"What is horror? It's essentially just taking ordinary people and putting them in extra-ordinary situations." - James Cullen Bressack, writer, producer
WATCH THIS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO CLIP
ABOUT ZACK WARD AND JAMES CULLEN BRESSACK:
Actor and writer Zack Ward returns to the podcast and brings along his writing partner, producer, and film director James Cullen Bressack. Zack and James discuss how they met and then started working on two horror movies simultaneously, Restoration and Bethany. The pair also talks about what is next for them and James reveals what fuels his passion.
Jeff: I'll do my best to keep your marriage strong.
James Bressack: Okay, good.
Zack Ward: Good.
James Bressack: Well I mean, all jokes aside, a writing partnership is sort of like a marriage in a sense. Me and Zack have written a lot of scripts together. It's funny, when we first started writing scripts together, we would sit in the room together. And we would write for days on end, nonstop. The first two scripts, we were literally in the same room, for what?
Zack Ward: Oh, Restoration. Are we doing the show now? Is this the actual show?
Jeff: Sure, sure.
Zack Ward: Okay, cool. Good, good. Good gig. Yeah, when we-
James Bressack: Oh wait, this is being recorded right now, right?
Zack Ward: All right, good.
James Bressack: Okay cool, because I just dropped right into it.
Jeff: Yo, yo. Tenacious D. You go with Tenacious D, always hit record. Always.
James Bressack: So, we're eight, nine days of just staying in the same room, writing these two scripts nonstop.
Zack Ward: Sleeping.
James Bressack: And after that...
Zack Ward: Remember that? We were sleeping at the studio-
James Bressack: Yeah, we were sleeping in the studio-
Zack Ward: On inflatable mattresses. It's like retarded.
James Bressack: Yeah, inflatable mattresses. And so we're round the clock, right before the holidays doing this. And obviously, like any good marriage after spending that much time together, we realized the next scripts, we would just meet up and talk one time and then never spend any time together after that while writing.
Zack Ward: Yeah, yeah.
James Bressack: Do it in separate rooms away from each other for the rest of the thing. So obviously, all jokes aside, we did need this therapy session, so thank you.
Jeff: Well that's great. And let's jump right into that because I want to talk about your process. I want to talk about the process of working with others and that kind of thing when you're creating films. But one of the things I wanted to talk about, which you guys just mentioned, those first two films you're talking about are Restoration and Bethany, correct?
Zack Ward: Yeah.
James Bressack: Correct.
Jeff: And you guys did those simultaneously right?
Zack Ward: Back to back, back to back.
James Bressack: Yeah, as simultaneous as possible. I think I kind of got the... I don't know, we could go back and forth with it because sometimes... We did two movies back to back. So Zack got the fresher crew on his movie the first time. They weren't as tired as they were on my movie because they hadn't just done a 15 day shoot.
James Bressack: But I had the benefit of spending 15 days in the same location that I was going to shoot my movie before shooting my movie. So I was able to think about how I was going to do my movie the whole time. So there was a push-pull on benefit for shooting these two movies. I mean what do you think Zack, would you agree?
Zack Ward: Yeah, yeah. We also, so did 13 days. Was it 13 days?
James Bressack: No, no. It was 15.
Zack Ward: Or 12.
James Bressack: 15.
Zack Ward: I don't think so man because we had two weeks and three days down, then we went into Bethany. We had two six-day weeks, that's 12. So that was 12 days, and I did pickup shots later after we finished doing Bethany. So then we had three days down because we spent an entire month over that crazy woman's house. So that math kind of makes sense.
James Bressack: Yeah. But remember, you had one day in the... You had two weeks in the crazy lady's house, but you had one day-
Zack Ward: At that other place.
James Bressack: At the hospital place. And then you had one day at the yard area with just the kids. Remember?
Zack Ward: I'm remembering that scene where I used the front of my house and my yard, and I dug it up and put in a skeleton. And then also when we were shooting over in the park for the giant electrical transformer, we had no permit. And we had the entire crew scattered across this park all with walkie talkies, pretending that they were on picnics or something. And Eric was like, "This set... All right, we're going to be rolling in like five seconds. Everybody, look around. If you see any cops, give us a heads up."
Zack Ward: And my actors are in my car and the DP is hiding the camera underneath his arm in the jacket, and we're looking around. It's like, "Go, go, go, go."
