As a filmmaker, Burns recently returned to his roots with his latest New York-set film Newlyweds, which he once again starred in, produced, directed, and wrote. But as an actor, he will soon be seen on the big screen again in a series of highly anticipated movies including Man on a Ledge, which co-stars Sam Worthington (Avatar), and Elizabeth Banks (Role Models) and opens in theaters on January 27th. He’ll also be seen later this year in the comedy Friends with Kids featuring Bridesmaids co-stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Jon Hamm, as well as I, Alex Cross, which is a cinematic re-boot of the popular series of mystery novels by James Patterson. In the new film, actor Tyler Perry takes over the title role from Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman, who played the part in Kiss the Girls, and Along Came a Spider, while the film is directed by Rob Cohen (xXx, The Fast and the Furious), and also stars Matthew Fox (TV's Lost), Rachel Nichols (Conan the Barbarian), and Jean Reno (Ronin).
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Edward Burns to discuss his new film Man on a Ledge, as well as his overall career. While our video interview about Man on a Ledge will not run until closer to the film’s release date, I wanted to share with you now what he had to say about a few of his other upcoming projects. The actor/filmmaker talked about directing Newlyweds, how technology has changed the process of making movies, the current state of independent filmmaking, Twitter, I, Alex Cross, what he learned from working with fellow actor/filmmaker Tyler Perry, and how Perry inspired Burns to write a sequel to The Brothers McMullen.
Here is what he had to say:
IAR: To begin with, can you talk about how advances in technology have changed independent filmmaking in the time since you made your first movie almost two decades ago?
Edward Burns: I mean it’s dramatically different. The point of entry back then was so expensive and so difficult. Being able to get access to a camera meant that you had to spend some real money, and trying to get access to film stock was very expensive. The development of the stock was very expensive. You had to limit how much you could shoot and the amount of coverage that you were going to do, given what it would end up costing you. But now in the last three years when you see cameras like the Red, and the Cannon 5D show up, or other sort of consumer model HD cameras, you know there is the opportunity to make great looking films for almost no money. If you are a film school student right now, you’ve got to be jacked up and really excited.
That’s an interesting point; do you feel like this new generation of filmmakers is taking advantage of that? I think if you, and the filmmakers who came out of the Sundance/independent movement of the early ‘90s, had this technology available to you back then, you would have really taken full advantage of it. Where today, it feels like people are just using the technology to make three minute long Funny or Die videos, rather than an entire feature film. How do you feel about that?
Burns: Yeah, that’s interesting. I don’t know? You know there have been a couple of interesting small movies that have come out. There was a movie last year called Tiny Furniture that got distribution, which was a really cool little movie. I think the young filmmakers are taking advantage of the technology. The great challenge is always; how do you find an audience? That was true of us, the class of the mid-‘90s. A lot of us didn’t get lucky enough to get into a festival and have the movie picked up, and then a bunch of us did. I think that will probably be true of Sundance this year, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens at Sundance this year. We’ll see how many of these micro-budget films that I hear from people that they are making, actually get accepted and if any do sell.
Do you think technology has also changed the way films are marketed since you first started making movies? I know that you are active on Twitter, so did you find that really useful with Newlyweds? Do you wish there had been something like that back when you made The Brothers McMullen?
Burns: Absolutely. You now have this amazing ability to communicate with your fans. The great thing that I get from it is that I can have a meaningful conversation with a fan and hear what they like, and sometimes don’t like about what I’m doing, and what they wish I was doing more of or less of. Then I try to answer all the questions they have about production and low budget filmmaking. So there is a very nice reciprocal contract, or relationship that we have with one another. But on my film Newlyweds, I tweeted out to them during the writing stage for ideas and inspiration, and now that the film is out there I’ve been tweeting them to help spread the word. They keep tweeting in these great reviews, which I retweet out and everyone likes the fact that their review gets retweeted. So it’s an exciting time because on the production side, there is a way now to make your movies for almost no money, and now on the distribution side there is a way to market the films for no money. That’s pretty cool.
What was it that got you excited about joining the cast of I, Alex Cross?
Burns: You know it was great. I had never met Rob Cohen the director before and he just emailed me the script out of the blue. He said, “Look, I’ve been thinking about you for this part. I want you to play Tyler Perry’s partner and please consider it.” I read the script. I got it on a Sunday and read it the minute I got it, then I called him right back and said, I’m in.
Were you familiar with the James Patterson books and the Morgan Freeman movies?
Burns: I was familiar with the books, I had seen the early Morgan Freeman versions of the character, but this was very different. They took it from a procedural and made it much more of an action film. It’s a great part for me and I hadn’t done any real action in a long time. So I was antsy to get the gun back in my hand and get to play one of those guys. It was great, Rob was great, and Tyler is incredible in it.
There has been a lot of skepticism from fans about Tyler playing this role, and there will no doubt be many comparisons, but how do you think he did taking over the mantel from Morgan Freeman?
Burns: He came so prepared and delivered such a strong performance. He’s a big dude. He’s a powerful guy, a smart guy, and all of that comes through in the performance. I remember the first day I was working with him and thinking, oh wow, this guy is the real deal. So I think people are going to love him in this.
You and Tyler are both very accomplished directors as well as actors; did you get a chance to talk about filmmaking with him while you were shooting the movie?
Burns: We hit it off immediately. We were constantly talking about filmmaking, writing, and the goals of our respective careers. I asked him once… I was like, okay, you’ve got to explain it to me, how do you make all this money? I need to get into that business. He gave me great advice. He said, “Look at your first two movies. You’ve got The Brothers McMullen, critically your most acclaimed movie. Then you’ve got She’s the One, commercially your biggest movie. Both are about Irish American families. In fifteen years you’ve never made another movie about Irish American families. Look at me, I know how to super-serve my niche. I know who my audience is, and I know what they want, so I’m respectful of that because they want a certain film from me. So I make sure that I give them those films. My advise to you would be, I think that there is an Irish American audience out there that might enjoy another story like that from you and I think you should go write one.” I walked out of his trailer, walked into my trailer, opened up my laptop and wrote, INT: The Fitzgerald’s Kitchen – Day. I had no idea what the screenplay was going to be but I finished it a couple of weeks ago, I’m in the process of casting now and hopefully we’ll shoot in March.
That’s amazing that he inspired you like that, so is that script your next film?
Burns: Yes, that’ll be my next film. It was sort of like that “aha moment.” I was like, you’re absolutely right. What the hell have I been doing? He also said, “You should do a sequel to Brothers McMullen.” So I’ve started to outline the sequel to McMullen. The twentieth anniversary will be in 2015, so my goal is to shoot it at the end of next year to have it ready in time.
Kind of like what Kevin Smith did with Clerks II?
Burns: Absolutely! When I saw Clerks II that’s the first time that I got the notion and thought that it was very smart of him to do that. Then the movie turned out great so I was like, why not?
Finally, I’m a big fan of She’s the One and think that it’s a terrific romantic comedy, have you had any thoughts of revisiting those characters and reuniting the cast?
Burns: No, I have not given thought to that but who knows? If the McMullen sequel works … maybe I’ll stick to making sequels.
Newlyweds is in theaters now!
To read our interview with Edward Burns and Caitlin Fitzgerald about Newlyweds, please click here.
To watch our exclusive interview with Tyler Perry about I, Alex Cross, please click here.
To read our exclusive interview with Rachel Nichols about I, Alex Cross, please click here.