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Edward Burns Discusses Returning to His 'Brothers McMullen' Roots With His Latest and Whether He Will Ever Turn to TV

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 7, 2012 at 9:51AM

For his eleventh feature, the heartwarming family drama "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," filmmaker-actor Edwards Burns returns to the working-class, Irish-American roots that defined "The Brothers McMullen," his phenomenally successful debut that netted him the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and made him an instant star on the indie circuit.
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"I think VOD is absolutely the savior for indie film."

"Christmas" is getting a theatrical release unlike your last few features, granted its already available on VOD. Why did you choose a different release model for your latest?

I think VOD is absolutely the savior for indie film. You know, those last two, “Nice Guy Johnny,” “Newlyweds,” granted they were micro-budgeted movies, but they did so well on those digital platforms. On VOD and also iTunes, and now Amazon is becoming a bigger player. There’s no way we could have done a similar number had we gone theatrical. The other thing with theatrical is: it’s just so expensive to market those films for that kind of release. I mean Tribeca has been very smart, and the reason we went with them is that we’ve been working closely to be like, “Hey, we have to keep these expenses at the bare minimum.”

So that’s why you do VOD first?

Right. VOD first. We’re not going to risk losing money on theatrical. Worst-case scenario, we break even. Hopefully we do better than that. We’re expecting to, which is why we’re going for it. So, VOD is absolutely the future of indie film, especially when you look at how many really good bigger budgeted indie films came out this year and had big marketing campaigns, and nobody showed up at the theater. And these were good movies.

I think it’s just our viewing habits have changed. You know, that’s a small flat screen for some people. People are used to sitting at home and watching “Homeland” on demand, all 12 episodes over the course of a weekend. Watching it when they want to watch it. Great programming. In their living room. How do you get that same crowd to say: “I’m going to get the babysitter. I’ll pay for the cab. I’ll pay for the movie. I’ll pay for the popcorn. I’ll sit through the commercials and previews and have to deal with the guy on his cell phone, when it’s freezing cold out”? So I think it’s here and it’s just going to become bigger and bigger.

You’ve always gravitated towards working with larger ensembles for the most part. Why has that been? And what kind of energy do you feed off when you’re directing these big casts?

A lot of people have asked that, and I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why.
 

"Sidewalks of New York"
"Sidewalks of New York"

Are you afraid of hogging the spotlight?

You know, it might have to do with the fact that I act in my own films and I don’t like to carry that big a load. But I think it has more to do with that, when I think about the films that I get most excited about watching over and over again. Like one of my favorite films is “Last Picture Show.” And I love that an ensemble allows you to get maybe deeper into a world. In that case, we’re getting into all aspects of small town life in Texas. And when I write, I tend to think about environment first.

You know, when I start to think about a screenplay, I’m thinking about the world that these characters will inhabit. And there were different parts of that world that I was going to want to explore, and that sort of called for an ensemble. It’s also, when I made “Sidewalk of New York,” someone said to me, “The great thing about that movie” -- because we had so many characters -- "every scene was pulp.” You know there was no time for any setup. You had to be in the action in every scene. There had to be a dramatic turn. And that’s the key, I think, to good screenwriting.

When you’ve got an ensemble like this, there’s no time to waste introducing the audience to the world and the characters. You kind of have to get to the conflict early on. And I guess because I don’t write plot-heavy movies, you know, there isn’t a major event that really happens -- I need a number of smaller events. Maybe that, actually, is the reason. Yeah. I bet you that’s it. Because I never write a plot driven story, so it isn’t a hero who’s called to action who then has to go save the princess. It’s a bunch of little incidents. And with one protagonist, it would be hard to tell a story with just a number of little moments.

You'd clearly thrive in the TV medium. Why have you never gone down that route and explored it as an option? I’m sure you’ve been approached many times.

You know, I’m starting to think about it. The reason, quite honestly, is that I was never a TV buff. As much as I love certain shows, you know, I fell in love with movies. And even though -- it’s funny -- my movies are very rarely seen on the big screen, they’re still movies. And I just wonder: “Could I fall in love with any handful of characters enough that I’d want to revisit them every year for five years?” That might be tricky. But never say, never. I have a feeling it’s in my future.

Did Connie ever try to talk you into it?

No, we never did. We never did. But I do like the fact that by making these films I get to stay at home and not have to leave New York. So that if I were able to create a show that kept me in New York, that could be a good thing for me, my family. I would guess that in the next five years, I’m going to experiment there. I mean this next project I have is sort of maybe dipping my toe in the water a little bit.

The "Brothers McMullen" sequel?

No. I have this thing that’s going to start in January. It’s called “Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.” It looks at a couple in their 40s. And my idea was I wanted to write a screenplay that charted the relationship of these middle-aged folks over the course of a year. And I thought, rather than try to do that as a screenplay and a film. Why don’t I do it as twelve short films over the course of 12 months? And I’ll shoot one film a month moving forward. And that’s one that’s a little more episodic, so a little bit more like television in that respect. So who knows? If I enjoy that process, that might be the thing that sends me over.

This article is related to: Edward Burns, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, Interviews, Tribeca Film







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