Zack Ward: And so now it's like, "Action." We're walking over, and I'm having to direct the actors as they walk over the tall tower. And there's the DP operating the camera. And my head's like this, "Great. Great, okay, you guys are slower. Look around like it's ominous. Look up." Just scanning like we're into enemy territory because if the fire marshal showed up, they'd take the camera, which they tried to do.
James Bressack: See that's one of those things that is interesting about making Indie film is in the moment, you're shitting bricks and that's ridiculous. But later on, the story's where you're like, "Man, this is what makes Indie film cool."
Zack Ward: Yeah.
James Bressack: These low budget movies. So quick question. Are we only, is this only airing with voice or is it airing with video as well? Because if it is airing with video, I have to explain that this is not a Michael Jackson glove, I hurt my hand.
James Bressack: And so this is a compression glove. I'm not just wearing a glove for fun.
Zack Ward: I thought you just covered that hand so that the palm would be nice and soft during the quarantine.
Zack Ward: Supple, yeah, supple.
James Bressack: Oh yeah, for sure. It, actually, if you look closely, it has Zack written across it.
Zack Ward: And it has a picture of my face. That's great. That's awesome.
James Bressack: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: I wanted to ask if doing movies back to back like that, does one actually inform the other? You did Restoration first, then you immediately go into Bethany. When you guys were doing Bethany, was there anything where you were like, "We did this on Restoration and it worked," or, "It didn't work at all, let's not do that." Did it inform?
Zack Ward: Yeah, absolutely. There's certain things you got aware of like I couldn't find the location. You're also dealing with the person who owns that location, and in this situation was a psycho. So certain things that we had wanted to do and planned to do with fake blood, et cetera. We did not do with fake blood because of the impact it would have had on production.
James Bressack: It's also one of the worst visual effects in the movie, is not being able to use the real blood in that moment.
Zack Ward: Oh yeah. Well that's also the visual effects are garbage, but that's not us.
James Bressack: But it did inform because I learned how to communicate with that crew specifically because some of them I hadn't worked with yet. I built more of a rapport with them. I had the benefit of getting to know people over a 15 day period before working with them as a director. You start to imagine your shots when you're just spending every day in this one location.
James Bressack: It definitely informed how I would want to shoot it because by the time I was actually shooting that location, I was so bored of that location because I had already been there for two weeks. I was finding ways to shoot it and light it that would make me not be bored, if that makes sense.
Jeff: Yeah. And so, walk me back then. These are the first two movies that you guys are doing together with the production company. These are the first two movies that you guys did together period?
James Bressack: These are the first two movies Zack was ever involved in ever in this alternate, nonexistent reality where Christmas classics no longer exist and all these different things.
Zack Ward: Yeah. I had met James, we had worked together. I had been an actor in a film that he did called Blood Lake, Attack of the Killer Lamprey and then-
James Bressack: Obviously an Oscar contender.
Zack Ward: Oscar, yeah. Actually it has five Golden Grobes.
James Bressack: It does have five Golden Grobes.
Zack Ward: Yeah. A Grobe is a... They put it as marketing material in the DVDs. They're like, "Five Golden Grobes." Yeah. So, but-
Jeff: Zack, you acted in that movie. And James, what were, were you directing that movie?
Zack Ward: Directed that one, yeah. So James directed. James and I met at a sushi restaurant and randomly had started hanging out and being friends or getting to know one another.
James Bressack: I got downgraded. Do you hear how quickly I get downgraded from friendship?
Zack Ward: Well you're not friends right away.
Zack Ward: No one meets someone and becomes friends. You meet someone and become friends. You don't meet someone and are friends.
Zack Ward: So we met. We started talking about stuff, and he went to go do a movie in Thailand. And then he came back, and then he was talking to me about doing this Animal Planet film which sounded absolutely horrible, and it's just delightfully garbage. It's delightful garbage. When you hear the title, Blood Lake, Attack of the Killer Lamprey, that's all you need to know, to know that you're in for exactly the time that you think you're going to have. That's, I think-
James Bressack: Mayor, we have to close the lake.
Zack Ward: You mean lake? [inaudible 00:09:51].
Zack Ward: So we met on that, and then at one point you became my roommate. You moved into my house. This is before my wife lived here. So he was living here, and we started talking about stuff, and I had a window of opportunity. I had some investors from a previous film that had some money that they wanted to put into another project. And we were talking about some projects. And James had the idea of really putting distribution ahead of a spec curve, so therefore, catching distribution before the film was made.
Zack Ward: So he reached out to a company that he worked with in the past, which is Uncorked Entertainment, and asked what they wanted. And they said, "We want haunted house movies with a little ghost girl."
