Chat with Edward Burns

Last week I was invited to interview the actor/writer/director Edward Burns, a man who’s career I’ve followed with a great deal of interest for quite some time now. I’m a big fan of his new film ‘The Fitzgerald Family Christmas’, which is now out in limited release (my review can be found here), and he was more than happy to sit down with me and chat about all manner of things. The transcription begins shortly after him asking about my short time as a member of the New York City Police Department (his father Edward J. Burns was a former member of the NYPD as well, though he was a sergeant and the department spokesman, whereas I left early on in the Academy).  The transcription of the interview can be found below:

Joey Magidson: So yes…I watched the screener of the film a few days ago and really enjoyed it.

Edward Burns: Thank you very much. Are you from the island?

Joey: I’m actually from Coney Island…

Ed: Oh…

Joey: But I went to school out on Long Island and have family all over there. Now, the most important question…what are we going to do with the Mets?

Ed: Hmm. I heard R.A. Dickey interviewed, I think yesterday, on the FAN (WFAN, a prominent sports talk radio station in the tri-state area), and he’s talking about how he doesn’t know if they’re going to be able to sign him. I mean, if they fuck this up…

Joey: I actually interviewed him a week ago and tried to ask him, but I didn’t get much. I heard he’ll be sitting in on negotiations. It’s either an extra year or the dollar amount tripping them up…

Ed: I mean look, it’s one of those deals, and they’ve been famous for making some fucked up deals financially…

Joey: Or not making deals…

Ed: Yea. But this one would be such a PR disaster, coming off of last year, where they gave us no cause to root for them, other then…you know, it was great up until July 4th.

Joey: Just our masochistic tendencies keeping us watching.

Ed: Yea, but I mean, if they don’t sign him, are you going to be excited to go to Opening Day?

Joey: I went there last year! Not likely this year though.

Ed: Yup.

Joey: I don’t know. They keep saying one more year, but they’re kinda right not to spend money because of the market.

Ed: Yea. True.

Joey: As long as they don’t trade David Wright (who since the interview has subsequently signed a contract extension).

Ed: Nope, can’t do that.

Joey: Our luck, we’ll trade a pitcher and 3 others will get hurt.

Ed: Yea. It’s going to be desperate and a tough summer.

Joey: They’ll tease us for a month or two…

Ed: Remember going into the All Star break? I was like “holy shit”, this is great. I’m waiting for the same thing to happen with the next. The old timers are not going to be able to keep it up.

Joey: I’m just glad the Nets don’t suck anymore.

Ed: You a Nets fan?

Joey: I don’t know how I became one as a kid, but somehow I am.

Ed: Look, I’ve always been a Net fan, I’m a die hard Knick fan, but my first game ever as a kid was at Nassau Coliseum seeing Dr. J, so since then I could never root against them. And now that they’re in Brooklyn, I’ll admit…even watching the Knicks game the other night, a little part of me was enjoying how close it was.

Joey: So, on to movies now. For me, you’re 11 for 11 in my book.

Ed: Cool!

Joey: I don’t know how many people tell you this, but ‘Looking for Kitty’ is actually my favorite.

Ed: Your favorite? Wow.

Joey: I don’t know why.

Ed: I mean, that’s my least favorite. I’ll tell you why, but I’m happy to hear that since I’ll periodically meet people who, for whatever reason, it’s their favorite.

Joey: Yea.

Ed: For me, where I think I blew it with that movie…it’s one of tone. You know, there’s a part of me that thinks I should have either made the more comedic version of, you know, the goofy coach who has his chick hook up with a rock star and he comes to Manhattan and hires the hapless dick to help him and they become buddies. You just go for the laughs and I think that could be pretty funny…or you go for the real movie about the widowed private investigator who ends up taking on this case of a real sad sack whose wife is with someone else, not a rock star though. There’s moments there that I like, but I feel like I got two different movies there. What is it for you?

Joey: That’s the thing for me. I love the tone, and I love the ending.

Ed: How does it end again? He’s just sitting on the bed and he takes his ring off finally?

Joey: Yea, and he tracks her down and asks why she left and he tells him “it was just time to leave”.

Ed: Yea, yea, yea.

Joey: I came to your films in an odd order. I think the first one I ever saw was ‘Sidewalks of New York’.

Ed: Now that one might be MY favorite!

