Ed Burns had Christmas shopping to finish Dec. 22.
His plan was to hit stores in the Tribeca, SoHo and West Village neighborhoods of New York City. But he wasn't too busy to stop and chat about all things film.
Burns burst onto the scene in 1995 at age 24 with his low-budget indie film "The Brothers McMullen." Almost 17 years later, he's positioned himself on the cutting edge of an industry in transition.
"The last couple years, you've seen a dramatic shift in the way people are watching movies," Burns said, as he ticked off trends.
One: A few years ago, iTunes entered the market. Now people are watching movies on their computers and mobile devices. Burns is no exception; he uses an iPad.
Two: Art movie houses are closing.
Three: Specialty divisions of film studios, including Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, have folded.
"What happened to that audience?" Burns mused about art film fans. "Did the audience fall out of love with these movies?"
No, he said. They turned to HBO and Showtime.
And with On Demand, audiences access programming whenever they choose.
Some film distributors, including Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films, recognized this and embraced Video On Demand.
Burns said he knew the game changed when he saw producer/director Steven Soderbergh's films on VOD before their theatrical releases.
But Burns said it took a discussion with his entertainment lawyer to make him realize what this new model could mean.
Burns went on "The Today Show" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to promote his 2010 film "Nice Guy Johnny."
With its limited release, the film would only attract viewers in New York and Los Angeles, who would be able to see it in a theater. Viewers who lived in smaller markets would forget about it the next day.
Burns said his parents were a perfect example. They wanted to see his movies, but smaller films never came to their area.
"They had to wait for the DVD to come out," Burns said.
He wondered how many people would have watched "Nice Guy Johnny" if they could click over to see it On Demand after his pitch.
That strategy makes sense for specialty releases, Burns said. But Hollywood was cautious.
"This year, people have had great concern (that) On Demand will cannibalize box offices," he said.
He referenced "Margin Call" - the financial thriller co-produced by York County native Neal Dodson - as a counter argument.
The movie, which was made for around $4 million, was lauded by critics. It had success with On Demand and a limited theatrical release.
"That's going to be the one they look back on," Burns said.
It might start an industry shift to multi-platform releases as the stigma of seeing a film for the first time any place besides a theater disappears, he added. People are discovering movies via On Demand's Sundance Channel that they've never even heard of.
So for his 10th movie, "Newlyweds," Burns decided to go the On Demand route. It was released last week through a partnership between VOD, iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly and Tribeca Film.
He's also used Twitter and Facebook to market the movie and interact directly with viewers.
Burns, wrote the film, but he didn't draw from his own matrimonial experiences. (He's been married to Christy Turlington for nearly a decade.) His inspiration came from a friend's toast during a party. It congratulated a marriage as a success if it lasted 10 years.
The comment made
everyone in the room chuckle, but Burns also found it tragic. Right then, he decided to make a film about marriage.
While at parties and in meetings, he steered the conversation in that direction.
The biggest challenge for most couples: Dealing with family.
That theme became central to his pseudo documentary "Newlyweds." It forced the main characters to deal with each other's issues.
"It's the little things - their gripes with their spouses (and) minor offenses," he said. "Stacked up, the weight of those can do a lot of damage."
When Burns was trying to finance another film last year, his team came up a few million dollars short. Frustrated, he decided to prove that he could still shoot a movie for $25,000 - the amount he scraped together for "The Brothers McMullen."
He pulled it off for "Newlyweds." Advances in equipment have evened the playing field by helping filmmakers make professional-looking films for a few thousands dollars, Burns said. But a tight budget left little room for error.
"Newlyweds" was shot in 12 days. Burns filmed for free in many areas of Tribeca. He used unknown actors, who agreed to wear their own clothes and do their own makeup. He oversaw everything down to the music - something that doesn't happen on bigger-budget movies.
"We all fell in love with the process of making a movie again," he said, adding that "Newlyweds" is his best film in years.
Without complicating factors and dozens of people to answer to, Burns focused on the story. He knows he could have gone back to Hollywood and leveraged the movie to make bigger budget films.
"Why make this the exception?" Burns asked of "Newlyweds." "Why not make this the rule?"
Burns is up the challenge to continue to bend traditional film formulas as an actor and director. But his true passion remains writing.
He studied English at Hunter College in his native New York City. He wanted to be a novelist. He still tries to write every day.
"It's the one part of the process where I don't spend anyone else's money," he said with a laugh.
But, the morning of
Dec. 22, he had to spend his own money.
He would take a break from all things film to battle holiday crowds.
- Erin McCracken,
Tribeca Film announced the first unified social-media strategy designed to promote the release of filmmaker/actor Edward Burns' "Newlyweds."
The comedic relationship drama was released Dec. 26 On Demand via cable Video On Demand, iTunes and Amazon Watch Instantly. A select theatrical release will begin this month.
The film was acquired by Tribeca Film following its world premiere as the Closing Night selection at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. The film - written, directed by and starring Burns - was shot in 12 days in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood. It focuses on a recently married couple who has to deal with family drama. It also stars Kerry Bishé, Marsha Dietlein, Max Baker, Caitlin Fitzgerald and Dara Coleman.
Learning from Tyler Perry
The new year will be full of more Ed Burns projects.
He stars in the upcoming crime thriller set on top of a Manhattan hotel - "Man on a Ledge."
He plays a main character in HBO's new series "40," which is about four lifelong friends who navigate middle age.
He stars alongside Tyler Perry in the actor/director's latest film, "I, Alex Cross."
"I loved working with Tyler," Burns said. "He's a really smart guy. He gave me some terrific advice."
Perry asked Burns why he never made a sequel to his first film, "The Brothers McMullen."
"I didn't have an answer for him," Burns said.
Perry pointed out that "Brothers" was one of Burns' most acclaimed movies. It also spoke to a niche audience - Irish American families. Burns said Perry talked about how Perry knows his niche - black families - and how he strives to serve that audience.
Forbes named Perry the highest paid man in entertainment last year. He earned $130 million between May 2010 and 2011.
Burns knew Perry was right. He admitted that he enjoys writing Irish American dramas because they speak to his own experiences.
He recently was hit with an idea for a film as he walked into his family kitchen during the holidays.
Burns said he plans to make the Fitzgerald family Christmas the subject of an upcoming project.