James Bressack: So basically what happened was they wanted Pernicious, which was the ghost movie that I had made. But they didn't end up being able to get Pernicious because that ended up going direct to Netflix. So I asked them, "Hey, well would you guys want something similar, like a ghost type movie?" And that's how that happened.
James Bressack: And then he was like, "Yeah, of course."
James Bressack: And I was like, "Well, would you want two?" And that's how we did it because we had the bright idea of doing two movies at the same time to spread everything. I don't remember what made us think that that was the best way to do it.
Zack Ward: I had investors for 150 grand. And they wanted me to direct the movie, and James had a contact for distribution. He's like, "Well then, whey don't we both direct a movie?"
Zack Ward: I'm like, "For 75 grand a piece?"
Zack Ward: He's like, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. It's going to work out great."
Zack Ward: I was like, "You sure?"
Zack Ward: He's like, "Oh yeah. I've done much lower budget. Nah, it's going to be great."
Zack Ward: Yeah. I know so much more about this now. You know, there's the things that you're glad you were stupid enough that you did because you had no fucking idea what you were getting into. This was one of them.
James Bressack: I like the movies.
Zack Ward: It's not about that. It's like, you don't know what the process of making a film for $75,000 is going to be until you do it, especially if you're making something that's actually going to get distribution. I'm not saying it was good or bad, I'm saying it literally is like the process of committing yourself to a journey before you know where you're going is sometimes the big part of the adventure.
Zack Ward: Because I'm sure now, if someone said to James or me like, "Hey, do you guys want to do two movies in a month for 75 grand?"
Zack Ward: I'd be like, "Go fuck yourself. I'm not doing that. I have no interest in it at all." But back then, I didn't know what was coming up. It made it an adventure, if that makes sense.
James Bressack: And I was 21 years old like, "Yeah, this is great."
Zack Ward: And I was 21 years old too, which is crazy.
James Bressack: Crazy.
Zack Ward: Two crazy 21 year olds that are like, "I'm so young."
James Bressack: If I met... I've seen Zack in movies as a kid, obviously A Christmas Story and stuff. But I feel like that was all fabricated. I don't think he was actually ever 21 or younger. I don't think that ever existed.
James Bressack: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: And it's really good. We all saw The Irishman. We all know that can happen.
James Bressack: Exactly.
Zack Ward: Yeah.
Jeff: Lots of money. Speaking on that James, I know you started making movies. You're talking you were 21 at this point. You started making movies real young. When you were 18, your first feature basically came out. What drew you to this industry? I know that your parents are in the industry. But you personally, what drew you to wanting to create this type of thing?
Zack Ward: Money and power. Money and power and all the bitches. That's what James did it for.
James Bressack: Personally, I've loved films my whole life, from a very young age. I remember when I was three years old, my dad was writing on a TV show that he had created called Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys. And he was looking for an idea for one of the episodes. He had a character played by Malcolm McDowell called Rhesus Two.
James Bressack: And so at three years old I said, "What about Rhesus One?" And so he made the episode about that, and casted David Warner to play Rhesus One, and brought me to the recording studio. And I walked up to David Warner at the age of three years old and said, "I created you."
James Bressack: And my dad started laughing and pulled me aside, and was like, "You're going to be a director, kid."
James Bressack: And then, growing up, I watched a lot of movies with my dad. And he got very sick when I was younger and recovered. But for years, he was bed-ridden. So all we could do was watch movies. So we would watch movies, and he would pause it, ask some questions and stuff.
James Bressack: And I remember, not to make anybody feel old, but when I was 12 years old and Kill Bill came out in theaters, my dad took me to go see Kill Bill in theaters. And I remember they tried to stop me saying, "Hey, are you sure you want to take your kid to see this? There's insane violence and cursing."
James Bressack: He's like, "Yeah."
James Bressack: And I remember I went into the theater, and I sat down. And I felt like even though I was there with my dad and I was allowed to get in, it was my first R-rated movie. And I felt like I was going to get kicked out. And there was this feeling, this excitement that I was seeing something that I wasn't supposed to, and sharing this experience with all these people.
James Bressack: And it was phenomenal. It was my favorite movie for many years after that. And so I think in that moment, I just really realized everything culminating, that I just wanted to be a filmmaker. I wanted to tell stories. And I was fascinated by the storytelling of it.
James Bressack: And personally I feel film is the highest art form there is because it takes every other art form and combines them into one. It takes writing. It takes music. It takes storytelling. It takes photography. It takes art. It takes acting. It takes everything and combines it into one art form.
