From veteran indie writer/actor/director Edward Burns comes 'Nice Guy Johnny,' a charming story of a 25-year-old already struggling with the baggage of adulthood: a demanding fiancťe, an emasculating father-in-law-to-be, and the prospect of a boring grown-up job to replace his beloved radio gig in San Francisco.
When Johnny (Matt Bush) goes to New York for the new-job interview (set up by his fiancťeís father), he spends the weekend with his rakish uncle (Burns), a Peter Pan of a bachelor who bartends, picks up married women, and schmoozes his way into free stuff from his lovers, like a house in the Hamptons for the weekend. In a generational reversal, Johnny is appalled by his uncleís behavior, until he meets a young tennis player named Brooke (Kerry Bishť).
Johnny is a Ben Braddock for our times, and the film is a classic New York story from one of our favorite filmmakers.
To be shown at this years Tribeca Film Festival, well, the big news is that it's going Virtual in 2010! This year, even if you live nowhere near the Big Apple, you can participate in the Festival more than ever before. Instead of just looking at photo galleries and reading articles, and wishing you were there, you can be a part of the action, as it happens!
And, of course, 'Nice Guy Johnny' is opening this years Tribeca Film Festival Virtual 2010!
I recently had the opportunity to speak with indie writer/actor/director Edward Burns about this project, and first wondered what had inspired him to write this film? "A couple of things. But primarily I would say about a year and a half ago I had meeting with my new agent. And I would say every couple of years I had a meeting that was similar to this where my team would encourage me to stop making small, personal films and put myself up for what they call open directing assignments at the studios."
"Given, I guess, what I do they thought I could very easily land a studio romantic comedy directing job. I never had any interest in that, not that I think theyíre bad films necessarily, but I only aspired to be a writer/director. My heroes were Cassavetes and Woody Allen and Truffaut, and thatís all that I ever wanted to do."
"However, two years ago with a couple of kids and a couple of mortgages I thought maybe it might be a smart financial move to at least entertain the thought."
"So I read a bunch of the scripts; I took a bunch of the meetings. I have to admit it was a very tough decision because there is potentially a lot more money to make doing that than doing what I do. At the end of the day thatís not why I got into the business. I had to sort of stick with what my original purpose was and what my original dream was."
"I left that final meeting after passing on this particular project. Me and my producing partner were talking about it and what are we going to do now? We said, ďYou know what, letís write a script about what we just went through. Letís think about what kind of character is faced with that kind of decision when you have to stick with your dream when everyone is telling you, whether itís your parents or your friends." Or, do you take the more fiscally responsible job with benefits? Most of my friends are in the arts and all of them wrestle with this very thing, especially as we get older and are starting families."
"Thatís how kind of 'Nice Guy Johnny' came about. Heís a 24-year-old sports talk radio host who dreams of one day getting a big broadcasting job. Heís not making any money; heís about to get married and his fiancťe has suggested he come home to New York to take a job that will triple his salary and give him benefits. Itís the story of how this kid makes that decision."
You must be excited about the film festival going virtual so more people will be able to see your film?"You know, for me, I have always tried to embrace how indie films, or how indie cinema is going to make use of the Internet. We saw maybe like in í06 indie films sort of stopped finding the same sized audience for the ten years prior to that. You saw a lot of companies like Paramount Vantage closed, Warner Brother Independent closed; Miramax just recently went under. We knew that the audience still liked the films they just werenít going to see them theatrically."
"A couple of years ago I tried it with this film Purple Violets. We released it onto iTunes and we got a great response from the people that like my movies."
"I tried a Web series last year as a way; again to how do we find the people that like this? How do we get this material or these stories to them in a different way. When Tribeca brought this up we immediately said, ďAbsolutely".Ē
"As a kid who got his start as a film festival and now is someone who loves film festivals, itís great that now a kid in Kansas City can attend the Tribeca Film Festival, at least in some fashion and see those movies that he might be reading about on sites like yours or other film sites."
So, as this film is fundamentally about the cost of pursuing your dream at all costs and subsequently being asked to give up on them, in reflection, at any point in your life, have you yourself ever been asked to give up on a dream of any kind, at any age?"I am 26 years old, Iíve already shot and cut Brothers McMullen, Iíve submitted it to a number of festivals, producers, agents, distribution companies, and I have a stack of rejection letters to show for it. Iím $25,000 in debt."
