Edited by Wisconsin Mark on 9/27/2015, 7:15 pm
But it doesn’t always work that way anymore, and temperament as well as funding can play into it. Take Edward Burns. He started out working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight and Oliver Stone’s The Doors. He made his first feature, The Brothers McMullen, for $25,000, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance with it, and quickly “graduated” to bigger budgets and name actors; his next film, She’s the One, starred Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. He was in demand as an actor, too, working for and becoming friends with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan, and in 2003 he married supermodel Christy Turlington, which is about as big-time as you can get in a certain sense.
But a funny thing happened on the way to The Show. Burns discovered that he liked working on lower-cost personal projects if he retained artistic control of them. So he back-pedaled to smaller budgets and began to innovate with production and distribution, moving early to digital and early to iTunes, while still keeping a hand in the larger industry, acting in Entourage and Will & Grace for example.
His latest project, the new TV series Public Morals, is on TNT and has the backing of Spielberg as an executive producer, and I’m sure that Burns is luxuriating in the higher budget (somewhat necessary for a period piece set in 1960s New York). But I’m also sure that if he doesn’t score big with it, he’ll keep on making small films his way. He has a lot of practice with that by now.
Every “mid-list” director is adapting to the current realities in his or her own fashion. Mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg is starting to work with more name actors, while keeping his scale small. Spike Lee, like Burns, has largely gone back to low-budget guerrilla film-making. John Waters, oddly, categorically refuses to work with budgets lower than the $5-15 million per picture he had gotten used to, which means that he has made only two films since 1998 and none since 2004.
It is no surprise that back in 2009, Burns decided to have a go with a little Web-based series called The Lynch Pin, about a hitman who wants out. Nowadays series made directly for streaming on the Internet, such as House of Cards, have become a branch of television entertainment overall, with Netflix, Amazon, and other outfits getting into production in a big way. But in 2009, Web series were smaller and more experimental (and still can be, for those who are so inclined or who are starting out).
The Lynch Pin has a bit of a larky air about it; I think that Burns was having fun messing around, and didn’t intend any major statement. The 10 “Web-isodes,” as was often the case at the time, are very tight, in the two-to-six minute range, and that generates a particular kind of stop-start rhythm. Stylishness is everything here, with Burns as the hitman in the dark suit tooling around in sharp convertibles and SUVs when he’s not offing people, and providing the requisite voiceover narration: “If you really want to hear about it, my name is Dan Lynch, and my business was killing folks…I was a mid-level, low-impact assassin. Back alley jobs, non-nonsense hits.” There is something of a Jason-Statham-as-The-Transporter vibe, although Burns has a full head of hair.
The current postings of the complete series on YouTube don’t have all that many views, about 500 apiece for the later episodes, which surprises me because I had a really good time watching it.