I 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.”