James Bressack: And so personally, I really wanted to be able to do that. And the older I got, the more I started developing a voice and really appreciating the ability to talk to so many people, all at the same time, through a shared vision of a film.
Jeff: That's so awesome. And when Zack was on this very podcast, episodes ago, I asked him this question. And I'm curious about your answer too because your credits, you've done a lot of different types of movies. But when we're talking Restoration and Bethany and stuff like that, those are horror movies.
Jeff: What draws you to that genre?
James Bressack: Horror's my favorite genre, just as a fan. I'm covered in horror tattoos. There's Hellraiser. I have Chucky. I have Freddy on me. Over here, a Freddy tattoo. I'm covered in them.
James Bressack: But personally, it was Roger Ebert who said this. "Fear is the closest and quickest way to infect somebody's imagination."
James Bressack: And I think that's true because when you're at home and you here a noise, how quickly does your mind start to go through, "Well, What could that be? Well maybe it's this. Well maybe it's that."
James Bressack: Or when you're staring at something in the closet, and it starts to morph a little because it's dark. And you're like, "Wait, is somebody there?"
James Bressack: Your imagination runs wild with fear. And fear is the best way to communicate, I think, in a sense. Through film, you can slip messages into something that seems to be just entertainment. And so, that's part of why I love horror because a good horror movie has layers. And it's saying something more than just, "Boo."
Jeff: Yes. And I totally agree. Horror's one of my favorite genres too. And because of that, because of the layers. I've said this before. In a comedy, your goal is to make the audience laugh. And they either laugh, or they don't.
Jeff: In a drama, your goal is to make the audience feel emotion. They either feel that, or they don't. In horror, all of those emotions come to light. You're scared. You might scream. You might laugh uncontrollably because you're so scared. You might cry because you're so fucking scared.
Jeff: I think it's such a layered genre. And I applaud people, like the both of you, who really want to tackle that from every angle.
James Bressack: What is horror? It's essentially just taking ordinary people and putting them in extra-ordinary situations. And my favorite part about it, really, is that it's examination of the human condition and how people will react during these kinds of circumstances. You get to get into the heads of a killer. You get to get into the heads of a person who's being victimized.
James Bressack: All these different things. And you start to go, "Well, how are they going to react if this happens? Well, how is this going to happen?" You get to play and find these moments. You start to actually rationalize and understand certain things. The bad guys in the movies, none of them... It's not like a James Bond villain.
James Bressack: None of them look at themselves as the bad guy. Everybody's the hero of their own story. So I think finding those moments and finding that stuff, that depth in it, is special. But I'm not going to lie and say that I originally got into horror just because I love the genre.
James Bressack: I originally got into horror because I had a $7,000 budget on my first movie. And that was the easiest movie to get done and get some type of attention. Because people don't really care who was in a horror movie when it was low budget back then, when I was 18 years old and did My Pure Joy.
James Bressack: And also, a little bit as well-
Zack Ward: You mean My Pure Joy, the movie that was outlawed in England?
James Bressack: No. That was Hate Crime that was outlawed in England.
Zack Ward: Oh, okay. Sorry.
James Bressack: That-
Zack Ward: James has a film that was outlawed in a country.
Jeff: Please tell me the story.
Zack Ward: That's a thing.
James Bressack: It was banned by the BBFC. The BBFC said Hate Crime was unfit for anybody of any age to see, and no amount of cuts would make it fit. And so it is one of three movies in the past 25 years they out right banned.
Zack Ward: See, you need a t-shirt that says, "I'm banned in the UK."
Zack Ward: That's awesome. It's such an awesomely horrible claim to fame.
James Bressack: It's one of the few. It's considered a video [inaudible 00:21:15], which is hilarious in a sense because A, all of the violence happens off screen. Because I didn't have the budget to actually show it, so it pans away. You don't live through it. You don't actually see it.
James Bressack: And I let the imagination create it, much like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But the other thing that's funny about it is when I was younger, because I liked seeing dangerous films, I spent a lot of time watching these banned videos to find out, "Oh, well why was this banned?"
James Bressack: So I watched all these crazy banned movies so I could hunt down out-of-print movies. [Shram 00:21:48] and stuff to see how crazy they were. Necromantic. And I thought it was really funny that just happenstance, I got a movie banned that I made that I never even intended. I wasn't going for a ban.
Jeff: That's so hilarious.
