Capone talks to writer-director-actor Edward Burns about NICE GUY JOHNNY and the future of film distribution!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Whether you like this films or not isn't really the point. Whether you think he's a good actor or not doesn't really matter. The undeniable truth is that for the past 15 years, writer-director-actor Edward Burns has been a mainstay of the indie film scene, since his celebrated debut THE BROTHER MCMULLEN was the talk of Sundance in 1995. Each of his releases has had a unique road to distribution, and with his last two films, PURPLE VIOLETS and NICE GUY JOHNNY (which became available this week on Cable Movies On Demand, iTunes, and DVD), Burns has foregone a theatrical release (by choice, he says) for a more direct methods of getting his works directly to those who want to watch them. I'll let him explain in our rather lengthy chat that we had during the Chicago International Film Festival, which featured NICE GUY JOHNNY on the big screen.
With the exception of a few studio works (such as the 1996 work SHE'S THE ONE), Burns has worked largely by and for himself, putting out films on average about once every two years, each one exploring a different aspect of the complication, often confrontational, relationship between men and women of a certain middle-class status in society. Works like NO LOOKING BACK, SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK, LOOKING FOR KITTY, and THE GROOMSMEN all have their moments, especially when Burns lets his actors dabble in the more comedic corners of their stories. As an actor, Burns has worked with some of the best in front of and behind the camera. His first acting gig outside of his own film was for Steven Spielberg in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Burns has been paired with the likes of Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Rachel Weisz, and the dreaded Katherine Heigl. But I have to admit, one of my favorite roles that Burns has ever played was himself in "Entourage" for a couple seasons.
Feel free to call bullshit on some of his theories about the future of film distribution, but the man and his team have done their research, and while I certainly don't like the idea of seeing fewer films on the big screen, he isn't the first filmmaker I've spoken to over the years that sees the future of distribution in the hands of someone other than theater owners and studios. Above all else, Burns is a fantastic guy to talk to. We take a major detour early in our conversation about Bruce Springsteen (we're both big fans--the big difference being, he's met him), but mostly we stick to the subject of movies. He's particularly candid about his history in picking acting roles in subpar films, and his reasons for doing so. I'm particularly happy with the way this conversation went, and I especially hope that all would-be filmmakers who inevitably ask directors for advice on starting out take heed at some of the things Burns has to say. Please enjoy, and perhaps learns a little something from, Edward Burns…
Capone: You were in Chicago a couple weeks ago, right?
Edward Burns: The Tribecca Film Festival, I’ve been involved with since Day One, so they even took the film on a little tour with one of their corporate sponsors as kind of a perk for one of the sponsors, like they will do a screening in Chicago; they are doing one in L.A. with a little party and a Q&A afterwards and that kind of thing.
Capone: So and you were here a couple of weeks ago?
EB: We did a special screening. We did some press leading up to tomorrow’s screening. That was basically it, I was sort of in and out in 24 hours.
Capone: And today, you did something with our Mayor Daley because apparently today was Independent Film Day?
EB: Independent Filmmaker Day, yeah, so that’s pretty cool. As you know with small films, any little bit of love that you get, you take it and embrace it.
Capone: They just ran an article in the Tribune over the weekend about what a film friendly mayor he is, especially considering that his father didn’t let any films get shot here.
EB: Oh really? I didn’t know that. Interesting.
Capone: It wasn’t until the father died and the new mayor came in in the very early '80s where you got THE BLUES BROTHERS and THIEF, which were basically the first two films to get shot here in decades. That was around 1980-81, I think.
EB: Yeah, and then UNTOUCHABLES is what? Is that late '80s probably?
Capone: That would be 1987.
EB: And then I heard you had TRANSFORMERS here.
Capone: Literally in a three-block radius of where we're sitting they did a massive amount of filming over the summer. They literally took over the city and destroyed it and built it all back, or it looked like they destroyed it. All up and down Wacker Drive, they were blowing things up and flipping cars everywhere, and they let me come on the set one day. A couple weeks after I ran my preview piece on my day on the set, I get this package in the mail from the City of Chicago with a coffee table book with all of these beautiful shots of Chicago and a signed letter from the mayor, saying “Thanks for writing the piece. Best of luck.” But he has been super friendly to any film or TV crew that wants to come. They shot the Nolan BATMAN movies here, and that was a really big deal.
EB: Well it’s such a great, cinematic city. Walking around this city--the fact that the elevated trains are still up--I’m from New York and I hear the stories from my parents about the 'L' Train on 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue, and I can’t even imagine what the city must have been like with that. So walking around here I just want to grab a camera and start shooting.
Capone: That’s what people do. So let’s talk a little bit about the new film. I got a sense while I was watching it that one of the two main characters--Johnny and his uncle Terry--one of those guys felt like they must be you or more you than the other.
EB: Yeah, [Laughs] definitely. Johnny is a version of me when I’m a young guy and that’s part of the reason… When I started to come up with the idea, I wanted to tell a story about a guy who’s dream is on the line, because it was based on this thing that happened to me a couple of years ago. I thought, “If I write a part for myself, it’s more like a mid-life crisis story, quite honestly,” you know? So I started to think about my life pre-BROTHERS MCMULLEN, when I first came up with that. To try and tell my parents, working-class folks, “I’m going to write and direct movies.” They were definitely supportive, but there was a lot of concern, and then after I made MCMULLEN and borrow money from them, and a year goes by, and it gets rejected by every festival and production company and agent, and I can’t even get an agent to try and sell my next screenplay, there was real panic in the house.
I was like “Maybe this was a mistake” and I kept remember thinking “Maybe I just have to give up the dream of being a filmmaker. Alright, I’ve been working in television for four years, maybe I’ve got to go in that direction.” So, I really wanted to tap into when the dream is life or death, and looking back on it, it sort of is, because at 24 had I gone and I said “Alright, screw it, I’m not going to push anymore, I’ll take the safe route because there’s a job with benefits waiting for me over there,” then you are on that path forever. So I knew that I wanted this kid to be 24 or 25, because I just felt that there was more at stake given the choice. But then I think, there’s a little bit of me in Uncle Terry in his being a wise ass and a ball buster.
Capone: I will say I applaud you for giving him almost no redemptive qualities whatsoever. It’s not like he turns into like “Mr. Nice Guy” at the end. He’s got that one piece of advice, like “Don’t be so nice,” and that’s about as good as it gets. But the guy was like stealing stuff from his nephew and telling him to cheat. He’s a horrible influence.
