professional still.” They understand that struggle and I think that’s a really good situation and I think it also happens to be random luck.
I just noticed there really seems to be a follow through and they do tend to get a negative reputation and, a lot of times, it doesn’t seemed justly earned, so I was just curious why it was working for you. I know with your mom and dad, you’ve been in the industry in some way, basically, your whole life.
I think Jonathan Lipnicki is unbelievably talented. I think Haley Joel Osment is unbelievably talented. I think Zack is unbelievably talented and I think Shannen is unbelievably talented. I would work with any of them any day.
I love that. You seem to get along with everybody, though: you’re clearly a friendly guy.
I get along with almost everybody. I think there’s been one actor that I’ve worked with that I did not get along with.
That’s a pretty good track record.
Yeah, and I’ll never say who that actor was.
No, that’s why you’re a classy guy. Are you and Zack going to continue this partnership?
The movie that I’m leaving to go direct, Zack and I wrote together. I think we found a really good groove and we work really well as a writing team, so I definitely think you'll see more movies that are from both of us for sure.
I look forward to that. I enjoyed Restoration and I’ve been excited about Bethany for a while. Is there anything that you wanted to put out there or make sure we all knew about?
Yeah. Restoration hits VOD May 3 and then it will be on DVD a month later. Definitely check it out. I think people are really going to like it. A couple months after that, 2 Jennifer comes out, the sequel to my film To Jennifer. That’s directed by Hunter Johnson and I actually play myself in the movie, believe it or not. Then, Bethany will be coming out late this year and I’m really excited for people to see Bethany. I think it’s, by far, the best thing I’ve ever directed. To a point where, my grandmother who inspired me to make films, one of my biggest inspirations really, she passed away four years ago and during that time, I’ve made a lot of movies and I’ve given her a special thanks credit at the end of every movie because I didn’t want to dedicate one to her until I thought it was good enough. Bethany, I decided to dedicate to her.
That’s amazing. Well, now I’m double excited. I am curious about how you decided to let someone else direct the sequel to a film that you, famously, did on a iPhone and this one is done on an iPhone as well.
Believe it or not, we’re doing a third one too. The third one goes into production pretty soon and it’s written and directed by Frank Merle, who wrote and directed the movie The Employer, staring Malcolm McDowel and Billy Zane. I’m really excited for the To Jennifer series and to see where it goes. We’re for sure going to do three installments and maybe there will be more. How I ended up doing a sequel that I wasn’t directing is, believe it or not, Hunter was a producer on Bethany. He was an associate producer and while I’m working on Bethany, he also was an associate producer on Restoration, but while I’m filming Bethany, he comes up to me and says, “Hey James, were you ever going to direct a sequel to To Jennifer?” I was like, “Yeah maybe, it’s an idea.” He says, “Well, what if I make a sequel?” I was like sure, sure whatever and a couple days go by and he goes, “Hey James, here’s the first draft of the script. Can you read it on your day off?” I’m like, what script? “Of the sequel to To Jennifer.” The sequel to To Jennifer? “Yeah, you said I could make it.” So, I open the script and I read it and I really liked it. It really creeped me out. The main character in the movie, has an obsession with me personally. So, my name gets mentioned a lot in the movie and I was pretty much not only (A. did I like the script, but (B. I was convinced that if I didn’t let Hunter direct the script, he might kill me. (See our review here)
Well, there you go!
It’s a movie where the main character is talking about me nonstop, so we’ll let him do this and then file the restraining order. hahaha You know, I think Hunter did a wonderful job, the movie’s great and I think it’s a really worthy successor and I’m really excited for people to see it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and something really different from the series and you get to see me act again. I acted in the first one; I just remembered that.
That’s exciting. You have so much going on, as usual.
Yeah, I’m very blessed to have things going on. It’ gets stressful, but it’s also nice. I’m really excited for people to check out Restoration and 2 Jennifer and Bethany later in the year and, hopefully, people enjoy them.