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Sundance ’10 | “Skateland” Director Anthony Burns on Cutting Up His Film Baby

Sundance '10 | "Skateland" Director Anthony Burns on Cutting Up His Film Baby

“Skateland” (starring Ashley Greene of “Twilight” fame) marks the feature film directorial debut of Anthony Burns, who co-wrote the film along with Brandon and Heath Freeman. It’s 1983, and Skateland, the roller rink and local hangout of a small town, is becoming a fading memory of an earlier time, when disco and roller-skating were king. The party scene is getting stale, and 19-year-old Ritchie’s romantic life is as cloudy as his future. He struggles to make sense of it all, and decisions do not come easily to the carefree young man. When tragedy strikes his friends and family, Ritchie must face the music—and make the biggest decision of his life.

Without the benefit of a studio budget or name casting, Burns the Freemans capture the ’80s in startling detail. The result: a cinematic scrapbook of a time and place, a visceral visual, and an aural experience that reclaims the decade for those of us lucky enough to have lived through it once. While the atmosphere is time specific, the themes of the joys and pains of growing up are universal. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival]

U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Anthony Burns
Screenwriters: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, Taylor Handley, AJ Buckley, Haley Ramm
Executive Producer: Brandon Freeman
Producer: Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman, Anthony Burns, Justin Gilley, Nick Jayanty, Victor Moyers
Composer: Michael Penn
Cinematographer: Peter Simonite
Editor: Robert Hoffman
98 Minutes

Anthony Burns on the genesis of his Sundance film “Skateland”…

“Skateland” was born out of an original idea from Brandon Freeman and Heath Freeman. Over the past several years they have been trying to find the right story idea they could be passionate about and ideally write and produce as a team. Initially, “Skateland” was more a comedic tale about a young kid trying to get out of a small town using his talents as a roller skater. This story line was quickly crushed during the early stages of writing the script. I was brought on during this time and the dramatic, albeit quite humorous at times, version of “Skateland” was fully formed and ultimately brought to life. We worked very closely together into pre-production until Heath was ordered by Brandon and I to focus on his role as Brent Burkham. I was tapped to direct which sent me into an unknown world of entirely new challenges and Brandon stepped into his role as Executive Producer/Producer. The script itself was continually evolving with Brandon spending a great deal of time on it well into the shooting phase. Eventually, during the last few weeks of production I realized we weren’t getting enough coverage so we created a second unit, which Brandon directed. At one point, we had eight cameras rolling simultaneously so having my good friend and ally there to pick up the slack took enormous pressure of my shoulders – he knew what we needed, how to get it and the crew trusted and admired him – easy decision. There are no reshoots or extra days in independent filmmaking. You have one chance to get it right and limited time to do it. Without a strong team, you will fail.

The “look” of the film was the first priority and the approach to creating/finding it was quite simple really because Heath, Brandon and I have similar taste when it comes to art, music and film. We found a cinematographer, Peter Simonite, who not only understood the vision, but also had an equal admiration for natural lighting, which was ideal for a project that needed to be grounded and honest. American photographer, Stephen Shore’s portfolio, interpreting the American vernacular, was a major inspiration. He made the simplest settings sexy and organic. His use of color became the framework for our entire visual aesthetic. The clothing, the production design, and even the cars all worked together in visual harmony. One of our major goals/challenges was to watch the film, volume off, and get it – much like a piece of art hanging on a wall staring out at the world with nothing but it’s ‘look’ to speak for itself.

“Skateland” director Anthony Burns. Image courtesy of Sundace Film Festival.

The biggest challenge was in the editing room. We hired the super talented Robert Hoffman to cut our baby into pieces and when he was done blood splatter drenched every inch of the room. Fortunately, this was a good thing and our baby is much stronger than we could have ever imagined. However, during the process it seems like your running a never ending marathon that takes you through the darkest jungles, the seediest parts of some third world country and finally to a kickass theme park where they serve high-end alcohol and the best burger in the world. It’s an emotional gamut. You love it, hate it and love it again. Just think, at one point we considered editing the film ourselves. Haha.

The biggest challenge in development was time. We had an insane turnaround from the day we hatched the idea to the moment of principal photography. It was about 5 months! And our shot list and shooting schedule were ridiculously ambitious, but we either had to wait until spring or shoot the sucker. You run the risk of losing talent, crew, and momentum. Ideally, two additional weeks would have been nice but I think we pulled it off. We had such a strong team around us it would have been hard not to. The script itself had to be altered for seasonal reasons due to the fact we originally wanted it to take place during summertime. The final version starts at the end of summer and ends in the fall.

Burns on the audience for “Skateland”…

The acting is second to none from a virtually unknown cast, which is fresh and something any audience appreciates. Also, it would be a safe bet to say that most people will relate to the film in some fashion. Whether if it’s a song, a cool haircut, a character that reminds you of the guy/girl who stole your virginity in 9th grade – you’ll relate. Finally, the attention we gave to production value tied to an independent budget should garner a lot of attention from an intelligent Sundance audience.

Burns on his inspirations…

Jean Pierre Jeunet for his use of color; “The Ice Storm” for its tragic beauty. Joe Wright and Michael Haneke – they take chances with the camera, as did we. I love “Atonement” and the original “Funny Games.” Every John Hughes film – he always got character right.

…and what’s in store for the future…

We are discussing adapting a novel along with a number of original ideas we have in active development, including a TV series. I’m also developing an animated/live action project called “Jesus Cornbread and the Alcoholics” with a close friend.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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