EB: Well, when I came up with the idea of the whole notion of dreams and I started to think about, “Alright, so a guy who is so self-sacrificing,” the idea that he’s nice to a fault, that’s kind of how the title even came about with his tag on the radio. So I was like “Alright, if I’m going to write a story about a guy who is nice to a fault, then what do I do with the mentor?” And I thought, “Well, maybe the mentor is the most selfish son of a bitch that you can possibly be.” Because part of what this guy needs to learn is like he’s got to learn to be a little bit self centered periodically, kind of like that last scene says. So then the challenge was to resist the temptation to make Uncle Terry, my character, a little bit more likable, to give him a moment of redemption. I just thought it was a little more honest not to give that. I know Shakespeare a little bit; I haven’t read anything since college, but a buddy of mine was like, “You know who that character is? It’s the Falstaff character. He’s the drunken, lying, cheating kind-of dopey guy, but periodically there’s a little bit of advice that actually has some value to it, unintentional, but…” [laughs]
Capone: You said there’s a lot at stake for Johnny, but he’s 25. He’s still got time to recover from any mistakes he might make. But those sort of things, as you get older, they do become life or death, the choices you make at 40 are probably going to set the path for the rest of your life, and you can’t take them back or you can’t recover from them as quickly. It got me thinking, “It’s good that this is happening to him at 25, because at 35, it might be a little rough.”
EB: That’s kind of why I play with the idea of a fiancé and the idea of her wanting the house and the kids and the marriage, because once those things happen, well, then it’s tough to sort of argue “Hey look, I can still pursue this thing.” When all of a sudden you’ve got a difference set of bills, it’s not just paying for your cable, it’s paying for a little kid. Then that job with benefits all of a sudden takes on a whole other importance, so that’s kind of what I was looking at.
Capone: And 25 seems really young to get married, but Johnny says his mom and dad got married when they were about 25; my parents got married at 25. People take a little bit more time these days to see their dreams through than they used to.
EB: Yeah, big time.
Capone: That being said, it is kind of a cynical look at relationships. Where is that coming from?
EB: There were two things I guess I wanted to look at with the two relationships that he has. One was this character of Claire, the fiancé--there are those people that you will meet in their early 20s who are in such a hurry to grow up. Johnny still looks like a kid from the way he dresses to the way he wears his hat, and his fiancé, even though she is only 22, she’s dressing like a middle-aged mom, and we wanted to play with the idea of the rush to grow up versus kind of what’s happening a little bit more now where we are allowed to live some sort of version of an extended adolescence. We are allowed to kind of stay at home with mom, figure it out deep into our 20s, even our 30s, whereas, a generation ago, like with my folks, they were like “You are out the door at 22 and you better be married with kids by 25.”
So there was that part, but then the other thing that I wanted to play with was again playing with the whole idea of “This guy is nice to a fault.” While infidelity is a terrible thing, this guy meets the dream girl, and I based her on a line in Springsteen song that sort of like I’ve romanticized and it’s sort of haunted me since I was a teenager… in “Jungleland”: “Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.” Whoever she is, whatever version of that woman or that girl that existed in Chicago, or Long Island for me, I always imagined the promise she held. We all have that girl. We roll into a parking lot, and she’s there and she’s cool and she’s a free spirit, and I thought, “Alright, so what about that notion of the dream?" And while this dream at stake, this other dream presents itself, and I kind of wanted to come up with a temptation where it’s like, “This really appears to be the right match for me, yet I’m already in this other relationship,” to play a little bit with that as well.
Capone: I remember reading a while back that you have a Springsteen thing.
EB: Maybe to a fault. Did you see THE PROMISE yet?
Capone: I just watched it, yeah. I watched it was a couple of days ago.
EB: Just awesome. Incredible.
Capone: I’m seriously trying to find ways to find the warehouse where they are storing the box sets and rob it.
EB: Well, the coolest thing is my very good friend, who was the editor on PURPLE VIOLETS is Thom Zimny who directed THE PROMISE, so I got access early on to see… There’s a lot more great footage. He goes through every song on the album, talking about the inspiration for it. For me, I got like two guys who probably couldn’t be more different, but for me there are a lot of similarities, like I’ve got Woody [Allen] on one side and I’ve got Bruce on the other. They guys who just explore the same themes, going down the same streets, kind of exploring the same types of characters over and over again, hoping to somehow find some truth or get to the bottom of the things, and you really can’t, but the fun is the dig.
Capone: I was down in Austin for a film festival a few weeks ago, and I got a chance to talk to Edward Norton, and he had just come from that on-stage interivew he did in Toronto with Bruce, so I squandered an opportunity to talk about his new film just to talk about what that was like with him and what Bruce meant to him. And a couple of years ago, when Darren Aronofsky was here with THE WRESTLER, we spent the first 10 minutes of that interview talking about, “How the hell did you get Bruce to write a song for you?”
EB: Yeah, yeah. The thing that’s the sickest is apparently with the box set there’s an exact replica reproduction of the notebook. That’s what I can’t wait for.
Capone: It’s at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. I drove out there in August to see the exhibit, and the notebooks for most of the albums are there.
EB: That’s nuts.
Capone: Yeah, I love those notebooks.
EB: And you know there’s more stuff in the vault. Can you believe we are getting, I think there are 10 new tracks.
Capone: Oh, there’s more than that.
EB: Is there more than that?
Capone: There’s two discs worth of outtakes, so I think there’s like 20 songs.
EB: Can you imagine?
Capone: I’ve heard a lot of them over the years, but, for example, that one song they released early, I have never heard that song in my life. I have never even heard of it. Alright, we are getting way off track. I apologize.
EB: We’ll do another full Bruce talk some other time. [laughs]
Capone: Have you ever met him?
EB: I’ve met him a bunch of times. One of the greatest early, kind of like right after MCMULLEN stories, which I think is probably safe to share, my brother and I were lunatics, and it was the Tom Joad tour, and he’s playing deep up in Connecticut. So my brother and I road trip up there and it’s a four-hour drive. We go to see the show, and after the show literally my brother is like, “You’re kind of famous now, maybe we can get backstage and see if we can meet him.” I’m like, “I don’t think we should do that.” He goes “Come on, let’s just try it,” which is typical of my brother. So we go and we try and get backstage, and they go “Oh, Ed Burns? Who are you?” I’m like “I did this movie, THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN,” and they are like, “Oh okay, yeah come on back.” So we come back and we a like in a backstage, more like were the crew is I guess and their families are, so we are there for two hours hanging out and we are like “Oh well, I don’t think Bruce is going to come. This isn’t the backstage.”
So we are like “Alright, let’s get out of here,” and the only way out was through this one tunnel. And as we were walking through this tunnel, Bruce and one of his buddies is walking the other way and that’s when we got to meet him, and I don’t know if he had seen the film yet--I don’t think so--but his buddy had and he said “Hey Bruce, there’s the guy who made BROTHERS MCMULLEN,” so I got to meet him there, and I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.
Capone: Speaking of music, I had forgotten that you somehow got Tom Petty to do a soundtrack for you, and I've always loved the SHE'S THE ONE album. How did you get him to do an entire soundtrack for you?
