Today marks the official release of Ed Burns' new film Nice Guy Johnny.
The independent-film stalwart, turned Hollywood star, is returning to his Brothers McMullen indie roots by going "micro" with a release strategy that essentially by-passes the crap shoot of an expensive theatrical release, opting instead for a direct-to-consumer model that includes iTunes downloads, Video on Demand, and DVD/BluRay sales.
While this is not the first time such a strategy is being used for a film's release, it is notable that someone with Burns' star power is embracing this paradigm shift.
If you've got an hour to spare, this panel discussion from the Woodstock Film Festival, breaks it down in its entirety.
Or cut to the chase with Matthem Odem's piece from the Austin 360 movie blog .
Filmmaker Edward Burns was at the crest of the ’90s indie filmmaking wave in 1995 when his low-budget Bothers McMullen took the industry by surprise. The movie made on a shoestring budget garnered critical acclaim while raking in more than $10 million at the box office.
The film’s success led to a minor explosion in indie film, a short-lived expansion that has since collapsed.
With the challenges of raising money becoming increasingly difficult, Burns and his longtime producer Aaron Lubin decided to return to the guerrilla filmmaking style of McMullen. And 15 years after he helped start a boom in indie filmmaking, Burns is now proving to be an early adopter in the way movies are being distributed.
Taking a page from his Brothers McMullen playbook, Burns decided to make his most recent movie, Nice Guy Johnny, on a budget of only $25,000, while using mostly unknown actors, a three-man crew and shooting in less than two weeks.
“We decided why not kinda try and do the same thing now and not have to deal with all the headaches that go along with dealing with famous actors and financiers,” Burns said last week at the Austin Film Festival.
Nice Guy Johnny tells the story of a 25-year-old man living in the San Francisco Bay Area and working as a sports radio talk show host. Pressured by his fiancée to take a "real job" that can afford the two of them financial security, Johnny returns home to New York City to interview for a stultifying corporate job. But a weekend with his carefree, rapscallion Uncle Terry (Burns) challenges his ideas about his road to happiness and his idea of success.
The story has deep personal significance for Burns, who at one point struggled with the idea of making more money by directing a big-budget studio romantic comedy.
“The story was born two years ago. My agent came to be and said would you consider doing an open directing assignment,” Burns said. “My dream has always been to be the Long Island Woody Allen — the guy making his little movies … And then there’s an opportunity that presents itself where there’s a lot more money … The script was good, but for me it woulda been a compromise. It would have been giving up the thing that I’m truly passionate about … Very few guys who go there come back.”
Frustrated with the standard indie platform release, where often a small movie with a tiny marketing budget has no chance of making it to a large audience and will sit for months before making it to DVD or cable, Burns decided to take a new approach to getting his movie to his fans. Building off of the iTunes release he did for his Purple Violets in 2007, Burns and Lubin developed a multi-tiered release that will have the movie available through iTunes, Video on Demand on cable and DVD all at the same time.
“We watched what [Steven] Sodergergh did with Girlfriend Experience and Bubble, and I thought, ‘If it’s good enough for Soderbergh to go VOD before theatrical, it’s good enough for me,’” Burns said. “People who like my movies aren’t necessarily the big art house folks, so maybe if we get the movie directly to them, there’s more money to make. And at the end of the day, it’s still a business, so the movies need to make money so I can get the money for the next one. The great thing is I no longer sell my movie to a distribution company … I own the movie, so we license it. So, in success, we finally get to participate.”
While some may be skeptical of the coming paradigm shift and how to leverage it, Burns believes the timing is perfect to directly deliver fresh film content to people. The New Yorker says the proliferation of great original programming on cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, FX and AMC, proves there is an audience for the kind of filmmaking Burns wants to do.
“The audience that is interested in the smaller, smarter storytelling, they’re already at home sitting on their couch looking to their television to supply them with that kind of story telling,” Burns said. “Why should we ask them to get out of the house and go to the theater? We have the audience. They like this stuff. Let’s just put it right in from of them where they’re used to watching it.”
Burns believes the shift in consumer habits and the myriad distribution channels are game-changers that will continue to offer him the best chance to keep fulfilling his vision.
“The fact that we no longer have to go to the folks who finance films and we no longer have to deal with trying to chase down movie stars, it’s so liberating,” Burns said. “You just make the movies you wanna make.”
Join the digital revolution and order your copy of the film here: www.niceguyjohnnythemovie.com
Or from iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nice-guy-johnny-exclusive/id396526396
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