Thursday, July 13, 2006

Edward Burns: The Groomsmen (Q & A)

Here's the transcript of the roundtable with Edward Burns. Dude's got a new flick called The Groomsmen coming out co-starring Donal Logue, John Leguizamo, Jay Mohr and Brittany Murphy...

Q: The bio says that the idea of this movie's a little bit about your father and a little bit of you -- where, exactly, did you get the premise for the piece?

Edward Burns: The only thing that's my dad, Dez the bartender, is loosely based on my dad's approach to parenting. But I, originally, wanted to play Dez [Matthew Lillard in the film] and I Dez as a much tougher guy than Matthew went with him, so, I'm thankful that Matthew played him because he's a much better character than the way that I think that I would've played him. But the idea really came from a couple of years ago -- after Sidewalks of New York and Ash Wednesday tanked at the box office -- I was like 'I've got to write a commercial movie.' So I sat down, I'd just seen Meet the Parents, and I wrote The Groomsmen as a version of a 'Meet the Parents.' You know, a broad comedy and when I got to the third act with the big set piece at the end when the altarsupposed to catch fire and the mud is supposed to be flying all over the place I just didn't know how to write that scene, quite honestly. And I just put the script down and just didn't know what to do with it -- it's not my sensibility, that kind of humor. And then years later, I got married [to Christy Turlington] I went through everything that you go through with your friends and your family -- just as far as planning all of this stuff. My wife said 'you out to revisit that script and just do the honest version of what happened.' So that's pretty much how the idea was born. It was that and then there was the fact that when I got married, none of my friends were even close to getting married and having kids. And we're all 35-plus and I just thought: 'interesting.' You know, Diner which is a film that I loved and there's a Fellini film I,Vitelloni which had similar kinds of stories dealing with men wrestling with men graduating to the next level of maturity or manhood or whatever you want to say. Those guys were in their mid-20s, my guys are in their mid-30s, hitting 40 and not doing it. So, I wanted to look at it socially: why is it that men, from this generation, don't want to grow up? And that's why, in a lot of the script, I tried to put in lots of those childhood things that they don't want to let go of -- Dez with the band, whether it's the softball or any number of things. There's the fact that they're still fighting over baseball cards is indicative of a lack of maturity.

Q: You think that's a cultural thing that's going on widespread these days?

EB: Basically [with] almost everyone I talk to, no one is making that movie. There's been a number of films, it seems, that are even, sort of, examining or even touch on that sort of thing -- you know guys, a little moreso than women but even women. Whether it's the fact that we've held on to our careers in a different way or maybe we've had fun for so long being unattached or without having to be parents that you just don't want to give up the lifestyle that you've grown accustomed to, you know? I know, once I had kids, I had to mourn my old self because so many of the things that I used to do I just don't do -- I can't do. You're not going to get a green light to go play softball for five hours on a Saturday afternoon, so you've got to quit the softball team. That's sad -- you mourn that. Those were the kinds of things that were going on inside my head when I sat down and started typing.

Q: Were you at all worried on what Christy's reaction would be when she saw the final draft, since you were basing this experience on your perspective?

EB: No, because she'd read the first draft that I wrote before we got married, so, she knew enough of the core of it. And she's always my toughest critic with my screenplays -- she'd beat the hell out of me [while] going through the writing process whenever she felt it was dishonest.

Q: Was that difficult to work with?

EB: We probably did fight a little bit but I was thankful for it after some time had passed. To me, and again this is more of a guy-centric movie, Brittany's character was greatly improved by her input. So, it's important for me to have a woman -- it's usually Christy or Margaret Bridger, my producer; the two women that usually take me to task with my women characters and keep working with me until I get it right.

Q: Did Brittany find it hard being the only girl in the story?

EB: You know, it's a three million dollar movie that we shot in 25 days, so Brittany was there for 5 days, you know, and she's not in any of the scenes with the guys so, really, it was just me and her for 5 days doing those scenes -- she did it as an enormous favor by just being in the film. I'm just shocked that after 11 years, how hard it still is to get these movies made; to have this great cast together, this script and we couldn't get three million dollars. I had to call Brittany up and say 'look, I need a fucking favor -- could you please come into this movie? If you're wearing a wedding dress, they know that they put that on the DVD and they'll make their money back the first weekend that it comes out on DVD -- so, in order to get this movie made, we need you.' She said 'hell yeah!'