EB: It was nuts. I mean that’s another great story. So we finish SHE’S THE ONE, and it’s at Fox, and I guess Petty was in between albums, it had been a while maybe and I forget what the album was before, but he expressed some interest and he had some songs. He was like “Maybe I can just put one of my songs in a movie to get something out there.” So, they sent him SHE’S THE ONE, and he liked it, and they called me up and they said “Hey, Tom Petty wants to talk to you about putting a song in the movie. Would you be interested?” I’m like “Would I be fucking interested? Let’s go right now.”
So I fly out to LA, I go to his house, and he was the nicest guy. He’s like “Hey, so let me play you this song.” So we go up to his music room, and he plugs his guitar into his amp and he sits there--and it’s me and him like this--and Petty plays me a song looking at me. Again, I’m 27 years old, I’m a kid, and he’s like “What do you think?” I’m like “It’s fucking awesome, yeah!” He was like “Do you want it for the movie?” I said “Absolutely!” He goes “Well, I’ve got another one.” He plays me a second song, then he plays me a third, and he goes “Which one do you want?” And THE GRADUATE is one of my favorite films, as is probably evident in the homage in [NICE GUY JOHNNY]. So I said, “You know, I love the idea of maybe doing what Mike Nichols did with Simon and Garfunkel. Would you ever consider if I used all three songs, but then we extracted the melody from this one and that one and used instrumental version as the score?” And he’s like, “That’s kind of a cool idea,” and then from that conversation, we started to talk and then he had some other songs and then he had some instrumentals that he was playing around with then. Eventually, it kind of led to him doing all of the music in the film.
Capone: You mentioned before about how you had Bruce at one end and Woody Allen in the other. All of your films do have a distinctive tone that makes me realize that you might not be the best director-for-hire that’s out there, and that's something you’ve never done it. You have certainly farmed yourself out as an actor, but never as a director. Is that deliberate? I can’t imagine people haven’t approached you with scripts.
EB: Well, it’s funny, that’s how this script is born. Two years ago was right after PURPLE VIOLETS, my agents come to me--I’m at a different agency then. I got rid of these guys, and they were like, “Look, this whole writer-director thing… maybe it’s time to consider putting yourself up for an ODA, an open directing assignment. Studios have all of these projects that are going next year, there’s definitely some interest with you directing a mainstream romantic comedy. You’ve got a good relationship with actors… that sort of thing” and I was like “I’m not really interested” and then they said “And this is probably what you could get paid,” and I looked at the number and was like “Are you kidding me? Alright, so maybe I should so maybe I should consider some of these scripts.” So I said “You know what? Let me look at some scripts, and we'll see.” I spent six months and I read a ton of scripts, some dog shit, some really surprisingly well written. One actually turned into a pretty critically acclaimed and successful film.
Capone: Not going to say what it is?
EB: I can’t say what that one was, and I have no regrets about it. The point of it is there’s another one that I thought “Alright, I think I can do this. I think I can lend my voice to this and spend two years of my life trying to make this thing mine” and I told them “Yeah, let’s do it.” Obviously, they were very excited and I said “Just give me the weekend to reread it, and then we will set up the meeting for next week.” So I reread the script over the weekend, and it really wasn’t about whether or not it was a good screenplay or a bad screenplay, I just… I don’t know… “Of course who wouldn’t want to make that much money, but do I need to?" I love what I do way too much. It’s all I think about, I’m a writer first. I’m not a filmmaker, I’m a writer-director and I like my little stories, and I eventually said “No, thanks.”
And that guy over there, Aaron Lubin, my producer, it was his idea and it was really like a lot of long conversations, like “If I do this thing, what does it mean? How does it affect everything else you've done? Can you recover from it?” I was just weighing “Well it could be good, you’ve got the relationship with the studio, and it will help get this movie made.” So when I passed, he was like “Look, you’ve got to write a script about this. You’ve got to come up with a story that examines that dilemma of pursuing the dream vs. the paycheck.” We have a very good friend of mine who’s a musician who had recently gone through the same thing and another friend of ours who is a journalist, a newspaper that he was writing for was, like a lot of newspapers, laying off a lot of people and he was wrestling with the same thing. This is kind of a timely issue, and then we were about six months into the recession, and I was like “Alright, let’s mine this and see what’s there” and eventually that’s how this, the whole idea was born. So I considered it, I’m glad I didn’t do it, but that’s not to say five years from now we might be sitting and saying “You know what? I always wanted to direct a horror film.”
Capone: You wouldn’t be the first.
EB: Look, the great advantage that I have over some other indie filmmakers is I have my half-assed acting career, which kind of affords me a little bit more room to kind of gamble on a tiny movie.
Capone: I’m guess a lot of what was fed to you was in the romantic comedy vein.
EB: It was all romantic comedies. If there was a cool like Tarantino-esque kind of gangster film or something like OUT OF SIGHT, I would jump on it, but you do get pigeonholed.
Capone: But you, you’re versions of those tend to avoid most of the shitty trappings that are in every single romantic comedy. Do you ever say that you will never have a scene where “That” happens…
EB: I will never have the sing-along scene. I’ll never have the changing-of-the-different-outfits scene. You know that one, right?
Capone: You'll act in movies likes that.
EB: I was just going to say, I was in 27 DRESSES, right? Those are two absolutes that I will never do. I understand why people label the films as “romantic comedies,” but I look at like the genre as something that has been sort of soiled in a way, because when you look at like first of all Woody Allen, ANNIE HALL is a romantic comedy, MANHATTEN arguably is. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, you could even make the argument, is a version of a romantic comedy with dramatic elements. For me the first film that I saw in film school where I was like “Oh wow, that’s a different kind of movie” was Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT. Now that, by today’s standards, might be labeled a romantic comedy you know.
Capone: Up to a point, yeah.
EB: Up to a point, but it is funny and it is romantic, and they end up together at the end with the greatest last line of any movie ever. So I have always aspired not to make romantic comedies, but to make like character pieces that deal with relationships, and if they are funny, whatever. You can’t sweat that, so I think that’s probably why I’ve avoided it, because I’m not even that familiar with that definition of the genre.
Capone: You mentioned 27 DRESSES, do you have a different criteria when it comes to choosing your acting parts as opposed to the stories that you write or would even consider directing that might be from somebody else?
EB: As a young actor, I got the greatest gift you could ever get, the first movie I ever acted in was SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and there’s a reason why I didn’t act in another movie for two or three years after that, because of my standard of what I wanted to do next was so high, given that experience. Looking back on it, I probably should have been a little less discerning and just taken some paychecks, but that’s what the next film was 15 MINUTES, and it was like “Alright, costarring with Robert De Niro.” The movie didn’t turn out to be maybe as successful as everyone had hoped, but still it was a chance to be in ever scene with Robert De Niro and Vera Framiga. That’s pretty awesome.