James Bressack: And also, interestingly enough, it was a home invasion movie where Neo-Nazis invaded a Jewish family's home. I'm Jewish. I have a Star of David tattooed on me. And Zach makes fun of me. I'm not actually very Jewish.
James Bressack: But what I will say is this.
Zack Ward: I don't make fun of his because he's Jewish. I make fun of his because of his personality or lack of one, is why I mock him.
James Bressack: Yes.
Zack Ward: Not because of his Jewishness.
James Bressack: Lack of personality? I have a very good personality. Shut up.
James Bressack: So this is what I'm talking about, the marriage counseling thing. So anyways, going into this story. So Hate Crime was created to shine a light on the rising Anti-Semitism and level of hate crimes that were happening in the U.S. And the movie was released in 2013.
James Bressack: And everybody was saying, "This is propaganda. This is not true," which it was. There was a rise in hate crimes listed by the FBI yearly. It was rising for the past 10 years before that.
James Bressack: And this was way before we hd anything like people in Charlottesville walking around with tiki torches, yelling, "Jews will not replace us." But it was saying that stuff like that was going to happen, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
James Bressack: And if you look at the comments on the YouTube trailer for it, there's 100's and 100's of anti-Semitic comments from Neo-Nazis, basically. Because it got put on a Neo-Nazi website where they basically started saying, "Me, as a Jew, created this movie to try and pretend that Neo-Nazi's were bad."
Zack Ward: And so then, the Neo-Nazis themselves were trolling you. Does no one get the irony in the United States? Does no one get the irony?
James Bressack: And then I got banned in the UK because they thought the film was racist.
Jeff: Wow. Well, the perils of being creative, I guess, sometimes. And speaking on that, your career, like I said James, spans a lot of different movies. You're producing, writing, directing, acting. Running the gamut.
Jeff: When I talked to Zach earlier too, the same kind of thing, wearing a lot of hats. But Zack, I wanted to ask you. Working with James, especially on those first two films, what did you learn that was different than working on your own, than working with a partner on a film like that?
Jeff: I want to frame it from was it hard to get into that mindset? "I'm not the conductor of this train." It's kind of a co-thing. Or did it make it easier because you had a co-conspirator?
Zack Ward: It's funny now-
James Bressack: Zach is trying to diplomatically answer.
Zack Ward: It's again, the whole aspect of adventure. I think the difference is if James and I were going to work on a project right now, the understanding that what we have of what our strengths are, what we know how to do, how we communicate. The knowledge that we've gained and the wisdom to not be putting oneself forth and center when it's not your superpower.
Zack Ward: So some things I'm really good at. Some things James is very good at. And when we were doing these two movies back to back, I think for both of us, it was the first featured film I had ever directed. And I was also in the movie as the bad guy/tertiary lead, no spoiler, sorry.
Zack Ward: That's a lot of hats to wear. It's hard to be in front of the camera and behind the camera on a regular basis in a very truncated shooting schedule. That's fucking hard, dude. And at the same time, consider this, there's my producing partner also prepping for his film.
Zack Ward: Same thing is when we were doing Bethany, I'm his producing partner, but I'm acting in the movie. So I'm doing that job, leaving his to produce by himself and deal with problems so I can do my job properly.
Zack Ward: You realize that you're taking a bigger bite than you can chew to a certain degree. And at the same time, you're learning your footing. So it was really fucking hard. And I'll say that James makes the jokes. The reason, yes. I am being political to a certain degree because-
James Bressack: He hated me.
Zack Ward: I don't think it's as simple as that. I think... I'm 50 years old. James is 12.
James Bressack: Even with this beard shaved, I look 12.
Zack Ward: Yeah. I've got socks older than you. So the thing is, I think the process, and I think anybody on this will agree, especially dudes. I don't know how women go through this. I can only speak from my own experience.
Zack Ward: When you have a friendship, it all starts off relatively easily. You're sharing things that you enjoy. And then you go through a process where you get pissed. And you'll challenge yourself. And you're challenged by the other person. And based upon how you reconcile that process is how you build a true friendship.
Zack Ward: So that experience, it was a crucible. It was basically being forged. It was fucking brutal. It was hard. It was a lot of arguments. We had long, late nights. We lived in the same house. We went to the same set. We worked on the same job. We were working 17 to 20 hours a fucking day. That's on principal photography, not including the prep and then the posts.
Zack Ward: And like he tod you, we locked ourselves in a room to write this shit. Basically, we were melded into... It was like the human centipede for Christ sake. We were both eating each other's shit all the time. And having to make something good out of it.