Q: Even George Clooney said he had to run the gauntlet to get films like Syrianna and Good Night and Good Luck done. Why do you think that is -- the difficulty to get the production money?

EB: I don't really know, the independent or the specialized film business has changed so dramatically from when I first came in in the mid-90s; I don't think you would see Clerks or Slacker getting picked up for distribution today. I think there's probably still an audience for those films but I don't think that there's enough money for them to make -- it used to be the business model [in which] they'd buy a $50,000 movi e for $200,000, they got a million out of the box office or two million and everybody was really happy. That business model just doesn't interest them anymore...They'll do the horror movie for six and make forty -- they're businessmen so you can't blame them. They're not guys who grew up loving movies.

Q: Is it tougher to shoot films in the city now since 9/11? I noticed in this one that there's not many brick-and-sidewalk exterior shots.

EB: I bookended this movie -- two other movies that I directed, one was a little digital experimental movie called Licking Kitty which we shot all, actually, in lower Manhattan and then the next one, Purple Violets, we shot all in Tribeca. So, in the city, right now, it is so receptive to film making; there's these great tax breaks, the unions have cut all of these great deals, there actually never been a more friendly time. The reason I did this one completely out of Manhattan was earlier reaction to Todd Solenz' view of the suburban experience, even in films like American Beauty that sort of paints it as an ugly place to grow up in -- my suburban experience was fantastic and I grew up in a working class community. My thinking was, I wanted to write a love letter to how great it is to be able to walk out of a bar and stumble home down the middle of the street or hanging out on the stoop and bullshit with your friends. Those were the kinds of images that I had in my head when I thought [of] what was it that was great about living in the 'burbs. You know, the softball games which is gone from my life now.

Q: You like softball, I take it?

EB: Hell yeah. [laughs]

Q: Your original plan was to play Dez the bartender -- did you write that for some person in particular to portray?

EB: I tried to get two guys, one of which I wrote the part thinking that he'd be my guy and he wasn't available and the other guy passed, quite honestly. So then I had to make a choice and that takes a long time -- it took like two months to get an answer from 'the bigger names.' So, we're getting close to [the shooting of] this thing and I wanted to make the movie, so I had to make a decision -- 'alright, if I put myself into Paulie, I can free up this part.' I knew Matt Lillard had read the script and really dug that part so we were like 'let's put this thing together,' so that's how that came about.

Q: What was the set like, did you bring your family out?

EB: We shot in City Island, where we shot the bulk of the film, is up in the Bronx -- an eleven minute drive from Manhattan. Dez and Jay's houses, where they live right across from one another in the film, that's in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn which is a subway ride out. And there were days when everybody had their kids on set...that was the funny thing, how different this experience was. You got a movie about five guys -- their last hurrah, you got five actors -- all staying in Manhattan. Ten years ago, there would've been a lot of late nights and parties, now we all have young kids and it was just like: 'got to get home to relieve the nannies and baby sitters, so, the experience was very different...there wasn't a single page six mention.

Q: When you were picking the groomsmen for your wedding did you have any similar instances or conflicts?

EB: One of my guys had a weird reaction. He recovered but it was sort of like when [Jay Mohr's character] says 'I'm not coming, I can't get a date.' I was like 'you're my best friend, you're coming' and, actually, my oldest friend in the world chose not to be a groomsmen and didn't come -- that's also kind of like Jay's character, he's the guy who still lives at home with his dad. It was just a matter of, I think he was hoping that he'd be in a different place in his life; you're seeing all of these people you haven't seen in a while, there's a little bit of show-and-tell anytime you have these things -- those are the kinds of things I was looking at.

Q: So these character were lifted directly out of your real life, then?