And then since then what did I do after that? I did the Angelina Jolie romantic comedy, then I did CONFIDENCE, it was with a filmmaker that I adore, James Foley, who did GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and that cast with Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti. That was a killer cast, and then that was kind of the end of my… They give you a couple of shots to be a movie star, so after SAVING PRIVATE RYAN they gave me three shots; they gave me 15 MINUTES, strike one. LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT, strike two. CONFIDENCE, strike three. And then I’m thrown to the side of the road acting-wise, and since then my approach to my acting career has been “Alright, I just finished shooting a film. I’m going to be in the editing room for three or four months, what movie is available to me as an actor in February, for example?” And now I have kids, so a big part is like “Alright, I don’t want to go to Prague. I don’t want to go here… Anything shooting in New York or close to New York?” So a lot of it, you know your priorities obviously change, and if I’m going to be as tough as I am on myself on my filmmaking side, to be perfectly honest, I have to be a little more “open” to some films on the acting side, especially when the money is right. You can probably look through the resume and be like, “Ah yes, I bet that was a nice paycheck.”
Capone: Suddenly images of THE HOLIDAY or even ONE MISSED CALL come to mind.
EB: Oh, man…
Capone: Let’s talk about your NICE GUY JOHNNY cast, because you’ve gone with mostly unknowns. I recognized Matt [Bush] from ADVENTURELAND, and he’s got a great Ralph Macchio quality to him. And you were right, he does look like a little kid. Tell me about finding and selecting him.
EB: Making films in New York, there is this great resource of all of these undiscovered great actors, and on every film, we go through the audition process, and the casting directors is like “You won’t believe who I just found,” and then you will see them and you will be like “They are incredible. Let’s go.” And then you tell your financier “I found this unknown, he or she is unbelievable” and then they say “Well, actually, you need a name for that part in order to sell the movie overseas.” So over the years we have had to pass on finding some great young talents.
This film, one of the things that we did given that the whole… The idea that I had writing NICE GUY JOHNNY from my memories of who I was right before and while making BROTHERS MCMULLEN, me and Aaron had this conversation about “What do we do with this movie? What’s the approach that we are going to take? Are we going to go out and try and get whoever the famous guy is and the famous girl and go through that whole process?” We got to talking and we thought “Alright, BROTHERS MCMULLEN was made for 25,000 dollars, we shot it in 12 days, all unknown actors, three-man crew, no hair, no makeup, and it’s my most successful film financially. Arguably, some people think it’s my best movie or my most beloved movie or whatever, but I’m like, “Should we go for it again? Do we just say we are going to go make this movie the same exact way?”
Back then I didn’t know how to make a movie, I had no money, I had no connections. Now me, my DP, and Aaron, we have like 50 years of collective filmmaking experience, what could we do with that model today? So kind of like the Dogma 95 rules, we did the same thing. We were kind of joking calling it “MCMULLEN ’09,” but it was like “We won't spend more than $25,000. We won't shoot more that 12 days, mostly try and find either unknown actors or people that are friends, no hair, no makeup, three-man crew, we are not going to pay for a single location.” So we set up a list of rules and parameters, and that’s how we did the film.
So when I went to my casting director, I said, “I don’t want to see anyone who is even remotely famous or has a name, because we are going to be asking them to do things that if you’ve ever been on a real movie set, you’re not going to do them.” Part of it is grabbing the lights and helping us load up upstairs. We are going to be asking you to wear your own clothes and do your own hair and makeup. And I said, “I know from the past that these great kids are knocking on the door who don’t get cast, because they are not a name yet. Let’s see if we can break some new kids, and she said “I have two kids immediately in mind that you need to see” and that ended up being Kerry Bishé, who plays Brooke, and Anna Wood, who plays the fiancé.
The other girl, Vanessa Ray was another one who read for the Brooke part and she was great. I think her part in the original version of the script is the best friend to the fiancé, that was like one line, but she was so good and just naturally funny that we were just like, “Alright, I don’t know what we are going to do with you, but on the day that we are going to shoot, can you just stick around for the whole day? I’ll keep writing, we
ll find stuff for you to do.” And that’s why she ended up being in two or three scenes I think.
So Matt was a guy, we saw the first audition on tape and we are like “Alright, he’s first of all the nicest most genuine guy. He feels so honest and kind, so it was “Let’s meet him.” I sat down and met him and he is, he’s that guy. I told him how we were going to make the movie, and at the time we weren’t even sure like “Are we going to fully commit to making this a feature?” There was even a conversation about “Do we just turn this into like shooting a couple of scenes? Is it a web-series?” We were gambling on “Can you make a movie for $25,000 anymore?” So long story short, we end up finding Kerry, we had them read together. The minute they read together, even though you know she’s six feet tall and he’s not, there was this weird little chemistry that they had, and we were like “If we can get some of this on film, we are going to have a really cool little movie.”
Capone: Brooke is an interesting character, because Johnny, I get; I know guys like that. He’s easy to figure out in a lot of ways. But Brooke has to walk that line where she can’t be throwing herself at him, because that’s a different kind of girl, but you also have to make it very clear that there is a chemistry, and she feels it and she likes him. She’s got to be a little harder to read than anybody else in the movie. I like that character and I like that she’s holding back just enough, but getting little things out there that he’s picking up on.”
EB: And you know she brought stuff to the script. The great thing about these kids was they couldn’t believe that they were the leads of a feature film. So they came at the movie with such excitement, like they were going to fight for their lives to make these scenes great. I’m 42 now; I’m writing for 22 and 23 year olds, I said to myself “Look, I don’t know how you guys speak, and I’m totally cool with like if this feels like a line from the ‘80s, change it; I don’t care about that. You know what the intent of the scene is.” And the minute they knew that they had a little room to play and even after the first day where I was like “No, do more of that thing that you were doing there.” They really started to shaped these characters in a different way.
I have to give Kerry a ton of credit, because I knew the character I wanted her to be, just a little damaged, but she brought all of these other layers to it where like there’s that scene at the end of the bonfire where she kind of makes the move on him, and he’s like “I don’t want to do this,” and she's saying, “You’ve never slept on the beach and you're really a nice guy.” She’s bringing like a full history of a kid who maybe has put herself in tough situations or been taken advantage of or gets too drunk and fucks around. That was never in the script, “There’s a whole bunch of hurt in this scene.”
Capone: That's a great moment where she wakes up the next morning and she says something to him about what he did--or didn’t do--is not what a lot of other guys would have done. There’s something she says that implies she's experienced what some other guys would do, and that’s just kind of sad.
