For Josh Sternfeld, working Fortress: Sniper's Eye was his first pure action film, which was a departure from his previous efforts in the drama Winter Solstice (2004) and crime thriller Meskada (2010). It helps to work with the creative team of Alan Horsnail, who wrote the screenplay, with the story developed from Randall Emmett and Emile Hirsch along with action veterans in stars Bruce Willis, Chad Michael Murray, and Jesse Metcalfe. I spoke with Sternfeld about how the stars aligned for him to work on the sequel to 2021's Fortress and how his cast helped make the production a resounding success.
"I loved the screenplay," Sternfeld said. "I thought that the combination of the character, character development, and the drama of it, combined with the fight scenes and the genre dimensions of it. It was really that combination that made me fall in love with the screenplay. I thought it was great, and when they sent it to me, and I read it, I had wanted to do an action film for a while. I had been looking for something to do for a while, and when I read this, I was just like, 'This is definitely the first one to do.' Luckily, Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films, the main production company, and Lionsgate entrusted me with it."
Sternfeld credited the stunt coordinating team with making the sequences work. "It was a little harder than I expected, but in a great fun way. When I went down there, I was very focused on rehearsing the action scenes. It was very much about the stunt coordinating team, rehearsing, sending me iPhone videos, going to the rehearsals, and doing all that. What I learned, what the challenge was, is that once you get on set and start shooting, it still takes a certain amount of time to look natural. Even if they're super well-rehearsed, you still have to do it. So that was a challenge working in the schedule, but it was a super fun challenge, and I feel like I have a real handle on it now."
The director mentioned how helpful the cast was throughout production. "They were all unbelievably great and professional," Sternfeld said. "I'm really not just saying that. First of all, the fact that they knew the characters at sort of a deep level was helpful. They had that baseline of understanding about each of their characters, although they did want to do different things with their characters from the first film. Every actor is a little different. Chad and Jesse are super charismatic and passionate. They want things to be and look right. Working with the actors is most certainly my favorite part of directing by far. There's nothing even close. When I first started seeing them work on set, Chad, and Jesse, everybody was so great. The electricity that they were giving to their performance was so obvious to me in Video Village. I was just like, 'This is going to turn out awesome. This is going to be great.' So working with professionals always helps."
As far as Willis, the film's main star, Sternfeld, said he didn't notice anything unusual in light of his retirement from the screen due to his aphasia diagnosis. "It worked out as planned," he said. "I didn't know anything about Bruce other than things that you ignore, little comments and remarks, but I never paid any attention. I certainly didn't know anything. When I got down to set, they told me the shooting schedule. They told me how long he was going to be on the production. But even then, I didn't find anything odd. Actors always want their scenes grouped because they have other commitments and do other things. So you know that even that wasn't anything. When I actually worked with him on set, he was great. He was completely present. He was completely charismatic. I talked freely with him. There was really nothing about it that was at all different. It was a great joy and honor working with him."
The experience on Fortress: Sniper's Eye provided an invaluable experience for Sternfeld in the realm of action. "Probably the thing that I learned the most intensely is the thing that in some ways might be a little bit most difficult to articulate. It is just that I know now how to visualize action scenes at a high level because you do all of the rehearsals, but when you get the camera's there, you're trying to make everything work organically, and it takes time to do that. So I got speedier in my ability to do that. As the shoot was going on, I was better on day five than on day two, frankly. I'd say hopefully, when I go out again to do a film like this, I'm going to be much more adept with the action scenes. I think they came out great, and this film, I'm totally proud of everything that went into this."
Fortress: Sniper's Eye Synopsis
Fortress: Sniper's Eye is an action cyber-thriller that takes place weeks after the events of the 2021 film; following the deadly assault on Fortress Camp, Robert (Willis) makes a daring rescue to save Sasha, the widow of his old nemesis Balzary (Murray). But back in the camp's command bunker, it appears Sasha may have devious plans of her own. As a new attack breaks out, Robert is confronted with a familiar face he thought he'd never see again. The film comes to select theaters, on-digital, and on-demand, on April 29.