Book Review: Independent Ed

RV-AP476_BKRVBu_J_20150129161927I first saw Edward Burns in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan.  I, like a lot of people at the time, didn’t know who he was.  He just seemed like a cool guy, an Irish American (probably Catholic), with a Master’s Degree in wise-assery.  Not only was I unaware of him, but also his breakout Sundance success The Brothers McMullen and his followup She’s The One, both of which he wrote, directed, and starred in.  In 2009 I discovered a few interviews with Burns on Youtube while I was in post-production on my first feature.

…filmmaking isn’t easy, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because it chose us. We didn’t choose it. Besides, what’s the alternative?”

This guy spoke my language!  He seemed so normal and down to earth.  An everyman who had a dream, chased it, and found success.  He had a lot of great things to say about low-budget filmmaking, something I didn’t realize he was known for.  After doing some digging into his career, I was hooked, and his movie Nice Guy Johnny which released a few months later sealed the deal.  I was an Ed Burns fan.  If you’re an indie filmmaker and you haven’t seen Nice Guy Johnny, I suggest you pick up a copy on DVD.  The DVD commentary is informative, inspiring, and for some of you indie newcomers, it could be revelatory.

His new book Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life, is a must read for all indie-filmmakers.  It chronicles Burns journey through the Hollywood rollercoaster.  For most fans of his work, the book offers little new information, but that’s not a strike against it.  I’ve heard various versions of the stories in the book from different interviews and articles over the years, but not the whole story, and certainly not in order.  It’s a swift and easy read.  You can’t help but love the guy as he talks about how determined but clueless he was about the Hollywood process.  Being able to track his success and failure helps give a wakeup call to those interested in the movie business.  Burns is a guy who’s been through the ringer more than once, but he’s never given up.  His skills have improved and evolved, and I can identify with his ups and downs.

A couple thoughts for the first-time filmmaker: If you allow yourself to get crippled by the possibility of failure, you’re going to rob yourself of a lot of great experiences.”

The transition of Burns’ career from theatrical to digital is especially interesting.  I loved reading about Purple Violets and how it became the first movie to premiere exclusively on iTunes.  You get little glimpses at the financial backend of some of his movies, which is nice to see.  VOD gave Edward Burns’ career new life, and he was one of the first guys on the indie side to really dive in and make it his own.  His “lets just do it” attitude is enough to make anybody feel empowered.  Newlyweds, shot on a 5D for $9000 on the streets of NY (whenever cast and crew were available), was a massive success on VOD.  Although Edward Burns is…well…Edward Burns…it sure makes you feel dumb for making excuses about why you can’t make movies.  For years, this guy has done whatever it takes to tell his story.  His determination is undeniable, and he’s not some guy who had it all given to him.  He started at the bottom.

Nobody makes a film alone. Without the support of those two men, my parents, and the cast and crew who were willing to work for free, I don’t have this story to tell.”

The last section of the book talks about how Burns’ new show Public Morals became a series on TNT.  This was very informative for me.  It gives you a glimpse at how difficult it is to get a show on the air, even when you have the support of Steven Spielberg.  For years I’ve heard him say how bad he’s wanted to make a NY cop movie set in the 1960s and 70s, a job and time period his father knew all about.  Now he finally has his chance.  It’s very clear as you finish the book how influential Burns’ father was on his life and career.  He was there to support, encourage, and smack him upside the head if need be.  You’ll see Burns career come full circle as he describes the day his father and Steven Spielberg were on-set of the show.  Thinking about it now, I can’t help but smile.  Burns is all class, a guy who acknowledges just how lucky he was/is to be doing something he loves.  Looking to give your creative life a kick up the backside?  Give this a look.

Filmmaker Robert Bresson said it best: ‘Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never be seen.’ That’s what I’ve been going for since day one and that’s why, after all these ups and downs and highs and lows, I’m still at it.”

The Empty Page


Most filmmakers can relate to life being a bit…crazy.  You have this passion to create, little resources to carry it out, and your day-to-day needs make changing this difficult.  That’s a frustrating reality that can consume your thoughts.  You get down on yourself, and it’s easy to lose focus.  I’ve made two feature films at this point in my life.  Today is my 27th Birthday.  Few who want to make movies ever get to, so I try to remind myself anytime I get whiny of how far I’ve come and how young I am.  I didn’t just get to make one, I made two.  That has to count for something.  There’s a responsibility that comes with the opportunity to make a movie, to learn and explore in such a time consuming and expensive way.  The world is changing fast all around us.  Short form content is gaining ground, technology is advancing at an alarming rate, crowdfunding has hit public consciousness, filmmaking tools have become cheaper and more democratized, streaming has created a panic in Hollywood, content is being pumped out at an exhausting pace, and the ability to be seen or gain attention no matter what you’re creating has become more difficult.  I find myself asking, where do I go from here?