EB: Yeah, and she was bringing all of that to the character. That one moment where after he takes her home, and they are in the room and she kind of turns away and kind of squints like she did that and all of us were just like “Wow.” I was like “I don’t even know what it means. It could mean a thousand different things, but whatever this young actress is feeling here,” it just felt honest and painful. I don’t know, did it mean like “I’m being rejected and that hurts,” or “I’m such a fucking slutty chick to be back in this guy’s house.” There could have been 10 different definitions of what that meant and that’s exciting when you have somebody who’s confident like that.
Capone: So were you able to stick to your protocols that you set up at the beginning?
EB: Totally. We have some very funny footage, because our post-production supervisor for the last couple of movies, a guy named Mike Harrop, who became sort of a co-producer on the film, ended up doing the sound work on the movie. So he’s our boom operator. He’s never done sound work in his life, so he’s booming, Will [Rexer, D.P.] is shooting, I’m in the scenes that I’m not acting in holding reflectors. But on one day Mike couldn’t show up, so we have this great behind the scenes footage of Will shooting, I’m booming, and then when Matt finishes his scene and I called cut, I said “Okay Matt…” And then I directed, and then I pick up the boom again.
And I have to admit, it gets you back in touch with why you do this in a different way. The movie business is a lot of fun, there’s all of these perks and all of the bullshit that goes along with it, but when you have two guys standing on a straight corner in Greenwich Village making a little tiny movie with an unknown actor who’s fighting for his life, everything comes back. It’s more, I think, the way a musician or a band might feel when they're playing a gig. Everything kind of disappears, and you're only in the moment with the music like that’s what happened on this movie. Right now, I don’t ever want to go back.
We're going to do another movie in January, we're maybe going to spend about $35,000 with the same idea. It’s a four-character little story, and I don’t even care… It doesn’t even matter if they get released theatrically anymore. You get to make these cool movies with great people who want to do it; there’s nobody standing over your shoulder saying, “The studio isn’t going to like that” or “Can you change that line in the script?” or then in post-production changing the title of the movie or saying “You can’t use this song” or whatever all of the horror stories you have heard--none of that bullshit. It’s liberating.
Capone: The last film, PURPLE VIOLETS, went to iTunes for distribution, and now this film, you're doing something different again. Talk a little bit about your alternate means of getting the film out there beyond the festival circuit.
EB: The big thing, with PURPLE VIOLETS, we realized the movie before THE GROOMSMEN had a new company called Bauer Martinez releasing the film. They didn’t have a lot of experience and a little bit of money and they tried to sort of just copycat the traditional platform release that most of these indie titles do and that a number of my films have done sometimes to success and a lot of times to not so successful. But you would do your New York-L.A. release, and then two weeks later you get to your next five markets--Chicago, San Fran, Atlanta--and maybe three weeks after that. So eight weeks out then you at hitting your St. Louis, your Seattle, maybe Dallas, Houston.
The problem that we had and that we would always hear from people is “Alright, I saw you on the 'Today Show.'" or "I saw Jim Moore’s interview in Entertainment Weekly and I was all read to see the movie and I don’t live near an arthouse, so it never came, and nine months later the DVD came out with this crazy artwork, and it didn’t even look like one of your movies.” That’s really frustrating, so by the time we got to PURPLE VIOLETS, we got another offer for that kind of release. And a big part of it was, I’m a big music nut, so I’m looking at what a lot of bands are doing, and the idea that they are trying to release their movies directly to their fans, and we looked at that and we said “There’s a model of this that can work for indie films.”
So that’s ’07, and we said “Let’s contact iTunes and see if they’d ever be up for an exclusive run of a movie and see if they would give up like a different level of promotion than some of the titles that they had there." So that’s what we did, and I’m not going to lie to you and say we hit a home run, but we hit a solid single. The movie was a $4 million dollar movie, so the woman that financed the movie did not get it all back and didn’t get it all back from iTunes, but we saw the number that was doable at iTunes and we thought “Wait a second, this could change the game.” You don’t sell your movie, you just license it, so I could retain ownership, and you can get the movie to anyone who has a computer, like on that day. If I go and do Conan, I can say “Go to iTunes that night and download the movie,” and we started to hear back from people, especially younger people, they are fine watching it on their computer or their phone. And that predated Apple TV, it predated the iPad, it predated Netflix streaming, predated the Apple TV streaming, and predated people like really being a little bit more comfortable watching movies on their computers. So we looked at that and thought “iTunes is one piece,” then what Magnolia and IFC were doing with their VOD window before, and then I saw Soderbergh did on GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE and BUBBLE, and I’m like “Alright, if VOD before theatrical is cool for Soderbergh, it’s absolutely cool for me.”
But then when we looked at those deals that IFC and Magnolia are doing, to get your movie out theatrically is so expensive, like even the smallest movie you are going to spend a couple of million to market it. We have this movie that costs $25,000 and we are like “Alright, either we sell it for a no-advance partnership, which we did on LOOKING FOR KITTY, and we should have seen money on that--nothing--or you sell it for a low-six-figure number and that’s it, I don’t own the movie anymore. They own it and do another crappy artwork like they did on THE GROOMSMEN. I don’t get to have any involvement in the trailer or the marketing, and I don’t own the movie anymore.”
A guy named John Sloss who’s a big indie film lawyer, this company called Cinetic, and another company called FilmBuff, he’s the one who put it in my head. He’s like “If you go VOD you can get into 42 million homes on the day that your movie’s released.” If you don’t make excuses for it and you embrace it not as a straight-to-video kind of thing, but you recognize “Wait, people are watching indie films in their living rooms on their flat screens now, on their BluRay players. It’s a different experience than the VHS on your little 12 inch.” So I was like “Alright, I kind of see this, so I did some research on all of the kind of numbers, especially James Gray’s movie TWO LOVERS and what that did on VOD. So then I said, “Alright, I’m in. Let’s do this.”
Then we started talking to Comcast through the Tribecca Film Festival--they have a good relationship. Comcast was like “Well we have this idea that On Demand should be a destination as opposed to sort of an afterthought. What if indie movie fans know ‘I go to my On Demand channel to see these titles’ as opposed to ‘Let me see what’s on.” We were like “Alright, we are in on that,” so with Comcast we started this thing called “The Indie Movie Club.” They are going to have interviews with filmmakers. The first thing we did is this thing called “Picks and Flicks,” so like I pick seven indie movies like THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, SHE’S GOT TO HAVE IT, METROPOLITAN, LAWS OF GRAVITY, all of the movies that when I’m in film school are getting me high on the notion that you can do it. So we're looking at all of these things, and they were like “Well let’s take the DVD window then and collapse that and we will go day in day. We will go digital, VOD, and DVD all in one day, kind of like the way bands now can say ‘Our new album is coming out, wherever you want it, we are going to deliver it to you in anyway you want to consume it or watch it.’" So we cut out the middle man. There’s no taste maker telling us that our movie is good enough, there’s no A&R guy telling us “You need a hit single here!” All of the studio pressures, marketing pressures from distribution companies, all gone, and now I own the movie, so in five years when the new thing evolves where people are now watching their movie in this whatever way, I then can monetize the film again. So you will never get rich, it will never be AVATAR, but what it does is it enables a filmmaker now to have full creative control, and you can hit singles and maybe doubles and make enough money to go make another movie next year. And I’ll never have to go hat in hand to the jerk who wants to cast his girlfriend in my script in order to get his $3 million dollars. And that is liberating.