Zack Ward: And it was hard, but it was incredible. And the fact that these movies, for no money, are being talked about years later, but they're not winning Oscars. But Restoration was top ten of iTunes horror in 2016. $7,500 movie. It's pretty impressive that we got to get through that. And now, James... How old are you now, bud? 14?
James Bressack: 28.
Zack Ward: 14 and a half?
James Bressack: 28.
Zack Ward: And that we're still friends. And that's seven years now. I think it's one of those things. Nobody can prepare you for what it's like to do, even yourself. And you just have to have the balls to stick it out and make sure that the film is more important to you than your ego. And if that's what happens, then you'll end up with a product and maybe a great friend or someone you want to murder.
James Bressack: Yeah. I would say it was definitely a humbling experience for me as well. Like Zack says, the film is more important than your ego. I think even at 21 years old, I definitely had a lot more ego than I do now. I joke but I'm a much more collaborative person than I was back in that time in my life.
James Bressack: As I think Zack was too. Zack being, that was the first feature he directed. A lot of the times, when you're a first time director, the position feels threatened at some points, too. So input isn't as easy to give to a first time director.
James Bressack: But outside of that, I think Zack and I have written many scripts since then. And I think we actually got it down to a science. And we're able to write scripts much quicker, and I think to a good level, good scripts. And get through them very fast. We actually have a method that I don't think anybody else uses.
James Bressack: We use a color coding system to break up the script together.
Zack Ward: Don't give it away man. Don't give it away. That shit cost's gas. I've got bills to pay, bro.
James Bressack: Yeah. Well we have a whole system, and it works really well. And we've done a lot of scripts.
Zack Ward: Worth a lot of money if you want to pay us for it.
James Bressack: Yeah. We've developed a really great shorthand as well. But I'd say the hardest part about that process, and Zack skimmed over it but hitting the nail on the head at the same time. There was no escape from each other. We were living together at the time.
James Bressack: So, we go on the set, and you've got frustrations. And you don't get it cooled down at home.
Zack Ward: We actually drove home in my car. God, there was nowhere to go.
James Bressack: We carpooled to set. Then we would go home, argue. Go to sleep, argue in the car. Then go back on set. There was no space. So I think once that space was found, later on it was easier.
James Bressack: I think that the films did not suffer from that though. I think the films actually may have been better because of some of that stuff, personally.
Jeff: I totally agree with that. And that actually brings up another question that I had. When I was talking with Zack about Restoration, you had said, Zack, wearing all those hats is really hard. And it can really put you in this mire sometimes.
Jeff: But you brought up this example. In Restoration, one of my favorite scenes actually, when you are out there smoking a cigarette. And you're talking about how they're going to kill you. And how when you were blocking that scene, you had one vision as the director.
Jeff: And then, when you were in the scene, you realized some stuff. Being in that scene and were able to morph it into what is on film right now, which is absolutely gorgeous. I want to ask you the same thing, James.
Jeff: From the idea of a lot of movies that you do, you're wearing a lot of hats. I know that's a hard thing. But do you feel more in control because you've got all of these different angles? And do you have that same kind of experience where they're helping you to create?
James Bressack: I make my movies in pre-production. So I'm a very thorough planner. I draw overhead blocking maps of everything after seeing the locations. I have a really thorough shot list. Every single page of my script is color-coded with script notes for every single department. And I go through, so I'm very thorough in that sense.
James Bressack: But not so much on Bethany because on Bethany, actually believe it or not, again, I was very unwavering. I did not want to change anything. I was not going to kowtow to anything. I did everything the way that I wanted to do it.
James Bressack: And yes, I cut some shots here and there. But nobody really would be able to notice. But on a movie like Beyond the Law which me and Zack did recently together, and Zack's phenomenal in the movie if you guys haven't seen it. But that movie, limited time. A location fell out from under us while we were filming in that location and had to switch locations.
James Bressack: There's crazy stuff that went on. And that movie was one of the most difficult experiences of my life because my dad was in the hospital, not doing well while I was filming. So I was going from set to go visit him while filming, after I would rack filming. And I was producing while directing.
James Bressack: And I was pretty much producing by myself. Zack wasn't on as a producer, but he did help out a little bit when he could. But there was stuff beyond what he could actually be informed about what was going on. And so ultimately, I was having to do so much on that movie.
James Bressack: And that's when I started thinking on my toes and recreating a lot of stuff and changing things. And that movie came together much more organically than what was scripted. I think if you were to put the script and the movie next to each other, they're not even remotely similar.
