Edward Burns Goes Totally Digital With Nice Guy Johnny


Director Edward Burns got his start during the roarin’ 90s, when aspiring filmmakers unafraid of a little credit card debt were gaining notoriety in the independent film world. Production on his first film, The Brothers McMullen, cost $28,000, but after winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival it went on to gross over $10 million.

Cut to: Fifteen years later, at which point Burns has had an active Hollywood career as both an actor in other people’s projects and a writer/director on his own. But he’s returned to his roots with his newest film, Nice Guy Johnny, which cost less than $30,000. How have things changed, though? Nice Guy Johnny‘s being released simultaneously on iTunes, VOD and DVD October 26.

Burns’ interest in digital filmmaking was kickstarted by a day of experimenting with the RED camera — footage that eventually gave birth to a 10-episode web series called The Lynch Pin.

Going digital enabled Johnny to be deliberately produced in a similar fashion to Burns’ first film — when I met with him for lunch in New York, he referred to it as “the McMullen ’95 approach.” This meant, in this case, a limited crew of three guys shooting guerrilla footage with relatively unknown actors providing their own wardrobes — an extremely sustainable approach toward digital production.

Burns has a long-standing relationship with Apple (s AAPL) ever since debuting the feature Purple Violets on iTunes in 2007 — the first feature film to premiere on the service. And Nice Guy Johnny is already available for pre-order there.

But it’s VOD that has him really excited. Going through a cable company like Comcast (s cmcsa) to distribute his work, he said, means reaching a potential audience of 30 million who will be able to watch Nice Guy Johnny instantly. And to engage further with independent film fans using the service, he’ll be curating some picks for Comcast’s Indie Film Club, which will be featuring Nice Guy Johnny upon its premiere.

To compensate for skipping a theatrical release, Burns is turning to the film festival circuit, using that as a means by which to build interest within the independent film community. Johnny premiered at Tribeca (both at the physical and virtual film festivals), and since then Burns has been on tour with the film, including stops at the Chicago International Film Festival and Savannah Film Festival.

It’s a system that keeps him engaged with real-life fans, even while he creates extra content for those online like audio podcasts about the making of the film and “homage trailers” to classic films.

Burns has some mainstream acting work lined up, but as a filmmaker, he seems happy to stay in the low-budget world. As he told the Chicago Tribune:

“The minute someone writes you a check, there’s artistic compromise… You’re not able to cast the people you want to cast. They’re offering and sometimes making changes they feel the film needs. That’s frustrating. On a low budget film, there are also compromises. You need to find free locations to film. There are no special effects. Nobody is going to look at your film and say ‘Wow, that’s a cool shot.’ You have to be OK with telling smaller character stories. But that’s all I’ve wanted to do anyhow.”

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