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"Johnny" Puts Burns Back In Indie Shoes

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire October 28, 2010 at 2:03AM

Edward Burns, a veritable staple in the American independent film landscape, has staked his claim as one of the Big Apple's quintessential auteurs by penning, directing and starring in ten New York bound films. With his latest effort "Nice Guy Johnny," Burns finds himself reaching back into his past, while at the same time hurtling towards the future.
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Edward Burns, a veritable staple in the American independent film landscape, has staked his claim as one of the Big Apple's quintessential auteurs by penning, directing and starring in ten New York bound films. With his latest effort "Nice Guy Johnny," Burns finds himself reaching back into his past, while at the same time hurtling towards the future.

Made for a paltry $25,000, "Johnny" marks the lowest budget Burns's worked with since his first feature "The Brothers McMullen" back in 1995. It also marks Burns first attempt at releasing a film simultaneously on VOD, DVD, iTunes, and digital retail sites such as Amazon.com with no theatrical distribution in sight. FilmBuff, an affiliate of Cinetic Rights Management, is handling the digital platform strategy.

Ironically, Burns came around to crafting his most independent project to date, after being offered a chance to helm a mainstream film.

"My agents suggested I put myself up for an open directing assignment," he said to indieWIRE. "When I heard the number they were willing to offer me, I thought sure. I spent about six months reading through scripts they sent me, and found one I liked. In the end I turned it down. It wasn't about the quality of the screenplay. It came down to some soul searching I did. I love the small personal films that I've been making. Why should I give up on that dream to pursue a paycheck?"

Burns used his dilemma to fuel the plot for "Johnny," which tells the story of a 'nice guy' who combats all the naysayers in his life to pursue a non-lucrative, but soul satisfying career as a late night sports radio host.

Edward Burns in "Nice Guy Johnny." [Photo courtesy of FilmBuff]


Shot in a mere ten days, Burns cut corners wherever he could. He acquired free locations to shoot, through favors from friends and family. He hired relative unknowns to round out his cast, and had them provide their own wardrobe and do their own hair and makeup. And to top it off, Burns employed a three man crew, all of whom worked for free and now collectively own shares in the movie.

"When you make a film like this, a passion project, people tend to step forward," Burns said. "If our distribution model works out, we're all going to get payed."

Burns is no stranger to being creative when it comes to finding an audience for his films. With his last feature, "Purple Violets," he made headlines as the first director to launch a film exclusively on iTunes. In an effort to retain his good standing with the platform, Burns agreed to release "Johnny" in a similar way, but took it a step further, by collapsing the DVD window, and having the film screen on VOD simultaneously.

"The biggest key is that we didn't sell the movie," Burns said, "we just licensed it. We still own the copyright, and that's the key to the whole thing. That's unheard of in the movie business."

When asked if he will ever consider releasing another film of his theatrically, Burns said the prospect is unlikely.

"Everybody wants creative control," he said. "Only now have we figured out how to distribute movies to the audience with complete creative control as well.

"If the goal for a given filmmaker is to make enough money to pay the bills and make another movie, then I would encourage a similar approach."

"Nice Guy Johnny" was released on October 26. To learn more about how to purchase or stream the film click here.

This article is related to: Distribution