If you want to do this, you’ve got to say: I have to tell small stories. I’ve got a lot of big movies I want to make, but I can’t make them this way. This is a different kind of thing. And the other thing is you’ve got to be okay not having your movie playing in a movie theater. The argument I’ve made with some of my friends who are filmmakers who like the business and financial side of this model, but they can’t get their head around not having it play in theaters. I’m like, “Look at your last movie. You played on six screens in six different cities for two weeks. Do a film festival tour.” Like we're here. Tomorrow, I’ll see my movie in a great theater. I’ll get the thrill of sitting in the background, hearing the laughter and seeing it projected, and that’s better than showing up at the Angelika at 3:00pm and seeing four people in the theater in a small, not-great screening room. A friend of mine had a great line, he’s like, “The red carpet has become too cumbersome. Get rid of it, man, and embrace the future.” The death of the album sucks, but it's the new reality, and I’m like “The death of theatrical sucks, but it’s the new reality for our business.”
Capone: With that in mind any time you come into contact with film students, you must get the question, “What advice do you have for a young filmmaker?” It used to be, “Write your own scripts, because that way you might be able to get the deal to direct it,” or “Make shorts.” Now it seems the answer is, “Don’t be afraid not to have your first movie or two not going into theaters.”
EB: We've been thinking about the next film, like we might even take the film and break it up like into--kind of what I was saying maybe we were thinking about with NICE GUY JOHNNY--15- or 20-minute chapters. And is there a place to offer that up as free content online to get an audience excited? Give them the first hour for free, almost like try and engage them to be involved in the creative process. Whatever is happening virally is changing the way audiences are watching these films, and I think you, as a filmmaker, now have some responsibility to try and figure out “Why does it need to be 90 minutes to 2 hours in a theater?” “Are there other ways that we can tell these stories and use the Internet or the web?” There are a billion people on Facebook. I’d rather have a billion people see my movie than a handful of cinephiles in New York and L.A., so my advice would be like “Throw out the old rules." It’s a medium that’s only a hundred years old. Who is to say that the next hundred wont be a whole other new version of it? But again, I’m excited by potentially what the future holds, but I have no idea what the hell it is. Then the other thing is really how do you monetize it? That’s the hardest thing.
Capone: That’s always the question. Especially on the web, that’s always the question yeah.
Capone: Thanks for the quick education here on the new wave.
EB: Well, I have been like whacking my brain for the last couple of years. It’s funny, because like the Bruce thing, he’s talking about creative control, and the whole thing with Mike Appel, and it’s like he’s not allowed to record, so he’s building up all of these lyrics and these songs. I was just like, “That’s what we should be fighting for. We shouldn’t be fighting for creative control. We should not be fighting for box office success. We should not be fighting to compete with a massive studio film that’s going to spend $38 million to market their movie. We're going to lose that fight.” We shot this film with the Red camera, which looks gorgeous, and the technology is getting to the point where all of our movies will look real good for no money. So why not just sort of say “Fuck it, I’m not going to compete on that level, I’m going to tell a great little story here. It’s going to look great”? And then the tricky part will be “How do we make a little bit of money doing this?” I absolutely never want to compete on that level again, because there are no greater rewards there than there are over here.
Capone: I’ve got a friend that works for Red, and he always wants to know what people think of how it looks in a particular movie, and it looks like film to me.
EB: Looks like film to me. Only a DP, I think, can tell. When we are shooting exteriors with this, we had no lights, we had no big giant screens, we were just going out on the street handheld with that camera, and you throw that up against any $60 million romantic comedy shot for shot, and you're gonna tell me that theirs is better looking than ours? Again, not to keep equating everything to the music business, but like when that moment happened when you could load Pro Tools onto your Mac and record your stuff, that changed the game and then all of a sudden all of these cool bands are saying, “Wait a second, I can just go Tunecore and get my shit up on iTunes, and Pitchfork might hear about it and write about it, and I’m never going to sell a million, but maybe I’ll spend a hundred thousand.”
So it’s like when you look at that little mini-revolution happening, and then you have a band like the Arcade Fire, an indie band that sells out Madison Square Garden. Why can’t the same version of that happen for the young filmmaker who goes out there and does it? The tragedy is the minute you sell your movie, they'll make money, but the filmmaker doesn’t. It’s like a deal with the Devil. That would be my advice to the filmmakers, “Don’t sell it. There’s no money in it.” Unless they offer you the crazy seven figures, which very rarely happens. Then look at this movie BURIED, the Ryan Reynolds movie, big deal at Sundance, sells for a real chunk of change, and nobody goes to the theater to see it.
Capone: Too scary. It’s too intense. I thought that one was going to bust the bank.
Capone: That’s a great movie.
EB: I haven’t seen it yet.
Capone: It’s so good, but yeah I don’t know what happened there. Great finally meeting you. Thanks again.
EB: Good to see you, man. Thanks.
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Oct. 30, 2010, 1:57 a.m. CST
by Rocco Curioso
It won't involve traditional theatres, that's for damn sure. It will involve a pair of massively advanced personalized 3D glasses and a pair of wireless headphones. People will be able to download streaming feature films upon release (via wireless, perhaps at a speed of around 1000 Mbps), watch them on their 3D glasses via holographic projection, with a variety of audio options to choose from (THX Surround EX and Sony SDDS, to name two).<P>No more waiting in line (think SW sequels, if they ever happen). No more annoying people yammering to each other/on their cell phones as you're trying to enjoy the movie. No more exorbitantly overpriced concessions. No more having to hire a babysitter so you & your spouse can go see an R-rated movie unsuitable for the kids, or having to take the kids to a PG-rated movie you have no real interest in yourself.<P>Technology always moves forward, and if it simplifies and cuts out the soul of an experience you once held near & dear... well, get on the bandwagon and deal with it, hoss. The future is inevitable.
Oct. 30, 2010, 2:20 a.m. CST
by Wyndam Earle
as much as I don't like it, I have to agree that something like what you said will be the future. Too bad, since many of my favorite childhood memories are of sitting in a packed darkend theater, communily sharing the experience of a great film. Oh well, at least I gots my memories...now, if I could only download them and relive them at my leisure ala BRAINSTORM. When the fuck is THAT gonna happen?
