'Off the Cuff' Podcast: Edward Burns on "the 12 Best Days" of His Life

Ed Burns Portrait - H 2015
Trish Halpin

Ed Burns Portrait - H 2015

The indie filmmaker and now author tells #THRpodcasts about a career that's taken him from Sundance glory to Hollywood obscurity and back again: "If you don't love it, it is too hard."

When The Brothers McMullan snagged the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995 and made Edward Burns the sudden sensation of the indie film world, Burns was still working as a lowly production assistant at Entertainment Tonight. In fact, as he tells it in his new book Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the 12 Best Days of My Life, that PA job is precisely the reason he got into Sundance in the first place. According to Burns, Robert Redford was doing an interview with E.T. to promote his new movie, Quiz Show, and Burns was prepared to bombard the founder of Sundance after a year of dead ends trying to get his first feature seen. He reminisces about that moment in this episode of Off the Cuff.

"I thought, 'All right, I'm gonna bring my copy of McMullan to the interview. And when it ends and he goes out to the elevator, I'll cut him off,' " he recalls. "I'll give him my speech about how passionate I am and this is my baby and it needs some love! And that's what I did."

And thus a star was born. In his book, which Burns hopes will "create a road map for kids who are in film school or coming out of film school," he chronicles in painstaking detail how, as a working-class Irish-American kid attending Hunter College, he was advised to take a film class to help raise his G.P.A. — and how this was the first step in his path to becoming an iconic New York director like his idols Woody Allen and Spike Lee. He tells us about watching the first movie shown in that class: Billy Wilder's The Apartment.

"My mind was blown. I wasn't really a movie buff as a kid, and I just thought, 'Wow. All right. Who wrote this? Who directed this?' So I asked the professor, and by the end of that half hour conversation after class, I knew what I wanted to do with my life."

Heavily influenced by Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, Burns began writing the script that would change his life forever ("Hannah and Her Sisters is about three sisters in New York. Brothers McMullan is about three brothers on Long Island," he jokes. "I thought the Irish were wide open.") He admits to falling prey to the celebrity trap after starring in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan ("Who wouldn't want to be movie star and make a pile of dough and live in L.A.?").

He talks about why his artistic instincts brought him back East to make Sidewalks of New York ("The one film I made that feels pretty close to what I was imagining as I was sitting at my laptop"), what it felt like to receive a formal rejection letter from the Sundance committee after once being their darling ("Don't think that the friends you have one year are going to be the friends you have the next year") and the vindication that came with his latest film, Fitzgerald Family Christmas, when it won him his first positive New York Times review since McMullan ("It's been a long time.").

Next up for Burns is the TNT period crime drama Public Morals, which he created and stars in, premiering in June. Although those "12 best days" he refers to describe the very DIY nature of his first film ("I couldn't believe how much fun I was having," he recalls), Burns couldn't sound happier about his new small-screen venture.

"Ten hours of television with no interference, casting who I want, making it in New York, " he says. "It has been my greatest indie film experience, even though it's for television."

Listen to Burns' full interview in this episode of Off the Cuff, and be sure to subscribe to #THRpodcasts on iTunes for all the latest episodes.