Zack Ward: And also because, Steven Seagal.
James Bressack: I like Steven.
Zack Ward: I didn't say I didn't like him. I just didn't say he was close to the script.
James Bressack: Steven and I made some rewrites together, yes.
Jeff: I've heard lots of stuff about working with Steven, and not in a bad light at all. I've heard that he is, the best way I could put it, a very organic person when he is in a movie.
Zack Ward: Organic.
Jeff: The script that he emotes is this ever-evolving organism. Is that true?
Zack Ward: Wow. You're a politician.
James Bressack: Listen, I really enjoyed working with Steven, and I would do it again. I think Steven was a lot of fun to work with. And I think, at least for a director, he was very giving in a sense. And I think him and I developed a trust together. And I enjoyed that.
James Bressack: Steven definitely liked monologues. And him and I would work on developing those together, that were not originally scripted. And I think it gave his characters some moments, almost like a Don Corleone. And I enjoyed that because it was just a fun process to see what Steven was thinking.
James Bressack: And honestly, that process was fun for me as well because prior to this, so many crazy things had happened on the movie that had not gone well. Rewriting the script last minute, and working with that stuff. Where Steven felt very natural and normal. It wasn't an issue. He was happy, and I was happy. And it was easy do, and we got along.
James Bressack: There was much more difficulty things that were dealt with on the film that I will not get into that did not involve Steven.
Jeff: Well, you hit the nail on the head there. You said even with stuff going wrong, you went it prepared. And I want to mention, too, I believe it was last year you did a master class on YouTube. You mentioned in that master class that is one tenement you wish knew as a younger director and writer. To be very prepared, to go into everything that you do as prepared as you possibly can be.
Jeff: When did that shift with you? Was it just from doing films where things weren't working and you realized that you need to be more prepared going into it?
James Bressack: Here's the thing. I'm all about finding the magic in the moment. Of course, you'd want to find the magic in the moment and try stuff out and do stuff because film is a living, breathing thing. It's ever evolving. And the actors are going to bring their own spin to the table. The location is going to change it.
James Bressack: The lighting, you're going to see something in that moment. And it gives you the ability to play. Whereas before, I would just go in and shoot from my hip going with no shot list in my first couple of original movies and just shoot.
James Bressack: And I'd be finding it and feeling it out. And then you see that you're finding it in the editing. It doesn't always gel. But in pre-production, when I would find everything and prep the movie and go in prepared, I would still find things in the moment that I would add and build on that weren't there.
James Bressack: A perfect example is in Beyond the Law, the sequence with Zack where he's killing Chester Rushing's character. It was originally just Zack saying a few lines to Chester's character. And then, he would get beaten and shot.
James Bressack: But what ended up happening is Zack came up with this idea with Jeff, who plays the big thug in it, for Jeff to apologize to Chester before starting to beat on him. So it gave this push, pull of you not knowing if they were actually going to take it this far with the kid. And so I use that to recreate the scene, and how I was going to film and block it to create more tension of the not-knowing versus originally as scripted and as planned. You knew absolutely, 100%, this kid was going to die.
James Bressack: But here, I created a tension of not-knowing. And that was found in the magic of the moment. And I was still able to save a lot of the stuff that I had originally prepared. So I think the preparedness allows me the freedom to play in the moment. And you find that magic with your actors, with your people, with the people that you're collaborating with in order to give them that safe space of freedom.
James Bressack: But the other thing is I feel, when you're dealing with actors as a director coming in prepared, you need to be able to answer any of their questions. They're going to have questions. You need to be able to talk to your crew and say exactly what you want instead of not knowing.
James Bressack: And if you don't know, you need to be able to say, "Hey, I don't know." And discuss that with the key that can help you.
James Bressack: And the problem is you have people that don't go in prepared, and it just becomes a disaster. And the fish starts to stink from the head down.
Jeff: Yeah. That's why filmmaking is magic. It's such a soup of all the right elements. And if you're as prepared as you can be, like you said, then the magic just becomes that much stronger.
Jeff: That brings me to the theme of the show. James, I've got to ask because I've asked Zack this before. But from your perspective, through everything, what fuels you to keep going? What fuels you to keep wanting to create film, wanting to write, wanting to produce, wanting to direct. What keeps you to want to do this?
James Bressack: It's funny because they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And I think to work in entertainment, to be a filmmaker, to be an actor, you have to be insane. You have to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
James Bressack: I make the movie over and over again. And I convince myself. Zack's watched me do it every single time. I'm like, "This movie's going to be the one that catapults me to the next level."
