Indie Film Academy: A Filmmaking and Screenwriting Podcast podcast

Edward Burns: The Art of the $9000 Micro Budget Indie Film

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Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor and indie filmmaking legend Edward Burns.

Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity. His cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance and launching his career is the stuff of legend.

The Brothers McMullen was sold to Fox Searchlight and went on to make over $10 million at the box office on a $27,000 budget, making it one of the most successful indie films of the decade.

Ed went off to star in huge films like Saving Private Ryan for Steven Spielberg and direct studio films like the box office hit She’s The One. The films about the love lives of two brothers, Mickey and Francis, interconnect as Francis cheats on his wife with Mickey’s ex-girlfriend, while Mickey impulsively marries a stranger.

Even after his mainstream success as an actor, writer and director he still never forgot his indie roots. He continued to quietly produce completely independent feature films on really low budgets. How low, how about $9000. As with any smart filmmaker, Ed has continued to not only produce films but to consider new methods of getting his projects to the world.

In 2007, he teamed up with Apple iTunes to release an exclusive film Purple Violets. It was a sign of the times that the director was branching out to new methods of release for his projects.

In addition, he also continued to release works with his signature tried-and-true method of filmmaking. Using a very small $25,000 budget and a lot of resourcefulness, Burns created Nice Guy Johnny in 2010.

In his book, Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life (which I recommend ALL filmmakers read), Ed mentions some rules he dubbed “McMullen 2.0” which were basically a set of rules for independent filmmakers to shoot by.

Actors would have to work for virtually nothing.
The film should take no longer than 12 days to film and get into the can
Don’t shoot with any more than a three-man crew
Actor’s use their own clothes
Actors do their own hair and make-up
Ask and beg for any locations
Use the resources you have at your disposal

I used similar rules when I shot my feature films This is Meg, which I shot that in 8 days and On the Corner of Ego and Desire which I shot in 4 days. To be honest Ed was one of my main inspirations when I decided to make my first micro-budget feature film, along with Mark and Jay Duplass, Joe Swanberg and Michael and Mark Polish.

Ed has continued to have an amazing career directing films like The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, The Groomsmen, Looking for Kitty, Ash Wednesday, Sidewalks of New York, No Looking Back and many more.

Ed has continued to give back to the indie film community with his amazing book, lectures and his knowledge bomb packed director commentaries. Trust me go out and buy the DVD versions of all his films. His commentaries are worth the price of admission.

When I first spoke to Ed he told that he had been a fan of the podcast for a while. As you can imagine I was floored and humbled at the same time. Getting to sit-down and speak to a filmmaker that had such an impact my own directing career was a dream come true. Ed is an inspiration to so many indie filmmakers around the world and I’m honored to bring this epic conversation to the tribe.

Enjoy my conversation with Edward Burns.

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