Edward Burns says digital is future of indie films

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2010 12:30 PM
Edward Burns says digital is future of indie films

Edward Burns revisits his indie roots _ with a modern twist _ in his latest project, "Nice Guy Johnny."

The 42-year-old actor-filmmaker leaped onto the scene in 1995 with the Sundance Film Festival darling "The Brothers McMullen." Fresh out of college, Burns said he used anything he could for free: He filmed in his parents' home and used editing facilities at "Entertainment Tonight," where he was working as a production assistant.

Fifteen years later, the star of "Saving Private Ryan" and "27 Dresses" has gone back to basics with another small-budget project.

"I decided we wanted to capture a little bit of that renegade sprit that we had on 'Brothers McMullen,'" says Burns. "So we set some parameters on this film. We wouldn't spend more than $25,000, we'd only work with a three-man crew, we wanted to hire all unknowns, and there would be no hair, no makeup, wear your own clothes, shot in my parents' house again."

"Nice Guy Johnny" is the story of sports radio host Johnny Rizzo, who must choose between following his broadcasting dreams or satisfying his fiancee by taking a well-paid corporate gig.

Burns, who wrote, directed and stars in the film, says the story was born from his own dilemma.

"I had to wrestle with a very similar decision," Burns said. "Do I keep trying to make these little movies, or do I go and get a job with benefits?"

But he says digital platforms have helped ease some of the financial pressure, allowing films like "Johnny" to reach millions of viewers at home and online. Instead of a costly theatrical release, the film will be released Oct. 26 on iTunes, Netflix and Video on Demand.

"Distribution models are starting to dismantle. For every indie film that does a decent number at the box office, there are dozens who do no business," he says. "If these new revenue streams weren't being uncovered, I know I would be out of business. The kind of stories I like to tell, I would be incapable of telling them."

Diana Kerekes, Comcast's VP of Entertainment Services, says the company's number of indie offerings on demand has grown from 26 films in 2006 to more than 2,000. And with more than 200,000 indie purchases a month, she says the appetite for niche films is growing.

"There's a real thirst for these stories," Burns says. "The great filmmakers of tomorrow, they get their start by scraping together a couple of thousand dollars, making that first film, getting some exposure. And all of a sudden you're the kid who made a little movie and now you're directing 'X-Men' a la Bryan Singer. If we haven't figured out a way to monetize these smaller stories, do we find the next Bryan Singer? Maybe not."

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iTunes is owned by Apple Inc.; Netflix is owned by Netflix Inc.