Born in Queens, New York, Ed Burns had no burning desire to get into filmmaking. He wasn’t the sort of kid who grew up loving classic films and wanting to be a part of them. Instead he fell in love with the characters and the dialogue and, by default, turned to film and pictures as a media to tell those stories.
“When I was in school I would have given my left pinky to direct a feature film,” he proclaimed. He took the lessons learned from a combined education at SUNY Albany, Oneonta and finally Hunter College in Manhattan and started writing his own short films. This continued into finally winning the Grand Jury Prize for his film “The Brothers McMullen” in 1995 at the Sundance Film Festival.
He enjoys festivals like the Savannah Film Festival because they provide exposure to films that might not show up in the multiplex down the street. He hopes that his film “Nice Guy Johnny”, which he wrote, directed and starred in, will inspire students the same way he was inspired 15 years ago—to work with what they have and know that it’s possible to succeed with little.
Burns himself succeeded with a $25,000 budget for his first film (“The Brothers McMullen”) and continued in that vein in “Nice Guy Johnny” with a $30,000 budget and relative unknowns for all leads.
Young artists don’t have to feel pressured to make the big budget spectacle with special effects and 3-D, or small indie productions with unknown actors and 3 days of filming. Much of the middle ground film you used to see on the silver screen in the 90s is now being featured on quality cable television. “’The Sopranos’ was a perfect example,” Burns explained.
“There was no gangster movie in the last 10 years that could touch that. There’s no drama that can touch ‘Mad Men,’” he said.
As a writer, he feels blessed. He loves having complete control over his product, and that is how he came into writing and subsequently directing.
“I look at films of mine where I like them, and they’re the ones where I have the most creative control,” Burns said.
He added, “Look, I’d rather fail on my terms, quite honestly… you’re not going to have the kind of financial success that maybe you can have without it—but I’m completely OK with that.”
Burns, when asked about his influences, returned to his roots in New York. “I have two sort of heroes, creative heroes. Woody Allen and Bruce Springsteen. [They] both write about their world incessantly.” New York and Long Island is what excites him the most when he writes, and so he lets that flow through.
“When I stray from it and try to make commercial [films] or try not to own my Long Island-ness, if you will, with a movie like the ‘Groomsmen’ I feel like I was trying to hide something. I didn’t own it enough and that’s why that movie really disappoints me.”
He’s had his fair share of blockbuster hits and indie successes, but the smaller films are the ones he enjoys the most. They may not make the most money, but they allow him to share his vision with the world and inspire other artists to work with what they have and create masterpieces.
In addition, Burns said, those artists need own up to themselves and do what makes them happy. while the industry is full of compromise, they can still succeed and do what they love: whether it be acting, directing or writing.Contact Caila Brown.