During indieWIRE and Apple's Meet the Tribeca Filmmaker series, indie stalwart and Tribeca Film Festival vet Edward Burns spoke at the Apple store in Soho to discuss his Tribeca closing-night film "Newlyweds." With a shooting budget of $9,000, Burns latest venture marks his cheapest directorial outing to date. In the chat — moderated by Matt Dentler, FilmBuff's head of content — Burns doled out advice to a crowd packed with aspiring filmmakers and fans. Among the topics: the advent of social networking, the benefits of working with limited means, failing on your own terms and doing away with a theatrical run.
Below are some of Burns' tips taken from the event:
Buy a Canon 5D
Right before Thanksgiving, my DP had told me about this camera he had been playing with, the Canon 5D. It is the absolute game changer… Levels the field for any independent filmmakers. The camera looks like a still camera, so it worked with the pseudo-doc concept we were going for.
Limited Means = Easier on the Actors
On this film, some days we were just working with a one-man crew. What we did for sound, 10 out the 12 shooting days: We didn’t have a boom, we had a flash drive audio recorder than an actor would stick in their pocket. You just hit record.
At no point does the actor, out of the corner of their eye, get distracted by the light. Nor do they feel the boom above them. When you call cut, you don’t have the hair and makeup people coming in to prep them. None of that existed. So the actors really fall into character in a different way. What we found after the first day was that we were covering a very different kind of naturalistic performance.
I really didn’t need to direct the actors in this piece as I might have otherwise because we did so many takes. You’re not calling cut, you just take it from the beginning. What can happen on a traditional film set is the endless down time. We were shooting, some days, 14-15 pages a day, so there was no down time. It was like doing theater. That’s a very different sort of acting experience for film.
Limited Means = Less Pressure
It doesn’t cost you anything to shoot 19 takes on a flash drive. Especially when every location is for free. If you’re shooting on film, you do not want to burn extra film. The film is expensive and the process is expensive.
Ask Friends, Family and Fans for Help
I guess where I find stories, nine times out of 10, is from the people in my life. I just start to ask people for stories to play with. Now I’ve started to incorporate social media and Twitter. I’d tweet out, “I have this idea for a movie, what do you think? Got any more ideas?”
Back one day when I was going to to Hunter College studying film, I was walking down 4th street behind Spike Lee. I’m like 20 paces behind him and I just wanted to ask him some questions about filmmaking. But I didn’t have the balls. Once I started to use Twitter and people started to ask me those types of questions, I realized it was a form of communication that enables people to ask these questions.
The first thing I started to ask them about was the title of the movie. Since then, we’ve asked graphic designers to submit posters for the festival. Little things, but it’s kind of cool.
Fail On Your Own Terms
I was shocked. Even after the success of “The Brothers McMullen,” I’ve never had a moment where I could take my script, go out to LA and have a guy cut a check. I’m telling you, we had to scrape together every cent we ever got. It’s painful. Anyone that cuts you a significant check – they now are your partner. Even if it doesn’t, they believe that it entitles them to real participation and collaboration. They’ll change the title on you, ask you to rewrite certain scenes. I got to a point, where I was like: "Brothers McMullen" is probably my most acclaimed movie, my most financially successful, and it’s one of the films I made with only the participation of my collaborators, my friends, my actors and my crew.
I know how to make a movie for $25,000. If I do that, no one can tell me what to do. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. If the movie tanks and gets shitty reviews, at least it’s on me. If you want to be an artist, that is the decision you have to make.
Think Outside the Box
Even a respectable indie is going to have to spend a couple of million dollars in print and advertising. When you look at the box office returns of the majority of indie titles, they’re doing under a million dollars. For every “Win Win,” there are hundreds of titles. There are movies making $8,000 in their theatrical run. They know this is what they call a "loss leader" — using the theatrical as the promotional aspect to drive DVD/VOD sales. “Nice Guy Johnny,” we made for $25,000. Why would we gamble on theatrical, potentially be in the hole for $2 million, rather than just go on iTunes? For me, it’s about the ability to make another one. I love this too much to spend three years hat in hand with my script only to be told by some schmuck with an MBA what doesn’t work with my script.
You won’t have that pop-culture moment. You won’t enter that public consciousness moment where everyone is talking about the film. But those are not the films I make. That was never part of the game plan. For me, if it’s about a fiscally responsible game plan, then I don’t think we’ll ever go back to theatrical.