Sundance interview with Edward Burns

February 28, 2013
posted by sheric

As I said in my Sundance wrap up post, I had a chance at this year’s festival to talk with Writer/Director/Actor Edward Burns. He was incredibly kind and generous with his time given that he was on the US Dramatic Jury this year and had many films to see on the ground…plus the usual meetings and functions that come with being…Edward Burns. The interview lasted about 30 minutes and some of the conversation was edited down in the following 2 video segments. Here are some things you missed…

Q: In research, I read that you studied literature in college. How did you turn that into screenwriting and directing?

EB: ”I was an English major at school and was not doing that well honestly and was brought in by my academic adviser to say I needed to bring my grades up or we’ll put you on academic probation.  For English majors, they offered film studies as a minor and basically you watch old movies and write a paper and it is a guaranteed A.

The first class I took was called Four Directors and it was Wilder, Hitchcock, Ford and Orson Welles. The first film I saw in that class was Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and I sat in that classroom and fell in love immediately. Also, when I was in junior high and high school, my mom was a big Woody Allen nut. So my mom started me off with Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters.

So after that class, I started to think about that early love affair I had with Woody, and I thought maybe I don’t want to be a novelist. Maybe screenwriting should be a thing that I focus on. I called my dad and told him and he sends me Syd Field’s screenwriting book. I’ve never looked at a screenplay before. It is all dialog, and dialog is something I wrote a lot in my short stories and something people said I excelled at. So forget novels, I am going to write screenplays and I took every screenwriting course they had.  I wrote my screenplay and I finished my junior year and I called my dad and said I gotta go to a film school, I’ve taken all of the screenwriting courses they have here. I thought Columbia or NYU. He said look at your grades, look at my salary. Let’s rethink it. So I go to Hunter College which had a very small program at the time. They had one CP16 camera, but 3 great professors and that’s all you need sometimes.

I left there with a short film under my arm and was on my way. I needed to make some money so I  finished up in night school and went to work full time. I worked at 2 places. The 7 o’clock news, the local news, and a production assistant at Entertainment Tonight.   That was really helpful because we went to visit movie sets all the time to do the behind the scenes stuff.  I got to see everything from a big budget film like Scent of a Woman to a small, indie John Tuturro film and a number of smaller indie films. All I did was watch and try to observe and learn.

Even now, the acting side of my career affords me the same thing. When I got to work with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan, that was my graduate film school. I knew showing up on that set, I am just going to keep my mouth shut and watch this guy. Less interested in what I could learn as an actor, but more what I could learn as a filmmaker.

Out of film school, like everyone else in the early ‘90s, I was obsessed with Quentin Tarantino. And every screenplay I wrote was a Tarantino rip off. Thank god none of them were any good or got made. And someone said to me, write what you know.  I took that Robert McKee screenwriting class and one thing he said for your next script, think what is your favorite genre of film and write a script in that genre. My favorite genre was Woody Allen, whatever genre that is. So I sat down and wrote Brothers McMullen and I used Hannah and Her Sisters as my template.  So I have a scene of 2 people walking down the street, it is 3 pages of dialog and nothing really happens but hopefully it is funny and insightful and I thought well people loved it in Hannah, so I hope people will love my version of it.

Woody was absolutely and still to this day my primary influence.”

Q: You consulted with Tyler Perry about how he maximizes his revenue. Can you talk a little about that conversation?

EB: “His big advice to me was be mindful of your core audience and be respectful of the fact that they come out time and time again. He said think about super serving your niche.”

Here are 2 video clips of the rest of the interview:

 

 

I will be speaking at this workshop in Vancouver in 2 weeks. I’d love for my Pacific Northwest/BC Canadian friends to join us and talk over a drink afterwards. Also, I have started a G+ Community completely devoted to independent film marketing and distribution ideas, tools and advice. So far we have over 150 members from around the world. If you are interested in this topic, join us.