Oct. 30, 2010, 2:34 a.m. CST
by Rocco Curioso
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. The communal experience of watching a movie in a darkened (and preferably QUIET!!) theatre with others can't be beat. I'll choose it anyday over watching a DVD at home.<P>As far as your memories go... no doubt they (the Future Almighty They, who will develop & control this brave new movie world) will have some "deluxe package" available that will tap into your brain's temporal lobes, and allow you to relive your prior theatre experiences. Which would be supremely cool, within that new technology context.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:31 a.m. CST
the theatre definitely ain't dead though. always had a soft spot for burns. don't really know why
Oct. 30, 2010, 7:31 a.m. CST
Good work all round.
Oct. 30, 2010, 9:30 a.m. CST
But I still hate that he gets to bang Christy Turlington & I don't.
Oct. 30, 2010, 11:10 a.m. CST
I never really did like Ed Burns, never knew of his Indie roots, and continuing career, I have a whole new respect and interest in his work now. I definatly agree with him on the future of the film business. With the affordibility of cameras, editing software and memory, the willingness of young unknown actors to do any work available, you can have such low overhead that its easy to make a movie that looks as good as a large studio picture and is written better and will still turn a profit.
Oct. 30, 2010, 11:18 a.m. CST
If you're making a low budget indie and want all the control then the internet/VOD model is your best bet. Equating it to indie rock is right. However, most of the indie rockers I know (and I know a lot) beg their friends to come to their shows and buy their music. It's a horrible existence. It's not romantic. It's asking your friends and family for money to keep you from getting a day job. If that's the future of cinema, hitting up Uncle Joe for 25k to make your personal story about you and your friends, cinema will die. The early to mid 90's had a rash of that and how many filmmakers really survived that kind of business model? Kevin Smith. Robert Rodrigues. I wouldn't even put Burns on that list as his movies make no money and no one really sees them. And another point--Who the fuck wants a future full of little cheaply made relationship character driven indies? Part of what inspired most of us to be in the business were not Cassavetes movies, but Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, John Hughes, etc. If every movie in the future is some bare bones guerrilla indie, I weep for the future of cinema. Do I think the studios are running the risk of becoming obsolete? Definitely. They need to bring their costs and spending and salaries down to reasonable levels in order to become profitable across the board. I see them starting to do that. They are laying off many of the layers of needless development execs they employ and getting more focused on working with top talent. Does that make it harder for new talent to break in? Definitely. But studios can be successful because at the end of the day, people want to go to the movies. Whether it's teens who want to get out of the house on the weekend and share an experience or a couple on date night or a family who'd rather go to the movies than sit around the house, theaters will always be there. What's happened is that the business of making movies is too expensive. Once the studios begin to control the costs and lessen the risk, you'll see more studio releases than you currently are.
Oct. 30, 2010, 11:46 a.m. CST
As an author, I pitched a book on his films to my editor. Unfortunately my editor said there wasn't enough public interest in his films to publish a book on the subject. I really, really liked Purple Violets. Haven't seen Nice Guy Johnny as there is only one video store in my small town and it didn't get the damned movie, but I'm dying to see it. Keep on grinding, Edward Burns. I, for one, will be there to watch and love all of your films.
Oct. 30, 2010, 11:49 a.m. CST
I don't really think the Cassavetes films need you to validate their existence. Those films are amazing pieces of art that stand on their own. Whether or not they are as entertaining as some John Hughes piece of shit isn't really important; they're art, and art exists for the sake of art.
Oct. 30, 2010, noon CST
Oct. 30, 2010, 1:13 p.m. CST
by Rocco Curioso
Well said, indeed. It seems like the studio releases of the past 5-10 years have no faith in themselves beyond a snatch & grab tactic. Pummel the target audience to near-death with TV and Internet ads leading up to opening weekend, and (if *that* succeeded) then crow about "The Number One Movie In America / The World!" to make potential audiences think they'd better get off their asses and see the movie ASAP.<P>Long legs among studio releases are few and far between these days (Cameron's once-a-decade extravaganzas excluded), and sizable 2nd-weekend dropoffs seem to have almost become the norm. Welcome to the 21st Century, when the average moviegoer has a week-to-week attention span of a circus monkey. Good luck changing that.<P>I shuuder to think that one day arthouse theatres may resemble the speakeasies of the 1920's; forbidden fruit to quench the thirst for something with an actual kick to it.
Oct. 30, 2010, 2:15 p.m. CST
Very well done and very in-depth. Burns sounds like he's really got his finger on the pulse of the way things are going in terms of indie film making and distribution. Here's a guy who ought to be writing a book on the subject. I know I'd buy it!
Oct. 30, 2010, 2:54 p.m. CST
...that was a good film.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:47 p.m. CST
but, his films are exceedingly boring and go nowhere. and, they routinely flop. i'm sure that's why he's made the 'choice' (yeah, right, cause distributors are clamoring to release his films in theatres) to 'forgo' theatrical distribution.
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:28 p.m. CST
with an "a" bro', no "e". Good interview just the same.
Oct. 31, 2010, 1:37 p.m. CST
Pretty much. Eddie Burns is to good looking bartender dudes from Long Island what Kevin Smith is to fat comic book nerds from New Jersey. I'd say Eddie's had the better life though. He dated and dumped Heather Graham and he married Christie Turlington. Sure Kevin Smith has been a bit more "ambitious" in his film choices but Eddie's definitely the more talented one.
Oct. 31, 2010, 3:56 p.m. CST
If they produce material with more mainstream appeal than an Ed Burns movie. There are no-budget web shows making $143,000 a quarter from blip.tv ad revenue alone. Millionaires are already being made under this new model.