EB: My dad was a New York City cop, Dennis Farina -- who I work with all the time, retired cop -- great actor, John O'donohue -- who plays Jay's dad -- and Arthur Nascarel, the guy in the strip club are retired New York City detectives. An interesting thing with those guys is they're surprisingly good actors and it must come from having to put on that face for over 25 years. John and Jay, they knew each other from something they had done before -- they were so good, they had one scene in the script but once we saw them together, we just kept writing and writing and writing scenes. Like the heavybag scene in the movie -- we did another scene earlier and we saw the heavy bag in the garage and John goes up to the heavy bag, he had one professional fight back in the day, so he just started whacking on the heavy bag, Jay started yelling at him -- I was like:'roll the fucking camera!' That's how that came to be. Part of the thing is, the movie's about men's definition of masculinity and fatherhood's another thing I wanted to look at but not only that. I mean these guys related to their dads; what it meant to be a dad. My character, with his [fatherhood] approaching going with the inability to do it, Johnny Legs [Leguizamo] having to make the choice to reconcile with his dad -- that's the other thematic thing we were hoping to play with there.

Q: What kind of dad are you? Are you strict?

EB: I beat the shit out those kids. [laughs] No, I think I'm super dad, quite honestly, I love it. My kids are the greatest, my daughter is the best -- it's the best thing that you could ever do or that I've done for myself. And, in a weird way, it's helped everything else. You know, I was acting in terrible movies -- you know there's money to be made from acting in terrible movies. And once we got pregnant I was like, 'what am I going to do with this career? Do I want to go to Prague for four months again? Go to Vancouver? Maybe I should get back to focusing primarily on being a writer/ director who makes movies in New York -- it guarantees that I stay home, I can dictate my own schedule, we don't have to cancel the family vacation because I've got to go off and do whatever.' And that's why I did these three movies in a row in New York and probably will continue to do so. It's important to me to be in my kids' life. I don't want to be one of those dads who's on location eight months out of the year.

Q: What do you think the reception will be to this film outside the triborough area of New York?

EB: It feels like all of the feedback we've gotten is that it's a universal experience. You know, the fact that they're East Coast guys -- if you've got friends, then you can relate to the different relationships between any old group of friends. We did a couple of festivals in the 'fly-over states' and everybody had a good time.

Q: You and Christy had a second child back in February, how is fatherhood this time around?

EB: You just feel like an old pro -- the nerves are gone, you just know what to do. It's all fun, although, I learned how to survive on three hours of sleep a night. You have no fear anymore.

Q: So what's the comparison to writing and directing?

EB: What's more fun? I'm happy to have both and if I was stuck doing just one of them I'd be a less full person.

Q: You think you'd ever get into more action-driven fare as a writer/ director?

EB: I wrote a couple of bad versions of Reservoir Dogs in film school thinking that that's what I want to do. I'm a huge Tarantino fan but it isn't my sensibility as a writer. I fell in love with films because of Woody Allen. And any time I'd question what I was doing -- I mean, to this day. Like, four people talking on a street in New York City...the best cinematic memories I have are of watching Hannah [and Her Sisters] or Manhattan or Annie Hall. Like I prefer them to any other film.

Q: What's your favorite Woody Allen flick and do you ever feel like you're picking up the baton from Allen as far as the shooting primarily in NYC goes?

EB: Crimes and Misdemeanors is probably my top choice -- the marrying of that heavy drama with very light comedy. That's something that I tried to do in The Groomsmen -- I just try to do my version of a guy who's writing and directing and acting telling his stories in New York. Another great example to look at is: you don't need to do what they tell you. You don't need to go and make an action film or genre film. You can stay in your millieu and keep doing one movie every year and a half and you can have a career.

Q: But do you ever see yourself doing a Spike Lee jump like he just did with Inside Man?
EB: Yeah, it's interesting when I saw that Spike did that. I don't know -- I'm sure he's really happy because it did really well, the movie's great. I don't know. I thought about it, actually. The first ten years of my career I never thought about it -- in the eleventh year, I have thought about it. But I have no plans as of yet.

The Groomsmen opens in Los Angeles and New York on July 14th.


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