 

Reflections from Sundance 2013

January 28, 2013
posted by sheric
montage 2

clockwise: Julia Stiles Q&A, Slamdance HQ, Dan Mirvish and Paul Rachman at the Between Us screening, on the red carpet for Bujalski’s Computer Chess, Egyptian Theatre on Main, barbershop at the Slamdance opening night party, me with Tiffany Shlain at the Blackhouse Music Room

 

I just returned from Park City, fresh from jury deliberation on the Slamdance short films and conducting video press interviews with some of the Sundance/Slamdance microbudget directors as well as indie microbudget god Edward Burns and Tugg CEO Nicolas Gonda. Those videos will hopefully be edited and uploaded in the next few days. I will post them on this site when they are ready.

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

 

My first day on the ground (January 18) started  at the Blackhouse Foundation where I participated in the Digital Distribution Panel. We talked about the myths, truths, rules and multiple paths to monetize premium content online for those in front of and behind the camera. The discussion featured representatives from Grab Media and Netflix. Basically, it seems that short, episodic content is the name of the game in the online space if you are going to work with the bigger onlinenetworks. Netflix does not take short form content (short films) and Grab Media helps content producers access sites in the AOL network on an advertising revenue share or as licensed, branded content for large corporations. They essentially give your webseries  or ongoing content (news shows, how-to videos) access to thousands of websites that want to host video, but do not produce their own. These sites are presumably highly trafficked so your view count will soar and your revenue share from advertising either you place inside of the video or Grab places inside of it will be much higher than if you just posted it to a Youtube channel. The range on how much you can earn from this is quite broad really. Some producers only earn enough for the light bill, some for a vacation, and some for a mortgage.

Largely, I was there to talk about knowing who you are trying to reach with your work. While I often use the analogy of needing to have a spark (or strong, core audience) before it can spread to a forest fire, another visual that came up during the discussion was a pebble and the ripples. If you don’t have a pebble to start things off, it will never ripple out. I did hear on other panels some contrary advice, but I stand by this analogy. For the emerging filmmaker who does not have an audience, who does not a have a film with notable names, who does not have an acceptance at one of the big 4-5 festivals in the world, and does not have millions of dollars to spend on advertising to a broad and undefined audience, she MUST have a place to start with an audience. Does it have to stay small? NO, but it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is much more difficult when she doesn’t have name or industry attention to aid her. Believe me, if she starts gathering a small but strong core audience, suddenly the industry pays attention and offers help. Start very small, but enthusiastic and build from there.

 

I was also a short film juror at Slamdance and what a great slate of films. As with any deliberation, compromise between gut feelings and personal tastes have to be navigated, but ultimately I think we chose strong talents in the prize winners. Full list of this year’s winners HERE. I can say that there were many talented filmmakers in that pile of shorts and I wish the best to all of them.

On January 19, I attended the Sundance Creative Distribution (#creativedistro) panel with director Ava DuVernay (interview with her coming soon to this blog)  and Topspin Media‘s Bob Moz. It was a standing room only crowd to hear how last year’s Sundance films Middle of Nowhere and Bones Brigade fared with their hybrid distribution strategies. Moz has uploaded his case study presentation on the Topspin Tumblr site, but let me show one tremendous screenshot. When the panel basically said social media just doesn’t “put butts in seat” or result in sales, Moz clicked this up on the overhead (BOOM) and told the panel they needed to up their analytics software…Topspin anyone?

 

bones brigade topspin data

 

It is a pretty powerful reminder that more and more filmmakers who are willing to engage with their audiences (and in cases like director Stacy Peralta, find them again from previous films) by using social channels will be able to cost effectively penetrate the noise of the internet and make immediate revenue (rather than waiting 6 months to a year, if ever) on the road to repayment. As Peralta has said, while receiving some advances from distributors for his past films, he has never received a single royalty check. Sustainability will come from being savvy about building and maintaining an audience.

The rest of my time on the ground in Park City revolved around interviewing several NEXT directors (Shaka King, Eliza Hittman and Andrew Bujalski); a Slamdance director (J.R. Hughto) and Sundance US Dramatic juror, Edward Burns. All are working in the microbudget filmmaking arena, which suits the publication I was representing, Microfilmmaker Magazine. The thing I liked about these interviews was the honesty all participants brought on camera. While other Sundance talent might have looked to position themselves as bigger than they are or perpetuate this other-worldly mythology, all of my interviewees were very humbled by their inclusion in the media circus that is Sundance. In the case of Burns, he offered a different perspective on what it takes to be a sustainable filmmaker in the 21st century. I also interviewed Nicolas Gonda, CEO of Tugg.com, to talk about how filmmakers can empower their audiences to pull films they would like to see in a theater in their cities. Instead of being dependent on a corporation to decide whether a film will play in a city, Tugg enables the crowd to decide and put their money where their mouth is in terms of needing to reach a minimum ticket buying threshold before a booking can be made. Minimizing risk for the filmmaker or distributor and the cinema owners can only be a good thing.