Oct. 31, 2010, 5:02 p.m. CST
This is a subject close to my heart, as an indie filmmaker, I made a personal film for $20k and it went nowhere... I mean NOWHERE... as in, we didn't get into one festival. I don't think it was The Godfather, but compared to the competition it probably come close. I went to some of those festivals and saw stuff that was nigh on unwatchable, left confused, but afterwards I often found out that the filmmaker knew somebody on the selection committee or had a publicist or a team of connections (usually friends working at Gawker or some PR firm) banging the drum. Festivals and the kind of outlets Burns is talking about no longer give a shit about quality... there's just too many entries for the festivals to wade through and nowadays, all too often, the cream is not always rising to the top. As a result, many talented filmmakers are resorting to the time-honored tradition of TURNING TO GENRE. The entire indie scene is a joke... there's a shitload of hand-wringing over why there's no distribution, why nobody cares, how you have to build your audience via twitter and spending 24/7 on social networking (rather than, ya know, writing a great script) and it's FUCKING SICKENING to those of us who care about finding an audience. <p>Anyway, I turned to genre and did an alien abduction centered web series, then wrote a feature length script that I took to a pitch event in L.A., and it was optioned and is in development as a television show (development hell, but I learned a lot and found people who appreciated my talent). For me, it's about getting on the map and being able to make a living doing what I love... I love Alien, Blade Runner, and The Exorcist just as much as I love Persona, A Woman Under the Influence, and Scarecrow... so genre is not a four-letter word in my book. As a matter of fact, it's something filmmakers always USED TO DO as they were starting out because so much of it revolves around how good you are at craft, building tension, and sucking in an audience and keeping their attention. There's this whole atmosphere on the indie/festival circuit now where there's a sense of entitlement to an audience for every indie filmmaker's navel pickings committed to celluloid and it's what's killing and suffocating indie film. That and poor selection practices at the biggest festivals. They can't understand that nobody wants to see shit... and nearly everything that gets hyped up now is usually just that - SHIT. It's been a loooooong time since you'd had a Primer, a Brick... hell, a fucking TEETH, and even longer since you've had a Following or a Pi. I still haven't seen Winter's Bone, but I'm hoping it breaks the cycle. Listen... I know a lot of hate gets thrown at Paranormal Activity, but the fact of the matter is, they went genre, had performances better than 99.9% of indie films (seriously, watch random indies like I do... the acting is horrifying), and made a film that had the POTENTIAL to entertain a wide audience. Is it any wonder it was rejected by Sundance? It took the industry, which is way smarter about what audiences want to see than the 'street cred' obsessed (how about STORY AND CRAFT OBSESSED?) indie world wants to admit, to find the film and then champion it to become a box office titan. <p>I'm pretty much fucking done with indies... if you go on boards like Truly Free Film and bring up somebody like Neill Blomkamp, whose short films are better than most features, it's completely ignored. Do not discuss craft and more importantly, do not discuss people doing work that actually gets an audience. This is why I spend all my time either here or screenwriting blogs now, because on a screenwriting blog there's no 'Hollywood' and no 'Indie' there are only MOVIES... good ones, bad ones, great ones, and mediocre ones. If you look at all these people making great looking short films, the evidence is there that the more talented people are leapfrogging over festivals altogether. The smart ones figure out where the open door is and then jump in before it closes. And the open door is NOT at film festivals anymore. If you want to get attention, make a scary as fuck 5 or 10 minute short film and throw it on youtube. If it truly is scary and original, it WILL find a large audience and possibly even get you some attention from the big boys. <p>The only major issue here is that it basically has killed the ability of someone like, say, a young Scorsese to come up out of nowhere... today, he'd likely turn to genre, do a low budget Cape Fear or Shutter Island first, and it might be 20 years or never before he'd get a chance to make a Taxi Driver or a Raging Bull. But you have to play the game... like I said, genre is not a four letter word. It's how nearly every single well known film director started out and I don't understand why there's this confusion all of a sudden about how to jumpstart a career.
Nov. 1, 2010, 9:57 a.m. CST
by Darth Busey
Nov. 1, 2010, 10:12 a.m. CST
It's pretty depressing that indie film and mainstream film are at such opposite ends of the spectrum that you can either make a film for $20,000 or $20,000,000. Anything in between is most likely going to go unnoticed and never earn a penny of profit.
Nov. 1, 2010, 11:16 a.m. CST
Genre and well made shorts are definitely the way to go. I know all this hype surrounding Lena Dunham and Tiny Furniture is going to send every young wannabe to their families for 30k to make their own personal feature film and a lot of people are going to lose a lot of money. I wish people would realize that she has connections in this business. She's not an outsider like Kevin Smith or Rodriguez were at the time. The fact that Apatow and Scott Rudin are mentoring her career isn't dumb luck. She had a way into them that even most established writer/directors can't achieve. What filmmakers should be focusing on is how to stand out instead of fit in. This whole interview with Burns is a bit depressing because you're hearing a guy with little writing/directing talent tell you about the future of the industry and how hitting a single is good enough. Maybe for him. For the rest of the people who dream of making great movies they have to be more ambitious and use the technology available to them today. I think these talky 90's retro character indies will be the rage for a year and then someone will come out with something intense that will blow people's minds. It's a cycle. I lived through the 90's as a young enough guy to realize that what happened then is happening now. As for the festival circuit being rigged, that's a given. The dreams of taking your film to Sundance without knowing anyone and without having a "name" in it are just that, dreams. One of my favorite stories is I did a short that got into a bunch of film festivals but none of the major ones. When I showed it at the Texas film festival, a person who worked for Sundance came up to me and said it was great and I should have submitted it to them. I told them I did submit it to them. Two times. The first time I submitted right before the deadline and figured I submitted too late to get noticed. The second time I submitted early. Both times nothing. I still don't think anyone ever watched my movie. They just cashed the check. Film festivals are not what they used to be.
Nov. 1, 2010, 12:33 p.m. CST
Loved the interview. Love the talkback. This is why I still come to AICN. So The Music Industry almost killed music, and The Movie Industry seems to be going down the same road. New systems of production and distribution are needed. The answer is that there is no new universal answer but a bunch of workable paradigms. Diversity is what's really needed for cinema to survive and evolve as an art from. From Burns to Romero to Aranofsky to Nolan to Whedon and everyone in-between, we just need to keep an open mind and enjoy it all. Thanks to everyone.
Nov. 1, 2010, 2:12 p.m. CST
by Darth Busey
Sure, its vital for "big" movies. I haven't seen it yet, but I would imagine watching "Avatar" at home (in 2-D, no less) kinda defeats the purpose. Indie movie creators should absolutely be exploring these alternative distribution/revenue streams.
Nov. 1, 2010, 2:42 p.m. CST
Getting price-gouged at the concession stand. Sitting next to cell phone carrying ignoramuses who act out during the movie. 3-D forced onto the public. Sure, nothing beats watching a movie projected on a big screen, but it's getting harder and harder to enjoy the experience.
Nov. 1, 2010, 11:41 p.m. CST
This is great education on the current state of cinema. Not only from Burns (whose films I never liked, but here he's certainly informative) but from the talkbackers who've made some shorts and films. I knew the scene for indies was bleak and this certainly cements it. We made a comedy short 4 years ago that never got into any festivals. As the creators, of course we're biased, but the comedy festivals we went to were 80-90% crap. And we didn't come in on a high horse. We were literally confused as to how these selections happened. We were told by people with more experience that they were definitely rigged with connections. The fact that it happens on a larger scale shouldn't be surprising, but it's discouraging nonetheless. I was contemplating getting one of these Mark II cameras, but the thought passed pretty quickly. When there's no audience, let alone some semblance of a profit, for what takes a lot of $$ and painstaking effort, it makes it tough to get motivated.
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