Ed Burns On Making an Indie with the 5D Mark II

If you’re into filmmaking, chances are you know Edward Burns. Heck, even if you’re NOT a filmmaker, you most likely know who Ed Burns is. He used to be just a lowly PA at Entertainment Tonight. Then in 1995, he made a little movie called “The Brother’s McMullen.” Made for only $25,000, it went on to make millions at the box office. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, Ed (who’s also an actor) has had his hits and misses. That’s just how it goes in Hollywood. But in 2007 he turned the system on its head. After years of doing if the traditional “Hollywood” way, Ed and his producing partner Aaron Lubin decided to do it their way. The film they made that year, “Purple Violets” was the first feature film to be released exclusively on iTunes. Everyone told him he was crazy. Who would ever want to watch a movie on a computer? :) He did the same thing with the film after that (“Nice Guy Johnny”) as well as his latest film, “Newlyweds.” And for this film, he would go back to what made “McMullen” so special. Small crew. Small budget. Big dreams.

The change was a success for Burns. So much so that it has become his defacto strategy for producing and releasing his films. “Johnny” was shot on the RED. His latest film “Newlyweds” was shot on the 5D Mark II. That’s right. A DSLR.

Ed has always been terrific about sharing all he’s learned about the filmmaking experience. Just this past weekend I listened to a 2+ hour interview he did for one of my favorite podcasts, “The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith.” On it he talked about among other things, the making of “Newlyweds” on the 5D Mark II. I strongly suggest listening to the whole thing if you have the time, but here are the highlights that are worth noting (in no particular order):

  • Shot with all available light.
  • Shot with one 5D Mark II and an M audio recorder with lav mics instead of a boom.
  • Edited on Final Cut Pro.
  • 3 person crew.
  • $9,000 “in the can” (read the Tweet above to see how it was divided).
  • Only had insurance. No permits on the streets of NY. Got in and got out fast before the cops came. He couldn’t do the same thing in L.A. If it were in L.A. and the city found out, they would go back and charge him after the fact for permits he should have had.
  • For the SAG and DGA union rules, he used their New Media contracts.
  • Actors did their own hair, makeup, and wardrobe.
  • Everyone on set from the actor to the sound guy can contribute to the scene if they have an idea.
  • He started shooting with only a portion of the script finished.
  • Restaurant scenes were filmed during real business hours. Those are real patrons in the background, not extras.
  • Twitter and social media has been a huge part of Ed’s filmmaking process. The title, the movie poster and one of the songs in the film all came through connecting with his Twitter followers and running contests.
  • When he first made “Brothers McMullen,” when Sundance founder Robert Redford was on Entertainment Tonight, Ed took a chance on his career and gave Redford a VHS copy of the movie while getting on an elevator. Later when the movie was accepted into Sundance, Redford remembered him as that kid who handed him the movie. Ed doesn’t know for sure if that aided in his film getting accepted, but it was cool that Redford remembered him.
  • While on the set of “I, Alex Cross”, a movie in which he and Tyler Perry star, he asked Tyler the secret to his success. Tyler told him basically, market to your core audience. After “Brothers McMullen” and “She’s the One” Tyler asked him, “Why haven’t you made any more movies about Irish-Americans in Long Island?” Ed didn’t have an answer. That night in his trailer he started writing the script for his next movie, about a Long Island Irish-American family during Christmas. That script (and “Brothers”) were the only two feature scripts in his life he’s written in less than four weeks. (As an interesting side note, check out this video by Tyler Perry he posted today about his secrets to success. Worth a watch!)

What I love about this story is that Ed is taking matters into his own hands. I love how he mentions in the podcast that whether you go the traditional Hollywood route and get millions of dollars to make your film, or you do it on your own, you will have to make compromises. But if you do the latter, the one thing you WON’T have to compromise is your integrity or artistic vision. I for one love the sound of that.

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9 Responses to “Ed Burns On Making an Indie with the 5D Mark II”

  1. It was a good article but Ed Burns meet Tyler on the set of “I, Alex Cross” not a Tyler perry movie just a movie they are both in.

  2. as a huge ed burns fan. twitter follower. and writer… it has been compelling to follow this process as newlyweds has been made. i love how approachable and real he has been to faithful followers and the movie itself is raw and heart-tugging… and teaches a lesson worth having. of course he is being generous now and sharing his process.

    • Thanks for sharing Robyn. I’ve heard Ed before on Filmspotting (one absolute favorite podcast) and I know he’s a great guy. But after hearing his interview with Jeff, it was cool to see how much more giving of his knowledge he is. He seems like one of those success stories who hasn’t been corrupted by the Hollywood system.

  3. Great article Ron! I’m a little guy trying to be a filmmaker in a Big Boy’s world, so this is truly inspirational to me. Thanks! I’m looking forward to watching Newlyweds. Oh, and great response on Goldsmith’s comment page. “Resistance is futile.” Haha! I love that line!

  4. Thanks for the article ron!

    I find it interesting that Ed went for a handheld look with Newly Weds. Since I haven’t seen the whole movie it’s hard to say, but the energy of the handheld-ness seems to take away from the movie rather than help it… maybe it’s just me though. Either way, I applaud the heck out of him for taking a step with the 5D, only available lighting, and lav mics only! Wow. Totally impressed.

    • It’s funny you mention that Cody. Ed is admittedly a huge Woody Allen fan. In fact, he admits his work is greatly influenced by Woody’s. I can’t recall off hand, but I’m pretty sure he mentioned in the interview that the look in “Newlyweds” was inspired by “Husbands and Wives,” which has a very shaky handheld look.

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