On my last night in Park City, I was lucky enough to have caught a Press and Industry screening of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Since I arrived very late to the line, it was not at all assured that I would get in and I did have to view it from the front row of the Holiday Village Cinema. I am not going to review the film, but I am a fan of the series and was not disappointed in this installment.

Mainly what I felt on the ground this time versus previous times was the dawning of realization that now there are tools in place for filmmakers to use to reach audiences and release films even if the 6-7 figure deal wasn’t offered. While of course those deals were offered to some already, I was heartened to see Sound City and Upstream Color use Sundance as their springboard into the market. They are taking advantage of the media opportunities and recognizing that they may not have films that are mass audience, which is fine. They won’t be taking the chance that their niche film will be ignored in a slate of other more commercial fare. I look forward to seeing this increase as the years roll on at Sundance.

 

“I give so that you will give”

August 1, 2012
posted by sheric

As you may know, I recently gave the keynote address to the Federation of European Directors General Assembly in Copenhagen. The Assembly’s event was chronicled in the Danish Film Directors’ quarterly magazine Take 58 in July. Below is an excerpt from a longer article about my participation there. Thanks to all who attended the event.

8 questions for Sheri Candler

“These answers are being written from the perspective that all directors should be dedicated to building up a long term base of supporters for all of their work.” -Sheri Candler

TAKE: Should I keep my Facebook identity as a director seperate from my identity as a private person? Meaning should I have two separate pages?
SHERI: Yes, I would advise having a separate professional Facebook page for all of your professional work and leaving those privacy settings as open as possible. Your private profile should be for your actual friends, family and colleagues and the place where you put your personal thoughts and interests and that will have privacy settings optimized to only be shown to those people. While your family and friends may also want to keep up with your professional endeavors, not all of them will and having a professional page allows you to have a place to connect with your fanbase and industry people regarding your work.

TAKE:At what stage should you know the title of your film? Can you change title later on? How do you avoid misleading people, if the film changes radically after the title has been set?

SHERI: Some film titles change as soon as a distributor takes hold of it, so I wouldn’t be too worried about changing a title because your true fans, your community that you have been building for your work over time, will be the first to know the reasons for the change. Remember, you are building up a relationship with these people, they aren’t being gathered for the one film. If the title changes (and I highly recommend doing a thorough title search before you set one so that it doesn’t need to be changed later), only those who have not been with you all during the production of the project will come to know the new title.

Same thing for branding on the film. In fact, this is a way to include the supporters, take a poll onwhich title they like or on which key art they like. American director Edward Burns held a poster contest for his film Newlyweds. He asked his fans to contribute their designs and they voted on the most popular one. It became the poster for the film. American director Tiffany Shlain did the same for her documentary Connected. Don’t treat your supporters as strangers, keep them informed of what is happening with the project and why.

TAKE: What sites should a director have as a minimum? (FB, twitter, website, blog?)
SHERI: First, you must have a website, that is imperative. It is the only true piece of internet real estate you own and control. Every other platform belongs to a third party that may change the rules, go  out of business or lock you out whenever they like and that would completely cut you off from your supporters if you depended solely on those for communication. I think directors should choose the social channels they feel most comfortable using and where those which would be most interested in their work frequent. For now, that is probably Facebook (with 900 million users, of course!) and maybe Twitter. But it could also be Pinterest, MySpace, Tumblr etc.

TAKE:  How and where do I use my time best online if I want to engage with my audience? It seems that one can use a lot of time on many different things, but where does it have the most impact?

SHERI: The answer to this would be as unique as the audience members. The thing to realize is there are no set rules, there is no magic formula. This is all going to be an experiment and trying out services to gauge a fit. Online tools are just that, tools. It is all in how you use them and you only get out of them what you put in. The more time you spend connecting with others, the more you will get out of the process.