James Bressack: And I get this burning desire and passion, not only to succeed, but success should be a benefit that comes later. And it's just attributed to what happens. That's not what you should be making a movie for. What happens is I have a burning desire to tell a story, and to tell something that works with these characters. And to experience the lighting and to feel those moments and those emotions.
James Bressack: And I think having that burning desire inside of you, it's a flame that never goes out. Once it's there, once you feed that flame and continue to feed that flame, it's impossible not to continue to want to create.
James Bressack: And so for me, I go crazy when I'm not creating. Literally right now, I've been in my house for 47 days, and I'm planning a movie from my house. I'm planning to shoot a movie from my house right now because I have to be creating. I have to tell stories. For me, it's not so much about financial success or critical acclaim, it's about I love telling stories.
Jeff: That's so inspiring and so awesome. And that actually brings me to the end here. I know, as we're recording this, the entire world is on pause. Like you just mentioned, I'd love it if you'd want to talk a little bit more about that. But is there anything either of you were working on that you want to plug. Or things that you're going to be working on in the future once we get off pause?
James Bressack: I've been reveling a little for a while, so I'm going to let Zack take this. And then I'll piggyback at the end.
Zack Ward: I'm editing out of my house. I'm editing on a film that I directed, Patsy Lee and the Keeper of the Five Kingdoms. That's the one that is the Goonies meets Big Trouble in Little China. I'm very excited about it.
Jeff: That's the one that you talked about when you were on the show, and you showed me the picture of the book that you made. Right?
Zack Ward: Yeah.
Jeff: Yes. I can't wait for that. Oh, I can't wait for that.
Zack Ward: It's been such a raging pain in the ass. But it looks so fucking good.
Jeff: I can't wait.
Zack Ward: So seriously, we have this amazing looking tortoise puppet. It's about three, four feet high. The hand goes up through the shell, and it moves the mouth. But the eyes move left and right and up and down. They're animatronic. And they blink.
Zack Ward: So we're doing pick up shots with that. And the stage looked amazing. It just looked like a magical forest. And then I'm editing this, and then the battery on the microphone on the camera for the scratch track died. And nobody noticed for half a day.
Zack Ward: So I had to spend days lip syncing a fucking puppet. Basically going, "What does... mean?" No lips. No gesticulation. So you're doing that type of thing. And my wife will walk by, and I'll just be screaming in office at the computer. Calling it every name in the fucking book.
Zack Ward: It's looking so good. I'm very excited about it. It's such a different film than the horror stuff or the action stuff. There's a different type of heart to it. And it's interesting to try and do something where... You do a horror film, you don't have to make any fucking apologies.
Zack Ward: You can swear. You can be brutal. You can do whatever you want. You want to make a movie that's G-rated but not insultingly G-rated. It's funny, but it's not silly. It's a weird way to try and find that balance. Right now, I've got James' big ass head on my monitor taking up the entire screen with this face. And it's very distracting.
Zack Ward: So, I'm working on that. And then, I'm doing a book adaptation for a script. It's a book series called Going Home, which is ironically a prepper series. So they're working on episode or volume... What do you call it? Sequel. No. There's how many books in a series?
Jeff: Like a collection?
Zack Ward: Yeah, he's working on number 11 since the first one. The first one was on the top of USA Best Seller's List. And so it's called Going Home. I'm writing on that now. And hopefully that will be financed, and we'll turn that into a film/TV series next year. That's what I'm doing.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Zack Ward: Yeah. That's basically about it. That's more than enough.
Jeff: Yeah. Staying busy. How about you, James?
James Bressack: So I'm putting together a movie from home that I can shoot during this lockdown that's like a found footage type movie. Not really too many details to give on that. And then I'm doing a comic book series that I'm putting together that I wrote. And I'm working with an artist that I'm going to be releasing an issue ever other month called Lucid Nightmares.
James Bressack: And it's taking all of the horror concepts, that I've had for movies that I did not get made over the years, and turning them into an anthology comic book series.
Jeff: That is so exciting. We love comics here at Death Wish Coffee. So let us know about that, and we'll help you push those out because that's right up my alley.
James Bressack: For sure.
Jeff: I can't thank you guys enough for taking time and talking with me. I love pulling the curtain back on what you're doing. And not only from one perspective, but from two perspectives because it's really interesting and exciting. And you both are hard working and inspiring mother fuckers. Thank you guys so much.