My family and I recently relocated to Nashville, TN from Atlanta, GA where we lived for a few years (I’m originally from NY).  My personal life has been about as nutty as my professional life, with constant shakeups and twists.  Graduate High School, go to college, drop out of college, make movie 1, move to CA, move back to NY, move to TN, move back to NY, meet wife, finish movie 1, release movie 1, marry wife, move to GA, have baby 1, write movie 2, shoot movie 2, have baby 2, release movie 2, move to TN.  Phew!  Atlanta was supposed to be “the place” to settle, but that never worked out.  Part of moving all your stuff includes consolidating your stuff.  We spent lots of time throwing things away, deciding what was necessary, having garage sales, etc.  I realized that most of the filmmaking stuff I have rarely gets used anymore.  It’s just money sitting around.  The more I got rid of, the better I felt.  I’ve been selling lenses, cameras, accessories, computers, monitors, and even my editing desk, which I’ve yet to sell.  I look around my office and it’s getting emptier.  I’ve been living off a MacBook Air, which I’ve found liberating.  I’m also moving to a standing desk, something my body will thank me for.  There’s a practical side to this, and a metaphorical side.  I’m cleansing my creative life of all the distractions and the clutter.  There’s a method to the madness.  Folks have messaged me worried, asking if I’m “getting out of the game.”  On the contrary, I’m just getting started.

As I’ve explored my own feelings and frustrations with where I’m at creatively and professionally, there are a few constants that always arise.  Not only do I want to keep making movies, and not only do I want to pursue movies that are more “me,” but I want to be truly great at it some day.  I say “some day” because I can objectively understand that I’m far from great at this.  This is a life’s pursuit.  There are no shortcuts.  I spend a lot of time on the internet, reading the patterns industry wide as best I can to see where things are going, where the holes are, who’s filling them or innovating, etc.  I’ve spent time in different stages of thought.  Everybody goes through the “gear phase,” where you spend time on forums arguing about specs instead of picking up your camera and shooting something.  I’ve been through the “criticism phase” where you spend a lot of your time criticizing movies instead of creating something worth watching.  It seems obvious, but as I’ve removed one distraction after another and consumed the world of cinema, it always comes back to one simple thing: what’s on the page.  I’ve seen a wide variety of films and regardless of budget, script is king.  Nobody cares anymore what camera you shot your movie on, and I’m not sure they ever really did.  Whatever I write next, I want to strive for something better.  For something rich in character, for something with soul.  I’m trying to get my creative life simplified to as few distractions as possible, so all I have left is an empty page to fill.  Me, my laptop, a desk, and my film collection.  2014 was a movie consumption year, where I saw hundreds and hundreds of films.  This year is about getting back to basics.  Due to the move, my goal of reading almost 100 books this year was completely derailed.  I have to get back on the horse.  There’s no better time.  There are no great movies without great stories, and there are a lot of stories out there I’ve never consumed.  I’ve felt weighed down by everything around me, not realizing just how fast the time is passing while I waste time instead of consuming something useful.

I mentioned wanting to make movies, wanting to make them great, and wanting to make them “me.”  I’ve realized that making them more me is the only way to accomplish the other two things.  I’ve spent most of my time trying to conjure up ideas for people who don’t like what I like, who aren’t like me.  People find their artistic stride because they find a way to communicate with their unique perspective and voice.  Nobody likes to live in an environment that squashes who they are or keeps them from thriving.  I’ve found myself wondering what would happen if I just sat down and made something that carries my unique stamp, without worrying about how to sell it or to whom or whether or not it makes a few people annoyed or disappointed?  The stakes are too high and time is too short to worry about it.  A short film perhaps?  I used to scoff at shorts, but given how bottled up I feel, a short film is looking to be a great way to get some junk out of the basement.  Some sparks of creativity don’t work in 99 pages, but they could work great in 10-15.  I think more-so than a few years ago, short form content is coming into it’s own.  Kung Fury’s release nearly broke the internet the other day!  I have ideas, but the industry is in the middle of a shift, and nobody really knows where or when it’ll even itself out.  Still, I’m convinced that finding my unique perspective and voice and embracing that fully is the best way forward.  Making something pure and honest, and letting that piece of art find those who appreciate it.

One thing I’m thankful for is to be working in marketing 9-5.  If I’m not spending time telling my own stories, at least I get to spend it helping others tell theirs to the right people.  Getting to peek behind the curtain on projects that aren’t my own has lent more perspective about what does or doesn’t work, and where the risk/reward ratios really are.  While I get back to the empty page, there’s no better learning experience I could be getting.  It’s better than college.  Thankfully I have a knack for marketing, so I’m sure it’ll be apart of my professional life alongside my other pursuits for years to come.  Where both of those things collide, gel, or create friction is yet to be seen.

So where am I?  I’m on a journey.  Destination unknown.  A chronic dreamer with a great wife and two adorable toddlers who keep me from floating away (ball and chain is a positive for me).  Sleeping little, working a lot.  Life is a constant stream of insanity.  With every pound lost trying to shed the “dad body,” another pound shows up to take it’s place.  I’ve had one successful movie, and one (so far) unsuccessful movie.  I’ve inspired a few and angered plenty.  I have a lot of ideas, but nothing that says “make me” yet.  I work alone, and I’m on the constant hunt for a creative soul-mate.  I’m in a new town, a new church, making new friends, and soaking in the new scenery.  All seems to be well, but there’s just one little problem…that empty page.


large truman show blu-ray8

I’ve been wondering that myself.