I would say you need an outlet to speak from, which typically means a blog on your website. That blog should be updated weekly, ideally, so that you keep the site higher in search results and it feeds your social channels. Blog pieces do not have to be long, only 500-700 words, and they should primarily be devoted to sharing valuable information and insights, not self promotion.

 TAKE How do you see the relationship between engaging your audience in a dialogue and the ability to earn money on having the dialogue? Does one exclude the other?    

SHERI: I want all not to start this process with the eye for making money as their foremost thought. It is like saying you are making friends with people only to see how much money you can get out of the relationship. A relationship that starts that way is doomed to fail because people can feel it, feel the insincerity.

The mindset you must start with is ”I am going to find my ’people,’ the ones who would care the most for my art.” And you truly have to believe that. The Latin saying “Do ut des” (I give so that
you will give) is extremely valid in the virtual world, in fact it is expected. The online world rewards generosity, not selfishness. Directors who already have fans or a reputation would actually find this process easier because their fans are eager to connect. But oddly, those directors are the least likely to do this right now. I think we will either see a change in that mindset or a loss of relevance for those directors because people are very fickle and they are getting very used to having personal contact with creators. Those who continue to ignore their fans will find themselves ignored in favor of artists who understand this new mindset. Money and fame are by products of relationship building, so concentrate less on those things and
more on the relationship.

TAKE: How private or personal do you feel that one should be? Many of us directors are shy people and only used to talking to journalists about our films before a release.
SHERI: One would think it will be easier to speak to real people than to journalists! I don’t think you need to share intimate details about your personal life, but I do think we should see some sort of personality behind the communication efforts. All directors are creative people with lots to say to the world. If you aren’t, then perhaps you should rethink your occupation. Writing a blog isn’t journalistic writing, it is personal writing about your inspirations, helpful suggestions, recommendations, personal commentary on events happening in the world. Something that lets the supporters know who you are as an artist. Like attracts like and ideally you will attract those who love the way you tell a story no matter what the story is. We want to see the essence of the real artist, not some sound bite ”message” of the synopsis of the film.

TAKE: Can you give us inspiring examples of feature film directors that use social media to engage their audiences?
SHERI: YES! -American director Kevin Smith connects with his fans every day via Twitter and through his own channels at smodcast.com He is really an example of a director who tells stories in lots of mediums, not just film. A true storyteller.

British actor/screenwriter/director Stephen Fry is also very accomplished at using social channels as well as his own website to connect to his fans.
www.stephenfry.com
-Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris also has his own website and social channels www.errolmorris.com
-David Lynch uses Twitter, his tweets totally correspond to who he is as a storyteller.
www.davidlynch.com
I would say though that Morris and Lynch do not do a great job at having conversations with their audience, their sites and social channels seem very one sided to me.
-British director Duncan Jones uses Twitter to the extreme (several times a day!) and actually does talk with his followers.

TAKE: What do you mean when you say that a director should be a tribe leader? Does that go for all directors?
SHERI: The tribe idea originates with Seth Godin who wrote a book in 2009 called Tribes-We Need You to Lead Us. It is this idea of finding and connecting with like minded people and leading them to a place they want to go.

The means to do this are universally available to everyone now with the internet, so it isn’t based on geographical location or on having large financial resources to advertise your way into an audience. Advertising has been the default way of building an audience for films for a long time, it is costly and wasteful as you have to start again with each film. The tribe building idea is a totally different way of doing this and it is meant to be more cost efficient and longer lasting for the artist. You don’t need to sell people on the fact that they want to connect (to art, to other people, to a movement) because that is inherent human nature, we want to connect to like minded people. So as a film director, or a storyteller, your job is to connect those like minded people through a platform that you create (your website, blog, or whatever tool you choose) and eliminate the need for them to find each other on their own. They connect through you as the artist and through your work. You are the leader of the tribe and you make your work only for them. They, in turn, bring in their friends, also like minded people, and that widens the reach of your work. Your job is only to make work and nurture those people, delight those people. They will bring the others aboard.