"My mother comes to me one day and says, ďIf youíre willing to get a haircut, I will buy you a suit and then you can go get a real job.Ē Thank God, I did not take her up on that deal because six months later the film got into Sundance and all that. That conversation with my mother definitely was at the forefront of my mind as I was writing this film."
Talking about 'Brothers McMullen' and it being some 15 years ago, over the years how has your camera work and your directing style changed?"The camera work in 'McMullen' was as basic as it gets. Again, we had a three man crew, no dolly, no steady cam and it was just about trying to get that story captured on film. We werenít thinking about moving in the camera, we werenít thinking about shots because I knew going in there is no way I can compete with Hollywood on that level."
"If I try and do a more complicated shot or spend a lot of time trying to light something in a very specific way, itís going to look like what it would be the poor manís version of it. What we did on that film was just, all right, letís focus on these characters and the acting and try and make this as honest a representation of the world that I had come from."
"However, since then, with some increasing budgets, again I still havenít made a movie for more than $5 million, but I have at least gotten some dolly track and a couple of steady cam shots and fortunate enough to work with a great DP."
"I think the two films that Iím probably most proud of with the overall look is a film I did called 'Purple Violets,' where we do these gorgeous like what we call moving masters. Itís sort of one long take that covers a three page scene and Woody Allen is the master of those. We kind of adopted that style on that film and I think we really did a great job executing it."
"Then 'Nice Guy Johnny, itís the first film I shot using the RED camera and it gave us a different type of mobility and there are some images in this film that are just breathtaking."
Absolutely!"Yep, great execution."
Those RED cameras are the hottest thing right now!"I think the RED camera is going to be a game changer for indie cinema. You can Ė theyíre small; theyíre not terribly expensive compared to a film camera. You can go out with almost no lights and make a pretty great looking film. Weíll see if Iím right about that."
The future of cinema, my friend."Yes, yes. No, I think youíre right."
And with regard your camera work and directing, are you involved in any behind-the-scenes facet for the upcoming 'American Empire' or 'Prince of Providence'?"I am not involved with 'American Empire.' ' Prince of Providence,' my friend Michael Corrente, has been trying to get that film together for a while so if he ever does that would be terrific."
Lastly, if you were to compare 'Nice Guy Johnny' to your previous works, what are some of the elements that stand out that really speak to how much youíve grown as an actor, writer, director, and producer?"Acting-wise Iíd say itís my best performance in one of my films and I say this kind of there are three reasons for that. One is I kind of wrote it toward my strengths I think as an actor and kind of wrote a part for a part of my personality that maybe I havenít explored in my films before for me to play."
"The second reason is Iíve just been doing it longer so kind of like any muscle the more you work it I think the more command you have over it. Primarily the biggest reason is in the film itís about a bunch of 24-year-old kids and we wanted to find unknown actors. I kind of wanted to go back to whatever the magic was I was able to create with my cast in 'Brothers McMullen'."
"There was an enthusiasm on that film that I never sort of captured again or never felt on set again. With this film we went and we found Matt Bush, this actress Kerry Bishť and Anna Wood, and then even some of the supporting players who really had very little experience in front of the camera."
"Theyíd all gone to acting school and stuff like that but what I found, for me as an actor was their enthusiasm and their love and appreciation for getting to act, to be in a movie, to be on set, it was infectious for me as an actor. Every scene I have Iím opposite this kid Matt Bush and heís coming at you with everything heís got and with such enthusiasm and love for it that there was no way Ė he was pulling like the best stuff out of me. I would credit him with that."
"Writing, I think itís my Ė say my most honest and personal film since The Brothers McMullen. Again I wanted to go back to like not really trying to be funny, sort of writing about people that I really knew intimately. Then as a filmmaker, again, itís almost like the acting the more you do it the more confidence you have, the more you know what you need and what you donít need. I think Iíve been working now with my DP Will Rexer, this is our fourth film together."
"He and I really, I think, have grown together and I have a lot more faith and trust in him than Iíve had with any other DP. I kind of allow him to sort of push me now in a way that maybe I wouldnít or didnít in the past."