Ed Burns Rewrites The Rules For Indie Film

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
16 Comments   16 comments.

Matt Bush and Edward Burns, right, in Mr. Burns’ film “Nice Guy Johnny.”

On this week's Moviola, WGBH's inside look at movies in and around the Hub, Jared Bowen talks to filmmaker and actor Ed Burns. Burns' latest release Nice Guy Johnny is definitely not coming to a theater near you, but will soon be available to everyone in Boston, and beyond.

Ed Burns is a filmmaker and an actor, often most recoginized as a co-star to the likes of Robert DeNiro and Tom Hanks in major Hollywood pictures like Saving Private Ryan. But like his hero Woody Allen, what sustains Burns is making his own small, personal films that have built up a dedicated following among indie film fans. In 1995, he attracted major buzz when his first feature, The Brothers McMullen, won at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win over audiences hungry to watch Burns' kind of personal storytelling in their local theaters.

View the trailer for The Brothers McMullen

The success of The Brothers McMullen was both a professional and personal triumph for Burns, especially given that he financed the $25,000 production budget on his own. After 15 years of making movies, Burns finds himself in an industry landscape much less friendly to independent films. Which left Burns to ask himself, 'where do I want to go next?'

I wanted to go back to what I was doing, and where my head was, pre-McMullen. I had no money. I didn’t know anybody in the film business. I didn’t know how to make a film. So, I thought, let’s set some parameters and go back and do that thing again.

“That thing,” now has a name.  It’s called, Nice Guy Johnny, and it’s Burns’s latest film. The parameters were simple: Don’t spend more than $25,000.  Don’t shoot more than 12 days. Don’t shoot with any more than a 3-man crew. Don’t hire any stars. Oh, and most importantly, don’t give it to the theaters—any of them.

“We’re trying a new way to get these smaller, specialized films out to the audiences—because the biggest complaint I’ve always heard from fans of my movies is that they don’t live anywhere near an art-house theater, and the films never get to them.”

So, when Nice Guy Johnny debuts on Tuesday, Oct 26th, you can enjoy it in the privacy of your own living room. Or, say, on your iPhone wherever you like. That’s because Nice Guy Johnny will only be available on-demand, online and on DVD.

“The fact that we can stream movies on Netflix, Comcast, and iTunes or even YouTube or Facebook—all these things didn’t exist when I got into the business.  So we’ve been trying to figure out how do we fight for attention?”

Burns’s answer: Tell a good story. “The movie’s about Johnny, a sports radio talkshow host out in Oakland.  It’s his dream job, it’s all he really wants to do.”

Burns explained he wrote the film in response to a crossroads he faced in his own career, when his agents were pressuring him to stop with the smaller, personal films. Many in the industry were urging Burn to finally direct a big-budget romantic comedy,

What did Ed learn? That following your dream doesn’t mean a life without compromise -- it means a life where you choose which comprises to make.

Nice Guy Johnny, premieres on-demand, online, and on DVD on Tuesday, Oct 26th.

Watch the trailer for Nice Guy Johnny.



Is Nice Guy Johnny Worth Seeing?

Hear what the Moviola crew had to say, then let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Conviction: A Local Tale Of Murder And Family

By Jared Bowen   |   Wednesday, October 13, 2010
27 Comments   27 comments.

Moviola is an inside look at movies in and around the Hub with WGBH’s Jared Bowen. You hear it during Morning Edition on 89.7 WGBH. In this episode, Jared talks with the real-life subject of Tony Goldwyn’s latest film, Conviction, which opens in theaters on Friday, Oct. 15. It’s a gripping tale of murder and family ties, based on the true story of a Massachusetts brother and sister.  


Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters
Hilary Swank stars as Betty Anne Waters
in the new film Conviction. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

On May 21,1980, Katharina Brow of Ayer, Massachusetts was found dead in her mobile home, beaten and stabbed more than 30 times. The brutal murder shocked the small town in Middlesex County—and would forever reshape the relationship between Kenneth and Betty Anne Waters a brother and sister.

"I knew he was innocent because I know my brother," says Betty Anne Waters, who is portrayed by actress Hilary Swank in the new film Conviction.

While Betty Anne may have been certain of her brother’s innocence, a jury wasn’t.  More than two years after Brow’s murder, Kenneth Waters was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole, for a crime Betty Anne—a married high school drop out with two children—says she knew her brother didn’t commit.

"I knew that my brother was questioned because he was actually in court that morning and I thought they were just harassing him. I knew the whole story. I knew he was at work the night before, I knew he was in court, I knew he had the perfect alibi.  And he was arrested two and half years later, so I always knew from day one that he was innocent."

Betty Anne devoted the next 18 years of her life to exonerating her imprisoned brother.  She completed her GED, got three college degrees and after passing the bar exam in 1998. Her first and only client was her brother, Kenny. And in 2001, thanks to Betty’s determination and new DNA evidence, Kenneth Waters was finally set free.

"It is surreal, absolutely. Along the way I just took one step at a time, one hurdle at a time, never really knowing if I was ever going to finish, or get my brother free. All along the way I was scared to death that it wasn’t gonna happen, so, I’m happy that it happened and that my brother was free," Waters said.

Hilary Swank and Tony Goldwyn in the new film Conviction.
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

Now, their story is the subject of Conviction, opening in theaters nationwide Friday, Oct 15, co-starring Hilary Swank as Sam Rockwell as Kenneth.

Conviction is more than an extraordinary story. As Director Tony Goldwyn says, it is "an in-depth examination of family, and the unique ties that bind a brother and sister."

"I remember when I was a little kid doing a kind of morbid analysis of my life and thinking 'What can I survive without in my life?” says Goldwyn. "Like if my parents died could I survive that? That would be awful, but yeah, I think I probably could. But the one thing I felt I couldn’t survive would be the death of my brother. I just remember that so well. Me and my brother are very close in age, same as Betty Anne and Kenny. We were so close that I felt if he died I’d have to die too, and I know Betty Anne felt that way. Betty Anne will tell you that’s what motivated her, that she promised Kenny that she would go to law school and figure out a way to get him out if he would stay alive."

Hear what Jared and the Moviola producers had to say about Conviction, and whether or not it's worth a trip to the theater.

Center Stage

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
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About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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