This is a very radical idea though. When the artist is in charge of her tribe, where does that leave the chain of middlemen that once were so important to reach the mass? Mass reach is becoming less and less important because it isn’t sustainable. Audiences for entertainment are becoming fractured and very focused about how they spend their time given the multitude of options for entertainment. Advertising is becoming much less important, but social connections, trust building are becoming more important. People are trusting recommendations from their personal connections much more than advertising blasts. If you have no personal relationship with your audience, your work will be lost in the multitude of other viewing options.

My thanks to Birgitte Staermose for conducting this interview and the the FERA organization for having me in Copenhagen.

On July 1, I have an article coming out in Microfilmmaker Magazine that takes a look at 3 digital streaming players now available to filmmakers; Dynamo Player, Distrify and Flicklaunch. I talked to the founders of each company to bring you the lowdown on how each works, their pricing and how you, as the content owner, get paid. Here’s an excerpt:

Ed Burns is using Dynamo Player for his film Nice Guy Johnny

Anyone who reads my blog or follows my Facebook page knows I am dedicated to encouraging filmmakers to take control of their own work and bring it to audiences in the most direct way possible. I especially feel this way when it comes to online digital distribution. Why give the rights (and fees and percentages) away to a distributor when you can easily use tools to distribute your work directly and in the most expedient manner?

Lately, several companies have emerged to help filmmakers do just that.  Instead of looking for outside distribution companies to buy your work’s rights, hope they treat you fairly, and wait for them to bring it out for sale, consider these tools to go direct. When you can cut out as many of the layers separating your work from its audience, you’ll profit more….

Rob Millis, co founder of Dynamo, explained that was the aim of the product from the start. “Dynamo is as easy to access as any online video platform, with no restrictions or qualifications. It is available for any legal content you own the rights to, except pornography… The player allows you to upload your film, set a price for streaming it on a website or on Facebook, and publish it with no upfront costs or monthly fees. Fans, bloggers, online publications and organizations can host the player on their sites too in order to share their love of your film with their audience…

Two filmmakers from Scotland, Andy Green and Peter Gerard, founded Distrify. I spoke with them to find out what led them to create this tool to help filmmakers. “We wanted a better business model ourselves so we worked out a technical solution where we’d actually get some of the money from the films we produced by making it easy for fans to buy our films directly,” said Gerard. Distrify’s player adapts to support your film’s marketing at every stage of the value chain. If you’re crowd-funding for example, the Distrify player helps drive viewers to your crowd-funding campaign. If your film is at a festival, you can list all the screenings directly in the trailer, with links to ticketing sites. If you’re doing an indie screenings campaign, Distrify lets your fans sign up to your mailing list, giving you a location-based map of where the demand is for your film. Whenever you add new screenings or products to your film, every player that’s embedded around the web is automatically updated to ensure your fans will always be able to engage with or purchase your film”…

Founded as the first global indie movie distribution platform built on Facebook, I spoke with CEO Craig Tanner about what makes Flicklaunch different as a way to distribute films. The site is in beta. “Flicklaunch was built around the ‘Like’ button. A filmmaker can give away a predetermined amount of free views in exchange for a ‘Like’ to the film page. For example, a filmmaker can give away 1,000 free views and with the average Facebook user having 140 friends, it creates awareness for that film of 140,000 people. Since Facebook is global, Flicklaunch is available to audiences and filmmakers everywhere.”  The rental period for streaming the film is 7 days and audience can choose how they want to view it (through any web enabled device connecting to Facebook). Soon FlickLaunch will offer badges and perks for film fans that drive the most traffic to the film.

In addition, I wrote a chapter on film festivals and how to use them in a book entitled The Modern MovieMaking Movement which will be available from July 1. It is a free ebook that will be available on this site in exchange for email signup if you leave your email address when you click Subscribe to the Newsletter and you’ll get an automated download link. The book was written by 10 of the most outspoken and knowledgeable indie film thought leaders (well, 9 and me ;) ) in the world today and it will cover topics such as successful screenwriting, ways to finance a feature film, fundraising, the director’s role, the PMD and making microbudget features.  Well worth the price of an email address! Plus I don’t send many email blasts personally so you won’t have your inbox bombarded from here on out by me.

I also have 2 other books coming out very soon. One is an anthology of Ted Hope’s Hope For Film blog and the other is Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen. I guess I have been doing a lot of writing lately! More news on these 2 works coming soon.