Joey: It’s at or around my Top 5 of yours, and I’m a big ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ fan too.

Ed: Yea, I like ‘Johnny’ a lot too. That worked.

Joey: I was in High School when I caught it on HBO, then someone I knew told me I had to see ‘She’s The One’, so that came next, and then I found ‘No Looking Back’ on IFC late one night around that time.

Ed: Now what do you think of ‘No Looking Back’?

Joey: That one I like a lot! It was one of my first “indie” indie films. I’d seen ‘Magnolia’ around that time too and fell in love with that, but they were like two very different sides of the same coin for me.

Ed: Yea, yea yea. That’s very cool.

Joey: I think it’s so interesting how people are seeing your films now these days too. Obviously it’s a very different model now from ‘The Brothers McMullen’, but I actually think the people finding your last few movies are actually appreciating them more than some of the earlier ones were. I definitely think you were ahead of the curve on new types of distribution too…

Ed: Yea, yea, and that has definitely helped the whole back catalogue as well. You know something, ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ is the first movie I’d made in a long time, I’m gonna be 45, that people your generation somehow more than my generation came to it, and went looking for others. They don’t know me as well…

Joey: They know you from ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

Ed: True.

Joey: And Matt Bush had some recognition from ‘Adventureland’. For me, ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ first turned me on to Kerry Bishe.

Ed: Yes!

Joey: I loved her there, loved her in ‘Red State’, which Kevin Smith put her in based on your work, and now Ben Affleck saw Kevin Smith’s flick and put her in ‘Argo’. So I guess she has you to thank?

Ed: (Laughs) She’s the best.

Joey: So this new movie…maybe it’s because I’m a New Yorker and have family out on Long Island, and even though your films have always been realistic, give or take some of ‘Ash Wednesday’, this one felt as real as ever.

Ed: Yea.

Joey: Just because as you watch it around this season, everyone is having some version of this story.

Ed: Yea.

Joey: And it has that sense of the Queens/Long Island border and the intricacies of that little part of New York.

Ed: It’s interesting, that spot, you know, I grew up in Valley Stream, and it isn’t exactly Long Island, you know. It’s not Queens, and it’s not Long Island. It’s some kind of no man’s land in between.

Joey: There’s tons of little moments that I know I noticed, but I wonder how many others will…

Ed: Yea! Wow.

Joey: It’s just real nice all around.

Ed: Thanks.

Joey: I think it’s also interesting how much leeway you have these days in the type of films you’re able to make. You keep your budgets low, so you can literally make just about any movie that you want.

Ed: You know, my career since ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ has been the most exciting time in my career. Because of embracing micro-budgets and adopting a sort of digital distribution, I’m now in a place where, as you said, I can make any movie I want, I can get them out and find a big enough audience, and that audience is growing, to make another one, and the thing is, there’s certain films I can’t make. There are certain things I just can’t do budget-wise, but…you know, you just went through my body of work. Even when I had access to more money, it wasn’t like I was ever attempting to tell big stories. I like small movies about characters, so I’m going to keep on with that. I’m curious…what would you follow up ‘Fitzgeralds’ with if you were me? What type of film, looking at everything…

Joey: I know the exact one…

Ed: Yea?

Joey: The one you’re making with Jonathan Tropper.

Ed: ‘The Book of Joe’?

Joey: Yes!

Ed: Yea yea, no, we have a great cast, we’re just waiting on our lead actor. I can’t say who it is yet though.

Joey: That would be perfect, or maybe something like ‘Sidewalks of New York’…

Ed: Like a return to Manhattan?

Joey: Definitely.

Ed: Interesting.

Joey: Lastly, I think it’s worth complimenting you on being ahead of the curve. Look at the indie marketplace…you were one of the first to come out on VOD and iTunes, etc, before going theatrical.

Ed: It’s a good and exciting time. The thing that’s scary is that a few years from now we’ll be sitting here again and it’ll be a whole new thing that’s breaking through.

Joey: Yea, like the Kindle or the iPad…

Ed: I think the future is some sort of self distribution, the direct to consumer thing that Louis C.K. did.

Joey: And Kevin Smith.

Ed: Yea.

Joey: It’ll definitely attract people.

Ed: Sure.

Joey: They’re kicking me out now, so thanks for your time and congrats again on the movie!

Ed: Thank you!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!